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Published on May 15th, 2013 | by Samantha Hoffmann, Staff writer

Eliminated from playoffs by Kings, Blues look to next season

Not too long ago, 2013 looked promising for the St. Louis Blues. After having won the Central Division the previous year, the Blues were expected to be an even bigger threat entering the new season.

Now, the second round of the playoffs has started, and the team finds themselves preparing for the offseason rather than a run at the Stanley Cup.

Down 3-2 in a best-of-seven series, the St. Louis Blues entered last Friday’s game needing a win in order to have any hope of staying alive and forcing a Game Seven back on home ice. However, the Los Angeles Kings had won nine straight home games overall as well as the last seven playoff games against St. Louis on home ice,.

The Blues had begun the series with a two game lead, both one-goal wins on home ice. However, the Kings came back, winning four straight games to take the series. This made ten straight home wins for the Kings, and eight straight home playoff wins against the Blues.

The biggest story from Friday night was the game-winning goal by the Kings’ Dustin Penner. He scored with 0.02 seconds remaining in the second period to give Los Angeles both the game and series victory. Rob Scuderi had the only assist.

In this case, the Blues were not expecting Penner to have the influence he had. While he is not a known shooter, his one goal made the game difference in a crucial game. They certainly did not expect the Kings to score with 32 seconds remaining in regulation to send the first game of the series to overtime, even though the Blues eventually won that game. In fact, this game-tying goal was indicative of how the series was to go. The Blues would match the Kings’ play, even outplaying them at certain times, until they made a few crucial mistakes that the Kings capitalized on.

Blues goaltender Brian Elliott made 14 saves on 16 shots during Friday’s game, recording a .875 save percentage. His counterpart Jonathan Quick made 21 saves on 22 shots, good for a .955 save percentage. All three goals were scored on equal ice, with only penalty being assessed to each team during the game.

As usual, Quick was incredible between the pipes, stopping 167 of 177 shots on goal throughout the entire series. Elliott made 137 saves on 149 total shots.

Two things about the above statistics should indicate the Blues’ issues. First, they managed to drop four straight games despite recording 28 more shots on goal throughout the series. While they have been shooting more, their shots were poorly placed and consistently off target. Meanwhile, the Kings managed to create better opportunities and take advantage of them when they arose.

Second, the Kings had a huge advantage in net. Even when the Blues did create opportunities, they had a very difficult time figuring out Jonathan Quick. Quick had a save percentage of .944, a rather significant edge over his counterpart In Game Six, Elliott was .875 compared to Quick’s .955. However, this statistic was not really Elliott’s fault. In fact, he made many key saves for the Blues all throughout the playoffs; he has never been the subject of criticism and blame. The real issue here is the Blues’ defense. All throughout the four consecutive losses did they made foolish plays, such as pinching at poor times allowing for odd-man rushes, and giving the puck away in the neutral zone. Odd-man rushes are really what signed the Blues’ death certificate. In every one of the four did Saint Louis give the Kings good opportunities to score via odd-man scenarios.

The Blues also failed to execute defensively beginning in Game Three. Five Kings players had three or more points during this series, including Jeff Carter’s three goals, whereas only three Blues players were able to record three points. While kept at bay during the first two games of the series, the Kings’ top players began to find ways to foil Elliott in Game Three, and were from that point on unstoppable.

Another shocking statistic is that the Blues won the majority of the faceoffs, 191 to 170. Faceoffs are usually a key indicator of the stronger team, it certainly should be. St. Louis also had fewer giveaways, recording 51 compared to Los Angeles’ 56. With both of these statistics firmly in favor of the Blues, they were unable to overcome the Kings’ ability to take the puck away.  The Blues recovered the puck from the Kings 32 times in six games, compared to the Kings’ 42.

Interesting to note is that although games were split four to two in the series, each victory came by a one-goal margin. The Blues won the first two, each with scores of 2-1. The Kings then won the following three games by scores of 1-0, 4-3, and 3-2. Friday night’s last-ditch effort by the Blues to avoid elimination resulted in a 2-1 Kings victory. Overall, the series was tied or within one goal 98.8% of the time; the Blues had the only two-goal lead for 5:01 during Game Four.

In a series such as this, where every game win was by a one-goal margin, every takeaway counts. Those ten takeaways certainly made the difference in this series.

The Blues now have some major soul-searching to do. They have lost two post-season series to the Kings in a row despite having the higher seed in the playoffs both times. Perhaps a coaching change is in order, or maybe they need to simply retool their lines and to push harder next year. All that is known for sure is that if a significant change is to be made, it will be done before training camp.

The best way for the Blues to deal with these problems would be to sign a dedicated scorer, particularly someone who will light the lamp almost every game for the instead of the scoring sporadically. They also need to rid themselves of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is eating up precious salary cap dollars while fighting head coach Ken Hitchcock about ice time on an almost daily basis. Yet while Elliott has shown to be a better goaltender, having more options at the position would still help.

St. Louis has reason to be optimistic about the future of their hockey team; however, there are still some concerns the Blues need to address if they want to take the step.

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