A few summers back, I became extremely ill.
I woke up in the middle of the night with intense, crippling stomach pain. I made a quick dash to the toilet room (My now-vacated apartment had a shower room with just a shower and a toilet room with just a toilet — basically two half bathrooms.) I'll spare the details, but for the next few hours and a days, I was a mess. I had a temperature north of 100 and didn't eat for nearly four days.
I was miserable.
After the third day of worshiping the porcelain god, I gave up and went to the doctor. I drove to the hospital and had a battery of tests done — blood, urine all that fun stuff. The result? I was sick. With what? Well that wasn't quite clear. The doctor, however, did know I would be fine. He told me just to rest and drink fluids and this too shall pass. Basically, I had a cure, but no diagnosis.
My situation was pretty much the opposite of what is going on with the St. Louis Blues — trust me on this one. After a 2-0 start, the Blues now stand at 2-1-2. After a disappointing loss to Nashville, a terrifying trait from the 2009-10 has reared its ugly head: The Blown Lead.
Against Dallas and Chicago, the Blues sported two-goal leads. The Stars won in a shootout and the Blackhawks won in overtime. Both results were not good. Anyone who has paid attention to the Blues know what the problem is (blown third-period leads) but no one knows how to fix it. The Blues have a diagnosis, they are just lacking the cure.
Last season, the Blues were 25-2-6 when taking a lead into the third period. That may sound good, but it's not. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the winning percentage was among the worst in the NHL (27th out of 30). The Blues missed the playoffs by five points last year. Take those six OT losses and turn them into wins and BAM, the Blues are in the playoffs.
But how is this problem fixed? Andy Murray lost his job because the Blues couldn't protect leads. It's very, very early and I know the two-game sample size is extremely small, but I (and others, like Gallagher at Game Time) could sense the collapse before it happened. From Gravy:
When the Blues went up 2-0 I said to my wife that now is when we'll find out what's different. "Last year," I said, "They'd give up a goal in the next five minutes and then try to hang on to a one goal lead and lose it late." Sorry I'm so all-knowing.
The Blackhawks game played out almost exactly like a game from last year. The Blues would give up a late goal and be cut. The other teams, especially the good ones, would smell blood in the water and go for the kill. The Blues, in turn, would dump the bed. What happened on Monday? From Gallagher again:
The biggest problem in the third period was when the Hawks scored the first goal. You could feel the panic in the Blues and they reacted by running around the defensive zone, flubbing breakout passes and willingly giving up puck possession by dumping the puck rather than carrying it.
The Blues get a lead, the other team cuts into it and everything falls apart. Can this be fixed? I'm not sure. But I, of course, have some ideas on how to fix them.
First off, the Blues need to keep doing what got them the lead in the first place. Like a football team that stops running in the playoffs or the fast-paced basketball team trying to slow things down, the Blues change their style with the game on the line.
When everything is going well, the Note play a fast-paced style. They hit, they pass and they move the puck. They are aggressive. This is how they get goals. When Chicago cut the 2-0 lead to 2-1, the Blues went into prevent mode. They stopped the forecheck, stopped attacking and basically played like it was a 5-on-5 power play. A good team, and Chicago is still a good team, will destroy that. St. Louis simply cannot keep doing that — prevent defenses don't work in any sports.
If this trend keeps going, and it very well may stop after Monday, the next step may be drastic. Davis Payne is a new coach with a new system and the same problems from an old coach and old system still exist. The common thread? The players. If the Blues keep blowing leads, it may be time for some new blood. On the small scale, that may mean just double shifting the hell out of Alex Steen, Jay McClement, B.J. Crombeen and T.J. Oshie.
Those four are probably the Blues' most defensively-responsible players. Steen and Oshie can also play a little offense. Playing them more often, and benching defensive black holes likes Brad Boyes, should allow the Blues to protect the lead better.
On a large scale, dump some folks. Like I said, it's drastic, but you can't keep firing the coach. The players have to be accountable for this mess. If the players can't fix the problem, it may be time for some new players.
Basically, one season is too long to have this problem. Having a lead through 40 minutes should lead to a win more than 75 percent of the time. I don't have the answers, but I'm just a guy with an internet column. The Blues needs to figure this out.
We know the problems, we just need to find a cure. And fast.