Michel Therrien

Therrien says Habs must be willing to adjust on the fly


Recently extended Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien’s name conjures a lot of thoughts, yet “eager to change” doesn’t really make the top of the list.

That’s what he’s asking of his players after receiving a four-year extension, however: be willing to roll with the punches.

The best stuff revolves around a spaghetti sauce analogy, though.

“You always have to want to improve. Hockey is a game that changes quickly. We’re always working on a plan of action we want to instill in our team. You can’t be afraid to make changes during the year. The players are used to it by now,” Therrien said. “The coaching staff gets together a lot during the summer to scout player tendencies and stay as current as possible. You want to be up-to-date on systems and new technology. You don’t want to have the same spaghetti sauce again and again. You’re always looking to improve it.”

Naturally, such a comment begs the counter: will Therrien embrace the same open-mindedness he’s demanding of his players?

During the 2014 postseason, he certainly was OK with making bold moves. When Carey Price was injured, the safe choice would have been to go with Peter Budaj. Instead, Therrien opted for unconventional goalie Dustin Tokarski, whose aggressive play helped the Canadiens push the New York Rangers harder in an Eastern Conference final series that many thought would be a cakewalk following Price’s injury.

Even so, with talk of dissent with P.K. Subban and a general feeling that he’s the rigid, defensive-minded type, the question’s still there.

Canadiens blog Habs Eyes on the Prize took an in-depth look at Therrien’s strengths and weaknesses, with quite a bit of attention paid to his ability to adapt. It seems like the ultimate observation was that he’s been a mixed bag lately:

The Canadiens started the next season the same way, blitzing teams early, only to stray from the method that was working for them just a month in, changing to a much more rigid structure based on safe plays. Chipping and chasing became much more common, and exits out of their own zone would be up the boards, or not happen at all. This led to one of the NHL’s premier possession teams in 2012-13 becoming one of the worst in 2013-14. In fact, it was the biggest year over year drop in possession that’s ever been recorded.

Yet spectacular play from Carey Price and the team’s other superstars kept them in games all through the year, ending up in a 100-point season. Then in the playoffs, Therrien switched right back to the system of the previous year, leading to the Canadiens absolutely demolishing the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games, and defeating the powerhouse Bruins in seven.

So for fans, media, and analysts, this is kind of confusing. Who is the real Therrien?

Maybe that definition will change multiple times (and on the fly) going forward …

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”