In reflecting on the just-completed season, Blues coach Craig Berube on Wednesday boiled his team’s troubles down to the essentials: “We didn’t score enough, we didn’t defend enough. ... We were just in between.”
The problems were easy to identify, but the solutions may not be so simple. Injuries took a toll on this team, but even if everyone was healthy, there’s no assurance the team would have done the things needed to avoid a second straight early exit from the playoffs. Still, Berube sees this as a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup, if it can only find its identity, something that escaped it all season.
Doing that will be essential to the team’s success. For instance, can the Blues stick with its coach’s rugged, forechecking preference while integrating faster players into the lineup?
“You could still do both and you have to do both,” Berube said. “I do believe that you have to score off the rush or get scoring chances off the rush. I think it’s important. I know that we got some speed with some young guys on our team that are good off the rush. I preach both. It’s about decision making for me. And as players mature and develop and spend more time in the NHL, they’re going to get better at that. So I saw improvement. Jordan Kyrou’s a perfect example. Comes in and I thought his game improved over time this year and he had a real good year in my opinion, and he’s a good rush player.”
Look at a heat map of shots in the Blues-Avalanche series and you’ll find that at both even strength and the power play, the Blues didn’t get a lot of chances from the area in front of the net (except, at five on five, an area right around the right goalpost) while Colorado did. On offense and defense, the Blues need to do more in front of the net. But for Berube, that’s a matter of mindset more than body type.
“You can get better at everything,” he said. “I know we lost players. But it’s not just on the defense, defending is everybody, goalie out. It’s everybody and you’ve got to take pride in that. It’s an important part of the game. And yes, you can improve at being harder at your net and doing different things. Listen, the D corps, there’s guys that are big guys, it’s easy for them to push guys out of the way or be physical around the net and there are smaller D who’ve got to do it a different way.
“Getting to the net (on offense) has got to be on everybody, it’s not just the ‘Oh, we’re gonna go get a couple net-front guys.’ It’s an attitude that we’ve got to go to the net more. We didn’t get enough rebound chances because of that and that was a problem that we talked about all the time. So for me it’s just more of an attitude. If you want to score in this league on a consistent basis as a player, and be a good scoring team, you got to go to the net and get those rebound goals, because that’s where a lot of the goals are scored, we all know that.”
Berube said that Justin Faulk and Robert Bortuzzo, both of whom were hurt in Game 2 after hits to the head, would be fine. As for another defenseman, Vince Dunn, who missed the final 16 games of the season with what is thought to be a concussion, Berube said, “He just never felt comfortable to play. So we never want to put a player in a bad situation. And so he just wasn’t ready. I mean, he told us he wasn’t ready so that’s why he didn’t play.”
Berube said that neither the Blues nor Vladimir Tarasenko were happy with his play in his return from shoulder surgery but he foresees a better future. “He needs to get his legs going again,” Berube said, “and use his body and just play a harder game down low in the offensive zone and get to the harder areas to score goals.
... This is a big summer for him for sure, from a training standpoint, and making sure he comes in real healthy next year at training camp, then use training camp to get everything going again. ... I think you’re gonna see a different Vladi for sure.” Tarasenko has arrived in Latvia for the world championships and now has a six-day quarantine before he can start playing for Russia.
While Berube liked in general what he saw from forward Klim Kostin in his two games after coming back from the KHL, it wasn’t enough to get him in the lineup in the playoffs. “I thought he looked a little tired,I think with the travel and everything and the season he had,” he said. “He looked like he got a little winded at times. But he did fine. ... Where we were at, I went with all the guys that I thought could get the job done.”