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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breaking Down the Blues' Slow Start

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 3:28 PM

Sadly, it's become an annual tradition here in St. Louis, it seems: the Blues' Slow Start. Happens every year, right around this time, when we look at the record of our beloved boys in blue and notice they aren't doing so hot. 
click to enlarge Slow_5.jpg
This year, though, this seems a bit different. Oh, sure, they were way worse than this a couple years back, but we didn't expect that team to be any good. I have it on good authority several of the Blues' players during the 2006-07 season didn't have their own skates and had to use rentals. But this team? We all thought 2009 was going to be the Blues' season, the year they took that next big step forward and became not just a playoff team, but a legitimate contender to play deep into the spring. 

Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. The Blues' record currently stands at 6-8-4, good for a rather dismal 16 points and a last-place standing in the Central division. Worse yet, they're an absolutely miserable 3-7-1 at home. It seems some nights like the Blues left all their happy thoughts back in Stockholm. 

The thing is, the Blues have plenty of talent. So why are they struggling so badly again this year? 

Well, to put it simply, the Blues just can't score. Their goaltending has been absolutely top notch, with a Goals Against Average of only 2.26. Both Chris Mason and Ty Conklin have been brilliant overall, and I honestly can't find much blame to lay at their feet. When both your primary and backup goalie are giving up around two and a quarter goals per game, you should be doing a whole hell of a lot better than last place in the division. 

So scoring is the problem. But where does it start? Is it a weak power play? Is there a forward who is underperforming and dragging down the rest of the squad? Or maybe your defensemen are actually to blame, and their weak play at the opposite end of the ice is sapping whatever scoring momentum you might be trying to build. 

Sadly, I can say with complete and total honesty the Blues have got all those things going on right now. Let's start with the last point first. 

Where have you gone, Erik Johnson? - I'll be the first to admit I am a huge Erik Johnson fan. I like Erik Johnson like I like Steven Jackson; a player who can potentially elevate my team to an elite level almost alone. So please understand when I bash, I bash with love. 

Erik Johnson is playing small this year. Simple as that. 

When Johnson first came into the league, he looked like a first overall draft pick. He looked like the sort of guy a franchise would do well to hitch its future wagon to. He was big, he could skate, he could certainly shoot, and he could hit people. He seemed to be everything you could want out of a future anchor defenseman. 

This season, though, some of that stuff is there, but quite a bit of it just isn't. I don't know if perhaps Johnson is afraid to really open up on someone and lay them out because of his surgically repaired knee or if his legs simply aren't where they need to be, but he isn't squaring up at all the same as he used to. He's much, much less physical with his checks, and it doesn't seem opponents are keeping their heads on a swivel, as they say. Johnson also doesn't seem as instinctive with the puck these days, making several bad outlet passes that have really stood out. 

Of course, Johnson isn't the only problem on the defensive end. Alex Pietrangelo is a very talented puck-handler, but he just isn't a bruiser. He needs to be paired with a more physical, dominating sort of defenseman. Sadly, the Blues appear to be lacking that at the moment. And don't get me started on Eric Brewer. Since the 2007-2008 season, a period which covers 113 games for Brewer, he has scored exactly 2 goals. He has also managed to be a painful -39 in that time frame. 

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