Ken Hitchcock sounds like he’d rather go skydiving with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck than face the Blackhawks with Patrick Kane playing center. However, that’s exactly what Hitch will experience tonight in St. Louis. (Kane at center, not skydiving with a snake.)
“It’s the worst nightmare for all of us; it’s not good,” the new Blues head coach said today, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. “A player who’s that’s strong and that competitive and that patient with the puck, we’ve all kind of dreaded that day when he was going to move into the middle of the ice. It’s not fun.”
Kane (15 points in 14 games) has been playing the middle with Marian Hossa on one wing and either Patrick Sharp or Dan Carcillo on the other.
While Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has no reason to be unhappy with the Kane-Hossa combo, he’s shaking almost everything else up after Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Canucks. Tonight’s game in St. Louis will feature new forward trios and defense pairings, the most notable change being Michael Frolik moving up to the top line to play with Jonathan Toews and Sharp.
The Blackhawks also hope to improve their surprisingly bad power play, currently ranked 28th with a 9.4-percent success rate. For starters, Quenneville wants to see more traffic in front of the net with the man advantage, just like the good old days when the ‘Hawks still had Dustin Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer.
“A couple guys that made our power play successful are guys who just stood in front of the net and everything else evolves around that,” Quenneville said, as reported by the Daily Herald. “Otherwise you’re looking for the perfect play, and perfect plays just aren’t going to exist. If you have traffic and our thought process is pucks, off of that a lot of things can happen.”
The situation surrounding Ken Hitchcock finally leaving the Columbus organization has been seen as a happy one for both Hitchcock for landing a new job in the NHL and for the Blue Jackets because they can stop being tempted to bring him back after firing him years ago. For Blue Jackets president Mike Priest, he’s putting on the good face and congratulating Hitchcock for the job.
That’s all he’s saying about it though, oddly enough. While the Blue Jackets gave permission to the Blues to talk to Hitchcock, Priest had no further comment on the situation aside from a pre-packaged press release as Aaron Portzline of Puck Rakers found out.
There’s two ways to look at it. Either Priest wants to let the situation be done and allow Hitchcock to go quietly to St. Louis (almost certainly the case), or he’s playing the role of jilted executive left unhappy that his best laid plans got smashed to pieces by a team quicker to pull the trigger.
Not going to lie to you, we’re secretly hoping it’s the latter instead of the likely former. The talk that Columbus wasn’t totally sold on bringing Hitchcock back is amusing especially given how Elliotte Friedman reported in his “30 Thoughts” column about how Hitchcock’s consulting role had him on the ice with Scott Arniel hovering around like a grim reaper waiting to take back his old job.
Either way, it’s up to the organization to be more forthright with Arniel. Either fully let him do his thing now or call it a day and find someone else to try and turn around this 2-11-1 team.
The St. Louis Blues made a startling statement by firing Davis Payne in favor of experienced coach Ken Hitchcock. For most fans, the image of Hitchock is that of a taskmaster who really only brings out the best in teams defensively. So is Hitchcock ready for the ever-changing NHL game after some time on the sidelines? Ed Olczyk and Keith Jones discuss that topic in the video below.
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If there’s anyone in St. Louis that could be happy about seeing Ken Hitchcock taking over for the fired Davis Payne, it should be Jaroslav Halak.
Halak’s tenure in St. Louis since arriving in a trade with Montreal before last season has been a roller coaster of emotion. Last season saw Halak play hot and cold like a little kid playing with the sink faucets. Going from stellar opponent-frustrating games that saw him stop everything under the sun to ones where he couldn’t stop a beach ball was how things went.
So far this season, the beach ball has been winning more often than not as Halak’s numbers have ballooned and Brian Elliott has become the de facto starter for the Blues. If the Blues are going to be a playoff team in the West, they cannot have things going like that.
With Hitchcock in place now, the Blues are going to become a tougher defensive team come hell or high water (or trades). That kind of change in action should favor Halak who thrived behind a defensive system in Montreal.
While the initial go of things could be tough while the team figures out his system and learns a new meaning of pain under Hitchcock, the end result should see Halak’s numbers come back down and allow Halak to find a comfort zone in goal. ESPN’s Craig Custance tweeted last night that any players not buying into Hitchcock’s way of doing things will find themselves shipped out of town and the last guy we’ll see on that list should be Halak.
While St. Louis fans might not have those Halak “STOP” signs ready right now, they might want to shine them up for future games.
We’re pretty sure that Minnesota Wild fans weren’t exactly overjoyed while Jacques Lemaire was at the helm with his defensively controlled style of game. While Todd Richards wasn’t quite able to bring the excitement back to Minnesota, it appears that the Wild could be looking to a name synonymous with stifling defense to lead them back to the playoffs.
Former Stars, Flyers, and Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock is on the Wild’s short list of candidates to take over their top job. Hitchcock has a history as a defensive task master and a guy that demands positioning and dedication out his team to shut down opponents from scoring at all times.
While Hitchcock is still on the payroll of the Blue Jackets, the Wild have received permission to talk with with him about their opening. The Wild have also gotten permission to talk with former Penguins coach Michel Therrien and former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. As for Hitchcock, he’s a guy that comes highly regarded by many as Michael Russo or The Star Tribune finds out.
“Hitch is definitely one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever played for,” former NHL star Jeremy Roenick, who played for Hitchcock in Philadelphia, told the Star Tribune last month. “He has a great knack to understand players, he has a great system.”
Hitchcock is known as a big believer in playing fast defensively so his teams can get out of the defensive zone quickly and get on the attack. Hitchcock’s longtime assistant in Dallas is Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson, whose future is in flux because of the Wild’s coaching vacancy.
That would lend us to believe that Hitchcock is being spoken of well by Wilson. Therrien’s connection with the Wild is also strong as he spent the past season with the team as a scout. MacTavish has spent the past year working for TSN in Canada as an on-air analyst also seeking to get back in the game.
We’re thinking that Wild fans want to see the team winning again without a doubt, but Hitchcock’s style of game doesn’t lend itself well to exciting offensive production. It puts the onus on Wild fans to decide if they want exciting hockey to watch or whether or not they want a potential winning team. Ideally you want to have the mix of both to keep everyone happy, but Hitchcock’s struggles in Columbus, even in spite of helping the franchise to their only playoff appearance, were due to a roster filled with poor talent and one that struggled adjusting to the speed of the “new” NHL.
The Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher have fascinating choices to make ahead here as the fans in Minnesota are frustrated and want to see things turn around fast.