Influx of new players hasn't helped Blues' rebuilding project

Thursday, November 30, 2006
St. Louis Blues goaltender Manny Legace watched a shot from San Jose Sharks' Ryane Clowe go in the net during Tuesday's loss. (TOM GANNAM ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Under new management, the St. Louis Blues boosted the roster.

So far, the results have been the same.

Goals are still hard to come by, and so are victories.

The Blues have 13 regulation losses, scoring two or fewer goals in all of them, and they're in 12th place in the Western Conference, and only two points from the bottom.

A 2-0 shutout loss to the San Jose Sharks, in which they took 29 shots but barely tested Vesa Toskala, was just the latest example of the offensive slump.

Coach Mike Kitchen, whose team finished last overall in the NHL last season and last in goals, thought he wouldn't have to worry about scoring anymore -- either on the power play or at even strength.

"That's the toughest thing, creating offense," Kitchen said. "I thought with some of the free agents we signed, we'd be able to score goals. We've got to get better, that's all I can say."

St. Louis reacquired center Doug Weight, among those jettisoned during the previous owners' salary purge. Also added to the mix were veteran scorers Bill Guerin and Martin Rucinsky.

The product, all too often, has been vanilla. The Scottrade Center was about half-full and pretty quiet for the Sharks game.

"It felt kind of dead out there, like someone died or something," goalie Manny Legace said. "Fans weren't into it, and the game wasn't very exciting."

The Blues have scored only 54 goals in 23 games and only three teams have fewer goals. Their power-play is punchless, mired in a 2-for-41 slump the last 13 games.

St. Louis mustered only one shot in three power-play opportunities on Tuesday.

"If they were going to get in this game, it was going to be on the power play," Sharks coach Rick Wilson said. "I know their power play has struggled, but they still have a lot of weapons out there and you've got to be on your toes."

Frustrated weapons, though.

Leading scorer Keith Tkachuk is scoreless his last four games. Winger Lee Stempniak, one of the few pleasant surprises on the last season's team, has one assist in his last seven games. Guerin has one assist in his last seven games.

Weight had a career-high four assists on Nov. 2 against the Avalanche, but since then has a goal and an assist in 11 games.

So the frustration level is increasing.

"I think guys are starting to play a little tight because losses are mounting up," Legace said. "We've just got to go out and play and let things happen like we did at the beginning of the year."

Kitchen has done a lot of line-juggling to get the team started, to no avail. He said it's up the players to smooth out the inconsistencies.

"Usually those things come down to work ethic," Kitchen said. "You've got to work your way out of these situations.

"You've got to keep putting pucks at the net and trying to get a break so it eases the pressure."

Kitchen also called out his veterans.

"I think there's more there," Kitchen said. "We've got to lean on those guys. Our veteran players, they have to be our best players."

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