Blues Amp Up Effort,
We knew they had it in them. In their first three games under their new coach Ken Hitchcock the Blues have done what all of us knew they could do and that’s play a consistent, spirited 60 minutes of hockey. The end result of the newly found hard work? Five points out of six and a new sense of optimism on the young season.
Was Davis Payne the man to blame for the team’s lack of effort or did it just take a major change to awaken the slumber the Blues have been in since the 2010-11 season? That’s a point that’s worth debating but one point that can’t be disputed is that since Hitchcock has been at the helm, the Blues have ratcheted up their effort and looked like a hockey team that’s capable of hanging with any team in the NHL.
First, the Blues took on the Chicago Blackhawks in Hitchcock’s first game behind the bench. This time the seemingly reoccurring tradition of a new St. Louis coach taking on Chicago in his debut ended on a positive note, with the Blues besting the Blackhawks by a score of 3-0. Jaroslav Halak played like the Halak we’ve all been hoping for, earning his first shutout of 2011-12 by stopping 29 shots.
Next was a shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that saw the Blues turn in two solid periods, but unfortunately one bad one. By emerging slow out of the gate in the first period, the Blues allowed the Maple Leafs to jump to a 2-0 lead before the Blues could respond in the second and third to force OT and eventually a shootout. This game is a perfect teaching point as the Blues did play a very organized and aggressive second and third period, but it was their sloppy first period that ultimately placed them in the early hole.
Finally, we come to Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning that saw the Blues brush aside the 1-3-1 tactic the Lightning use that has been the talk of the NHL. This time, Brian Elliott came up big with a shootout, Kris Russell scored in his first game as a member of the Blues and T.J. Oshie added a shorthanded goal to continue his hot streak of recent performances.
Five points out of six and arguably five outstanding periods of play out of six. It’s extremely early and much too soon to label the coaching change a success, but I’ve been encouraged by what Hitchcock has brought out of the Blues. The tempo has increased, the work ethic has increased and the Blues are being rewarded for their efforts. Nearly every aspect of the team’s play has taken a step forward with Hitchcock at the helm. Jaroslav Halak has looked like the starting goaltender fans had hoped he would be, T.J. Oshie has three points in his last three games (six points in his last five games) and looks like the threatening skater we’ve only seen glimpses of.
The real question is, how much of this can we accredit to Ken Hitchcock? Surely, the coaching change has lit a fire under everyone as it should. GM Doug Armstrong made it clear that now the responsibility falls on the players now that the club has a coach with a proven record of success. I’m thrilled to see the Blues playing hard, fast hockey but I’m curious to see what happens after the initial shock of the coaching change wears off. Can Hitchcock succeed where other coaches have stumbled? Will this club stay motivated and keep giving 100% in the coming weeks?