I watch post-game press conferences and interviews not because I find them interesting (they’re not) or particularly informative (again, they’re not), but because once in a while a phrase or word pops out to me as a red flag.
My biggest red flag word is “fragile.” I’ve been conditioned to dread hearing it thanks to a few seasons of Atlanta Thrashers post-game press conferences in which coach John Anderson averaged about two to three usages of it a night. It signaled defeat. It also signaled a lack of understanding about pinpointing specifics. It’s vague.
Why do the Blues take their foot off of their gas in the second period of games? Here’s what Craig Berube had to say:
“We sit back, let teams come at us. Get on our heels. Next thing you know, they score right away. Fragile.”
Oh, good. There’s that word. It’s not even “we were playing to keep the lead” or “we become complacent.” That’s something tangible that you can work on (and to his credit, Berube mentioned that the aggression appears to wane).
Consistently throughout the season, the Blues have sat back on their heels in the second period. You’ve probably noticed the phrase “we’ve got to play a full sixty” pop up in interviews. Now it’s “fragile.”
What happened to the swagger from the three-game win streak? The Blues had some in the first and last periods against Colorado on Wednesday night. They had it in the first period last night. But it’s not consistent swag, if that’s even a metric you want to measure hockey performance by. It comes and goes.
At the risk of sounding like I’m talking about a team of high school kids, if you consider swagger as a fundamental, you have to back it up. You have to actually do something to be worthy of that swagger. Pithy comments to Daren Pang isn’t what constitutes a rejuvenation in attitude. It’s what you do after those statements and how consistently you apply fundamentals that creates a winning streak that backs up your credibility.
Teams have clunkers of games, every last one of them. When there’s an identifiable pattern of behavior that contributes to those clunkers and regular losses alike, you need to address the root of that behavior.
Captain Ryan O’Reilly fell on his own sword last night and talked about top players not producing, a category in which he includes himself in.
O'Reilly on top guys: "I don't feel good about my game tonight. I know other guys that see big minutes, too, we all kind of feeling right now. It's our job. Guys that see the big minutes, we have to be driving the bus. That's the only way we're going to get into the playoffs."— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) April 18, 2021
Berube similarly laid the blame at the feet of the big guns:
Berube on needing more from top players: "100 percent. They've got to be a lot better than they are ... There are guys that are doing good things and working. But in the end, it's not enough out there. We don't have enough guys that are helping the team win. We need more."— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) April 18, 2021
They’re both right. The Blues have always been a team built on individual contributions being expected regardless of where you play. They’re getting work in from the bottom six, even without Oskar Sundqvist’s contributions. They’ve consistently gotten work from non-top line players all season.
The top guys have been bafflingly inconsistent all season. The only player who may get a bit of a pass in his inconsistency (or as close to as pass as you can get) is Vladimir Tarasenko, who took a year away from playing regular season games and barely played in the bubble due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. The team could still use more from him, injury or no.
David Perron leads the team with 42 points (13G, 29A). In the last five games he’s netted an assist in each one, but no goals. O’Reilly has four goals (three in the April 9th drubbing of the Wild) and an assist. Brayden Schenn has two assists in the last five. Mike Hoffman had two back to back two goal games, and two assists. Jordan Kyrou has two assists. Jaden Schwartz has two goals (again, both in the April 9th game) and an assist.
That’s inconsistent, and if it weren’t because the team had one game against the Wild that was basically a statistical fluke, that group’s numbers would be lower.
Last night’s loss was a mess for many reasons - it’s rare that I complain about the refs, but they missed some egregious calls (see article header image) and an extra power play or two could’ve helped the Blues out. Better and more consistent production from players that the team expects it from would help the team out more.
Stop worrying about if they have swagger. Start worrying about if they have what it takes to get it back in the first place.