Alas, these are indeed troubling times in the Kingdom of the Bluenote. The entire domain is in a frenzy of disbelief and shock over too many poor battle performances by the knights in blue recently and there are many voices that can already be heard calling for heads to roll. What was supposed to be a strong assembly of unfaltering, gallant, battle-ready chevaliers is turning out to be an ordinary, undisciplined, irresolute band of misfits that can neither attack effectively when necessary nor defend with any sort of tenacious determination. It is surely grievous and distressing to think that this season's crusade could be cut short as our warriors may not qualify to join the search for the Holy Grail come May. If the Stanley Cup playoffs started today, the St. Louis Blues would not qualify to be in the hunt.
Expectations were high indeed as last season's crusade showed not only an ability to defend the Castle Scottrade (the Blues won a club record 30 games, only losing six in regulation time), but also the best overall defense in the entire realm of NHL fiefdoms. The dynamic duo of Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott won the Jennings Trophy, allowing the fewest goals against in the entire league (165). On the way, they combined for a modern-day NHL record 15 shutouts. Finishing first in the Central Division, the Blues also boasted the empire's best Commander (coach Ken Hitchcock) and best Comptroller (GM Doug Armstrong). Only a mediocre attack prevented greater successes, especially in the hunt for the Grail, as the Los Angeles Kings easily ousted the Blues in four jousts. The addition of squires Vlad Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz this time around would solve that problem, or so it was hoped.
Anticipation and enthusiasm quickly turned to disappointment and despair as a result of the impasse between Lords and knights over contractual obligations that delayed this season's crusades. Banished from castles across the realm, warriors were forced to fend for themselves until a settlement was finally reached by Pope Bettman and Sir Donald Fehr, the Duke of the NHLPA. When the crusades finally began in January, the Blues were favored by most to dominate the Western Conference and were seen as one of the strongest contenders for the Grail.
Those hopes were buoyed from the get-go as the red-clad knights from the Kingdom of Little Caesar were strongly rebuffed from the ramparts of Castle Scottrade on opening night with a 6-0 thrashing. And the first month went exceedingly well, with the exception of a disappointing loss in the Kingdom of Blackhawkia, which was unfortunately a harbinger of things to come. After yet another failure to storm the battlements of Castle Joe Louis (a match tainted by the ejection of captain Backes), the Blues returned home to find utter devastation as army after army came to plunder and pillage at will. The moat was breached and the drawbridge smashed four times in succession as the Predator knights avenged two earlier losses and the Red-winged Caesars won yet again. The Kings continued their mastery over the Note and the suddenly mighty Drakes of Anaheim took a high-scoring match in a shootout.
Squire goaltender Jake Allen was thrust into duty as Halak was injured and Elliott was lost (undoubtedly poisoned and under the spell of a rival warlock) on a successful road trip and sparked the Blues, winning his first three bouts by making spectacular saves at opportune times. And just as abruptly, the Blues' firepower vanished (undoubtedly due to a curse divined by a rival sorcerer) as they could only muster two goals in the next four games, all losses. To make matters worse, the curse was so potent that severe injuries occurred to three of the club's leading scorers (two in practice yet), further hampering the offense. Particularly galling was the loss of squire Tarasenko, who will be gone for some time with a concussion-related injury due to an unpunished blow to the head.
The Blues marched into the Valley of the Kings after a sloppy, uninspired loss in the Kingdom of the Big D after a day off that featured an exorcism (the boys bonded by going to see the movie The Exorcist instead of practicing) of the demon that currently plagues them. It didn't work as the boys coughed up a 4-1 lead and were stapled by a hungry, harder-working club, out-shot (15-4) and out-scored (4-0) in the third period. This is a make-or-break point and how the boys respond after such a debacle will largely determine how the rest of the crusade goes.
So, once again squire Allen has been called upon to bust another slump as the knights in blue journey on to the desert in search of redemption and salvation. The Desert Dogs have crept ahead of the Blues in the standings and will be a formidable opponent, despite playing a tough game in the Kingdom of the Drakes last night. Both teams are pretty much even statistically. The big question concerning hockey in the desert is when the franchise will be moved. Attendance continues to be a problem, ranked second to last at just over 13,000 per game (capacity 18,300) or 76%. (The Blues are ranked 16th, 92.6%.) The best the Coyotes ever did was the first year in the desert after moving from Winnipeg (1996) when they drew an average of 15, 585. Since it is unlikely they would be moved to Quebec or Toronto in the Eastern Conference (especially since those cities are targeted for possible expansion) when realignment takes place next year (since Detroit and Columbus are on the fast track), relocation to Seattle or even Kansas City is more likely. Unfortunately, a bigger problem than attendance concerns ownership of the franchise. By 2008 it was made public the NHL was paying the bills and operational control of the team was granted to the NHL by previous owner Jerry Moyes (a trucking magnate who was also a part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks). In May, 2009, Moyes put the team into bankruptcy. Several potential owners popped up over the years, but no deal could be finalized. The franchise remains in financial limbo with the NHL ruling the Kingdom.
It's do or die for the Blues tonight with no respite in sight as they travel on to Sharkland and the Kingdom of the Drakes this weekend before returning home. Unless they turn things around quickly, this year's crusade may well be over before the playoffs for the Holy Grail even start.