ST. LOUIS — With just 16 games remaining, it may be tough for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to get the total team "buy-in" that he's been talking about for nearly two months.
The buy-in talk surfaced again following an ugly 3-0 home loss to the Edmonton Oilers that saw the Blues shut out on 43 shots by 40-year-old goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
That loss was followed by a 22-minute meeting between Hitchcock and the players, followed up by another meeting between the coach and the team's veteran leaders.
The Blues' ability to rapidly put the buy-in into action may determine whether the team qualifies for the playoffs.
"I think it's doing the right thing at the right time during critical stages," Hitchcock said. "The buy-in is details. It's the details that at the end of the day, in 2 1/2 hours of competition, add up to good play.
"It's the reaction to getting checked hard...there are critical areas on the ice that have to be managed properly for your team to win."
On Tuesday, the Blues were less than capable managers of those critical areas. An early combined turnover by David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo led to an Oilers goal and another by Barret Jackman led to Edmonton's third goal.
"I think the bigger area for us is the turnovers in the critical ice," Hitchcock said. "We're doing a lot of good things but we're not managing the puck in the proper areas. That's why we're giving up 2-on-1's or breakaways. We might give up eight or nine scoring chances a game, but they are doozys."
Hitchcock seems frustrated. He's given this team and its core group of veterans several chances to fix problems that have crept into their game numerous times this season.
The Blues' power play has generated just four goals in its last 51 chances and the team has been held to two goals or fewers in five of its last seven games.
There are near-nightly defensive lapses and the occasional soft goals popping up.
Even with the trade deadline approaching April 3, the Blues aren't likely to make wholesale personnel changes. Hitchcock hopes his message will be received by the leaders and passed through to everyone else.
"It's not the conversation I have, it's the conversation they have," Hitchcock said. "Those are the critical conversations. The coaches coach, it's what's embraced after the conversation -- so the proof will be in the game (Thursday). How we play (Thursday) will answer how much information's being absorbed."
Blues center Scott Nichol put his own spin on the "buy-in" equation.
"It's a team sport," he said. "It's so different than any other sport, from the most skilled guy to the guy who doesn't have a whole lot ... It doesn't matter who you are or how much money you make. The buy-in is a collective group and everyone on the same page, it makes the game a lot easier.
"You go into some of these buildings, especially in the playoffs where you can't even hear yourself think, and that's where your structure and foundation comes into play. You know where guys are without really even having to look -- because you know he's there and he has your back."
Nichol was asked about the difference between this team and last year's squad. A year ago, the Blues reacted quickly once Hitchcock took over as head coach and didn't slow down until finishing second overall in the league during the regular season.
"We're losing," Nichol said. "We really didn't lose a whole lot last year. It wasn't like a roller-coaster of ups and downs last year, it was pretty smooth sailing ever since Hitch came. We really didn't have a whole lot of adversity all year long."
Add in a 6-1 start this year and the Blues may have felt a little too good about themselves. But since that 6-1 start, as Hitchcock pointed out Tuesday, the Blues are a game below .500.
With the Blues mired in a funk of inconsistency, some individual players seem to be trying to do too much. That has led to further erosion of the solid defensive wall built by the team last season.
"Guys sometimes go on their own page," Nichol said. "They think 'You know what? I'm going to try to dangle this guy or I'm not going to get it in straight'...it's not because we don't care.
"Sometimes it's because we care too much and we try to do it ourselves rather than lean on our teammates to get us out of this tough time."