The Blues have really started playing some inspired hockey over the last five games, and it is hard to believe that it only took a little addition and subtraction. The team subtracted Davis Payne, and added Ken Hitchcock as the new head coach.
Now Hitchcock isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, but he is trying to show the players that as long as it is rolled properly, the ride will be very smooth.
Hitchcock is taking a baby steps approach with the players as far as making changes. He isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, he is just showing them that it is round and if rolled properly, it will be a smooth ride.
“I think that’s been the biggest difference,” defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. “He’s not throwing much at us at all. He’s stressing key points and really focusing on the little things. Just getting more of the guys to relax and play instead of think all the time. He’s been really good at what he’s been doing so far. Obviously a lot of us have been buying in.”
One big difference that Blues fans have seen is the play of their goaltending. Well ok, their #1 Goaltender as a matter of fact. Hitchcock said that Jaroslav Halak was his #1 guy and that he was going to give him the opportunity to prove that he was the #1 guy. He showed confidence in Halak as soon as he arrived, and Halak responded with a shutout win in his first game under the new Coach. Not only did Halak make a statement, but so did the Blues since that game came against the number one team in the NHL Points wise and Central Division rival Chicago.
So far the Blues have played five games under the new coach and they have picked up a total of 9 points out of a possible 10. They have shut outs against the Hawks and the high powered Tampa Bay Lightning, and they also have a come from behind win against another central division rival in the Detroit Redwings.
Hitchcock has has success with other teams in the National Hockey League, and led the Dallas Stars to the franchises first Stanley Cup Championship during the 1998-99 season. He has also coached the Philadelphia Flyers and most recently the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Hitchcock has coached 1047 games in the NHL and he has a career record of 538 wins 350 losses 88 ties and 71 overtime/shootout losses. This gives him a winning percentage of .514.
The one key factor that Hitchcock has stressed ever since he was introduced at the Blues Press Conference to announce his hiring, was that if the team wanted to win, they would have to play a 200 foot game. What he meant by this was that the team had to play as hard at one end of the ice as they did at the other. They had to keep it going from end to end, and not get lazy while the game was going on. He also said that they had to play a full 60 minutes of hockey. They couldn’t expect to win by only playing 40 or 50 minutes a night. He said if they wanted to win they had to play hard for the entire game.
Again, the team has bought into this concept, as in his first five games, the team has not give up a goal in the second or third periods. This sets a franchise best mark. Also in those five games the Blues have outscored their opponents 14-4, and they have only give up two goals playing at full strength.
The team has really come on strong, and they jumped a few teams in the standings. Even though it is early, this team is only going to get better as they play Hitchcock’s system more and more, and also as they get their injured players back. Andy McDonald and David Perron will be back in the lineup in the future, and both of those players add goal scoring ability.
The team is also going to be facing the challenge that five of their next seven games are on the road, and they will face the likes of the LA Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins (and possibly Sidney Crosby) and the Washington Capitals. The next seven games will be a test for this team, but if they can continue to play the way they have since Coach Hitchcock took over, I don’t think there will be any reason why they will not only be competitive in those games, but also have a winning record over that stretch.
It is good to see this team finally start to put it all together. All Blues fans have known that they have the talent and ability to play with the top tier teams in the NHL, it just took a new coach and new philosphy to bring it all together.
Will the Blues get their game going and make the Playoffs this year? Only time will tell, but as long as they continue to do what their new head coach tells them to, I don’t see why they won’t.