You can’t spell offense without an “O,” or in the case of the Blues at the moment, an “0.”
The Blues were shut out for the second time in four games on Monday, falling to the Kings 3-0 at Enterprise Center. It’s their second loss in a row, their third in four games and if it hadn’t been for a goal by Brayden Schenn with 40 seconds left on Thursday against San Jose that enabled them to salvage a win in overtime, the Blues would be looking at a four-game losing streak and seven losses in nine games. Instead, they’ve lost six of nine games, a situation that looks only marginally better.
And in a season where everything is going to come at you fast, these troubles are quickly taking a toll on the Blues, who while they may be second in the West Division in points, are precariously close to falling into fourth, or even fifth, in points percentage. The Blues are now below .500 at home at 4-5-2, compared to 6-2 on the road.
“We didn’t create enough tonight offensively,” coach Craig Berube said. “It seems like we’re a little bit in and out with that. There are games where we create quite a bit and score, and then there’s games where we don’t. For me, it’s more consistency than anything. And it seems to be at home more than on the road.”
But it’s not just that the team has failed to score a five-on-five goal in three of the past four games, or failed to score a power-play goal in four of the past five games. A struggling offense is only part of the problem.
“I think there is a bigger issue that is our overall game,” said captain Ryan O’Reilly. “We need to kind of at least learn how to lose together, lose as a team before we can win as a team. It’s just kind of being light and not thinking as much and really supporting each other and having that kind of trust, not only in our own game, but our teammates’ games. You can tell there’s a little hesitation now. We don’t want to make mistakes and it’s putting us on our heels and you don’t get the bounces and find a way to put the puck in the net and we all get frustrated. Every one in that room is frustrated right now and wants to play better.”
Making it harder to come together is that the team is, almost literally, coming apart. The already long list of injuries, which includes Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev, Jaden Schwartz, Colton Parayko and Vladimir Tarasenko, added veteran defenseman Carl Gunnarsson on Monday and, as Berube said in what figures to be understatement, “He’ll be out awhile.”
On a Kings power play in the second period, Gabriel Vilardi made contact with Gunnarsson on the boards behind the Blues goal and something happened to his right leg in the process. He fell to the ice and stayed there a long time, finally getting helped off the ice with Jacob de la Rose under one arm and Robert Bortuzzo under the other before being handed off to two trainers who helped him to the training room. All the time, Gunnarsson had no weight on his right leg.
“It’s horrible,” said Schenn. “He’s obviously in a lot of pain. … That’s a guy that’s laid it on the line for this organization for a long time. He’s a hell of a teammate and a good guy, so hopefully it’s not too serious. … Obviously, it looked serious.”
An update on Gunnarsson — in his seventh season with the club, longer than any player other than Schwartz and Tarasenko — will come on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Blues offense struggles. While the Blues generated some chances in the third period, the first two periods were heavy on the “0.” For the second game in a row, the Blues’ best chances were coming from the fourth line, which can be a nice bonus at times but otherwise is not the foundation for a solid attack.
“You’ve got to find a way to be better,” Schenn said. “There’s areas of our game definitely we’re happy with in spurts in the game, but I think as a whole, bringing it back to the last seven or eight games I don’t think we’re doing enough consistently and that’s kind of leading to inconsistent play and kind of win one, lose one, or not putting together a full 60. We’ll find a way to be better.”
While the offense tries to solve its problems, the defense is making just enough mistakes to put added pressure on a team that doesn’t really need any more pressure at the moment. The Kings’ first goal came because Alex Athanasiou was able to speed past defenseman Vince Dunn, forcing Bortuzzo to commit a tripping penalty, and the Kings scored on the power play.
In the second period, Zach Sanford blocked a shot high in the Blues zone but then turned toward his own goal and played the puck directly to Dustin Brown of the Kings, the second time in as many games he’s turned the puck over in his own end and it led directly to a goal. Brown took the puck, came in front of the crease and while lunging had the puck go in off the Blues’ Torey Krug. (Brown also added a late empty-net goal to clinch the win.)
“It’s not even awareness as much as we have the puck and give it back to ‘em,” Berube said. “And then we didn’t defend off it very well when the guy takes it to the net. We were in position to defend him but didn’t. … You gotta make better plays with the puck for sure and better decisions. You turn pucks over in the D-zone, it obviously causes problems. … We don’t execute with the puck right now in all three zones. That’s gotta get better.”