Say this about Ken Hitchcock — the man has high standards.
After his St. Louis Blues responded to a series-opening loss to San Jose with four straight wins, you’d think Hitch would be nothing but complimentary of his squad.
Yet in speaking with Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues head coach found something to critique — the play of his key defensive pairing, Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk.
“Look, Jackman and Shattenkirk had a tough first round,” Hitchcock said. “They didn’t play as well as they played during the regular season. We’re going to need them to play better here. They’re going to need to be significant players in the second round.”
The Jackman-Shattenkirk pairing is a pretty traditional one — Jackman’s the robust, physical, stay-at-home guy that allows Shattenkirk to be the offensive, puck-moving guy.
It just didn’t go to plan in Round 1.
Jackman finished with a team-worst minus-2 rating while Shattenkirk recorded just a single assist. But numbers don’t tell the whole story — Hitch wasn’t all that pleased with their defensive work, either. It’s why he gave more minutes to the Roman Polak-Kris Russell pairing, which ended up being a pleasant surprise.
“It forced us to play that pair more, and then we found out the more we played them in significant roles and checking roles, the better they played,” Hitch said of Polak/Russell. “Once we narrowed their focus and they became checking pair of defensemen, they had a big impact in the games.”
In explaining why Polak and Russell are successful, Hitchcock might’ve been providing a solution for Jackman and Shattenkirk’s recent woes.
“When they play together, they keep it simple and basic,” Hitchcock said. “When you’re in a series, those types of players have a big impact.”