St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock has a question for all the critics who say his St. Louis Blues are playing pre-lockout hockey:
Are you even watching what we’re doing?
“It’s really ill-informed,” Hitchcock told the Vancouver Sun about claims St. Louis is rekindling the dead-puck era. “To me, when I hear that comment, that tells me people don’t watch the game.
“If people bitch about this, then they should bitch about the Olympic team because it’s the same terminology, the same philosophy, the same set of buzzwords.”
That’s in reference to the gold medal-winning Canadian team Hitchcock coached at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Along with Mike Babcock, Hitch put emphasis on playing a “200-foot game” where importance of checking (specifically, back-checking) was on par with the importance of scoring goals.
He says there isn’t a good team anywhere that doesn’t know how to check.
“The difference is, now it’s all based on forecheck, where in the late ’90s it was neutral-zone forecheck,” Hitchcock explained. “You could play more of a 150-foot game, but now you’ve got to play 200 feet.”
“If it’s 6-0, great, if it’s 1-0, fine, but the focus is on the zero. It’s done with making the other team spend as much time in their own zone as possible. It’s not anything other than that.”
The Blues have seen plenty of zeroes this year. They lead the NHL in shutouts (12) and have the league’s lowest goals-allowed average (1.95) — a big reason why folks keep making the ’99 Dallas Stars comparison. But St. Louis’ defensive success hasn’t come at the offense’s expense as the Blues are right around the league average for goals per game (2.49, median is 2.62) while averaging 30.8 shots per game, 10th-most in the league.
Hitchcock says it’s because this Blues team takes plenty of chances.
“It’s the philosophy that the forwards work for the defencemen, and everyone works for the goalie,” Hitchcock said. “We pinch more now than ever, but it’s all calculated on putting as much pressure on the other team as possible while not giving up odd-man rushes.
“That’s the way we did it in the Olympics, both Mike and I believe that’s how you play the game.”