Blues’ Hitchcock doesn’t like accusations of coaching dead-puck hockey: “If people bitch about this, then they should bitch about the Olympic team”

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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.”

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: