Friday, January 1, 2016

Hitchcock talks of "blowing this stuff up"

Blues coach wants more 5-on-5 scoring, considering moving parts 
around to spur offense; wasted opportunity on home ice in December

ST. LOUIS -- After his team's 3-1 loss to close out 2015 on home ice to the Minnesota Wild, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock talked about "possibly blowing this stuff up."

On a whim, one could take that meaning that a rash of roster moves, meaning trades are on the way, players being benched, or any other irrational thought.

But when asked to clarify what "blowing this stuff up" means, Hitchcock said quickly squashed those inquisitive minds.

"Changing lines," Hitchcock said.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock (top) is looking for more offense from his
players. Goal scoring is down from 3.00 last season to 2.45 after 40 games.

So for the Blues (23-13-4), who head off to Toronto for a quick one-game trip to face the Maple Leafs (14-15-7) on Saturday, expect many of the same faces that have gotten them to the 50 points they've accumulated this season. Simply expect those players to hold down different roles.

But one new addition that could take place is the insertion of Patrik Berglund into the lineup. Berglund, who had shoulder surgery on Aug. 28 and has missed the entire season, is on the cusp of being activated off injured-reserve; the Blues assigned Jordan Caron to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League on Friday opening up a roster spot for Berglund.

But roster changes aside, the Blues entered Friday as the only team in the NHL to have played 40 games this season, just one shy of the mid-quarter point.

They're on pace for 101 points, which would fall shy of the 109 they had last season, but through 40 games, their record is very comparable.

Last season, the Blues were 24-13-3, good for 51 points, or one better that this season. The records are strikingly similar, but one glaring stat that Hitchcock pointed to is the goal scoring, particularly, 5-on-5 scoring.

The Blues scored 120 non-shootout goals last season through 40 games, which averaged out to be exactly three goals per game and was No. 1 in the NHL at the time. They finished the season at 2.91 goals per game (5th in the NHL) and 2.38 goals-against per game (8th in the NHL).

This season, they're at 98 goals through 40 games, which ranks 22nd in the NHL at 2.45 goals per game and they're eighth in the league at 2.38 goals-against, which is good.

But breaking it down even more, of the Blues' 98 goals, only 65 (66.3 percent) have come in 5-on-5 play. And factoring in Vladimir Tarasenko's 22 goals, he has accounted for 22.8 percent of the team's offense.

The Blues have scored two goals or less 21 times (52.5 percent of their games). Amazingly, they're 8-11-2 in those games, thanks to the goaltending of Jake Allen and Brian Elliott.

"I think that's something we've got to have an honest look here in the next 24 hours and what we're doing offensively and see if we can get some more juice by possibly blowing some of this up," Hitchcock said after the New Year's Eve loss.

When asked to elaborate, he said, "We're not scoring, we're not scoring 5-on-5. So can we get the same work and score some goals? We just can't keep living on the fine line that we're living on right now, scoring one and two goals and still getting points. ... It's hard living with one goal."

Yes, Jaden Schwartz has been out of the lineup, Paul Stastny was missing for 16 games, Kevin Shattenkirk missed 10 games and Troy Brouwer has replaced T.J. Oshie in the lineup from last season ... the list grows and the injury front didn't bite the Blues last season as it has this year, but a more than half a goal drop is something the Blues can't ignore.

"We've got to find a way to get more offensive juice," Hitchcock said. "We've got to get way more dirty goals. We're not in the area to score. We're on the perimeter or we're negating ourselves. We just rely so much on point shots right now. Sometimes those go in over a two-week period and sometimes they don't. We're not getting any second and third whacks at the net on anything right now. It's something we've got to look at.

"We're generating a lot of zone time, but not a lot of opportunities. We're not in the critical ice to score. That's something we've got to look at possibly blowing a little bit of this up and decide to make some changes. We're working hard, we're competing at a high level, but at the end of the day, you've got to score goals 5-on-5, even strength, if you expect to win."

The Blues' loss Thursday capped what could be considered a wasted opportunity to make a statement on Scottrade Center ice.

The Blues, who had 11 of their 41 home games in the month of December, finished with a very ordinary record of 6-5-0. They're just 13-7-2 on home ice, and only the Colorado Avalanche have more regulation losses within the division.

"A little bit over .500 but still not good enough in your own barn," Allen said. "I think if we won eight or nine, it's a different story. I know it's only two games, but it's a big difference in our division. To not really capitalize enough on that opportunity is something that's going be in the back of our minds unfortunately, but we can't do anything about it now. Off to 2016; 2015 as pretty good in the standings and points-wise, but we can definitely improve and take it to that next level."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (left) and Brian Elliott have enabled the Blues to maintain a
strong record despite goal scoring being down this season.

The Blues are even on home ice in goals for and goals against (49-49), which is another cause for concern.

"Too many points left on the board without playing our style of hockey for 60 minutes," captain David Backes said. "I think if we played our style and a team just beats us, you've got to tip your hat, but when we don't do that, we're too easy to play against and teams have walked out of here with too many points."

"I think there were a few games where we had a tough showing and a few that we'd like back," Shattenkirk said. "We're going to have chances again the rest of the year to get some home wins."

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