Cratering Blues running out of time to salvage season
William Carrier, 28, of Vegas Golden Knights celebrates after passing St. Louis Blues goalkeeper Ville Husso, 35, in the second phase of an NHL hockey game on Monday, April 5, 2021 in St. Louis. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)
Craig Berube stepped back and watched his St. Louis Blues practice practice so he could see how the players dealt with the situation in a seven game loss.
Anyone looking in from the outside can spy on a team in great trouble.
Berube’s Blues have lost 12 of their last 14 games and run out of time to save their season and reach the playoffs. Less than two years after the unlikely Stanley Cup run, St. Louis has a brutal schedule on the track and is poised to climb to even qualify for the NHL postseason.
“We’re in a hole right now and have to scratch and scrape ourselves out,” said Berube on Tuesday. “I know this group is taking care of it, and things are not going well right now. But to get out of there you have to keep believing and keep working and keep competing and sticking together. That’s the only way to get out of there. “
The Blues woke up second in the West Division on March 6 before that free fall began and are now five points behind last playoff spot with 18 games remaining. That’s not an impossible margin to erase, but 14 of the last 18 games are against one of the top three in the west: Vegas, Colorado or Arizona.
“We have tough games and great opportunities and obviously the teams we play here at the end of the year are the teams we have to go through to get there,” said center Tyler Bozak. “It’s going to be fun. We all love to play meaningful games and they obviously mean a lot.”
They have meant a lot for a while, and the blues have already missed a lot of opportunities. They were outscored 25-8 during the seven-game skid, proof that they can’t score or stop when they need to.
Injuries have hampered the blues, from playing without top defender Colton Parayko since mid-February to losing Oskar Sundqvist and full-back Carl Gunnarsson to knee injuries at the end of the season. However, Berube continues to expect the leadership group and key players to lead the way out of this slump.
“This is what these guys get paid for by scoring goals and doing the right things every night,” he said. “We don’t understand, so it’s hard to win. It’s the same when I talk about the goalkeeping game. They need savings and we are not getting enough of them. “
That applies to goalkeeper Jordan Binnington, who won the trophy out of nowhere in 2019 and was an All-Star last season. Binnington is 39th in the league with 2.77 goals against the average and 43rd with a saving of 0.904 percent.
When asked what he should do better, Binnington said, “Just make a few more saves. Same approach: prepare as best you can, focus and give the team a chance to win. “Berube wants to see Binnington – and the whole team – brag back, but the 27-year-old doesn’t think he’s ever lost it.
“I always boast,” said Binnington. “Sometimes I just do my job and do the saves I’m supposed to do, sometimes you do more and you want to win these games 1-0, 2-0. I always want to play hard and have fun with it. “
The blues aren’t having much fun right now and won’t get any better if they don’t find their game quickly. Some of the cast have changed, including Captain Alex Pietrangelo, who is leaving for Vegas freehand. However, this is a similar list to the one that won the trophy. So in the changing room there is a belief that all is not lost.
“We have such a great group there and if there is a group that is going to change that, this is the group that is doing that,” Parayko said. “We stick together. We will make progress. We’ll push. … I have no doubt that this is the group that turns it around. “
The Blues aren’t the only team trying to get better within a month. The Philadelphia Flyers are outside the playoff picture in the east, the Western Conference champion Dallas Stars in the center and the Calgary Flames in the north.
Philadelphia have another game against fourth place in Boston on Saturday to fill the gap. Dallas has four games against last place in Detroit in mid-April and Calgary is treating each game as if it were already the playoffs.
“We have to find a way to find a better game and get some wins,” said striker Mikael Backlund. The flames lost four in a row and eight out of nine.
The New Jersey Devils are keeping winger Kyle Palmieri out of the games to trade him before Monday close of trading, and the Buffalo Sabers are doing the same with MVP Taylor Hall from 2018. Palmieri and Hall are among the top players expected will have them change places before the deadline.
GAME OF THE WEEK
NHL leader Tampa Bay Lightning visits the Nashville Predators Saturday night to open a two-game series.
LEADERS (until Monday)
Goals: Auston Matthews (Toronto), 27; Helps; Connor McDavid (Edmonton), 42; Points: McDavid, 64; Ice Age: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:49; Wins: Philipp Grubauer (Colorado), 24; Average goals: Petr Mrazek (Carolina), 0.74; Save percent: Mrazek, .968.
AP Hockey writers Larry Lage and John Wawrow contributed to this report.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.