The Blues, right now, are a mess.
With just one game left in the regular season, today at Dallas, the Blues are in the midst of the worst slump of the season. In it's last 10, St. Louis is a dismal 3-4-3. Last night against Phoenix the Blues played arguably the worst game of the Ken Hitchcock Era.
Did I mention the playoffs start next week?
Every single team goes through slumps at one point, but the Blues simply could not have picked a worse time to start sucking. Now locked into the two seed in the West, after pissing away first place with this abysmal play, the Blues have put together the best season in St. Louis in more than a decade. And still, it looks like they can piss it all away.
No one, let alone us here at Game Time, want to see another playoff failure. So, because of that, here's my five ways the Blues can turn things around.
1. Get a real fourth line.
You want to know why the Blues won the Central Division? Because of three solid lines and fourth energy line. Despite massive injuries and key players missing significant time, the Blues pieced together three scoring lines and used the fourth line to be a spark plug line. It worked.
When everyone got healthy, Hitchcock decided to dick around. Chris Porter hasn't played since March 22. Scott Nichol has been a healthy scratch the last two games. Last night the Blues iced a fourth line of Matt D'Agostini, Vladimir Sobotka and Ryan Reaves. A few games back, the fourth line was D'Agostini, Chris Stewart and Nichol. I'm sorry, but that doesn't work.
Scott Nichol is a heart and soul guy who analytical baseball fans hate. He's scrappy. He hustles. He's gritty. But you know what? He deserves to be in the lineup. The dude brings energy to the fourth line and his linemates. He's also the best Blue on the draw, winning at a 57.5 percent rate. You think that may come in valuable in the playoffs?
The fourth line should be Sobotka (And listen, I know we all love Sobe but for the love of Plager let's not forget who this guy is. He's a fourth liner who plays hard and hits. He has zero offensive upside. The fact that he keeps getting top-3, top-6 and even top-9 minutes is utterly baffling.) with Nichol and either Porter or Reaves. Personally I'd go with Porter because he can play that physical game without taking penalties. He has ELEVEN penalty minutes on the year and 124 hits in just 47 games. I'll take some of that, thank you very much.
2. Play the best players in the top-9 spots.
The top three lines keep changing with the one constant being the centers. The first line is David Backes line, the second belongs to Patrik Berglund and the third is Jason Arnott. Great, fine. The problem is, Hitchcock keeps sending out different wingers.
Backes has played with T.J. Oshie regularly, but on the other wing has seen Alexander Steen, Andy McDonald, David Perron, Sobotka and occasionally Chris Stewart. Enough. Hitchcock says he's trying to find chemistry, well that's pretty tough to do when the lines don't last more than one shift.
I know Hitch is smarter than I am, and he shows it. He keeps trying to do something like D'Ags on the second line and then he realizes that's dumb. He keeps trying to put the square peg in the round hole and then realizing that's not going to work during the game. Trust your guy, Hitch. Stop trying to force things.
The top-9 forwards are, in my order: Backes, Perron, Oshie, McDonald, Steen (he hasn't been the same since the injury), Berglund, Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Stewart/D'Ags. Play those guys. Put Backes with Oshie and Perron. Steen/Berglund/McDonald looks good, too. Stewart and D'Ags can fight for the last spot. Both are playing awful right now, but Stewart has more potential. I don't really care, but play the best players in the biggest spots.
Speaking of ...
3. Figure out the Carlo Colaiacovo problem.
The Blues defense was once a strength. Now? Not so much. Colaiacovo is problem A. Hithchcock made it known that he didn't want the oft-injured d-man riding Alex Pietrangelo's coattails in the playoffs. Petro is going to get plenty of responsibility, and he can handle it. Cola? Not so much.
Barret Jackman and Petro were paired for about a minute, but that didn't work (even though it did last year for a bit). The biggest problem is that the Blues are locked into the lefty/right pairs and, well, three of the top four d-men are right-handed shots.
Petro, Kevin Shattenkirk and Roman Polak all shoot from the right side. Really you have to start your pairs there. The choices for parter? Kent Huskins, Kris Russell, Jackman, Ian Cole or Cola. Of those five, which one do you want riding shotgun with Petro? Yeah. That's what I thought.
Carlo has one thing going for him and that's his chemistry with Petro. Instead of benching him, maybe the Blues should try talking him up. Since the Jackman Experiment, Cola has just gotten worse. Either you force Petro/Jackman together, put Petro and Polak together and ignore handiness or you just go with Cola. Either way, the Blues need to decide on that right now.
4. Remove heads from asses.
This team seems scared of 2009 and determined to do the opposite. That team made the playoffs, but ran out of gas in the process. This club, with it's lazy play, looks like it's playing out the season, trying to stay healthy, and then turn it on in the playoffs. It doesn't work like that.
The Detroit game was a nice flash of what the team can do, but again, once the Blues were up 2-0 it was almost as if everyone was like hey, gotta rest of the playoffs SHUT IT DOWN. You can't do that. Play hard tonight and go into the playoffs not wondering if you're the biggest fluke in the league.
5. Stop waiting for the other guy to do the dirty work.
The Blues got healthy and then got shitty. It seems, from the outside looking in, that the Blues' players were like hey, now I can rest FILL IN THE BLANK is back. Now I don't need to score as often. It seems like everyone passed the buck and put the onus on producing on someone else—be it Steen, McDonald, what have you.
It's not the case. Everyone needs to play with that hunger they had all season long. Period.
The situation is not quite dire. Yet. The Blues are slumping, and that happens. They just picked the wrong time to do it. A first-round loss would be a major setback.
Get your shit together, boys. You have one game to make it count.