Coach Jacques Demers and the St. Louis Blues have been laughing their way through the Stanley Cup playoffs, winning key games and relaxing on off days while opponents practice.
Now, when the demanding travel schedule makes practice sessions difficult to arrange, it is apparent that the Blues desperately need some work on their power play.
St. Louis' extra-man maneuvering was pathetic Saturday night in Calgary and led directly to a 4-2 defeat that moved the Flames within one game of the Stanley Cup final against Montreal. Calgary enters Monday night's game at the Arena with a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven Campbell Conference championship series.
The fact that the Blues failed to score on eight power plays Saturday was bad enough. They also yielded a shorthanded goal and were outshot, 6-3, while they held a man advantage. During a 24-second segment when they were two men up, the Blues went without a shot at Mike Vernon.
Over the series, the St. Louis power play has a net effectiveness of zero; it has clicked twice in 25 tries but has given up two shorthanded scores. Calgary, although outscored 12-9 at even strength, has converted 10 of 29 power plays.
"We're going to look at the films, then we'll sit down and make some adjustments," Demers said.
The power failures are frustrating his players and reducing their overall effectiveness. After Colin Patterson scored shorthanded during the Blues' first power play Saturday, it was obvious St. Louis was playing very tentative hockey with the extra man.
"It's been like that right through the playoffs, so obviously we don't know what the answer is or we'd correct it," said left wing Eddy Beers, obtained from Calgary in a trade for Joe Mullen. "Everyone is trying his best. All I know is it's frustrating."
Meanwhile, Patterson and Steve Bozek were accepting congratulations for their outstanding effort in the penalty-killing department.
"We're a little more aggressive when we're killing penalties, but we're not overly aggressive, because it can backfire on you," said Patterson, a Clarkson College product.
Bozek, chosen as the No. 1 star Saturday, is another of Calgary's college corps, having played at Northern Michigan. He has at least one assist in four straight games, although he is still looking for his first goal of the playoffs.
"Bozek was a one-man checking show," said the Blues' Rob Ramage. "He was just flying. You can see the confidence he's playing with."
"I haven't dressed for some of the games, so when I get in there, I have to be ready," Bozek said. "You don't want to be ordinary when you get your chance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"I think when you're on the penalty-killing unit, you have more intensity and work harder than normal. You have to cover more area, so you just go at them as hard as you can.
"Sometimes the power-play guys stay out there a long time and they're tired. You come out fresh, taking shorter shifts as a penalty killer, and when the puck gets turned over, it can open up a lot of opportunities for you."
Still, when he was told of the Flames' shooting edge during St. Louis power plays, Bozek shook his head and said, "That's unbelievable."
Another standout in the penalty-killing area was Mike Eaves, who played only his fourth game in a comeback after he retired because of repeated concussions. Eaves, who played for Calgary Coach Bob Johnson at Wisconsin, also scored the clinching goal in the third period after the Blues had climbed within 3-2.
"When we go out there, we have to utilize our quickness," Eaves said. "We've tried to do that the whole series. Speed is our greatest asset, and if we use it, we're going to be effective. If we don't, we're in trouble."
Johnson was all smiles as he said: "We've had success on the power play all year, and we've certainly done a good job killing penalties, but I'm not telling you how we're doing it.
"We always hope we can get the first goal, because St. Louis thrives on low-scoring games, and if they get ahead, they make it that much tougher for you. Getting that first goal shorthanded was even bigger, because a shorthanded goal is always tough to take psychologically."