After eight sometimes-tumultuous seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Paul Stastny will enter the Pepsi Center wearing a St. Louis Blues uniform tonight.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that some positives might come from Stastny facing the Avalanche for the first time after being a member of the team for eight seasons.
“You just have to play,” Hitchcock said. “You know there’s going to be an emotional tug of war going on. You’re visiting with friends, you’ve got people that know you on the other side. He hasn’t played a hockey game against Colorado, we’re two months into the season. Just stay with it. I think the biggest thing is his two linemates have to pick him up a little here. There’s going to be some real emotion on his side, positive and negative. He’s going to play as well as he can play, we know that, but the other two guys have a responsibility to help him out a little bit here.”
The 28-year-old said that Colorado will “always be a piece of home for me,” as NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski notes.
Judging from his early stats, Stastny is still not quite at home in St. Louis.
He only has 12 points in 21 games while averaging less than 16 minutes per game for the first time in his NHL career (he never logged less than 18:10 per contest with the Avs). Stastny’s possession stats aren’t as strong as usual, either.
Could such an emotional evening help the expensive free agent forward start to turn things around with his new team? The already powerful Blues would certainly appreciate that.
Even if the St. Louis Blues players are growing weary of their demanding head coach, as the whispers around the league suggest may be the case, it doesn’t sound like GM Doug Armstrong has any inclination to get rid of Ken Hitchcock.
“Yeah, as I’ve said, I look where we were before he got here, and I look where we are now,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re light years ahead of where we were. … Now, quite honestly, it’s basically up to the players to get the job done.”
Armstrong added that Hitchcock will be the one who determines when there’s a coaching change.
“When he feels that he doesn’t have the desire to do that, I have a job for him that’s going to keep him in the organization for many years,” said the GM.
Related: Risk Factors: St. Louis Blues edition
St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gets an analytics breakdown between each period to help him get a sense for which matchups are working and which aren’t. That information has helped him make adjustments that have been the difference in close games, but when advanced statistics were first pushed on the veteran bench boss, his reaction was completely different.
“It took me a year and a half to get past being offended by somebody telling me to look past the visual,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was (angry) about analytics coming in, but now it’s changed. I see how useful it is, but I had to get past, ‘You’re telling me …’ I found it offensive when I first started. Now I use it for what it is and it’s good, but I had to get past the mental block of that.”
Hitchcock took pride in being able to analyze the game based on what he saw, but he now believes analytics can help him come to conclusions quicker. It’s allowed him to make changes during a game that he might not have thought about until he had a chance to review the tape. He also cited an example of a time when he broke up a line that appeared to be working based on what he saw, but looked ugly statistically.
“The analytical information was right on the mark,” Hitchcock added. “And it was stuff, I guarantee if I mention the names, you’d say that’s a great line. It should work. We’ve seen it before and (the line) was a nightmare.”
Advanced statistics are moving into the mainstream, although one of the St. Louis Blues’ division rivals, the Colorado Avalanche, are a noteworthy exception.