Why should have Coach Davis Payne been so concerned with the recent 2-1 loss to the Rangers on home ice, culminating in a three game slide? The team had just won five straight. And wins against Detroit, Chicago, and Nashville were cause for a little slack, right? Not so fast. The "House of Payne" became the "House of Blame" Saturday night when the blue shirts beat the Blues for the first time in regulation since Nov. 22, 2000. Coach did not call out names of course, but his post game comments told us what we needed to know.
You could blame the injuries or suggest that this team just isn't as talented as some teams, but one problem would still remain. Leadership. Some teams have it, some teams don't. Unfortunately this is an issue that keeps coming up with the Blues. Questions of vocal leadership both on and off the ice have been raised several times the past two seasons. Should the leadership of this team be questioned? For the record, this is not a diatribe against Eric Brewer. On the contrary, "conclusion jumpers", this is a call to all captains.
Many have lauded David Backes for his captain like qualities, and with good reason. He seams to have the makeup of a good leader. At his best, he can change the momentum of a game with his rough and tumble style, score a key goal, or drop the gloves with anyone. So why the cross check late in the game against the Rangers? Barret Jackman, early in his career, was given the "future captain" label. And while he does lead by example, some were confused by his response in which Kelly Chase berated the team for not "sending a message" to Joe Thornton over the Perron hit. And even though he is a veteran player now, Barret still can make the odd mental mistake in the defensive zone. Eric Brewer is a nice player and is having one of his best seasons in a Blues sweater. But does everyone in the dressing room look to him as "the" captain. And if we talk at all about leading by example, then Alex Steen has to be mentioned among the leaders of this team. Albert Einstein was quoted in saying, "The led must not be compelled; They must be able to choose their own leader".
So yes, there is capable leadership on the roster. So why has it seemed up until Monday's tilt with Phoenix that this team was being led by "Captain Morgan"? While you can pick out mistakes made on the two Ranger goals, a lack of leadership didn't cause these mental lapses. Berglund didn't get the puck deep at the offensive blue line, McClement lost positioning on his man in the defensive zone, Pietrangelo stepped up and let a man get behind him. Mistakes will happen, especially to a young group still learning on the job. However, if no one player steps forward and holds his teammates accountable, then where does the accountability come from. What is more alarming than the mental mistakes, are the physical ones that can be controlled. A first period at home in which you register 2 shots is unacceptable. Leadership needs to start coming from somewhere and sometime soon.
So how would the boys respond Monday night against the Coyotes? Would the true leader of this team step forward? David Backes did his best captain impression and tried to carry the team on his back in this game. He scored the first goal, played a physical in your face game, and stayed out of the penalty box while doing it. And even though the Blues lost on a couple of bad goals, it was evident who "the" leader was for this team. Oh yes, there are several capable lead by example guys on this roster, but for this team to avoid long funks and stay consistent then there should be one face, one voice, one player that the players can follow. Does the fact that Backes is not the captain inhibit his ability to take the reins and be a voice in the dressing room and on the ice? Of course changing whose sweater bears the "C" doesn't mean that the team will not make mistakes. Or that captain Backes would not make mistakes himself along the way. However, the only real training for leadership is leadership. My question is this, would the most noble act of leadership by Eric Brewer be the passing of the "C" to David Backes?