Blues fighting for return to their old ways

News-DemocratApril 9, 2014 

— Had the St. Louis Blues endured three straight losses in November or December, it might have been a blip on the radar.

But when a team that hasn't lost three straight all season suddenly does it just before taking the playoff stage, it tends to set off an alarm or two.

"We've been talking about and we've been hearing about what's to come in the playoffs for a long time," Blues winger Brenden Morrow said. "It's been pretty smooth sailing for us throughout the year. Now we're finding some adversity and we're going to find out what we're made of."

The same Ken Hitchcock-coached team that prided itself in outworking teams, frenetic forechecking and tight defense is suddenly unable to generate much in any of those categories.

Scoring is an even bigger concern with six straight games and nine out of 11 with two goals or fewer.

With three games remaining, the Western Conference-leading Blues are three points behind Boston for first overall in the NHL standings.

Anaheim began Wednesday one point behind the Blues in the West, with Colorado two points back and San Jose four behind.

Meanwhile, the Blues are fighting to tread water after losing three in a row and four of six. Their power play is 1-for-16 in the last five games (10-for-83 in the last 25 contests) and the penalty kill has allowed four power-play goals in the last three games on 16 opportunities.

Blues goalie Ryan Miller has surrendered four goals in three of his last four starts sandwiched around his shutout of Philadelphia.

"It's just a funk," Morrow said when asked to pinpoint the team's main problems. "The work is there. The execution hasn't been great, it's been pretty sloppy hockey. You know this team tries and they compete, that's never been the question. It's probably just working too hard trying to do two jobs instead of one.

"We've just got to start from scratch to get out of these funks. Just break it down, be simple, worry about our own job and care about your teammates."

The Blues are in Minnesota on Thursday and will be without captain David Backes, who suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury Tuesday during the second period.

The Blues travel to Dallas on Friday, then return home for an 11:30 a.m. game Sunday against Detroit to close out the regular season.

Challenging for the Presidents Trophy and best overall record not that long ago, the Blues are fighting just to maintain their hold on the Central Division.

It won't be easy.

The Wild are 0-3-1 vs. the Blues, but are 5-0-1 in their previous six games and just beat NHL overall leader Boston 4-3 in a shootout. Minnesota has already clinched the Western Conference first wild-card playoff slot and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is 7-0-3 in 10 starts with the Wild.

Dallas, now 7-3-1 in its last 10 games and fighting for a playoff spot, has beaten the Blues 4-2 and 3-2 (overtime) the last two games.

Detroit is now in the Eastern Conference, but the rivalry remains and the Red Wings are 6-3-1 in their last 10.

"We want to be at our high level to start the playoffs," Blues forward Steve Ott said. "We've got three games left of hard hockey to make this happen. There's nothing like winning, you win your next game and then obviously you forget about these last three in a hurry. That's the best thing about this league."

Morrow said these next three games give the Blues a chance to regain the form that helped them compile one of the NHL's best records this season.

"Unfortunately it's a real bad time of the year," Morrow said, "but we still have three games here to straighten it out and get some momentum -- because it's not something you can turn on. You want to have confidence and momentum going into that first game of the playoffs."

Blues forward Alexander Steen thinks there's plenty of reasons the team can turn things around.

"We have guys that have been scoring all year," Steen said. "The power play's among the top in the league, the penalty kill among the top in the league. When we're on our game with our 5-on-5 play, we're a really heavy team."

Hitchcock wouldn't mind seeing the "old" Blues return -- and quickly.

"Games are heating up, people can see light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "Games are harder, they're intense, they're more demanding, they're more emotional. They're more everything.

"It's a fun time of year."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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