EDMONTON, Alberta — The Blues averaged 3.14 goals per game in the regular season, their highest single-season average since way back in 1994-95.
That was a long time ago. How long? In football, the Rams were in the process of moving to St. Louis. In baseball, catcher Tom Pagnozzi won his third Gold Glove for the Cardinals.
So this was a productive season for the Blues’ offense. And that was without Vladimir Tarasenko and his surgically-repaired left shoulder for 61 of the 71 pre-pandemic “pause” games.
Tarasenko, as you may have heard, is back in the lineup for the postseason. And so is everyone else. But the Blues’ offense has stumbled out of the gate in its two games since arriving here in the NHL’s Western Conference hub city.
The Blues have only one goal to show for their round-robin opener (Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Colorado) and exhibition game (a 4-0 loss to Chicago last Wednesday).
Now, it’s only two games — and one of them was an exhibition. But this isn’t a case of bad puck luck or stellar goaltending from the opposition. The Blues simply aren’t generating much. Of anything. Although things got better as Sunday’s game progressed.
When it comes to five-on-five play, the Blues are 0-for-Edmonton so far because David Perron’s score against the Avalanche came on the power play. Calgary is the only other squad in the entire 24-team postseason field that didn’t have an even-strength goal after its exhibition game and postseason opener.
The Flames, however, still scored five times in those two games — three power play goals, one short-hander score, and an empty-netter.
As for the Blues, they were better offensively against Colorado than they were against the Blackhawks, but that’s a pretty low bar.
During his media Zoom briefing Monday, coach Craig Berube broke it down in detail.
“There was a lot of improvement,” he said. “I still think that we’re not working the puck low enough. We’re not hanging onto it. We’re not heavy enough on it right now.
“I think that we’re getting stripped too easily. And for me a lot of times, we have too many people watching what’s going on and not getting in there and getting numbers on the puck.
“These teams, they’re gonna double up on us. They know our game, they know we want to hang onto that puck in the offensive zone and cycle. So we’re gonna have to get numbers in there. We’re just not quite aggressive enough yet.”
The Blues’ best game is simple but purposeful. And it’s a style that takes a lot of effort and intensity.
Get the puck in deep. Forecheck. Win puck battles. Possession. Zone time. Cycle. Grind, and grind some more. But with two games left in round-robin play, before the real playoffs begin, the Blues aren’t there yet.
“Usually it kind of starts with our forecheck and putting it in the right place and hunting,” Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly said after the Colorado game. “And then we gotta control and wear teams down that way. But for sure we didn’t deserve that one. We didn’t do enough things to change momentum or generate momentum.”
Perron saw it the same way.
“We’re a team that has to be really strong on the forecheck,” he said. “For us to get there we have to put it behind the ‘D.’ . . . I think it works to our advantage if we use it. There are some teams that don’t play the way we do that have success.”
Not flashy to be sure, but for the Blues that’s their winning recipe. It was effective enough to win the Stanley Cup last season and finish best in the West this regular season.
“For us, the four lines that go on the ice, we have to understand that. And we didn’t do it enough,” Perron said.
Along with those basics of the Blues’ possession game, second and third chances and bodies in front of the net make it work. And the Blues didn’t have enough of that either Sunday night.
“Third period there were a few second opportunities around the net,” Berube said. “But clearly not enough. We gotta do a better job of getting the puck low to high. There were just missed reads with our defense and our forwards not on the same page a little bit.
“We’re a little bit late on our’ D’ hammering walls, and keeping pucks alive. It’ll get better. But we gotta make sure that we’re improving all the time here. Because when it really counts, we want to be right up to the top of our game.”
Despite being outshot 16-4 in the opening period, and without much offensive zone time, the Blues had a 1-0 lead after one period, on the Perron goal. They righted the ship to a degree from there on out, outshooting the Avalanche 28-22 over the final two periods.
Even so, they didn’t have many prime chances and Colorado pulled out the victory with a pair of third-period goals — including Nazem Kadri’s with one-tenth of a second remaining at Rogers Place.
So the Blues still aren’t in sync offensively. Their timing’s off, especially when it comes to the line of Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Tarasenko. The trio had only three shots on goal combined against Colorado, and only one of those came in five-on-five play.
Then again, it’s hard to shoot if you don’t have the puck.
“They need to have the puck a lot more than they had,” Berube said. “They never had the puck enough in that game. They never possessed it enough in the offensive zone and did enough things with it. They know that. And they’ll be better.”