ST. LOUIS -- And so to the puzzling case of the St. Louis Blues.
So many things to like about this team.
One of the top penalty-killing units in the NHL.
Chris Mason emerging as a top No. 1 netminder.
A cast of exciting, talented young players who re-energized a disillusioned fan base.
On many nights through the first quarter of this season, the Blues have dominated opponents, outshooting them, outchancing them, outworking them.
And if it weren't for the minor issue of regularly failing to actually convert those shots into goals, this Blues team would be exactly where most thought they'd be, in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. Instead, the goal-starved Blues languish in last place in the Central Division, 13th in the West.
President John Davidson points to Monday's 4-2 loss as a microcosm of the Blues' vexing season. Midway through the first period, the Blues had outshot the Bruins 9-2, but it was Boston that got on the scoreboard first with a power-play goal.
In 13 home games, the Blues have managed to score three or more goals just four times. The loss to the Bruins capped a six-game home stand that saw the Blues come up with just three wins, putting their home record at a gruesome 5-8-1 with five of the next six games on the road.
It's understandable, perhaps, that the stress is starting to wear on a team that entered the season with such high hopes.
St. Louis coach Andy Murray seemed exasperated after Monday's loss, saying he was "sick and tired" of talking again and again about how many scoring chances his team came up with but couldn't convert.
"We should be running guys out of our building," an equally exasperated Mason suggested.
If there is frustration, there is also a sense of bewilderment at how things have unfolded in St. Louis.
"As physical as the game is, the mental grind is a lot, and now we've got a lot of games coming up and we've got to make sure we're focused on the next game," forward Brad Boyes said. "Again, if I had some answers, I'd try to work on it."
The day before the Boston loss, Murray was sitting in his office, rifling through some papers and looking for a sheet chronicling scoring chances during a recent five-game segment. Generally, teams would like to score once in every four or five quality chances. The Blues are managing to find the net on just one of every 20 quality chances and rank 25th in goals per game.
And then there's the power play. After boasting the eighth-ranked power-play unit last season, the Blues are now dead last in the league. Monday's 0-for-3 performance marked the fifth straight game in which the Blues failed to score on the man advantage. To make matters worse, they gave up a short-handed goal midway through the third period while trailing by a goal.
Davidson called the power play's lack of productivity "mortifying".
"If we don't get our power play going, we're dead. Period," Davidson told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
What is most perplexing is that the Blues' veteran scorers, players like Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, Andy McDonald and Boyes, have come up dry all at once. It is like a plague has hit the scoring touch of the team's most reliable producers.
Kariya has gone 14 games without a goal.
Tkachuk has two goals in his past three games, but prior to that had gone 14 games without one.
Boyes has one assist in his past four games and just four goals after leading the Blues with 33 last season.
McDonald has not scored in five straight games.
"Our biggest issue is obviously the lack of production from our proven scorers, guys that have done it consistently," Murray told ESPN.com. "That's why I firmly believe that we will get results if we continue to work hard. It's only when you give in to your circumstances and stop working that you don't get results."
The veteran coach believes in the domino effect: When those veteran players start to score, it will invigorate the team's younger players who are likewise struggling to score and who are under intense pressure to follow up on last season's miracle run to the playoffs with another postseason berth.
"They will lift spirits of the young guys," Murray said of his veteran core. "And our young guys will find their game when the veteran guys are setting the example."
Kariya concurred with his coach.
"Well, I agree with what Andy's saying, that your veteran guys have to be your best players," Kariya told ESPN.com this week. "When you have the experience of playing in the league and knowing what it takes to perform each and every night, they're the guys that have to do it and the young guys got to follow.
"When I was a young player, I looked to the older players to learn little things, where to eat on the road or how to prepare for games," Kariya added. "But at the same time, it's a young man's game. There's a lot of skating in the game and you need your young players to perform, as well. You need that energy or that kind of jump that they provide to play well."
Kariya said he is also baffled at how things have gone for the Blues thus far.
"We're obviously better than the production," he said. "I think one of the biggest things is the power play. You look at last year's team, we were top 10. There's no reason for us not to be top 10 or higher with not only one unit, but both units we can throw out there. That's disappointing."
Still, the veteran forward has some perspective on the issue. He recalled a stretch when he was a top-point producer in Anaheim, playing mostly with good friend Teemu Selanne, and went nine games without a goal. He was in a definite funk.
"This was like empty nets and just missing and going bonkers. 'Am I ever going to score again?' The 10th game, I got a hat trick, and two the next game, then you're on a roll," he said.
Now, if this was a team that was dogging it or suffering through terrible injuries or had a bad attitude, then perhaps a solution could be found. But as Murray pointed out, his players remain, for the most part, upbeat and hopeful things will change. They work hard almost every night -- the team's defense and penalty killing suggest as much. But as the losses pile up, the questions (at least externally) mount.
Some of those questions turn to Murray, but Davidson remains convinced the players respect their coach and are playing hard for him. His magnificent work last season guided the Blues from last place to the best record in the second half of the regular season as St. Louis reached the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.
Murray has heard the rumblings.
"It's been kind of tough around here," Murray said. "Obviously, when expectations are higher and you don't quite live up to them, my name's been bantered about. It's the nature of the business."
Davidson said he has looked around to see if there's a trade to be made, but it's difficult. He pointed to the Montreal/Minnesota trade that featured two players who needed a change of scenery (Guillaume Latendresse and Benoit Pouliot), and acknowledged he has looked to see if there's a fit for his team, but nothing yet. He's also loath to disrupt his talented core of young players, even if they aren't producing.
"You wonder," Davidson mused, "did we get ahead of ourselves?"
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.