PK good, or too much of it? -- The Blues have had a strong penalty kill, and they've needed it. That's the good news.
The bad news is that for as well as the Blues' PK has been (they've allowed only five goals), they've been on it a staggering 62 times, which equates to 91.9 percent and tied for No. 1 in the NHL with Saturday's opponent, Columbus.
The 62 times, which leads the NHL by one over the Calgary Flames, averages out to the Blues having to kill off 4.13 penalties per game. And for the Blues, who use their top offensive players on the PK, it tends to wear players down, and when players wear down, there's no energy for offense, and the excessive PK work is putting a toll on the Blues' offense, which can't find the back of the net.
"That's something I think we stressed that we need less of is take penalties," said defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who has played more than 10 minutes on the PK the past two nights. "We did a good job killing them off. We've been pretty good penalty killing all year, but I guess it plays into momentum, that sort of thing, but overall, we just need to find a way to score a little bit more and that comes from doing a lot of things. It's being more competitive, getting around the net, that sort of thing. We'll figure it out."
The Blues played well for the majority of a 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago on Wednesday, and held a 1-0 lead through 38-plus minutes in Nashville on Thursday before succumbing 3-1, but those games added to the futility of offense in which the Blues have scored one or fewer goals in eight of the past 12 games; they have two or fewer in 10 of 15 games this season.
"Yeah, some guys have got to play some hard minutes and some guys don't play at all," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "It's a little bit of a mixture of both. You can kill off penalties; I don't know how many we killed off in a row, but it felt like it was almost half a period (Thursday in the second). Guys were sitting for that long who don't kill and some guys are working hard and tires them out a little bit, but if more than anything, it gives them momentum and lets them feel the puck more than they would 5-on-5."
And that's what Hitchcock, whose team is 27th in the NHL (2.20) in goals per game, feels needs to happen, more 5-on-5 play.
"It's disappointing to play as well as we did," Hitchcock said. "We played really well against Chicago and we played even better against Nashville until they scored their second goal and then we ran out of gas. It's why we're running out of gas. We're running out of gas because we're asking the same people to do too much because we're killing too many penalties. We're killing too many penalties and it's not allowing us to play our roster properly. It's disappointing to put that type of work in and play well and then basically not have the energy to come back. Some of it is back-to-back, but we were gassed. We were gassed in the third period.
"I think you go through stages like that, but I think a bigger part of it is you have to have energy to play offense and there's not enough 5-on-5 play for us. We need more 5-on-5 play. ... We've got to clean up that part of (not taking so many penalties) so that we've got the energy to play 60 minutes. The game's 60 minutes-plus. You've got to have the energy to play when the game's on the line and we've had too many times here where we've been tired, not being able to perform at a high level. We've got to do that."