I’m going to start this with a phrase that most of you haven’t heard before: “give a damn meter.” Years ago, when he was the coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, John Anderson once said that the team’s give a damn meter was on zero.
There are many reasons for it, probably. The nearly five month long interruption in play threw them off in a way that they weren’t able to recover from. They’re not the only team to have this problem; look at the Washington Capitals. Both teams shuffled through the round-robin, and both teams looked like a ghost of their potential in round one.
Half of the team was broken at some point. I know it was weird hearing Troy Brouwer referred to as a key player last night during the NBCSN broadcast, but having him in the lineup in a must-win game over someone like Jacob de la Rose (who I don’t judge for stepping on that puck - shit happens) with little big game experience hurt. No Vladimir Tarasenko, even no Tarasenko at half strength, hurt. No Tyler Bozak was a problem. No Carl Gunnarsson. Ivan Barbashev missed most of the first round due to the birth of his child, which isn’t the same as being injured but it also means he’s not on the ice. No Alexander Steen was a large detriment. No steady fourth line, the anchor of last year’s post-season, was a huge problem - the lack of consistency filtered upward.
This line-up wasn’t the same one as the team that won the Stanley Cup, which is what made the Blues’ constant focus on what they did last year so frustrating. “We know what to do; we’ve been here before” or some variation of it was said after every loss in the bubble, like some mantra that if only they could channel that 2019 energy, everything would be ok. How do you do that without Jay Bouwmeester? Pat Maroon?
And even if those guys were still here, how do you re-capture lightning in a bottle? The “we did it last year” mindset served as a reminder of what a different group of people did, not as an inspiration for the current team to focus on. It was an excuse, a crutch, a way to get out of accountability for ten games of poor play if you count the exhibition loss to Chicago.
The effort wasn’t there through the round-robin. The first game or two, sure, get your legs back and evaluate where you need to improve, and then adjust. The Blues never adjusted. The penalty kill stayed awful. The lazy penalties happened in nearly every game. In the round-robin, primary scoring was absent save for David Perron; in the first round, the top lines started to click but secondary scoring disappeared.
The only consistent good in every game was, in fact, Perron, and he had this to say last night after the loss:
“There’s many things,” David Perron said. “It didn’t seem like our energy was coming from everyone. It was tough. We had a couple bad bounces right away and in the back of our net.
“Honestly, I can’t even think about this whole thing right now that it’s over. It’s very frustrating. Very disappointing. Yeah, that’s my thoughts right now.”
Perron practically drug the team along with him at times. If the team had been made up of Perron-clones on offense, they probably would’ve won. To hear him call out his teammates like that, even subtly, should raise some eyebrows.
The effort wasn’t there. The defense, especially the third pairing with Dunn and Bortuzzo, but even Pietrangelo, looked lazy and disinterested last night. It was an elimination game, but they played like it was an exhibition game. It’s difficult to contain the speed of the young Canucks players, but once it became apparent how hard it was going to be, there wasn’t much effort at doing so. By the time the Blues found their physicality and their control in the third period, it was far too late. Jaden Schwartz’s two goals served as a reminder of what three periods of play like that could’ve looked like.
Focusing so much on the past made the Blues think that it was always a possibility in the present. It was, to a point, but you can’t live in two places at once. The Blues chose to live in 2019. If you’re a fan, sure, that’s a fine place to hang your hat. I for one remember people and places, and last summer was probably the happiest I have ever been as a sports fan.
Cup defenses are next to impossible in the salary cap era, so tempered expectations from fans are understandable. Teams can’t do that, and the Blues shouldn’t’ve approached this post-season with a “fuck it, this is going to be too hard” mindset. I don’t think that they did.
“We’ve been here before, we can do it again” is fine as long as you look at the “we’ve been here before” part as a learning experience, not a prophesy.