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Blues fans are justified in being concerned

The team’s struggles aren’t down to one person.

NHL: FEB 24 Kings at Blues

The Blues recalled Sam Anas yesterday from the Utica Comets.

This is the current state of the team. If you tell me that you were familiar with Anas’ career before his call-up to the taxi squad, I will accuse you of being a liar or a relative of his. Injuries have absolutely destroyed the cohesion of the Blues over the last month. Everyone expected injuries to happen with the condensed schedule - more games in a shorter period of time means more people will get banged up. Fans are also more than aware that a regular injury now is almost twice as long - missing six weeks? That’s nearly half of the schedule, not nearly a third.

The Blues have been battered by bad luck and the injury bug. You could field nearly a complete all-star team with who they have on injured reserve right now: Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Bozak, Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas, and Carl Gunnarsson are all on the IR. Gunnarsson is done for the season; Barbashev and Thomas have six and four more weeks, respectively; Bozak is skating again and is probably the closest to a return.

Jaden Schwartz is still day-to-day, and Colton Parayko is out with a nagging back injury which no one seems to be clear about. Will he wind up on the IR too?

Marco Scandella getting popped with a puck during the Blues 2-1 loss to the Kings on Wednesday night was met with nary a blink. He’s probably fine, but right now, if he were re-injured, no Blues fan would question it. Fans have a “next-up” mentality. The team has one too, because what are they going to do, field half a hockey team every game?

The difference between the fans’ next-up mentality and the teams’ is that Blues fans know that whatever cog is situated in right now isn’t a Bozak or a Barbashev. They sure as hell aren’t a Tarasenko or a Schwartz. They’re a placeholder that is expected to contribute the best that they can. They’re not expected to heft the heavy weight of the team.

The top lines, the special teams, are having problems. Jordan Kyrou has one goal in his last five games. David Perron has one goal in his last five games. Ryan O’Reilly has one goal in his last five games. Mike Hoffman has one goal in his last five games. Brayden Schenn has two goals in his last five, so at least that breaks up the trend a bit. There would be a top scoring problem with or without half of the players who are missing.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz being out of the lineup should not prevent top scorers from consistently producing; it certainly should not prevent them from producing on the special teams. Even when including the participation of the players on the growing list of injuries, the Blues’ power play (12.9%, 28th in the league) and penalty kill (73.9%, 26th in the league) have been inexcusably bad.

No team, healthy or hurt, can hope to be successful with special teams that underperforming, unless you score even strength goals at a good clip. The Blues were doing that, but with injuries mounting, they can’t use even strength play to cover for the special teams.

Something has to give at some point. It’s easy to just point at the injuries and to blame that - and they do play a huge role in the Blues’ struggles. But this three game losing streak, and the inconsistent play all season, aren’t because Carl Gunnarsson went down. The Blues are professional hockey players - even the patchwork quilt of call-ups and the taxi squad. They know what they’re supposed to do, even if elite skill might be missing from the plugs. It’s them not carrying through with that consistently at the start of the season and never being able to create sustained momentum that’s hurting now. It’s difficult to keep up a push when you can’t win the second game of two game series; you can’t build a winning streak that way.

Good habits weren’t built early, and as the season goes on it’s starting to show. It’s tough to cover for mistakes when you’re down seven players.