Cole shines in return; Berglund, Stewart given more responsibility
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Ken Hitchcock stepped behind the Blues' bench for the first time Tuesday night, not much changed as far as a lineup was concerned.
Other than one spot, where recently recalled Ian Cole stepped into the defensive unit.
Cole, who played 26 games and recorded one goal and three assists in his first stop of NHL duty last season, played in his first game this season after being called up from AHL Peoria.
It may have arguably been his best game as a pro.
"Really good," Hitchcock said. "I don't even know anything about him and he just looked like an NHL player yesterday.
"He was strong, he won a lot of 1 on 1s, very competitive. ... I liked the part that he was comfortable moving the puck in the middle of the ice instead rather than just banging it off the boards getting it out. He made plays in the middle of the ice and really got us out of trouble."
Cole didn't register a point in Tuesday's 3-0 win over Chicago but played solid playing with partner Roman Polak. Cole played 18 minutes 59 seconds and blocked two shots in the game but as Hitchcock said, made smart decisions.
"I really liked it," Cole said of his game. "I thought as a whole it was good, but as far as dissecting it, there were definitely things I could have done better."
"I can think of four or five things I wish I could have done differently," Cole said. "As soon as they happened, I was like, 'Why did I do that?'
"I'm probably my hardest critic."
Cole said there was an instance where he wheeled around the net, took off with the puck and wanted to chip it into space for Patrik Berglund off a rush. Instead, the puck flipped off and rolled off his stick and the play ended up being offsides.
"I think there's definitely a little bit more confidence," Cole said. "I think just the way I feel right now and the way I've felt this year.
"... I feel like I can play up here, I know I can play up here. Now I just need to prove it to the coaching staff and the management. I think that was the thought process going into this last game. I know I can play up here. Now I need to prove it to them. I need to show them that I can play up here. It's just a matter of conveying that to them."
* Practice makes perfect -- It's days like non-game days that makes Hitchcock a load to deal with from a player's perspective, simply because he's a stickler for teaching on practice days.
Hitchcock, who said he likes to practice in smaller rinks, was going full bore Wednesday.
"Days like today, I'm a bear," he said. "Between the video and the teaching and the preparation for practice, I'm really selfish. The day of the game, I find it very peaceful and relaxing. Competition is what it is, but I find that practice days for me are, 'Get out of my way. It's my time.'"
Hitchcock said the style of game he likes his players to play is hard, not only mentally but physically as well.
"The whole game is about back-pressure, tempo and (a) 200-foot (game)," Hitchcock said. "It's not easy playing that way."
He believes the Blues are physically there but mentally, it will take some getting used to.
* Best players play -- If you didn't notice who was killing penalties Tuesday night, that's understandable.
It's not often Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart are playing against the man advantage. They typically are playing on the Blues' power play. But Hitchcock has changed that as well. Only he never realized they never played in those situations before.
"I didn't know that they weren't on the PK," Hitchcock said. "They just looked like they could check so out they went.
"I just felt like that anybody that's got a good stick and anybody that's got a smart stick needs to kill penalties. I trusted Stewy before. He was a good player. I had him for a month (for Team Canada at the World Championships this summer), but he was a darn good player for me. He's got a really good stick, Berglund's got a great stick. For me, you've got to have those guys kill penalties."
"To me, good players have to play 20-plus (minutes)," Hitchcock said. "Your top forwards have got to play 20-plus because you've got all these stoppages and time outs. You've got three or four periods where you've got 90 seconds. There's all kinds of time to rest. I don't know why these guys can't play those types of minutes.
"When you play top players in critical situations, there's ownership that takes over. They know that they can't get scored on, they know that the coach trusts them and plus, there's only one way to kill penalties: you have to stop and you have to start. There's no easy ice. You've got to make sacrifices, you've got to block shots, you've got to get pucks out, playing against other teams' best players, you've got to compete like hell ... it forces you to compete.
"You have no choice because everybody's counting on you. I've always done that. I've always played top players killing penalties. I haven't worried about a shot off an ankle or whatever. That's the chance you take. (Mike) Modano killed penalties, (Rick) Nash was an unbelievable penalty killer. I just feel like the top players have to be out there in every situation. Nothing more unnerves a power play when the top players are going out there because they're one bobbled puck away from giving up a 2 on 1 or a goal against. They anticipate the play."
Both players have taken the added responsibility accordingly.
"It's a really tough mission to go out there and kill penalties, a big responsibility," Berglund said. "You've really got to work hard for your teammates. I just tried to stay agressive and move my feet."
Added Stewart, "A game like yesterday, if you weren't on the PK, you were going to be sitting on the bench a long time. It shows that (Hitchcock) trusts me to put me in a situation like that, so it's obviously a big confidence booster.
"I'll invite all the ice time I can get. I want to be a guy who can play in those key situations."
* Stewart scores -- After scoring a power play goal Tuesday night, Stewart said it felt like getting "three gorillas" off his back, since he hadn't scored the previous 10 games.
Hitchcock's take on Stewart:
"We need Stewy to use his skills in confrontational areas," he said. "For me, running around and banging bodies is not what I want. Winning races to pucks, winning loose puck batttles, second and third whacks in front of the net, traffic at the front of the net ... that's his game. That's where he needs to play because there aren't many players in the league that have that size and those hands."
* Struggling Leafs come to town -- The Toronto Maple Leafs, along with the Edmonton Oilers, have been two of the surprise teams, jumping out to an impressive 9-5-1 start.
But the Leafs, who are without starting goalie James Reimer (head injury), have dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season to Boston and Florida and have been outscored 12-1.
Hitchcock's not buying into the downfall talk.
"I've watched that team play," he said. "I've watched that team play twice and they're dynamic. They're on the wrong side of things now but only for two games. They only need a crack about this big and then they score. They're the top rush attack team in the league. They've got speed and skill on those first two lines ... it's pretty scary. You're going to have to really play smart against them."
The Leafs will come to town with winger Phil Kessel, who leads the NHL in goals (11) and points (22).