I know it seems premature to digest what happened to this year’s Blues team - a squad that went from the best in the West to missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons by a point. To be honest, I’ve been sitting on this for a week, hoping that I wouldn’t have to write it. But I’m also a realist, and I knew tonight’s game had two outcomes: a loss, or an eventual first-round mauling by the Nashville Predators.
Well, it was a loss, and I’m not surprised. Or disappointed. The Blues fought for the playoffs but they didn’t. It came and went in spurts of effort.
The Blues lost 5 of their last 6 games, including two to last place teams. They lost 15 of their last 25.— Steve Savard (@SteveSavardKMOV) April 8, 2018
That’s not a team built for playoff success. But what caused it? What caused the slide? I don’t want to discuss the last couple of weeks, because we all know that eight seconds more against the Blackhawks and the Blues are in. We all know that a win against the awful Arizona Coyotes and they’re in. I also don’t want to address rumors of locker room discord and cliques. I’m not in the room. I don’t know what’s going on and neither do you, so I won’t discuss that. These are bigger fish to fry here.
Issue Number One: Injuries
Robby Fabbri missed the entire season. He had 11 goals and 18 assists in a shortened campaign last year, following a season where he had 18 goals and 19 assists. That would’ve come in handy this year, and would’ve given some solidification to the team’s top six.
Jay Bouwmeester only played 35 games this season. Yes, he is slowing down and he isn’t the defenseman that he is getting paid to be, but again, this is about consistency in the lineup.
Joel Edmundson missed 14 games this year. He was out from February 8th through March 15th, which neatly correlates with the Blues awful seven game stretch of losing. Missing a big, heavy presence on the defense was a loss that the Blues couldn’t afford.
Carl Gunnarsson was out for the stretch run, leaving the Blues to bring up Jordan Schmaltz, who then was injured himself. This led to Chris Butler being played on the Blues’ second power play unit. Helpful.
Patrik Berglund only played 56 games this season. I know he is one of the fans’ annual whipping boys, but he had 17 goals this season. That’s roughly a goal every three games. He doesn’t miss those games, and potentially he breaks 25 goals on the season.
Jaden Schwartz’s injury being cataclysmic for the team goes without saying; what needs to be said, however, is the fact that this team is in a position where the loss of one player can completely derail an entire month or two of play. That’s a sign of poor roster construction as much as it is a sign of the value of the player.
Issue Number Two: Special Teams
Fancy Moses, playoff caliber hockey clubs do not finish the regular season with a power play ranked second to last in the NHL. The Blues barely finished above the Edmonton Oilers and were just below the Flames. For God’s sake, the Coyotes and Sabres had more effective time on the one man advantage (Buffalo by a lot - they were ten spots above the Blues). The Blues’ PK was 18th in the league at 79.8% effectiveness. This is a blow for a team known for their defensive prowess. Perhaps that coaching turnover in the off-season wasn’t as well advised as advertised.
Issue Number Three: Goaltending
This is not intended as a Jake Allen pile on, because in many of the games that were lost, he got zero goal support. Zip. It’s hard to deny that this year was one of his worst as a starter, however - 27-24-3 with a .906 SV% and a 2.74 GAA isn’t acceptable for a NHL starter. From Hockey Reference, his career monthly stats indicate a very big problem in January. He starts strong, drops off, and then finishes strong.
Allen also doesn’t play well when there is competition in net - he turtled when Carter Hutton went on a tear this year and he pulled the same cosmic mind issues with Brian Elliott. That isn’t a sign of a goaltender that a team can place its trust fully into. That doesn’t excuse the Blues play for stretches under Allen - regardless of who is in net, they need to play like they want to win. But it could go a long way to explaining some frustrations.
Issue Four: Roster Construction:
The Blues have a top three - Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz.
They then have a bottom nine.
Let’s be honest - this team is constructed of third liners. Alexander Steen may have been top six a few years ago, but he’s aging out of that. Patrik Berglund is a quality third line center. Past that? This team is constructed of solidly third and fourth line players. You can’t deny that. You can’t have a first line and then hope that whatever you throw out there for a second line can pick up the scoring. That causes the coach, as Yeo did, to split up the first line to spread out the scoring - which leads to no scoring, which leads to losing games.
You can’t tether your playoff hopes to three guys and a defense that, if healthy, are solid - but who aren’t healthy and who haven’t been healthy all year. You just can’t.
This team gave us a lot of hope at the start of the season, but as the roster was constructed and as the special teams and goaltending played, it was unsustainable. It’s as simple as that. Had the Blues defeated the Avalanche, they would’ve faced the Nashville Predators in the first round. They also more than likely would’ve lost in five games.
There’s always next year, I suppose.