The Blues and Kings are now deadlocked at 2 in their opening round Stanley Cup Playoff matchup. Most Blues fans would agree that the team should be leading 3-1 if not for unfortunate bounces and lack of execution during game 3. After weathering the storm in the first period, the Blues outplayed the Kings and Jonathan Quick, but missed too many open nets. In game 4 as with the series, the Blues had a 2-0 lead and blew it; leading Blues fans to lament and argue over how the team could play itself into this position.
As both of my Twitter followers probably could tell, I have not been happy with the play of two Blues in particular in this series: to say the least the play of Andy McDonald and Chris Stewart has been subpar. McDonald had two glorious opportunities in game 3, whiffing on a wide open net on a rebound and then moving out of position to below the goal line while the Blues were positioning for a shot late in the third. McDonald was two strides too deep and missed a chip pass through the crease for what would have been a tap in.
But his missed offensive woes aren’t the entire story. His play on the breakouts has been awful. He doesn’t handle pucks near the top of the zone and bails too easily when pressured. His backchecking has been solid, but he appears to start the backcheck early and has diffused a couple of rushes by moving against the flow. He has the hallmarks of a guy trying to too much.
Stewart has not been close to the same guy who went on a tear in March. He always seems to be a step out of position and a step slow. At least he set up Barrett Jackman’s game two winner and has contributed to the team’s success. Both AndyMac and Stewie are skill guys who aren’t brining enough to the table.
McDonald and Stewart are not the only culprits, though, as Backes, Leopold, Berglund, etc, failed on glorious chances. Certainly after the Blues missed open net after open net in Game 3 and wound up with the goose egg, they needed an offensive infusion. Vladimir Tarasenko, the closest thing the Blues have to a pure goal scorer, needed to get into the lineup. So the question was, who would sit? The logical choice to come out?
Adam Cracknell. Um, what? The one line that the Blues could count on was the CPR line. When the Blues need a boost, they can turn to the workmen-like effort Cracknell, Porter, and Reaves provide. Yes, each of them are currently minus one when McDonald and Stewart are both plus one, but the energy they bring in game-in and game-out are more tangible that pluses and minuses. Cracknell plays the most honest, straightforward game, the kind of player you need this time of year. He might not be expected to chip in goals on a regular basis, but no one will ever question his effort.
Why Cracknell and not McDonald and Stewart? The answer: Hitchcock’s bias to veterans. One of his more mundane Hitchisms of this post-season was that “playoffs are for veterans.” Instead of taking a hard look at McDonald or Stewart, he pulled the guy with the least experience. As I have mentioned on the Let’s Go Blues Radio podcast, I thought that one of Hitchcock’s worst decisions going into last year’s playoffs was taking Porter out so that Arnott and Nichol were in. By the time Arnott was out of the lineup, it was too late to recover against LA.
According to Jeremy Rutherford on Twitter today, Hitch refused to talk about the swap of Tarasenko for Cracknell, stating “I am not getting into personnel stuff.” So it appears the Blues are licking their wounds and taking a day to recover from a tough loss in which Tarasenko was a non-factor.
So now does Tarasenko immediately come out? I hope not. I still would like to see McDonald watch a game from the pressbox. He has looked gassed. He is one of the smarter guys on the team, so giving him a game to watch from a different perspective while recharging might help him to rediscover the type of effective hockey he played for the Ducks on their way to the Cup in 2007. Or even piss him off and light the fire under him. To me, he is the player most in need of a reset, followed by Stewart.
However, I don’t see that happening. With Hitch the focus is always on defensive hockey. Tarasenko is a defensive risk. The Blues figured out how to score, even with Tarasenko not contributing. I think they lost game four because they breathed too big a sigh of relief after finally potting a couple of quick ones at the beginning of game two and forgot that it takes a full sixty minute effort to win in the postseason. A question that certainly can be debated is whether or not Hitch's bias towards veterans is hurting this team by replacing effort with dedication to experience.