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Panic Button Time, tríú heagrán bliantúil

Every year around this time, it seems like the Blues like to send their fans to the edge and drive up alcohol sales as we cope with a team that seems to habitually lose its way. This year is proving no different. Let's look at what is going wrong.

Nothing to see here...just a bunch of chuckleheads who don't know anything about hockey playing the 'blame the goalie' card.
Nothing to see here...just a bunch of chuckleheads who don't know anything about hockey playing the 'blame the goalie' card.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Last year around this time the Blues went from being pretty good, to being not so good.  They pulled out of it (sort of) but floundered in the playoffs.  That inspired me to write this piece, about the panic button and if we should be ready to hit it.  In that piece, I referenced this piece from a couple of years earlier where similar such things occurred.

So, it is that time of year again apparently...

The Blues are like a distance runner who starts strong and runs out of gas the last couple of miles eventually limping across the finish line.  Except, in this case, it is also a starting line for a more meaningful competition.  So, the Blues always seem to be at their suckiest going into the playoffs, aka the second season, aka ALL THAT MATTERS.

After going back and looking at the data it is evident that this isn't just my gloom and doom perception.

Looking back at the last 2 full seasons between January and April as well as the January and February from this season (I excluded the shortened 2013 campaign because the condensed season created different dynamics that wouldn't necessarily reflect the situation I am trying to analyze) the Blues have indeed stumbled more and more the closer we get to playoff time.

Drink this dream-crushing tonic right on down: Blues winning percentage over the aforementioned time period in the month of January: 72%.

In February and March, 63% and 65% respectively.

In April (regular season games only) a pathetic 27%.

Yikes.  Hitchcock, we have a problem...

This year, after scoring goals and taking names in January like it was their job (it is) the Blues have won 7 of 11 in Feb.  Not terrible, but not great,especially when you look at who we've played.  To make matters worse, everyone here knows that we have won games we didn't "deserve" to win.  Games where the score was not a reflection of our performance. It's great to get those points when it happens every now and then on a bad-night, but when your performance is sub-par consistently and the fact that you are winning in spite of yourself becomes an excuse to avoid making adjustments, it can be the golfing-in-April kiss of death.

An astute contrarian might point out that the Blues win percentage over the entirety of the 3 seasons being analyzed is right around 61%.  To them I say, this is a time for panic, not a time for logic.  But I also say that our performances as a team are really worse than the win percentages show.  Hitchcock himself talked in December about how the Blues were making mistakes and getting away with them but they were eventually going to have to pay for them.  Which they did in the form of a 6-6-1 disaster of a month. After last night's pathetic loss to the flightless birds Hitch said, "This is that same feeling early in December."

So, the coach has the same feeling he did at the beginning of a month which saw us play less than .500 hockey.  AWESOME!

To contrast, the Kings had a 70% combined win percentage in March the 2 years they won the cup, and the Hawks wend 10-2-2 the last 14 games of the season the year they won the cup. Not a lot higher, but the difference between peaking and sputtering out as you begin the playoffs. Mentally, emotionally, momentum-ly...I am speculating that it plays a role.

So, if the spring skid is an annual period of fasting from effort for the Blues, what causes it?

In my completely, 100% (non)scientific polls conducted on each of the previous editions of the Panic Button, the winner was "They started to believe their own hype and got lazy. Unless Hitch puts the fear of God back in them they are lost, and so is our season" which 37% of the vote in 2012 and 43% in 2014.

(The notable runner-up in 2014 was "The hockey gods fucking hate you. And you. And your whole fucking family. The Blues must regain their favor through the sacrifice of beautiful virgins or they will be 4-&-out")

So clearly the 'fear of God" isn't being instilled by Hitch. Who knows if he is capable of instilling fear anymore? And any sacrifices made to the hockey gods were either not beautiful enough, or not virgin-y enough.

After last night's game, the stupid came out in droves on Facebook (as should be expected) and the comments on the Blues' post about the game were ridiculous.  Many of the fans were attacking Elliott, begging for a savior in the form of Halak or Miller (will people ever learn, seriously?) and generally speaking out of their arses.

After arguing with many of them to no avail, I did a little bit of digging. I focused on comparing January to February and what I found was alarming - hence the panic - namely in that it is signs of similar issues.  Our friend "not friggin scoring" seems to be back, and he wants to crash on our couch until around May.

The first thing that jumped out was the PDO in Jan.  104.9, compared to 99.32 in Feb.  That is not a meaningless drop.  But, before you get your pitchforks and go moose hunting, consider this: Jan SV%- 92.76% vs Feb SV%- 92.13.  WHAT!?!?, you mean it ISN'T the goal-tending that is making a difference?  Sure, we have given up .36 more goals per game in Feb compared to Jan, but the minor drop in SV% isn't making the difference.  We are giving up 3 more shots and half a scoring chance more per game.  Combine that with weaker special teams and my anecdotal theory that we are giving up higher quality chances, and that gets you your goal differential.  League average SV% is 91.3, so our terrible goalies are performing better than league average even if it isn't as solid as they usually are.

So that leads us to shooting percentage to explain the PDO drop...

In January we were rocking and firing at a 12.14% clip.  That has fallen almost 5 full percentage points to 7.19% in Feb...and that includes our shellacking of the lesser Subban in a game that saw us register an insane 18.18 SH%. Compare our 7.19% to the league average of 9.03.  Not go back and compare the Blues SV% to the league average one more time.  Now let it soak in before continuing.

We are averaging  .1 more Corsi events per game and .18 fewer shots...but they aren't as high quality as January's were; in February we are averaging 1.64 fewer scoring chances per game compared to January.

So folks, our offense is letting us down.  Forgive me if you've heard this song before.  We are averaging 1.27 fewer goals per game, down to a terrible 1.82 goals per game.  That's damn near Edmonton level impotence, my friends. Again, this includes the freebees we got from Subban.

Whose fault is it?  That is the shiny silver plated question.  As a whole, we just aren't working as a whole very well.  Hitch said "some teams can maybe play on 70% on the same page; we're not one and we're on 70%."  Ignore the obtuse wording and the answer is clear...sort of.

There isn't one guy.  As a team we aren't working.  This can't be blamed on one missing defenseman and it won't be solved with a trade-deadline rental.  This team had to start working as a team, WORKING, or they will keep losing.  We will sputter into the offseason and get creamed by Chicago again...and force all of Blues nation to once again reconsider our very existences.

*All stat data from the War on Ice.  Check them out for stat descriptions as well.