Monday, October 24, 2016


Hitchcock's World Series pick; Lehtera, Jaskin miss 
practice; Yakupov fitting in; Scottrade Center to have new name

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock won't be a popular person in this city with his choice for a World Series winner, but the Blues' coach is sticking to his guns.

"I really want the (Chicago) Cubs to win," Hitchcock said Monday after practice. "Nothing against Cleveland, I like it, I've been there before, but we've met Joe; all of us have met (Cubs manager) Joe Maddon and I'm personally hoping that the Cubs win."

The Cubs and Cleveland Indians begin the Fall Classic on Tuesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland, but Hitchcock was introduced to Maddon last spring when the Blues were in Chicago for their First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"He actually stayed near the same hotel that we were at," Hitchcock said of Maddon. "We happened to have breakfast there and Doug (Armstrong) introduced me to him, so we had a couple breakfasts together during the playoffs."

And what interests Hitchcock about the Cubs manager?

"He never talks about a player's skill level," Hitchcock said. "He talks about the character and the personality of the player. I find that amazing. We've sat down and had breakfast twice and he never once mentioned a player's skill level, and I thought that's pretty impressive."

Hitchcock was asked if he'd try to adopt that philosophy.

"We're not going to go that far," he joked. "Maybe he can learn something from me, I don't know. 

"It was interesting. He talked about what type of person he was and what type of competitor (he was). He never talked about his skill set. Even the second baseman, all he talked about was what a good person he was and the high level of character he had. It's interesting watching that team play now."

If there's one aspect that draws St. Louis and Chicago together, it's that both organizations are trying to end long title droughts. The Blues have never won since entering the NHL in 1967; the Cubs last won in 1908, and Hitchcock can draw on what Maddon is trying to do.

"You don't think like that because you're not part of the history," Hitchcock said. "You're just trying to win games, you're trying to get to the next level. To me, it's all about getting to the next level. It's so much different in hockey because everybody's the same. We're all ... 90 percent of us are cap teams, so there's so many other factors that go into it. A lot of them are luck, luck of health, luck of the draw and luck of winning in overtime. You need a lot of things to go right in order to win in the National Hockey League, and even in saying that, you might not get there at the end. It's interesting in baseball that when we talked to him last year, he knew how good his team was and he knew how good it was going to be and he knew for how long it was going to be good. He predicted this way back when we were in the playoffs against the Hawks that they were going to be good for an extended period of time because all their best players were young."

* Lehtera, Jaskin not at practice -- Blues center Jori Lehtera (upper-body injury) was not on the ice for practice with the rest of his teammates.

Lehtera, who was placed on injured-reserve last week after leaving in the second period of the 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Oct. 15 after being checked in the corner boards by Jimmy Vesey, did skate on his own.

Lehtera is still considered day-to-day.

"He skated today. We'll give you a further update tomorrow, but he skated on his own for an extended period of time," Hitchcock said. "We'll have an evaluation and report sometime tomorrow.

"Yeah, he's obviously back skating, but we'll see tomorrow."

Also, forward Dmitrij Jaskin missed practice Monday with what Hitchcock called a lower-body injury but could play Tuesday to begin a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames.

"He has a lower-body injury that's day-to-day and we opted to keep him out of practice for that reason," Hitchcock said. "(But) yeah, he could play tomorrow."

* Aftermath of Western Canada -- The Blues' 1-1-1 trip through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary felt better than the record indicated to Hitchcock and players, but they did get plenty out of it and come home to open a three-game homestand with the Flames, who the Blues beat 6-4 Saturday, first on the ledger.

"We played way better than the record was," Hitchcock said. "We played awfully well. Probably could have gone 3-0; 1-1-1 was the record we probably didn't deserve, but it's what we got. But I really liked the way we played. I liked the way we put the work boots on and had our skill take over from work and I liked our ability to create scoring chances. We still have some elements to our game that need to get cleaned up, but I liked our energy, our enthusiasm to compete. I liked our resilience, I liked a lot about our game. If this is the building block that we're going to start with, I like where we're at right now and I hope we can build on it."

Said right wing Vladimir Tarasenko: "It was a couple good games. Some stuff was good, some stuff was not really good. We still have a lot of time to figure out what's going on. This year, we have a really close group of guys and I feel like we can reach our goal. All we need to do is just stay more closer to each other, stay together as a family and play every game like our last game."

It's not a given that the Blues will see former teammate Brian Elliott in goal for the Flames after Elliott did not play in the game Saturday. Elliott started and played for the Flames Monday night in Chicago and on back-to-back nights, Chad Johnson, who stopped 34 of 39 shots against the Blues, could play.

The Flames know it will be Carter Hutton making his second start of the season for the Blues.

Hutton stopped 33 of 35 shots in the Blues' win against the Rangers and Hitchcock said it was "his turn" after Allen allowed four goals on 27 shots Saturday.

"I think the danger for us is the travel part," Hitchcock said of playing Calgary in back-to-back games. "We got back at four, five in the morning (Sunday). That's why we went really short today. We were all as a group only 30 minutes on the ice. Even at 30 minutes, our energy dropped right at that mark almost. That's what you're concerned about. Are you going to be travel-weary? We're hoping that we're not. I think the opponent isn't as big a concern as making sure that we monitor the right amount of rest and work that we need to put in. That's why we just cut everything off today so have all the energy for tomorrow."

* Nailing it -- The Blues have maintained that when they traded for 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov, they would bring the fifth-year right wing along slowly to get acclimated with the systems of his new team.

But after Yakupov collected his fourth point, an assist in a Patrik Berglund goal, in six games, Hitchcock said the plan won't be alleviated.

"No, I've been through this before and I know if you don't build a foundation, it comes back and cracks wide open and you've got problems," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to build that. You can only focus on so many things at once. We need him to focus 5-on-5 and be a real good 5-on-5 player and let the rest take care of itself."

But Yakupov is slowly starting to get some shifts on the power play, as evidenced by his usage against the Canucks and Oilers.

"We've got another seven, eight days before we start bleeding 'Yak' into it, so we're another seven or eight days before we can make a change and put 'Yak' in there," Hitchcock said. "We just want to keep building his foundation 5-on-5. 

"From the red line in, it's really trending in the right direction. From the red line back, we just like a little bit more composure, and he's getting that. We prefer him hanging on the puck and moving his feet a little bit more and he's starting to learn to do that, too. We're really happy with his development. He's really developed fast here. He's come on very quickly here in some of the things that we want to see in place."

On the meantime, Jaden Schwartz has been inserted into the top power play group with Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Tarasenko.

Alex Pietrangelo, who was working the point with Shattenkirk, has been moved to the second unit with Colton Parayko on the point and Robby Fabbri, Berglund and David Perron.

"He's in there now," Hitchcock said of Schwartz, who returned from a hyperextended left elbow against the Oilers. "We'll keep that unit. We like them both. We look like we've got some definition."

* New name for Blues' home coming soon -- Scottrade Center is on its last leg.

The name for the Blues' current home will in the not-too-distant could be changed to TD Ameritrade Center after the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade announced Monday morning that it was buying rival Scottrade for $4 billion.

With the announcement, it will become inevitable that Scottrade Center, which bought the naming rights through 2021, will no longer be feasible.

Scottrade Center has been the name on the building since 2006, taking over for Savvis Center and before that, Kiel Center, which was the building's original name.

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