Hitch appreciative of path to 692 wins; Blues
begin Florida swing in Tampa; Porter practicing
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock has moved up the ladder in terms of coaching wins at rapid pace this season.
Hitchcock, who earned career victory No. 692 on Tuesday after the Blues defeated the Arizona Coyotes 2-1, tied Dick Irvin for fourth on the all-time regular season wins list among coaches.
The next one, which could happen today when the Blues (35-15-4) play in Tampa Bay against the Lightning (34-16-6) at 6:30 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), will put him in sole possession of fourth.
The 63-year-old Hitchcock, who passed former Blues coach Mike Keenan and the late Pat Quinn this season, is grateful for having been blessed with great players.
"I mostly look at, to do what I've done means you've had really good players on really good teams," said Hitchcock, who's had NHL coaching jobs in Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis. "You don't get to stay in the league and you don't get to coach a lot of games unless you've got good players. You look at any coach who's had any level of success, you've had really good teams. You look at here, you look at Dallas, you look at Philly, even the last couple years in Columbus, a lot of good players. We're able to mold 'em and everything like that, but the other thing for me is that I think one of the key things for me is the continuity of the staffs. It's the same staff the whole time in Philly, it was the same staff in Dallas, same staff here. It's three long-term organizations and in all the years I've been here, we've changed out two hockey coaches, which is significant. In 20 years of coaching to change out 20 coaches is not much."
Hitchcock attributes much of his success to his willingness and desire to learn from others.
"What I do is I take a study of every team or college program or European soccer program that's had success and I read up on them," Hitchcock said. "Manchester United, I read up on two books on (Sir) Alex Ferguson, then I talked to two people about the organization. North Carolina women's soccer program, I read about (coach) Anson Dorrance, and then I talked to people who were involved in the program.
"There's a real method to why teams win and what they do, and that's what I want to tap into. You can talk to hockey coaches and you can talk to hockey programs and there's lots to learn. I've got my buddies like everybody else does, our group of seven or eight guys. But when you go into other programs, it's really enlightening to see what they do on a day to day basis that is different. Then when you finish talking to the people who are in the program, you get a real reflection on why those programs are so successful long-term. I love doing that stuff in the off-season. I pick two or three teams and really study them. I find that absolutely fascinating."
Ahead of Hitchcock is one active coach (former Blues coach Joel Quenneville with 739 wins) and a pair of former coaches that sit at Nos. 1 and 2 (Al Arbour at No. 2 with 782 wins and Scotty Bowman at No. 1 with 1,244 wins).
Can the great Bowman ever be caught?
"No. That's like ... you don't want to say never but it would be some of the guys that are at 500 wins now that are still late 40s, early 50s that would have a chance at that, but I don't look at Joel or I getting to there," Hitchcock said. "I think we'll either be betting on horses or on the golf course somewhere, not doing what Scotty did.
"You've got maybe two or three other guys who have a chance at something like that, but man, that's unbelievable."
* Facing the Lightning -- The last time the Blues played the Lightning was nine days ago at Scottrade Center, a 2-1 St. Louis victory.
Judging by the score and without seeing it, one might think it was a highly competitive game. Well, it was, but it it was during many courses of the game, a one-sided affair that the Lightning controlled and the Blues escaped with two points thanks to some late-game heroics by 2010 first round picks Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz but none more than tonight's starting goalie Brian Elliott, who stopped 30 shots in the game. The Blues were outshot and held to a season-low, 31-18.
"First off, we've got to play a lot better than we've played," Hitchcock said. "If it wasn't got for the goalie, they could have scored 10. I think the challenge for us is can we keep up with their tempo and can they keep up with our grind. ... That's why we had the practice we had (Wednesday). We tried to get our tempo way, way up."
Can the Blues play that way?
"Yeah. It comes from anticipation, puck support, same page on puck movement, all those things," Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday. "When you don't have tempo, any team in the world looks slow. When you have great tempo and great predictability, you look quick, and we look quick when we're predictable. But when we play sideways, we look really slow and we want to get our tempo and we want to get our predictability at the top. We're going to be forced to do it tomorrow night. We're going to have to be good."
Tampa Bay, which is coming off a 3-2 overtime loss at Nashville, will be looking to improve on their very impressive 22-5-1 home record. They're tied with the Predators for most home wins this season.
"They're one of the absolute best teams right now," forward Patrik Berglund said of the Lightning. "We've got to play our way, the way we can play. I think we'll be fine. We're a tough opponent to beat if we do that. If we do the small things right and follow our game plan, I think we'll come out of there with two points."
And the Blues (14-10-2 on the road) believe they'll be better this time around.
"We'll play better I think," center Paul Stastny said. "Probably one of the top teams in the East and they play four lines, move the puck really well. I think with them, you've got to try and keep that puck possession behind them and try not to turn it over because that's where they create a lot of their chances."
* Porter practicing -- Forward Chris Porter, who has not played since injuring his left ankle Dec. 29 against Colorado, took part in a full practice for the first time since the injury Wednesday. He skated with his Blues teammates prior to Tuesday's game against the Coyotes.
"Today was the first time he practiced with teammates, so from a health standpoint, he looks good but he's not ready on a body standpoint," Hitchcock said of Porter, who has one goal and one assist in 14 games this season. "Because he was practicing with a lot of people on the ice, things were happening quick. He was doing things that he doesn't normally do and that's just catching that tempo and getting up to speed. I think maybe two, three, four more practices he'll be looking pretty good."
* Defensive alteration to stick ... for now -- With defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk out of the lineup for the foreseeable future because of abdominal surgery, the Blues switched things up for the game Tuesday that will carry over to the game tonight against Tampa.
Chris Butler, who played with Carl Gunnarsson before Tuesday, will again skate with Alex Pietrangelo and Gunnarsson will skate with fellow lefty Jay Bouwmeester, who is playing his off-side with Shattenkirk down.
"There's little differences throughout the game, but I played right for a long time before I got traded here," Bouwmeester said. "It's kind of refresh your memory a little bit, but it's not a big deal.
"Last night was good. We've got six very capable guys. I don't think it matters if they change things up, move things around a little bit. That's the way it goes usually throughout a year. Very rarely you play with the same guy for the whole 82 games or whatever. With Shatty out, everyone has to step it up a little bit and do it as a group."
It was a much cleaner game for the Blues' blueliners after back-to-back losses to Columbus (7-1) and Chicago (4-2).
"You always get the odd shift with guys throughout games, but the biggest thing for defensemen is communicate," Bouwmeester said. "It's short little directional things you're yelling at each other, but that goes a long way sorting things out defensively. The one good thing when you do have two lefties or two righties is if you get switched up or on the wrong side of the ice, you don't really worry about getting back. You just play that way. If it sorts itself out, it does."