Blues Could Face “Off-Season of the Soul”
The middle portion of the abbreviated 2013 regular season found the St. Louis Blues struggling to find their identity. They played inconsistently, from the goal out. The Blues went 11-15 from February through March, including a 5-game losing streak to open February. This was frustrating to Blues fans everywhere because of the promise the team showed last year. They disposed of San Jose in the first round of the playoffs before being disposed of themselves, in short order I might add, by the L.A. Kings. Nevertheless, the feeling in St. Louis was that the team, at its core, was on the rise, and there would be bigger and better things in store for them in 2013.
The Blues did find their form late in the 2013 season. They were aided in large part by goaltender Brian Elliott. He’d struggled early on, and team management had sent him to the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, to condition himself. He played well in two games for the Rivermen, and came back gamebusters. Elliott was one of the best netminders in the league down the stretch. He recorded a .923 save percentage in the month of April, with 3 shutouts (all of which came back to back to back). Also helping out the cause were trade deadline pick-ups Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold. They solidified the blueline and helped tighten down the defense.
But in the postseason,the Blues ran into the same brick wall that stopped their advance last season: Los Angeles. Though the Note won their first two games, and though they went toe-to-toe each night with the defending-champ Kings squad, they couldn’t crack Jonathan Quick. The Blues lost their last 4 games, and the series overall 4-2.
This is a decided step back for the Blues. A team that surpassed expectations in 2012, advancing to the 2nd playoff round, was expected in 2013 to do greater things. The foundation had been laid. The team supposedly had learned the hard lesson of what it takes to win games and series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And they started out with promise, going up 2 games to none to start the series. But even in those 2 victories, it was apparent the Blues had a problem: they couldn’t score. They were plagued by an abundance of missed shots and the stone wall otherwise known as Jonathan Quick.
This is a problem that needs to be addressed this summer, I believe in a major way. Nothing short of the departure of one of the core forwards will suffice. The Blues have very talented players filling out the forward corps, but they’ve failed to live up to their potential. Winger T.J. Oshie hasn’t yet scored 20 goals in a season. David Perron has only reached that level once. David Backes’ offensive production was abysmal in 2013. He only scored 6 goals in 48 games, and he’s supposed to be the top line center.
General Manager Doug Armstrong is a savvy executive. He’s not afraid to shake things up, and he shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on something that does just that to this team. Their first-round exodus should not be acceptable to management, or new owner Tom Stillman. This team is good, but in its current form isn’t good enough to win their first Cup.
Armstrong will change up this team, but the players that remain need to have a long off-season of the soul. They need to dig deep inside themselves. They need to have some real heart-to-hearts and find out why they aren’t quite good enough to take that next step. Time is running out on this group.