Jason Brough

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Head Coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues talks with players during Game One of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

‘All the injuries’ forced Blues to buy in: Hitch

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Ken Hitchcock has a reputation for being hard on his players, for nagging them, for never letting them forget the right way to play.

In a lot of ways, it’s what makes him a great head coach. He knows the game, and he knows exactly what he wants from his players.

But sometimes, instead of being told over and over, the best way for people to learn the right way is by doing it the wrong way, and finding out what happens.

“We wanted to play this funky, slow way,” Hitchcock told reporters today. “Rather than battle them on it all the time, I just let them bury [themselves]. Then they started to grab it on their own.”

Of course, a depleted lineup also helped — or, forced — the Blues to buy in.

“When we had all the injuries, the sense of urgency to play one way became paramount with everybody because we had no choice. We had to really dig in and play that way. Then they found even more success. They bought it themselves,” Hitchcock said.

“I’m not sure without the injuries that it wouldn’t have taken more time. Man, when we had all those people go down, we had no choice but to play one way. They bought in big-time.”

The style that Hitchcock demands is not an easy one to play on a consistent basis. It takes a lot of commitment, and sometimes during an 82-game regular season, a team is going to fall short.

Recall what Hitchcock said during a tough stretch back in December: “This is a league, the more you check, the more you have the puck. The more you stay on the hunt, the more you play on your toes, the more you close gaps, the more you have the puck. When you’re inconsistent in that level, you open it up. This has been an ongoing theme for a little while and we’ve got to get it solved.”

The Blues did get it solved eventually, and now they’re three wins from the Stanley Cup Final.

Related: Blues owner doesn’t really care if the players ‘hate’ Hitch

Caps GM: Penguins’ speed ‘took over’ at times

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Carl Hagelin #62 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second-period goal against Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the Washington Capitals look slow. On that, most observers can agree.

For the Caps, the question now is whether that was due more to personnel or tactics.

“Overall, I don’t think we’re a slow team, but I think at times, we get exposed with the really fast teams,” said GM Brian MacLellan, per CSN Washington. “Dallas, Pittsburgh, we did struggle sometimes with the pace of the game. I don’t think all of the time. I think sometimes I see it more as we don’t enforce our style of play on the speed team. We sit back and let them do the speed game.”

Certainly, guys like Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel used their speed effectively against Washington. The Caps, meanwhile, tried to employ more of a heavy style. Maybe not quite as heavy as the Los Angeles Kings or St. Louis Blues, but in that neighborhood.

“The Pittsburgh series, I think at times their speed took over, and then at times, we took over with a physical, pressure style, physical strength style of play,” said MacLellan. “It went back and forth quite a bit. I think it’s on us, the style we want to play, upon the speed teams, so while speed is a factor, I think we need to enforce the way we want to play on teams, and more consistently.”

MacLellan is unlikely to make drastic changes to the lineup, so while there may be a few tweaks here and there, the Capitals’ ability to handle faster teams may depend largely on the adjustments that head coach Barry Trotz makes.

“That’s something that we’re really going to talk about,” Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “It’s been – not an issue – but it’s been brought up. … They throw pucks to space and use some of that speed to create some of that, so it makes you look a lot faster sometimes. We’re going to look at it from a style standpoint and some of the teams that have been doing that a little bit.”

Vasilevskiy was ‘outstanding’ last night — not bad for the youngest goalie in the NHL


Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 of 40 shots before Sidney Crosby beat him in overtime last night. It was another solid performance for the 21-year-old, who’s been forced into a pressure-packed situation due to Ben Bishop’s injury.

It’s still early in the Eastern Conference Final, but Vasilevskiy has been giving his team a chance to win, and that’s about all you can ask from your goalie.

“He’s outstanding,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “You never want to lose your number one guy in Bish, but you’ve got one A-plus right behind him, and he was — I thought he was outstanding tonight and probably the reason why that game went to overtime in the first place.”

Vasilevskiy wasn’t as outstanding during the regular season, when he went a modest 11-10-0 with a .910 save percentage. But then, he was also the youngest netminder in the league. Most goalies don’t make it to the NHL so quickly. As one general manager put it, “Goalies develop in dog years.”

Whether Vasilevskiy becomes a future starter in Tampa Bay remains to be seen. Bishop can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and GM Steve Yzerman has a long list of skaters that need new deals as well.

That’s not a decision that needs to be made now, but it is one to keep in mind. If this is an audition of sorts for Vasilevskiy, so far he’s nailing it.

Remember that Vasilevskiy was the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft, about as high as a goalie gets taken these days. He was not drafted to be a backup.

It ‘doesn’t look very good’ for NHL participation in 2018 Winter Olympics: IIHF president

Gary Bettman, Rene Fasel, Don Fehr

The NHL appreciates the effort IIHF president Rene Fasel is making to get the best hockey players in the world to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

But that doesn’t mean the league is going to open its wallet to help him out.

“Rene is a friend of hockey and a champion for the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to Postmedia, “and I know he is working hard to do whatever he can to offer us a realistic and reasonable opportunity to participate on terms consistent with our past Olympics Games.”

It’s a tough task that Fasel’s taken on, now that the IOC has decided not to cover millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players. Fasel is not particularly optimistic about his chances of covering the shortfall, meaning there could be no NHL participation in the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

Fasel has said his plan is to go “do some begging” from the national Olympic committees of the hockey-playing countries, but as of right now he says, it “doesn’t look very good.”

“We have to find ways to bring the money together,” he told Postmedia. “It’s not easy, but hopefully we will make it.”

DeBoer says refs need to call the game ‘accordingly’; Hitchcock says Blues ‘won’t whine for calls’


In 2011, the last time the San Jose Sharks made the Western Conference Final, special teams played an enormous role in their demise, as the Canucks scored nine times on the power play and ended the series in five games.

Only a few Sharks are left from that 2011 squad, but the importance of special teams was on display again in Game 1 of the 2016 conference final. San Jose went 0-for-3 on the power play, the St. Louis Blues went 1-for-2, and the Sharks lost the game, 2-1.

“St. Louis’ penalty killing did nothing we haven’t seen before this season,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. “When our power play doesn’t score, it’s either the goaltending is great or our execution is off. I think it was a little bit of both last night. But we’ve always managed to fix that. I have confidence we’re going to get that fixed for next game.”

According to forward Logan Couture, San Jose’s biggest problem in Game 1 was gaining the zone and getting set up. That’s when the Sharks are at their most dangerous, when they can throw the puck around and open shooting lanes for the likes of Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski.

“Last night our entries needed to be better,” Couture said. “I think we stalled on the left side entering the zone.”

While Couture, like his coach, is confident that the Sharks can “figure it out,” it’s worth noting that the Blues had the second-ranked PK during the regular season, and their stinginess has carried through into the playoffs. The Stars went just 2-for-20 with the man advantage in the second round.

The Sharks’ power play, unlike the Stars’, couldn’t be stopped in the second round. It converted eight times in seven games versus Nashville, and that was after scoring five times in five games versus the Kings.

And in a remark that may have been intended for the ears of the Game 2 referees, DeBoer said he expects the rule book to be called “accordingly” against the big-hitting, beard-tugging Blues.

“We’re relying on the officials to do their job,” he said. “St. Louis is one of the most penalized teams in the league, regular season and playoffs. They need to call the game accordingly. Need to make them pay a price for being the most penalized team on the power play, which we didn’t last night.”

That, predictably, got a response from Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

“We’re told not to whine for calls, so we’re not going to whine for calls,” he said. “If Pete wants to do it, that’s up to him, but we’re not doing it.”

All that gamesmanship underscored one main point — special teams could very well decide which of these teams gets to the Stanley Cup Final.