After a lackluster 4-1 loss on home ice to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock finally expressed a concern that has been an underlying issue through the early stages of this season and for a good part of last.
When Hitchcock took over in 2011, one area the Blues began to excel at quickly was home ice dominance. Opponents dreaded coming to Scottrade Center in recent seasons, and in Hitchcock's first season, the Blues held the best home record in the league at 30-6-5, then were 28-9-4 after the strikeout-shortened season of 2013-14. Even in 2014-15, they were a very respectable 27-12-2.
But last season, the Blues slipped to 24-13-4, and the only reason they continued to be among one of the top teams and competed for the Central Division title is because of their second-best road record (25-11-5) in the Western Conference (behind San Jose) and third in the NHL (Washington).
The Blues are 2-1-0 through three home games, but the two wins haven't exactly been convincing (3-2 over the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers) and after last night's loss, they're being outscored 8-7.
"To win at home, I don't want to say it's easier to win on the road, but it's easier to get your 'A' game on the road, to be honest with you, in the league," Hitchcock said. "I think a lot of it is the white noise. I think you've got to really eliminate the white noise. I think that when you get a condensed schedule like there is this year, having gone through this with an Olympic schedule, one of the things when you get back home is you get really busy. You get really busy away from the rink because you're playing catch-up all the time. I think you've got to eliminate that white noise and the things that go on in your life to try and maintain a focus that quite frankly is easy on the road because everybody's together. You're going from building to building together, you're going from a hotel to hotel together, but it changes at home. Everybody's on their own. I think getting that central focus is really important at home and finding a way to make sure that everybody stays in that framework is a challenge."
Winning consistently on home ice gives a team a swagger, and the Blues need to recapture it quickly.
"That's a good term for it," said goalie Jake Allen, who will be back in net tomorrow when the Blues host the Detroit Red Wings. "We talked about that this morning, having confidence in our own building, making it a rough place to play, tough place to be. If you're a visiting team, you're going to be in for a tough night and a long night coming into our rink. I think we need to get that back on the map that when Detroit comes in here, they're going to have a tough go from every aspect.
"We'll get it back. I'm not worried about it at all. We all love playing in this building. It's comfortable, it's a fun rink to play in. It's loud, it's bright and it's enjoyable. Just had a rough couple periods and I don't think we're too worried about it."
It started with the rough third against the Rangers, albeit the Blues were down three players for the entire 20 minutes because of injury. But nevertheless, it shouldn't have carried over to Tuesday.
"We used to be one of the best teams," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We were almost unbeatable at home a few years ago. We've got to find a way to reverse that trend, we've got to use that home ice advantage. You want to come home knowing you have a real good chance to win. Hasn't been that the last few years and I think we've just got to stick to our game plan, simplify and play the same simple game that we play on the road.
"I wouldn't say comfortable. Maybe we try and expose some matchups and sometimes we think it's going to come easier than it should. But that's no excuse. We've got to find a way to play the same way at home as on the road, which is using everybody in every situation and playing simple hockey."
With the red-hot Red Wings (winners of five in a row after an 0-2-0 start) and Los Angeles Kings coming to town Thursday and Saturday, respectively, it could make for a good start to the home schedule and set the Blues up moving forward.
"In your own rink in the NHL, you need to be consistently a winning team with a winning percentage especially," Allen said. "I think we just need to bring the game more at home. The last four periods at home haven't really been our best.
"We haven't had some of the juice we've had on the road. We need to jell together at home a little bit more. We've got two games at home this week and we're trying to focus in on the details. We started off on the right foot and we dropped off a little bit and we're trying to gain that step back."