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Blues at Maple Leafs preview: Social loafers

The Blues were a bit... disinterested in their loss to Montreal. Will they be more engaged tonight?

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan O’Reilly called the Blues’ play in Thursday night’s 2-1 loss “casual.” Craig Berube chose “aloof.”

“We got a point and move on,” coach Craig Berube said. “We gotta be better. Each individual on the team has to be accountable for his play. We need more guys in my opinion that have to play better. We have some guys that are aloof out there right now. Aloof with the puck and just a little bit casual. We need everybody on board to do the right things and play the right way.”

“Aloof” is certainly a good way to describe Thursday’s loss to the worst team in the NHL, or the Blues’ previous bad-team loss to the New Jersey Devils. We all saw Robert Bortuzzo’s non-reaction on Paul Byron’s goal. The Blues have been accused for seasons of playing down to the competition, of viewing non-playoff teams as an night off that always turns into an off night. Right now, the only line that you can’t accuse of that consists of Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, and Vladimir Tarasenko. They’ve been on fire. Everyone else, especially in these games where the team believes two points is an entitlement, has looked disinterested for stretches of play.

What gives?

There’s an actual psychological term for this: social loafing. We’ve all experienced it if we’ve been forced to do group work against our will. You take an already easy task, or a task that’s perceived as easy, and then you make it perceived as even easier by splitting the work up between several people. What happens? Everyone puts forth less effort because “someone else has got it,” and you wind up with a mess like Thursday night.

Or, and many of you have been in this position I am sure, one person is forced to carry the weight of the rest of the group. Thursday night, those roles went to the second line and Ville Husso.

Tonight’s game has a little more challenge in it, or it should. The Toronto Maple Leafs are healthy and on a two-game win streak. The Leafs may be in third place in the Atlantic Division, but that division has one of the toughest top-fours in hockey, and the Leafs’ 32-12-3 record is good for sixth best in the league. They’re rolling with a record of 8-2-0 in their last ten games, the most recent of which was a 4-1 home win over the Penguins.

Auston Matthews is on a nine-game point streak, bringing his totals on the season to 33-26-59. No one else comes close to those totals, but 17 goals each from William Nylander, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner isn’t anything to sleep on. The Leafs’ offense is brutal, and it’s going to take a strong performance from more than just whoever the goaltender is and the second line to make it out of Toronto with two points.