ARE THE BLUES TOO SOFT?
COMMENT: Jake Allen has been run into by opponents at least three times while in the net, and opposing players have jammed their sticks into Allen’s midsection trying to pull the puck out, and the Blues never did anything about it. No facewash with a mitt, nobody ended up on their butt, nothing. This team is soft overall.
JT: I’m going to stop short of saying this is a soft team. But yes, they could be more physical. I don’t think they’re as physical as last season.
Follow-up: Seriously, this Blues team is soft. Where have you gone Plager brothers, Twist, Chase, even Reaves. Teams are not afraid of playing in St. Lou anymore — there is no home ice advantage.
JT: A lot of teams seem to be playing more of a run-and-gun style. There are a lot of leads that don’t seem too safe around the league. I can’t sit here and tell you if this is the wave of the future in hockey, but an emphasis on youth, speed, and offense seems to be happening right now.
But, yes, I’d like to see the Blues play more physical, and so would Mike Yeo. He has mentioned it to us on several occasions already. And that means a lot more than just pounding on people. It means being more stubborn along the boards and “dirty” areas. Being tougher to budge in front of the opposing goalie, and moving people out who are in front of your goalie. Putting up more resistance in the neutral zone.
And yes, the home-ice edge at Enterprise wasn’t much of a factor last season and appears headed on the same course this season.
Follow-up: I’ll concur with the lack of toughness, but that’s nowhere close to the biggest problem with this team. The biggest problem is work ethic, and closely followed by mental toughness. It takes a TON of energy and determination to start and stop and play good zone defense, and the Blues are just far too lazy right now with ‘D’ drifting around aimlessly.
JT: I’m not going to say the Blues are “lazy” but even Yeo has mentioned on a couple of occasions that there’s another level they can reach when it comes to work ethic.
BAD FEELING ABOUT THE BAD START
QUESTION: Should we be concerned that the Blues are off to a slow start?
JT: Yes. It’s almost as if the team has been flipped on its head from last season. The offense looks a little better, the power play looks significantly better. But the defense has gone south, as has the team’s 5-on-5 play.
Even with missing the playoffs last season, the Blues were among the league’s better 5-on-5 teams. This season, they’ve been outscored 14-7 in 5-on-5 play. If you throw in the two overtime losses (3-on-3), they have been outscored 16-7 even strength.
Follow-up: What is troublesome about this start is that, other than maybe an improved power play, I can’t see anything the Blues are doing well right now. It’s either mediocre or worse. The 5-on-5 play and the play from some of the supposed leaders on defense has really been disheartening.
JT: The most surprising/disappointing thing to me about the team so far has been the defensive play. Defense has been the backbone of the team for years and it just doesn’t seem the same so far this year. I can’t think of one defenseman who has played consistently well. OK, Parayko maybe. And I realize that there’s more to defense than just the D-men.
While realizing that being professional doesn’t mean you’re not human, some of the mistakes made by veterans on defense have been head-scratchers. There is also a new defenseman coach this year as well.
‘ARMY’ FEELING THE HEAT?
QUESTION: When the Blues miss the playoffs again this year, isn’t about time to clean house — starting with Doug Armstrong?
JT: Pretty dark assessment five games in. But I understand your frustration. Keep in mind, Armstrong just signed a four-year extension last season. So I think he could have a longer leash.
Comment: I’m surprised at all the hate being thrown Armstrong’s way. This team had some sad years pre-Hitchcock and I think some of the right moves have been made recently. Most of the players that were let go have not done well (Shattenkirk, Brouwer, Halak, Elliott, Lehtera, etc.), while some good players have been acquired and drafted.
JT: Armstrong told me at the Traverse City prospects tournament that he thought the window was opening on this team being a legit Western Conference contender. Five games in — and I repeat, just five games in — maybe the process will take a little longer than hoped.
AND WHAT ABOUT YEO?
QUESTION: I get the impression that it would take quite a bit for ownership to sour on Yeo enough to move him along this season. What do you think it would take?
JT: Well, not making the playoffs for one. But Armstrong, remember, is the guy who brought in Yeo. So firing Yeo would also reflect poorly on Armstrong.
WHAT’S PETRO’S PROBLEM?
QUESTION: Now that we’ve gotten the annual “I’ve got to play better” speech from Petro, what can you tell us about what’s wrong with him? Too much going on at home with baby triplets? Is it non-hockey-related stuff in the clubhouse? Something hockey-related?
JT: I don’t know what to tell you on Petro. But as you apparently read or heard, he knows he needs to play better. Don’t you think he will? We’re talking about 5 games here. Not 15 or 50. He was an All-Star last season.
Last week someone on the chat was moaning about Perron’s slow start. He then went out and scored 4 goals in the next two games.
WHAT’S THE PLAN FOR ROBERT THOMAS?
QUESTION: What will the Blues do with Robert Thomas? Do you think they will send him back to juniors or let him sit in the press box when their forward health improves.
JT: I find it hard to believe that Thomas will be sent back to juniors. The team really doesn’t want to do that.
… I think they need to play him. He’s going to gain nothing from another year in junior hockey. He hasn’t played nearly the minutes that Kyrou has so far, so it’s been more difficult for him to find his rhythm. But it would be easier to keep playing him if the Blues were winning more hockey games. And make no mistake, winning takes precedence over player development.
BREAKING DOWN THE BLUES’ BREAKDOWNS
COMMENT: Looks like the Blues’ issues are as simple as lapses in back-checking and defensemen getting caught too far up ice/reacting too slowly to change in possession. Has there been any discussion from the coaching staff on those issues?
JT: I’m sure there has. Yeo definitely has discussed it with us. The counter-attacks by other teams have been costly to the Blues, especially in that first Chicago game. We’ve seen a couple of breakaways following blocked shots (Anaheim, Chicago) — situations that are partly (bad) luck but also instances where someone on defense should have gotten back.
And don’t forget about net-front presence. The Blues are making it too easy for opponents to park in front of the net, for a variety of reasons.
Follow-up: The defensive woes seem to stem from the team being so aggressive on offense. The forwards are flying into the zone, and the D is always jumping into the play. This has caused multiple odd man rushes/breakaways. Is this a system change with Yeo trying to generate more offense, as the Blues’ lack of offense last year was so well noted?
JT: I think there’s a lot of truth to what you’re saying. The Blues have concentrated so much on goal scoring (and the power play) that maybe some of their defensive fundamentals have suffered in the process.
JAYBO TOO SLOW?
QUESTION: Jay Bouwmeester seems to really be struggling to begin the season. Any reason why Yeo keeps him on the top defensive pairing? Shouldn’t he be on the third?
JT: I still think Bouwmeester has been effective on the penalty kill, but there are times he looks slow in 5-on-5 play.
Follow-up: Should the Blues try to get something for Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson, and make room for some of their defensive prospects?
JT: Sounds logical, but not sure that either player would fetch much. Bouwmeester is 35, and Gunnarsson is coming off a knee injury (and isn’t expected to play until November).
Follow-up: “JayBo” looks like he has lost another step from his already slow speed last year. Petro is playing awful with him, and Dunn is slumping. When Edmundson was out, they really struggled. If Gunnarsson is not the answer, they are in trouble.
JT: I don’t know what to tell you about Bouwmeester — he still may not be 100 percent after the hip surgery, but he played pretty well in the preseason.
BETTER HOCKEY THROUGH CHEMISTRY?
QUESTION: I’m a firm believer that chemistry takes a while to kick in, but during training camp, the players said they were ready for the season after a couple of preseason games. If they were ready, then why the disarray?
JT: I think what you’re referring to is veteran players saying that, physically, they were personally ready to play after 2 or 3 games. Playing together as a unit is a different matter.
Saying that, though, I think we’re reaching the expiration point on citing team chemistry as an issue.
COULD BLUES LEARN A LESSON FROM VEGAS?
COMMENT: We keep hearing the same tired excuse: ‘We’re not used to playing together.’ That’s bull. Look at the Vegas Golden Knights last year: no one had played together, but they went to the Cup finals. We’re tired of 50-plus years of excuses
JT: I think you’re making an apples and oranges argument here. The Knights had a chip on their shoulders as a team composed of players no one else wanted — they called themselves the Misfits remember? That was a rallying cry and a bonding thing for the team from Day 1. They all stepped onto the team and the team systems from Day 1 as well, all learning it from scratch. Not players who had played in the system for a year-plus, and others who were just stepping in like the Blues.
They also rallied behind the tragedy in Vegas before the start of the season. And I believe what they accomplished was a hockey miracle that won’t be repeated for a long, long time.
HOW DOES FABBRI LOOK?
QUESTION: How did Robby Fabbri look when he returned to practice with the team?
JT: Well, he’s practicing but still wearing the yellow “no-contact” jersey. He looks good out there, but the question is can he hold up if he’s playing multiple games? Remember, the Blues say the knee is fine; it’s the compensating — or overcompensating — that has led to the various tweaks and strains Fabbri experienced in preseason.