St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, back, directs his team as players Steve Ott, front left, and Ryan Reaves look on against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, in Denver. The Blues won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP

Hitchcock: ‘Calls aren’t going to go your way, you’re not going to get the officiating you want’

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Everybody was curious to hear Ken Hitchcock’s remarks in the wake of Friday’s wild Game 2 loss to Chicago.

And Hitchcock, to his credit, responded like you’d expect a seasoned bench boss to respond.

“We’re upset, but we can’t let it get in the way of what we’re going to have to do,” Hitchcock said after Vladimir Tarasenko‘s would-be goal was wiped out after Joel Quenneville’s successful coach’s challenge, paving the way for a 3-2 Chicago win. “Calls aren’t going to go your way, you’re not going to get the officiating you want.

“It’s going to seem like it’s one-sided.”

Quenneville’s successful challenge — easily the biggest in a brief Stanley Cup playoff history — turned the game on its head. Jori Lehtera was correctly deemed to have entered the attacking zone offside prior to Tarasenko scoring, but that play itself wasn’t the only story.

There was the aftermath.

A visibly frustrated Tarasenko took a slashing penalty after the challenge, which in turn led to Andrew Shaw‘s power-play goal.

Which, in turn, led to another challenge.

Hitchcock alleged Shaw interfered with Brian Elliott on the play, and officials were forced to go back to the monitor. This time, though, there would be no overturning — Shaw’s goal held up, sending the Scottrade crowd into a chorus of boos.

Under normal circumstances, Friday’s game would be seen as a potential momentum swinger.

But in the case of St. Louis, it could be seen as much more — this is a club that, for the last three years, has faced major hurdles getting out of Round 1. After an emotional 1-0 OT win in the series opener, things looked to be going the Blues’ way… only for Friday night to happen.

Hitchcock, it seemed, was well aware of this being a potential  turning point.

But he sounded determined not to let it be.

“When you play the defending Cup champions, you’re going to have to fight through a lot of stuff,” he said. “That’s the way it is.”

Hitchcock raves about Paajarvi, who’s ‘playing the best hockey for us right now’

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 10:  Magnus Paajarvi #56 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates his goal in the third period against the New Jersey Devils on November 10, 2015 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The St. Louis Blues defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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On a St. Louis team loaded with talented players, one has stood out above the rest in recent weeks — but it’s probably not the one you’d expect.

“The guy that’s gone unnoticed here is probably the guy that’s playing the best hockey for us right now is [ Magnus] Paajarvi,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “Never mind the best I’ve seen him play.

“He looks like a heck of a hockey player in the National Hockey League right now.”

Having skated recently on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny, Paajarvi has gone from an afterthought — he opened the year in AHL Chicago, and spent seven games there — to an integral part of the St. Louis lineup.

He has five points in 23 contests, but two of those have come in his last two games. He assisted on Tarasenko’s game-winning goal against Boston on Tuesday and, against Calgary last week, played a season-high 16:35.

Considering Paajarvi’s career path, what’s happening is a bit of a surprise.

Taken 10th overall by the Oilers in 2009, Paajarvi spent three largely ineffective years in Edmonton (and AHL Oklahoma City) before getting flipped to St. Louis in ’13 for David Perron.

Paajarvi started reasonably well with the Blues — 12 points in 55 games in ’13-14 — but, the following year, was subjected to waivers, cleared, and spent most of his time with the Wolves.

He was waived again at the start of this season and, like the first time, there were no takers.

So it was off to Chicago. Again.

But when injuries ravaged the Blues’ forward group, Paajarvi — who, it has to be said, is still only 24 years old — took advantage of his opportunity, and made himself a lineup regular.

And now it sounds like he’ll be in St. Louis for a while.

“If this is the tempo and the pace and the game that he’s going to bring forward,” Hitchcock said, “he’s going to be a valuable player for us the rest of this year.”

Hitchcock wants slumping Blues to tighten up

Nazem Kadri, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ian Walsh
Associated Press

The St. Louis Blues had to overcome a ton of injuries in the early stages of the ’15-16 season, but they managed to stay afloat without key players like Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz, Kevin Shattenkirk and Robby Fabbri.

Now that most of their big names have returned, the Blues should be better, but they’re not.

St. Louis has dropped three games in a row including a 4-1 decision to Toronto on Saturday night. They have just one win in their last five games.

Head coach Ken Hitchock, who many consider to be a defensive genius, knows exactly what the problem is.

“We’re a team that’s built on really good structure,” Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That’s what held this thing together when everybody was out. We did a great job with it. But as guys have started to come back, we’ve started to play looser. And the looseness is ending up on second guessing from a defensive standpoint, not from an offensive standpoint.”

Every team goes through ups and downs in an 82-game regular season, but with so much parity across the NHL, the Blues can’t afford to be slumping for too long.

They’re currently in second place in the Central Division with Minnesota (one point behind), Nashville (one point behind) and Chicago (two points behind) breathing down their neck.

The Blues have a perfect opportunity to turn things around, as they’ll play each of their next four games at the Scottrade Center.

They’ll take on the Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
AP
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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.”

‘I’ve got no issues’ with Hitchcock, says Blues captain Backes

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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While it was hardly a glowing endorsement, St. Louis captain David Backes did offer support for head coach Ken Hitchcock who, on Tuesday, signed a one-year extension with the club.

“I’ve got no issues with him,” Backes said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Does he ride guys hard and has he been on my case at times, where it’s made me angry? Yes. But he does it in the light of trying to make our team better, trying to make each individual player better.”

Prior to the playoffs, many assumed Hitchcock’s future in St. Louis would be decided in the playoffs — specifically the first round (as in, could he get the Blues past it?) The answer was “no” for the third straight year; the Blues lost in six games to Minnesota, and it was widely speculated that would be the end of Hitch’s time with the organization.

But that’s why they call it speculation.

Shortly after the loss, Blues owner Tom Stillman preached composure, saying that while he was “frustrated and disappointed” with the way the season ended, he wasn’t ready to “throw people under the bus.”

“For two reasons I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Stillman explained. “First, you should take a careful, deliberate look at what happened — what we did, what we didn’t do — and then make sure we figure out how we don’t do that again, and break through in the playoffs.

“The other reason is a matter of, I guess, leadership. We have an organization that’s going to continue forward, and I’m responsible for making sure that the organization gets it right and is successful. I don’t think it’s helpful if I’m up here and start blaming people and cutting off people’s heads.”

Those words suggested the Blues knew they had a good coach in Hitchcock — and to be fair, few question his knowledge and tactical ability — but needed time to analyze the relationship between Hitch and his players. This was, after all, the same coach that’s been accused of wearing down people with his demanding nature and, at times, an overwhelming “information overload.”

Just consider what T.J. Oshie said about the Blues following a bad loss to Vancouver in March.

“I know we’re not [in the playoffs] yet, but there’s a lot of information going around, and guys are getting a little indecisive,” Oshie explained. “I’m not sure what it looks like from up top, but I think guys aren’t really sticking with their gut and going with their first instinct.”

This isn’t to say the Blues were anti-Hitch. In late April, Blues d-man Kevin Shattenkirk threw his support behind the head coach.

Backes re-iterated as much today. The captain said that while that playing for Hitchcock is challenging, those challenges can often be rewarding.

“I think if you get caught up in those individual moments at the time you’re under the gun, having an interview, those comments come out,” he explained. “But when you take a step back and you realize, ‘Oh that’s why he was all over me because I was not being as productive as I could be,’ he’s very effective.”