St. Louis Blues must improve to hold onto playoff bid

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The St. Louis Blues started out the season strong, picking up big wins even when they probably shouldn’t have. But now, they are losing games that they should not, and it may cost them the playoffs.

If the season ended today, the St. Louis Blues would be the third-place team in the Central Division, which would give them a playoff bid.

But, if you look at their recent games, they went 7-3-1 in the month of January. While this record may not seem like it is the end of the world, the losses they had during January were games that they had no business losing.

This includes losses to the Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes, who sit 24th and 31st in the league, respectively.

The Panthers chased Jake Allen during the second period of play. Allen has been struggling since late December, only just recently picking back up and winning games such as when he started against the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets.

Backup goalie Carter Hutton had been starting instead of Allen during most of January, but in the game against the Coyotes, Hutton let in three goals on only 12 shots against the worst team in the NHL.

This slump was largely due to the offensive presence of the Blues almost disappearing while Jaden Schwartz was out with an ankle injury. Schwartz missed 20 games and is still the third leading scorer on the Blues with 40 points, behind Vladimir Tarasenko (49 points) and Brayden Schenn (53 points).

Now that Jaden Schwartz is back with the Blues, they look like a totally different team. They got their offense working again, but their defense has made some very costly mistakes in recent games. This includes two turnovers that led directly to goals in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

The team also tends to deflate very quickly.

In the Penguins game, the teams were tied going into the third period. The Blues scored early in the period, but the goal was then taken back, called off because of a high stick. Less than one minute later, the Penguins scored to take a one-goal lead. After that, the Blues looked flat. More mistakes only increased the deficit and the game ended 4-1.

Another example of this was Feb. 6. The Blues played against the Minnesota Wild in St. Louis and scored a quick goal 45 seconds into the game.

The Wild tied the game less than 90 seconds later. From there, the Blues looked lost for the rest of the first period, giving up two more goals. They didn’t seem to get their bearings back until midway through the third period when Dmitri Jaskin scored. It was too late at this point, as the score was 6-2, and the Blues dropped an important game on home ice.

If the Blues want to keep their playoff dreams alive, they need to start winning more games, especially against other Central Division teams.

They cannot afford to drop many more games to the Central Division, because the Minnesota Wild, the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche are in the hunt for that playoff spot.

Currently, the Stars are in the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference, and the Wild are just on the verge of being knocked out by either the Anaheim Ducks or the Los Angeles Kings, and the Avalanche only sit a few points out of the wildcard position as well.

The point differential from first place in the Central to last is only 19 points, and if you take the Chicago Blackhawks out of the equation, the differential is only 11 points. Any Central Division team has a shot at playoffs right now, and the Blues need to keep winning if they want to hold onto their spot.

All but six games of the Blues’ 24 remaining games will be against Western Conference teams, and 10 of those games are against Central Division rivals.

So if the Blues want that playoff spot, they need to start playing like a team that deserves it.

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