Checking Up On the BluesJaroslav Halak has not been good. The exact opposite of what he showed when the Blues raced to a 9-1-2 start last season. When sorting the goalies on the stats page at NHL.com by save percentage, you have to go the third page to find his .843 (63rd out 64 goalies ranked). Sort by goals-against average and his 3.58 ranks 57th of 64. There have been some softies given up and rebounds for opponents to pounce on, but it hasn't been all bad play. Halak has been victimized by deflections, poor penalty killing and turnovers in the defensive zone. Still, other than random bounces and deflections, a goalie can still do something about man-down situations and turnovers. Much like a pitcher in baseball after a fielder commits an error, the goalie can bare down and bail out his team. Halak hasn't been doing that. He showed some of that in Monday's loss to Edmonton. It was the final game of the Blues extended period on the road and the defense played like they wanted to be on the flight home. Despite giving up another four goals, Halak made some brilliant saves and kept that from being an 8-2 loss. Look for coach Davis Payne to go with him Friday night at home against Vancouver, in an effort to build off an encouraging performance against the Oil. If the Blues are going to do anything this season, they'll need Halak playing at his peak form. Brian Elliott has been a God-send early on, but he's not a long-term solution. Chris Mason wasn't in 2009-10 and Elliott won't be this year.
Offensively, the Blues have been troubled by a weak power play and little production from the top two lines. The third-line pairing of Alex Steen (nine points) and Jason Arnott (eight points) have carried the forwards. Chris Stewart stands out among the forwards as the biggest disappointment. After scoring 15 goals in 26 games after being traded to St. Louis last season, he has two goals through 11 games and enters Friday on an eight-game scoring drought. Credit Stewart for effort, though. He's getting the puck to the net with a team-high 37 shots on goal. They'd also like to see T.J. Oshie get his game on track. Normally a good two-way team player, Oshie has shown a penchant for individualism this season resulting in a second-period benching against
Philadelphia two weeks ago. Payne has him playing normal minutes again, but the benching was his second disciplinary event in the calendar year -- he was suspended for two games in March of last season for an unexcused absence from practice. Andy McDonald has been lost to a concussion and his first-line minutes have been dispersed among a few players: Oshie, Matt D'Agostini and Vladimir Sobotka. The last few days of practice have been about shuffling combinations to find the right mix on the power play. St. Louis has been a good even strength team, but have the unhealthy combination of being last in power play and next-to-last in the penatly kill. Shoring up those special teams will be key to turning around the slow start.
There are some positives to note. Aside from the shoddy effort in Edmonton on Monday, the Blues' defense has been stellar at preventing shots. St. Louis goalies are seeing a league-low 25.9 shots per game. And on the ownership front, the Blues entered into an agreement to sell the team to Matthew Hulsizer. The present ownership group was a committed bunch, but didn't have deep resources to invest. Once new ownership is in place, perhaps we'll see more investment, such has been going on in Buffalo after new owners entered the picture last season. Lastly, David Perron has returned to the club and has been practicing with the team, albeit in a non-contact environment. There's still no timetable for his return, but Perron represents the one true sniper on the team.
Perhaps a road-heavy schedule early in the season has had some impact on the team. With six of the next seven games at the Scottrade Center, the Blues are hoping to provide some balance to a disappointing start.