Blues have a few things to work coming off road trip | St. Louis Blues

Even the best teams hit a lull now and then over the course of a hockey season. And the Blues are definitely in one at the moment.

Until now, they had lost two or more regulation games in a row only twice. Until now, they had gone winless for three or more games only once – a 0-3-1 stumble in mid-November.

But now, just as the stretch run approaches, they are in a 0-2-1 dip after a lost week in greater New York. This is the time to gain momentum, not fall into a slump.

“Absolutely,” captain Ryan O’Reilly said after Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey. “And that’s part of why we’re so disappointed. We know we’re preparing for something and we’re just not doing it the right way now.

“It’s good that we’ve banked some points, but we gotta start winning again if we want to stay in the mix and set ourselves up and put ourselves in good playoff position.”

They have banked points for sure. Even so, they’re only five points above the current playoff line in the Western Conference. Any kind of prolonged slump, and the Blues could wake up one morning and find themselves out of playoff position. A sense of urgency is needed.

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“I think we’ve had some urgency for quite some time,” coach Craig Berube countered. “It’s tight. We know the division’s tight. Teams are coming, and you gotta keep winning.”

Two-thirds of the way through the season, the Blues (32-16-7) remain in second place in the Central Division with 71 points. With 67 points, third-place Minnesota has a game in hand, but has been in a free-fall lately, losing eight of their last 10 games.

But look out for Dallas. The Stars are riding a six-game point streak (5-0-1) and also have 67 points – although, like the Blues, they’ve played one more game than the Wild.

As the Blues get back on the ice Tuesday against visiting Ottawa, some areas need shoring up:

Overtime: For a team with so much scoring depth, the Blues sure struggle to score in overtime. Something about 3-on-3 play hasn’t agreed with them. They are 1-5 in overtime; only Buffalo (1-7) is worse. Games figure to tighten up down the stretch, so the team must do better here.

The Blues often are too cautious in their OT approach. Some of their younger skilled players such as Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou have forgotten about the importance of coverage and positioning in OT.

power play: Like the rest of the offense lately, the power play has lagged. It has taken too much effort to negotiate the neutral zone and once they do, the Blues are spending too much time passing the puck around the perimeter looking for the perfect shooting lane. Sometimes just putting the puck on net is the best approach. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.

This lull extends beyond the latest 0-2-1 dip; the Blues are only 2-for-17 on the power play over their last seven games.

Scoring first: Yes, the Blues have won 15 times when the opponent scores first. Those comebacks are admirable, but as the level of competition ramps up late in the season and into the playoffs, that’s no way to live.

For the season, the opposition has scored first in 26 of 55 games. Which doesn’t seem that bad, but for a team that is winning nearly two-thirds of its games, the Blues should be getting out of the blocks quicker. It’s been worse lately, with the opposition scoring first in four of the last five games. And in the three New York area games, the Blues fell behind 2-0 each time.

Afternoon woos: The Blues are playing .692 hockey in evening games this season, with a 30-12-5 record. In the afternoon it’s .375, with a 2-4-2 record. That’s such a wide disparity. How is that possible? The good news is that the Blues have only two afternoon games remaining on the regular-season schedule – but they’re both important ones: this Saturday at Nashville, and April 16 at home against Minnesota.

road struggles: After showing signs of progress with a 3-0-1 trip to Canada and Philadelphia, the Blues fell back down the hill a bit with a 1-2-1 trip to Chicago and metro New York. For the season, the team is a modest 13-10-5, easily the worst road record among the current top 14 teams overall in the league. Florida is the only team among the top contenders in the same neighborhood at 12-7-5 on the road entering the week.

Fourth line contributions: The fourth simply hasn’t been able to sustain much this season. Remember, it was such a key cog in the Stanley Cup season with Alexander Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev all making important contributions.

Maybe it’s asking too much to expect anything along those lines. But there’s a reason why Berube has limited their ice time in so many games. He doesn’t trust them with the game on the line. Tyler Bozak has had trouble adjusting to the lesser minutes he’s gotten in a fourth-line role this season. And judging by Monday’s callups from Springfield of the AHL, Berube is still looking for answers.

north hockey: Berube has nothing against skill and speed. But he realizes the Blues’ bread-and-butter remains simple, direct hockey. Cycle the puck, possess the puck, win wall battles, work behind the net. That’s the winning recipe in Berube’s book, especially this time of the year.

The Blues have lapsed into the habit of overpassing and in Berube’s words – trying to get too cute. It’s not the first time that’s been the case this season. When the team plays the more direct style, the so-called “north” hockey, they usually have more success.

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