Toronto Maple Leafs v St. Louis Blues

Ken Hitchcock has some unorthdox views on playoff re-seeding

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From Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

source:

Full marks to Hitch for pushing the “no, no, WE’RE the underdog” narrative, but this is a stretch.

That said, I do like it when people punctuate something that’s clearly false with “c’mon, everyone knows that” — it’s the ultimate sales job. I once convinced a buddy that Sting used to be in The Rolling Stones using that technique.

Ken Hitchcock says Brian Elliott is “fine to play”

Brian Elliott

If you were thinking that the St. Louis Blues goaltending picture was going to be cleared up thanks to an upper-body injury to Brian Elliott, think again.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock tells Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that their recall of Jake Allen was just for practice purposes and Elliott would be ready to go.

“We didn’t want to aggravate it,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve been nursing it for a week or so. … It’s more maintenance. It’s not a big deal. … He’s fine to play, so that’s not an issue. He’s nursing something that’s going to take a day or two to be 100 percent.”

Hitchcock also says if the Blues were playing Wednesday and he wanted Elliott to be the starter, he could do it. That just takes us back to square one as to who the Blues will start in goal, an announcement Hitchcock said he would wait until Thursday to make.

Whether he goes with Elliott or Jaroslav Halak, Hitchcock has a wealth of riches to deal with. Elliott has had a tremendous season while Halak’s season has been just as strong and he has the playoff pedigree. It’s not as if he’ll be picking one guy and being forced to stick with him. Should one guy start and not work out, there’s an equally capable goalie waiting in the wings. Nice problem to have.

Ken Hitchcock is all for returning the red line

Ken Hitchcock
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Yesterday we heard from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock about how he would like to see the return of the red line and the two-line pass. Today, it’s Blues coach Ken Hitchcock’s turn to lend his voice to the cause.

Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal catches up with Hitchcock and finds out that his reasons for wanting to return the two-line pass run deeper than those of GMs hoping to slow down the game and limit concussions.

“With a red line it forces more of a puck-control game through the neutral zone, rather than a dumpand-chase game,” said Hitchcock. “There’s no puck-possession now, but a red line would bring back the playmaking centre. The centre who buys space and time would be back. Those nifty guys we saw before, they’re not around much anymore.”

Finding space and time on the ice where suffocating forechecking is a key defensive element these days on a crowded ice with bigger players is difficult as it is. Taking away that space by making sure no one can lurch out beyond the red line doesn’t seem to do much to help that cause.

As for the worry about the game turning like how it was before the lockout, Hitchcock says as long as they’re calling penalties for obstruction, all is well. Problem is those penalties aren’t being called as often now as they were after the lockout. It’s easy to read into the future and how this could end up causing history to repeat itself.

The idea of bringing the two-line pass back and putting the red line into play smells of taking the easy road towards trying to solve a problem in the league.

Ken Hitchcock using fear to motivate his team as deadline approaches

Ken Hitchcock
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We’re in the silly season of the trade deadline and with the St. Louis Blues in contention for the Stanley Cup this season, people are curious as to how much they’ll be tweaking things for their playoff run.

According to Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues might just be keeping quiet. With guys like Alex Steen and Matt D’Agostini still out with injuries and Jason Arnott, Andy McDonald, and Kent Huskins just back from their own ailments it’s like acquiring new talent.

Coach Ken Hitchcock tells O’Neill that he has another way to keep the guys on his roster motivated.

“We’re getting close to the trade deadline, so we want as many players as we can maneuver around. We want to keep the players on edge that aren’t performing, so they understand that it’s not a given. They’re not just going to get a spot on the team and keep it. It’s going to be performance-based. And the third thing is, we want to know that if somebody goes down, we’ve got somebody comparable to come in.”

That fear of playing well or else you’ll be benched or shipped out is a powerful one and with the Blues being one of the better teams in the Western Conference, it’s a strong reminder that you’d better keep things right or else.

Ken Hitchcock keeps up with “race-a-riffic hockey”

Ken Hitchcock
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When most hockey fans picture a Ken Hitchcock team, they travel back in time to the “Dead Puck Era” of the NHL. Perhaps the well-traveled coach would prefer remaining in that climate, but The Globe & Mail’s Roy MacGregor reveals that Hitchcock has adapted to an evolving league.

Hitchcock explains the difference simply: to survive, you must think and move with blinding speed.

“We tried to still play possession hockey after the lockout, and now it’s race-a-rrific hockey,” Hitchcock said. “It’s unbelievable how fast the game is, but it’s fast without puck possession, so it’s like fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check.

“Sometimes it feels like it’s organized chaos out there.”

Organizing the chaos

To little surprise, an emphasis on speed means that you need quicker athletes, so that naturally lends itself to a younger league. Hitchcock sees the NHL transitioning to a place where 23-year-old blueliners are expected to make the decisions of a far more seasoned player.

“You’re trying to get some sort of order in your game but you’re doing it with much younger players, and I think that’s why, for me, the biggest change I’ve had to adjust to is the next day,” Hitchcock said. “Not the game day, the next day.”

Finding the right balance

The veteran coach speaks of one of the big challenges of the profession: finding a happy balance between helpful preparation and “information overload.” Hitchcock explains that some coaches load up players to the point that they almost freeze up.

When you talk about the best coaches in sports, you can probably divide almost all of them into one of two categories: guys who molded players to fit their system and flexible leaders who adapted their plans to the personnel and times. At one point in his career, most people would probably place Hitchcock in the former category but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.

However you slice it, Hitchcock’s methods are producing resounding results so far in St. Louis.