The Blues continue to be a good team in the NHL. They are beating the teams they are supposed to beat, like a struggling Ottawa Senators team that was just bag-skated by the coaching staff, and they have a good record against the better teams in the league too. At home they are unbelievably 22-3-4. They are now 9-11-3 on the road, with three of the losses and two of the OT losses at the hands of Detroit and Nashville. Against the East they are now 10-0-2. They have beaten the class of the NHL with wins against San Jose, Vancouver, Detroit, the Rangers and Washington, all division leaders. They have beaten teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh.
The Blues are second in the division, tied in points but with two games in hand against Nashville and three points behind, but with two games in hand against Detroit. They've done it playing coach Ken Hitchcock's "200 foot game" and doing their best to play "all 60 minutes" as they are fond of saying in interviews. The commitment is there. The tenacity is there.
You could say that the fans are getting pretty cocky when we say there are teams we expect to beat now. That there are teams the Blues should definitely get both points from whenever they meet. It's only cocky if you can't back it up, as they say. And the Blues have made it possible for us to talk this way. The last time the Blues lost to a team that wasn't Detroit, Nashville, Vancouver or Pittsburgh (all top-10 teams in the NHL) was December 21st when they lost to Colorado.
So, we expect the Blues to beat a team like Ottawa which had lost it's previous six games. The Senators had scored three goals in a game only once in the last three weeks. They're spiraling out of the playoffs. The Blues, like big cats in the wild, pick off teams like the Senators for an afternoon snack.
But there are problems. The Blues do not consistently score enough, despite averaging over 31 shots per game, eighth best in the league. They have lulls in nearly every game where they end up chasing and giving up extended offensive opportunities to the opponent. They can be knocked off their game and tricked into taking dumb penalties at dumb times.
These are all issues that must be addressed. Some are just part of adjusting to the new culture: dumb penalties can be weeded out. Avoiding letdowns are a team effort and require extra effort when they start in order to end them quickly. Some issues may need an adjustment: a large quantity of shots means jack and squat if you don't have any quality shots. As we wrote about on Monday, the answer doesn't look like another goal scorer, it looks like adding another playmaker. But is that guy Andy McDonald or is he someone to be acquired by trade?
A bigger problem is beating teams within the division. The Blues are 16-8-3 against the Pacific and Northwest Divisions combined. Against the Central they are 5-6-2. With the way the top eight seeds are shaping up, it looks like four Central teams could be in that mix. If the Blues expect to go anywhere exciting in the playoffs, they're going to have to knock off one or two other Central teams to do it. They have to withstand the lightning strikes off offense from Chicago. They have to crack through Nashville's defense and Pekka Rinne. They have to get over the mental block they have about the Red Menace at the Joe Louis.
Confidence comes from playing well. The Blues are playing well. With a couple tweaks and a couple big wins against those other three Central teams and we might really have something here.
Until then, they just need to keep getting two points from the teams they are supposed to get two points from. Like New Jersey on Thursday.
Let's go Blues.