American author Gertrude Stein, writing about the neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., where she grew up, which had been torn down to make way for an industrial park, said, “There is no there there.”
In the movie “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” the title character observes, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
The St. Louis Blues right now know where they want to go and know how to get there. They just can’t seem to fit the two together.
The style of play that lifted them to the Stanley Cup last season has been absent from the team for a lot of the first eight games of the season. It’s not that it doesn’t exist anymore — they’ve shown healthy stretches of it so far — but the team still is awaiting a 60-minute effort. Over the past eight days, when those lapses in their game have shown up, sometimes for just a few minutes, they’ve been costly, leading to four straight losses.
“We’ve managed to get points and that sort of thing,” defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said Sunday, “but I think if anyone’s honest, we’re not playing very good. I think the good point is we recognize it and I think we can fix it. I don’t think it’s Xs and Os or anything like that. It’s more, buckling down and (having) the effort and getting back to the way we have to play. It’s a hard way to play. But I think we saw last year when we did commit to it it was very successful. It’s just a matter of getting back there.”
After a 5-2 loss to Montreal on Saturday, coach Craig Berube talked about the team not having the buy-in they have to have to be successful. He expanded on what he meant by that on Sunday.
“I think (it’s) the way we need to play,” he said. “The way we had success last year. How hard we have to play and play for each other. That’s the buy-in I’m talking about. You can’t take five penalties. . . . We can’t do that. That’s the stuff I’m talking about. Line changes, little stuff like that. Good line changes, putting your teammate in a good spot going on the ice. It’s all those little things like that.”
The Blues might get their toughest test of the season yet on Monday when they entertain Colorado, the only team in the NHL yet to lose in regulation this season. Colorado was tied for the league lead in scoring going into Sunday and had the league’s best goal difference.
It won’t be easy but it’s also a good chance for the Blues to heighten their search, to find their “there.”
It took the Blues until late December last season to find their game, playing strongly on the forecheck, tilting zone time strongly in their favor, winning puck battles and grinding teams down. So far this season, the Blues have been too prone to playing the other team’s style, getting into end-to-end races and giving up quality scoring chances.
“I think we’re guilty of some unnecessary turnovers at times that put us in tough spots,” Berube said. “A little bit sloppy there at times. Defensively, I think we’re in and out. I don’t think we’re as solid as we can be. I don’t think we’re as aggressive as we can be. There are times we can close out plays quicker but we don’t. We give teams time.”
The good news for the Blues is, everyone on the team except for newcomer Justin Faulk knows exactly what that game looks like and knows where to find it. This year’s search just appears to have been slightly delayed.
“You have to find it at some point,” Bouwmeester said. “We’ve been playing now for three weeks. The start of the year is what it is but as everyone gets about 10 games under their belt, things start to tighten up. Hopefully we’re in that boat. I think (Monday is) a good game because we’re playing a really good team that is one of those teams we can’t play their way because if we do, they’ll beat us bad. But, if we play our game and play that puck-possession and grind-it-out kind of game, it frustrates teams like that.
“At times last year, the down times, we looked very similar to this. That’s all it is. Hopefully, it’s something we just have to get a taste of it again and everyone sees how it can be successful and all work within the system. Time will tell. We’ll work through it.”
The Blues showed last year that you don’t have to be on the top of your game on Oct. 1, or even Nov. 1, though their unprecedented path to the Stanley Cup, going from last to first, is not one that anyone should bet on replicating.
“It’s a long year,” Bouwmeester said. “But I think our focus now is at some point, ‘OK, enough’s enough’ and we need to play the way we can. I don’t think we’ve done that yet. We’ve done it for portions of games and a couple of games have been OK, like the Islander game. It was OK, we got a couple bad breaks at the end and you end up losing the game. We’ve been getting points which kind of covers your mistakes a little bit as far as the attitude goes. But, I think everybody realizes we can play better, and that’s a good thing because you’re not sitting here thinking things are great. I think we know we can do a lot better.”
The Blues know where they’re headed. They just have to get there.