Saturday, April 01, 2006
St. Louis Blues March Report
ST. LOUIS BLUES : MARCH REPORT
The post-deadline St. Louis Blues showed some flashes of brilliance, but came back down to earth in March thanks to a combination of bad luck, injuries, and a lack of talent.
After a 4-1-2 start to the month, the Blues went on an 0-6-2 slide and are 4-7-4 overall for the month. Overall, the Blues are last in the Western Conference with a 20-38-13 record, two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks, and are 2nd-to-last overall as the Pittsburgh Penguins are 5 points behind in the race for the basement.
The injuries woes continued to hack away at the Blues best talent.
Vladimir Orszagh went down for the reason with an injured knee on March 6th. Fortunately,
this was not the same knee that he had torn previously.
Ryan Johnson, the fourth-line center, went on the injury reserve the next day with a broken foot.
Goaltender Curtis Sanford, who, statistically, has been one of the stronger goalies in the league, had an unfortunately MCL sprain in his left knee and was lost for the season on the 15th.
To complete the pain, a member of the d-core had to go down for injury. The unfortunate victim was Barret Jackman, who went on the IR on March 21st with a fractured jaw. Bryce Salvador has also been missing games with shoulder problems.
Amazingly, nobody has been seriously injured in the past week.
Off the ice, the Blues made headlines as the NHL accepted Dave Checketts second bid to buy the St. Louis Blues. The Laurie family failed to bring an NBA franchise to St. Louis (‘twas their sole purpose of buying the NHL club), so they sold the club as they weren’t all that interested in hockey.
In the offseason, many expect Checketts to make big changes within the organization. The first and foremost move expected is the firing of GM Larry Pleau, who was the chief architect of this expensive and underequipped squad.
LIGHTIN’ THE LAMP
With the Blues in a major tailspin, the dressing room is colder than Mount Everest in December with so many poor offensive performances in March.
Rookie forward Jay McClement has had to step up with the increase in his offensive role and he’s produced well with 2 goals and 8 assists in his past 15 games. On the other hand, he’s also a -10 during that period.
Who isn’t cold? Looking up and down the roster, almost every player has had problems filling the opposing net.
Petr Cajanek, who was expected to produce the bulk of the offence with the trade of Doug Weight, failed miserably to set up his wingers as he finished with just 1 assist (and 3 goals) in 12 games.
Keith Tkachuk, who refused to waive his no-trade clause and who lost his American playbuddy Doug Weight, cooled off considerably from his blistering pace of previous months. Tkachuk had just 9 points in 15 March games, which is actually one of the better outputs among Blues’ forwards.
Dallas Drake, who did a pretty good job of moving the puck earlier in the season, finished March with just 3 assists. Drake has not scored a goal since December.
Offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman has come back to Earth the past month. Wideman had just 2 points and a -11 in 14 March games, with no points on the Power Play.
Jamal Mayers, who has yet to get a Power Play point all season, came back from injury and put up a big donut in 7 games with a -5.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
After a shaky February, Curtis Sanford found his A-game again and was having an excellent month until a left-knee MCL sprain ended his season.
Sanford had put up a 3-1-1 record in 6 games with a 1.43GAA and 94.7SV%. It was obvious that Sanford was proving more and more that he’s a bonafide NHL goaltender.
Patrick Lalime, he of the expensive contract and failed expectations, was given a second chance to redeem himself as the Blues had no real choice but to give him the bulk of the starts.
While Lalime has been better now than he was early in the season, he still hasn’t shown that he truly belongs in the NHL any longer. With a 1-5-3 record, a 3.31GAA and a 89.7SV% in March, Lalime is not making the most of his, perhaps last, chance.
Reinhard Divis, Lalime’s original backup, was also brought back from his AHL exile. His numbers? 2 GP 0-1-0 6.71GAA and a 75.6SV%. Awful.
Youngster Jason Bacashihua was put on the Injured Reserve on January 22nd due to a faulty left shoulder. His January was not one to remember with a 0-2-0 4.04GAA 86.3SV%performance, and he did not play at all in February or March. Jason continues to show his great athleticism, but also his lack of fundamentals.
ATTACKING THE ZONE – FORWARDS
With Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger traded and the hard-working Vladimir Orszagh injured, the Blues offence tanked badly. Rookie Lee Stempniak continued his hot/cold spell with a rather cold month (6 points in 15 games).
The first line sees Keith Tkachuk taking more of a centerman’s role (due to his proficiency on faceoffs, dating back to the days he played with Pavol Demitra) between the struggling Cajanek and captain Dallas Drake.
The second unit features the promoted and recently productive Jay McClement centering Scott Young and Lee Stempniak. While this unit has been somewhat productive, they’ve also been detrimental with their poor defensive cohesion.
Dean McAmmond, who would have been traded if Larry Pleau had sent his trade confirmation fax BEFORE the deadline, has been in a bit of a huff and was demoted to the checking line between Mike Glumac and Mark Rycroft, both of whom are not suitable or skilled enough for a checking line role.
The fourth unit, which is more like a 3B line, features the young Timofei Shishkanov, Trent Whitfield, and the struggling Jamal Mayers.
Jeff Woywitka was re-promoted and has 2 assists and a -3 in the 5 games since then. He plays mainly 14 minutes a night on the third pairing with Steve Poapst.
PRESSURING THE PUCK – DEFENSEMEN
With the trade of Eric Weinrich (to the Canucks for draft consideration
and Tomas Mojzis) and the injury to Barret Jackman, the Blues defence has taken a considerable hit and has struggled to keep opponents from securing high-quality scoring chances.
Poapst continues to remain very ineffective in his tenure with the Blues. Forced into the press box for poor play in previous months, Poapst earned a reprieve, but has 0 points and a 7 in 11 March games. Considering the rather easy role he has in comparison with his peers, Poapst is doing a bad job and is playing himself out of an NHL job next season.
Christian Backman has been forced to play a much bigger role than he is accustomed to, and has reached the 30-minute mark in recent games as he log heavy ice time in all situations. He is usually partnered with the offensive-minded Dennis Wideman.
The other pairing scratched together recently is defensive-minded Matt Walker together with offensive-minded Kevin Dallman.
Bryce Salvador has missed quite a few games in March due to a sore/injured shoulder. Despite his struggles this year, the Blues miss his physical presence down low and in clearing the red-zone around his own net.
THE BLUE LINE – SPECIAL TEAMS
The Blues Power Play continued its freefall, falling from 24th to 26th with a 15.1% success rate. With the loss of Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger, the Blues lost two of their very best Power Play specialists. Petr Cajanek is the biggest culprit of late, registering just a single PP point (a goal) during March. Others such as Dennis Wideman (0 PPP)and Keith Tkachuk (3PPP) have not picked up the slack.
Scott Young, the true Power Play specialist (32 of his 46 total points are on the PP), had 5 PPP during March, so he continues to produce well in man-advantage situations.
The Penalty Killing unit improved drastically to 17th place after wallowing in 22nd and 19th place earlier this season. The Blues success rate is now 82.0% and is one of the few bright spots this season. Credit the fine hustle of Dallas Drake and goaltending of Curtis Sanford for this result.
The Blues remained 30th overall in the NHL with a collective -69, down from -51 after February. The Blues are -18 worse than the 29th place team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and will likely finish 30th overall by a wide margin.
The Blues finish the season with a balanced 10-game schedule in April (5 home, 5 away). The Blues have some chance to play the ‘spoiler’ role with a game against Edmonton on the 9th.
Otherwise, the Blues play mostly divisional opponents, including 3 games against Nashville and a game against the Blackhawks on the 18th to end the misery.
With the Blues already eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in 27 years, coach Mike Kitchen will be auditioning certain players for roles next season and trying to save a little face to end the season on a good note. He’ll also be auditioning himself should a potential new management want to evaluate his position in the organization.