When Jaroslav Halak was injured last Friday in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, many were cautiously optimistic about what Brian Elliott could do for the Blues during his absence. While Halak has not been his best this season, he was still clearly playing better hockey than Elliott when he was injured, and I think every Blues fans is missing him a lot now.
The St. Louis Blues were 6-1-0 Jaroslav Halak, when Halak went down. After that game they were 6-2-0, but after two crushing losses this week the team now sits third in the Central Division at 6-4-0 with Detroit quickly gaining ground as well. While fans in St. Louis are often hard on Halak, he is a great goalie. The times Halak struggles are when he is struggling mentally. The choice to put him on the IR by Hitchcock was a smart move. It gives him time to rest himself and get in the mindset he needs to win. Watching the Blues struggles each night have to inspire him to get back on the ice and help the Blues regain form. Jaroslav Halak is supposed to be back on the ice for practice today and will start taking shots on Saturday. It is expected that the earliest he would return to the ice would be Monday against the LA Kings.
The Blues need to prove that last season was not a fluke and the same goes for Brian Elliott. It seems that far too often in Elliott’s career he has moments where he is red hot and then falls apart terribly. I have never been one of the proponents that Elliott should be a starting goalie in the NHL and have often taken heat from Blues fans for that stance. Brian Elliott was incredible last year, but so was the St. Louis Blues defense. When you have guys in front of you keeping the play out of the slot and keeping key scoring chances to a minimum you can look like a star. The problem is the Blues aren’t doing that this season. I don’t know the last time that I saw this many breakaways against the Blues. It seems like other teams are getting odd man rushes down the ice on a regular basis. In the last 5 games, Elliott has faced exactly 100 shots and only managed to stop 84 of those shots for a save percentage of .840. The last few games have placed the Blues as the second worst team in the league as far as save percentage. Not exactly the way to show you are an All-Star the season after winning the Jennings Trophy.
While goaltending is an obvious issue, the defense can not be without blame. The St. Louis Blues clearly do not have the faith in Ian Cole to be a consistent NHL player or they would not have brought in Wade Redden. While Redden has been managing, the last two games have just been embarrassing. Redden looks like he can’t keep up with the play while Alex Pietrangelo has looked almost constantly out of place on the defensive side of his game. Petro may be the only one putting the puck in the net, but if he can’t help keep them out on the other end there will be bigger issues for the Blues. Kevin Shattenkirk has been playing a decent game, but it appears that his focus is more offensive as well. Roman Polak hasn’t been a help for the Blues either, which is surprising as he has been consistent most of his career. The same can be said for Kris Russell. Anyone missing Nikita Nikitin now? For a team that prides themselves on their defensive talent, things need to change and quickly.
Coach Ken Hitchcock tried to do what he could to spark the Blues last night against the Wings, but by shuffling the lines he may have messed with the team’s chemistry.
The fan favorite line of Andy McDonald, Alex Steen, and Vladimir Tarasenko was torn apart in hopes of getting Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen going. The problem is it just didn’t work. I am not a GM and I am not an NHL coach. I know how difficult it is to make the right calls in this league and there is a lot of information that is only known by those wearing the note day in and day out, but I would have done things much differently. The St. Louis Blue are a team with a ton of depth. Matt D’Agostini and Jamie Langenbrunner seem to be the off men out on most nights. With Jaden Schwartz on a two-way contract without having to go through waivers, it makes sense to me that the St. Louis Blues might be better suited sending him down to Peoria to regain his form. With Schwartz in the AHL, that opens a spot for D’Agostini who has been fast on the ice and good with the puck when he gets to play. That would leave Langenbrunner as the extra man who could be swapped out for Ryan Reaves to give them both rest and playing time. This solution seems like it might be best for the team as Jaden Schwartz does not seem to have his confidence on the ice.
If the St. Louis Blues want to keep Schwartz up with the big club, it might be time to start shopping Matt D’Agostini around. He is a solid player and would be playing every night for most teams in the league. If the Blues could use him as a trading chip to get a better defenseman to fit into the core, it would seem it would be worthwhile. While I am not a fan of Chris Porter, he is a great fourth line guy that played pretty well last season. In that scenario, Ian Cole could be sent back down to Peoria and get the time he needs for the Blues to perhaps have faith in him as an NHL regular.
There are lots of issues on the ice for the St. Louis Blues at the moment, but I have faith in the team and Ken Hitchcock to turn this club around. Look for a new level of intensity on Saturday night and hope that Halak will be in the net.
As always, LET’S GO BLUES!