The St. Louis Blues were a team of perseverance at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Nothing could be further from the truth as they come down the home stretch.
The St. Louis Blues have been plagued by injury problems in 2017-18, there is no doubt of that. However, other teams, such as the Winnipeg Jets, have had just as many issues and find ways to win.
Despite those names, plus some other ones, including Alex Pietrangelo in the early stages, the Blues managed to thrive. Through the first 31 games of the season, they had the second best record in the entire NHL.
That’s when Jaden Schwartz went down with his injury. It was not his fault. It was nothing he could prevent or protect, it was just one of those freak injuries.
However, clearly it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. St. Louis has never managed to recover from it.
It’s amazing how coincidence works out and might not be coincidence. When Schwartz went down, it did not seem like a seminal moment we would remember for the rest of the season. It seemed like an unfortunate injury in December.
As it turns out, it fell right in the midpoint of when things turned from sweet to sour. The Blues have now played 62 games. They were fantastic for the first 31 and not at all for the next 31. In fact, that amazing start is the only thing keeping them in the playoff race.
Back to the point, the injury seems to have broken this team. December 9 was the game the injury occurred and it may have been the last time this team really looked like itself.
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The Blues won over Detroit 6-1 in that game. Since that game, the Blues have only scored more than three goals three times.
They have a bottom 10 record over that span too. The Blues are 13-16-2 in their second 31 games, which happened after the Schwartz injury.
Again, going beyond coincidence, the scoring dried up after that injury too. The Blues were top seven in the league when everything was clicking. Now, over their last 31 games, they are the league’s worst team in goals per game with 2.19 goals over that span
You simply cannot win games like that. Individual scoring might be down, but team scoring is not and you cannot expect your goaltenders to have shutouts or only allow one goal per night.
Adding to things is the Blues lack of fight ever since that fateful injury. Over their first 31 games, the Blues came from behind and won six times when they did not score first or trailed at some point in the game. Over their second 31 games, the Blues have not done it once.
It’s extremely hard to expect a team to score the first goal in every single game. They no longer have a bulldog mentality to keep at it.
The next man up philosophy frittered away like dust in the wind. All that seems to be left is a shell of a team.
The top guys are not playing like top guys. Despite missing 20 games, Schwartz is still the team’s third leading scorer. He is only five goals away from still being the top goal scorer.
That’s great for him and shows how much he means. That is not good in terms of how other guys kept stepping up when he went down.
Some would argue that Schwartz actually is the team’s most important piece. Before this season, I would not have agreed with that, though the proof has been in the pudding with how this team plays with him in the lineup vs. without, even prior to the 2017-18 season.
The disheartening thing is that his return has had almost zero affect. The team has only won five games since he returned in January.
Schwartz has played alright. He has four goals and seven points since returning on January 25. The Blues never seemed to recover as a team though.
As of writing this, they still have 20 games left. That is enough time to figure something out and make the playoffs.
It’s disappointing to see one player make that big of a difference however. Clearly he means a lot and is a leader, whether he thinks of himself as such or not.
The best teams find ways to win without their top guys. The Jets found ways to actually look better without Mark Scheifele. The Blackhawks of years past kept on going even if Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane went down.
Clearly the Blues do not have that same mentality. Maybe, they’ll recover in record time like Christian Bale’s Batman in the Dark Knight Rises. They better, because that one injury seems to have broken their back and their spirit.