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A day after firing Ken Hitchcock, Blues dominate Maple Leafs in Yeo’s debut

The day after firing coach Ken Hitchcock, the St. Louis Blues got back into the win column with a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

Mike Yeo got the win in his debut as Blues head coach, after taking over the position from Hitchcock following an emotional press conference Wednesday.

It was a press conference in which general manager Doug Armstrong was critical of himself and critical of his players, as St. Louis had fallen into a battle for a wild card spot and well back of Minnesota for the Central Division lead.

The Blues responded — at least for one game — against the Leafs.

After falling behind in the first period, St. Louis came back with five unanswered goals, opening it up in the second period with three goals, coming from Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko.

“My point to the players is we just can’t expect it to happen, we have to make it happen,” said Yeo prior to the game, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Goaltending has been a weakness for the Blues this season. They have the third worst save percentage at five-on-five. Jake Allen was recently given a brief time off to “reset” but he struggled Tuesday, allowing four goals on 23 shots versus Winnipeg.

The next day, of course, the Blues officially let Hitchcock go.

Allen had a much better night Thursday, with 26 saves on 27 shots for the win.

Blues fire head coach Ken Hitchcock, Mike Yeo named as replacement

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The St. Louis Blues dropped a bombshell on Wednesday morning, as they’ve fired head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’ll be replaced by associate coach Mike Yeo.

Yeo, who joined the Blues during the off-season, was supposed to take over the head coaching job from Hitchcock after this season, but the Blues’ recent struggles have changed that.

Including last night’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Blues have lost five of their last six and they closed out of the month of January with a 5-8 record.

Hitchcock joined the Blues on Nov. 8, 2011 and he’ll leave the team with a 248-124-41 regular season record. St. Louis made the playoffs in each year since since he took over. Last spring’s trip to the Western Conference Final was the furthest they went under Hitchcock’s watch.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a great idea to announce Hitchcock’s replacement before the start of his final season behind the bench, but that isn’t the only reason the Blues have struggled in 2016-17.

Losing key veterans like David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in one off-season has been difficult to overcome. Also, their goaltending has been borderline embarrassing of late, as Jake Allen and Carter Hutton haven’t been getting the job done with any consistency.

Of the 30 NHL teams, St. Louis has the third-worst goals-against per game at 3.12 (only Colorado and Arizona are worse) and they’re at the bottom of the league in team save percentage at .887.

Now, it’s up to Yeo to figure out how to get his goaltending straightened out before it’s too late. The former Wild bench boss spent fire years as head coach in Minnesota. He left there with a 197-153-49 record.

Under Yeo, the Wild missed the playoffs just once, but they never went further than the second round. His first game as head coach will be at home against Toronto on Thursday night.

The Blues currently own the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

General manager Doug Armstrong will meet the media at 10 a.m. CT.

Here’s a hot take on the firing:

 

Under pressure: Ken Hitchcock

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This is part of St. Louis Blues day at PHT…

The St. Louis Blues have one of the more interesting coaching situations in the NHL this season.

We already know that it is going to be Ken Hitchcock’s last year behind the bench because he has said he plans on stepping away from coaching at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. So he isn’t going to be coaching the team in 2017 no matter what the team does this year, so it doesn’t seem like it would be much of a pressure situation.

But it probably still is. At least a little bit.

What makes this a bit of a pressure situation for him is the way the Blues have gone about lining up his successor, former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo. He is already a member of the coaching staff as an assistant, and we know he is going to be the next head coach of the Blues. It is just a matter of whether it happens after the 2016-17 season as originally planned, or sometime before then.

And that is where the pressure might be on Hitchcock a little bit this season.

Even though the Blues have been one of the best teams in the NHL over the past four years under Hitchcock, winning at least 49 games in each of the past three seasons, Hitchcock always seems to be sitting on the hot seat because of the team’s shortcomings and early exits when the playoffs start. Before last season, where the Blues advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the team had been knocked out in the first round in three consecutive seasons, and it seemed likely that if they did not win that Game 7 in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 that they might have just cleaned house and gutted the whole thing over the summer after another early exit.

Because they got through it and then won another Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in the second round, it definitely bought everybody another year. At least to start.

When you put everything together this situation just seems like an obvious candidate for an in-season coaching change if the Blues do not have a fast start out of the gate, or are not where management wants them to be around the mid-point of the season. Hitchcock has already seemingly been on the hot seat within the past year or two, everybody knows he is not coming back after this season, and the Blues don’t have to do anything to find a replacement if they need one in the middle of the season. Because the replacement is already going to be working — literally — behind the team’s bench this season.

Is there a rift forming between Vladimir Tarasenko and Ken Hitchcock?

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Is there some heat between St. Louis Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko and hard-nosed head coach Ken Hitchcock?

Some are floating that thought, especially following what looked like a tense exchange (see video above) during Game 6.

Hitchcock is the sort of “gruff” coach who, the story goes, doesn’t always get along with certain players.

One can debate things back and forth and over-analyze various interactions between the two, but it seems clear that a huge chunk of Hockey Twitter believes that Tarasenko isn’t being used properly.

Simply put, plenty of smart people think that he isn’t getting the sort of ice time that befits a sniper who’s really cemented himself among the elite during this regular season and an impressive first round.

Here are some stunned reactions:

There were plenty of less polished responses that expressed similar thoughts in pretty amusing ways:

(ALL CAPS OFTEN GET A LAUGH.)

It may be an exaggeration to imply that there is any bad blood between Hitchcock and Tarasenko, even if the latter might be a little peeved that he isn’t getting more opportunities to influence games. (Tarasenko’s been brilliant, after all.)

Even so, this could be the sort of strategic decision that draws some serious criticism if the Blues bow out in Game 7.

Ken Hitchcock has a new coaching lifehack

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Long known as one of the NHL’s more innovative coaches, St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock has come up with a new strategy:

Instead of using his timeout, he’ll make a superfluous goalie change.

More, from the Post-Dispatch:

On two occasions this season, Hitchcock has pulled Jake Allen or Brian Elliott from the game briefly, buying time for his team without burning a timeout.

The latest instance happened in the second period of Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Toronto, after the Maple Leafs took a 3-1 lead.

Allen was called to the Blues’ bench and looked frustrated by the move. Replaced by Elliott, he was off the ice for 2 minutes, 8 seconds before returning.

Hitchcock admitted Elliott and Allen dislike the strategy  — “I don’t think they’re OK with it,” he said — but added that he wasn’t going to waste his single timeout if he didn’t have to, regardless of who he riles up.

To be honest, it’s not a bad move.

Hitchcock’s strategy is especially important this year with the implementation of the coach’s challenge, as bench bosses need to have their timeout available in order to make one.

Earlier this season, Avs head coach Patrick Roy admitted he didn’t call timeout during Minnesota’s four-goals-in-5:07 outburst against his club, because he wanted the option to possibly challenge a call later in the game.