Before the season started, I tossed out an idea: maybe the West Division wasn’t a three-horse race like everyone assumed. With the Avalanche, Blues, and Golden Knights as the heavily favored teams going into the season, there was an open slot for a fourth team. Pundits expected team number four to be the Minnesota Wild, but with a sizable gap between the top three and number four.
It’s hard to gauge the standings right now since the Blues and Coyotes are the only two teams allowed to play games right now, but the top three are exactly who everyone expected them to be. Number four is, surprisingly Anaheim. Clawing their way up and banking points against the Blues are the Coyotes. With every game being a four point game, the Coyotes are four behind the Blues.
They also play the Blues their next three games - and if Thursday’s game against the Wild is postponed, the Blues will be playing Arizona for their next three games.
Two losses in a row isn’t cause for sounding the alarm, even if those losses are indicative of some of the issues that the Blues have been having all season. They looked disinterested at worst, and made silly errors due to inattention at best. If they don’t adjust these problems, which were exacerbated by poor officiating on Saturday, they’re going to have a hell of a time against Arizona.
I hate to say that I had a point about something for once, but who was the team that I said that the Blues had to keep an eye on waay back in December? The Coyotes.
No, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t going to be the team that skyrockets to the top of the division, but they may be able to steal enough points from the Blues to prevent St. Louis from capturing the division. The Blues were 1-1-1 last season against the Coyotes, but they have had problems with Arizona going back a bit farther. They were 1-2-0 in 2018-2019, and 1-2-0 the season before. You have to go back to 2016-2017 to see a season where the Blues have beaten the Coyotes more than once. I realize that three or four games a season is a small sample size to work off of, and that each Blues team is different than the team before. In a season where neither team leaves the division and each team plays the other eight times, the points the Blues have let slip away in the past could add up pretty quickly.
Last night on Twitter I asked what in the world caused problems for the Blues against Arizona. I got some solid responses, I think:
They played a very sound defensive game, especially today. They took a lot of lanes away and were extremely committed to blocking shots. Today anyways, not sure the many other times they’ve given them fits.— Aaron (@keppka) February 7, 2021
The blues have a tough time when they play fast teams. They have lost the identity of physical play, which is how you slow those teams down. We have become soft!!!— randy (@unch1974) February 7, 2021
They’re quick— Ty Shula (@TyShula) February 6, 2021
The trap.— Passing Drill (7-4-1) (@PassingDrill) February 6, 2021
“Big goalies”. That seems to be the refrain from Panger. Dunno if he’s just jealous or what...— Karl Krekeler (@KrekelerKarl) February 7, 2021
Work ethic?— pǝıɟıɹǝʌ ɐɯnɐɹʇ pooɥpןıɥɔ ⚠️ (@ctrauma) February 6, 2021
While I don’t know if the Blues have become soft, they weren’t standing up the Coyotes an iota. That could play into their issues with Arizona’s speed, which has been a hallmark of the generally young team over the last few seasons.
Arizona has a reputation among some hockey fans as a team that isn’t very good, and that’s unfair. They’re not a bad team; on paper, they’re not as good as the Blues, but in execution that hasn’t been the case for several years. If you say that the Blues are playing down to the competition, that’s normally an insinuation that the other team isn’t quality, but that’s not the case here. The Blues don’t seem to know how to handle the Coyotes’ strength, which is their tempo, so instead of countering it they stand stock still.
Last night, when the Blues tried to counter that speed, the refs had their whistles in their mouths. I think a person can understand the Blues’ temptation to just go “aw, fuck it” as far as defense goes in Saturday’s game.
That doesn’t mean that you start the game that way.
The Blues know a way to counter Arizona - they did it the first two games, even if they let their play slide toward the conclusion of the first game and didn’t pick up their play until the last four minutes of game two. They know what they have to do, but they need to be consistent. That seems to be the rub.