The St. Louis Blues are down, but not out. Atleast not yet anyway. They currently sit in 13th place in the West and are only 8 points out of the playoffs after last night’s game against Minnesota. A game that seemed to magnify one of the biggest problems the Blues continue to have every season: winning on the road.
This year the Blues are 8-13-5 on the road. The record speaks for itself which brings me to the first key for the Blues if they want to make it to the postseason.
1. Winning on the road. If the Blues are hoping to gain any ground in the coming weeks they are going to have to be able to do it away from Scottrade. 18 of the 28 remaining games are on the road, including key games in Vancouver and Calgary before the end of the month. We have to pick up our performance on the road if we hope to have any chance of earning a playoff berth in the West.
Aside from winning on the road another glaring problem for the Blues in recent years has been the lack of scoring from our special teams. Which brings me to my second key for the Blues to have success down the stretch.
2. Take advantage and score on the power play. Right now the Blues offense in general isn’t very good. We average about 2.6 goals a game which ranks us in the lower half of the league. We get even fewer goals out of our special teams play. After last nights game against the Wild, we have the 26th ranked power play unit, converting only 14.6% of the time. Now I will take a step back and take into account some big injuries we’ve had over the course of the season. But now with Oshie, McDonald and Colaiacovo back in the line up we should see an increase in special teams goals.
In the offseason, the Blues made a big splash trading for goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Most Blues fans, myself included, were quick to proclaim the Blues goalie woes over. It’s not that Halak has been bad. He’s just been average and that isn’t what the Blues were looking for. Which brings me to my third key for the Blues.
3. Halak must be better than Chris Mason.
Mason proved just how important a netminder is down the stretch during the 2008-2009 season, and we need to see that from Halak.. From Jan. 19, 2009 until the end of the regular season, Mason was among the league’s most bulletproof goaltenders, compiling a .922 save percentage and four shutouts. With Mason in the net for every decision, the Blues were crazy hot down the stretch, going 23-8-6 to rocket up the standings and clinch the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Why wouldn’t recreating that be good enough? Mason hardly received generous support offensively. The Blues averaged 2.75 goals in his starts from Jan. 19 on. That was down near the bottom of the goal-support rankings for goaltenders. And Halak is receiving less support these days; so far the Blues are averaging 2.29 goals in support for Halak. Except for the occasional random outburst of goals, Halak and Ty Conklin can’t count on winning games 6-5, or 5-4. No, they’ll mostly be low-scoring affairs. And those type of contests often come down to a goaltending battle. And Halak has to prevail. There really is no choice.
Those are the three biggest keys for the Blues going down the stretch. If they can put together some consistent play in the next few weeks, they might just find themselves in the think of things come March.