Admittedly it feels uncomfortable to suggest this, especially because my sweet mother reads the morning paper, but someone on the Blues needs to drop the gloves and punch an opponent in the face.
The Blues need an emotional jolt, something, anything to fire them up out there. And in hockey, a little fisticuffs often does the trick. The Blues aren’t forechecking consistently. They’re not passing crisply. Their coach said there is “not enough buy-in to team play.” In fact, the Blues have gone winless in their past four games, were embarrassed in their past two games and haven’t gotten in one fight in any of their eight games.
And in a there’s-a-stat-for-everything world that we live in, only once have the Blues started a season with a longer stretch of games without a fight. That, according to the reliable Twitter feed of @STLBlueshistory, was in 2016-17, when the boys went their first 10 games without a fight (and perhaps that was a hockey harbinger, considering that coach Ken Hitchcock was fired at midseason).
Coincidentally, the Blues’ home opponent Monday is Colorado. It was on February 8, 2018, against the Avalanche when Brayden Schenn went to extremes to ignite a fight, dropping the gloves on the opening face-off with opponent Gabriel Landeskog.
“People have different opinions of fighting, but it sends a message to your team,” said then-coach Mike Yeo after the game that the Blues won, 6-1. “He wanted to send a message to the team and he did that.”
The current Blues are in a malaise, and it’s happening right in front of the home fans. Against Vancouver, the Blues blew a two-goal lead. And then in the loss to Montreal, their most-recent game, a 1-1 tie turned into a 4-1 deficit by the end of the second period.
“Maybe we were playing teams a little too lightly, we know that,” defenseman Vince Dunn said Sunday after practice. “And we let teams that shouldn’t be beating us really embarrass us. Last game was definitely unacceptable. That’s not a team that should walk all over us. They played a good game, but I think overall we know why we fell down to them. It’s not big mistakes — it’s little things that are really catching up to us and making us lose games.”
Even with recent performances, the Blues get a little benefit of the doubt because . . . remember when they won the Stanley Cup? You can’t be that mad at the boys for their latest run, considering they provided the greatest run in city history. And that run caused them to miss more than a month of rest and training preparation for this current season.
And, really, every little setback this fall seems a little less intense because of what was just accomplished last summer. Plus the fact that they weren’t just inconsistent to start last season, but that they had the fewest points in the NHL on Jan. 3. So, yeah, they could be better this October, but it’s only October.
Ways to be better? Winning puck battles, especially in the offensive zone. Committing to defense. Communicating better. Heck, coach Craig Berube even mentioned the line changes could be more efficient on ice. It’s all about the little things, they say. But what fires up a team to do the little things?
Well, what fires up a hockey team?
Sometimes a fight leads to some fight.
“It definitely gets the guys going, and shows that you really care — but I think there are other ways to show that,” Dunn said. “We can start blocking more shots and being more physical on the ice. Those little things really feed into the flow of the game, really gets guys feeling good about themselves. If guys are blocking shots, whether it’s five-on-five or the penalty kill, it shows that we’re caring for each other and want to make a difference for each other. It’s those little things that build the momentum and confidence in the dressing room.”
Dunn is on to something.
In Saturday’s loss to Montreal, the Blues players blocked only two shots. That’s not a lot. In fact, per our friends again from @STLBlueshistory, the last time the Blues had two of fewer blocks in a game was 726 games ago —March 14, 2010 against Minnesota. And the last time an NHL team blocked two or fewer shots was October of last year, when the lowly Sabres blocked two.
“It comes down to work ethic and caring for each other on the ice,” Dunn said. “A lot of these goals (allowed) and penalties are careless. I think what made us so good in the playoffs was everybody being on the same page and working together. We’re not doing that every shift, but there are some spurts where we’re playing well and results are coming our way.”
If the Blues were to get into a fight, the question is: Which Blue would be willing to get black and blue? Schenn still is on the team. But Cup-champion scrappers Patrick Maroon and Joel Edmundson play elsewhere. And with the game more athletic than it’s ever been before, teams seldom have a guy whose primary role is fighting.
And no, this isn’t some grand advocating for more fighting in hockey. We are sadly well-aware of the effects fighting had on enforcers from yesteryear. It is good that fighting is down. But it’s understood that every handful of games or so, one player’s fight can emotionally affect other players.
But if the Blues don’t get in a fight, yet block a bunch of shots and play team hockey, then that would be pretty effective, too.