ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Mike Yeo completed his first full season behind the bench, and although it didn't end the way he envisioned with a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there's still plenty to dissect, positive and negative.
Yeo, after taking over with 32 games remaining in the 2016-17 season for the fired Ken Hitchcock and helped the Blues go 22-8-2 down the stretch and help push them into the playoffs, wasn't able to do it with a group that played with fewer skilled guys and more younger players.
|Blues coach Mike Yeo|
In one-plus seasons, Yeo is 66-40-8 (.614 winning percentage) with the Blues and admittedly feels there needs to be change in his coaching style, particularly how he handles the specialty teams (power play in particular, which finished 30th in the NHL).
Yeo will be the associate coach for Team Canada for the upcoming World Championships in Denmark May 4-20.
Yeo discussed this and a number of other topic during his end-of-season gathering with the media and offered the following takes:
What was your view on the difference between the hot start and the cold stretch that you had?
For me, it was goal scoring. That's what it came down to. 'Army' can give you the stats, I think the stats are pretty staggering. As far as the beginning off the year, we were scoring goals, we were winning games. And when we stopped scoring goals, I think that it started to affect individuals, individuals like Jake [Allen]. I think it put a focus on him. Our goals-against didn't increase a whole lot during that time, but our goal production went down and you obviously start to lose games. There's obviously more to it than just that. I think at that time, we weren't good enough in our game. Our focus. Again, I'm not going to get too much into it. Our power play, obviously, that's a huge factor there. We weren't finding a way to score enough goals, we weren't finding enough resilience to get out of that time until the trade deadline, quite frankly, and that was when the final push was made and we started to become a good team again.
How do you sort through the consistency issues, deal with aspects when guys say, 'We took our foot off the gas?'
For me, it comes down to consistency and the consistency of our game, and we talk about scoring goals, and you get into that time of year, we have an identity that's been longstanding here, that's a team that's hard to play against. It's a team built on checking for sure and physicality and hard work, but it's also been a team that's built on scoring goals a certain way. I felt that during the time that we started to not to score goals, the focus became solely on scoring goals and we started to slip in all the other areas that we were strong and eventually what you end up doing is you end up scoring less goals. That's what happened to us. We became weaker defensively, we became easier to play against and we started to score fewer goals. Obviously that's something that we can't allow as a coaching staff. We have to find a different method to make sure that we don't get into something like that and that we don't allow it to continue.
Is there anything you can do on the power play scheme-wise differently?
That's obviously a huge focus for us and as a coaching staff, I promise you that we will not sit around and just assume that things are going to be better next year. Obviously we have to look at everything from the way that we're managing it, running it, holding guys accountable, the personnel that we're using, the tactics that we're using, certainly we're going to do everything that we can to go to school from the rest of the league, as far as what teams are doing, the best power plays, what makes them successful compared to us, analyzing everything that has gone wrong for us this year. We obviously have to do everything on our part to make sure that that changes.
What do you make of the people connecting the poor power play in Minnesota and now here?
If it's going to keep following you around, then that's something that I have to live with and I'm going to have to make sure that changes. I'm not going to dodge that. There's no question. I'll take responsibility for it. That's on me.
Anything to the approach of home games that you can change?
For me, it's a mindset. I think that we go on the road, I don't want to say that we assume we're going to win at home … when we go on the road, there's a better understanding, better preparation, and we invest in the game better. We come out in the first five minutes of the game, we manage the puck, we get pucks in behind the defensemen, we make it difficult on them because of the way that we check, because of our physicality and we make the game miserable. We find a way to play a game that allows us to take the game over as it goes on. When we come home, we just think that we're going to go out there the first two, three shifts, grab the lead and then coast to a victory. It doesn't work like that. I think that we have to get back to being a team that is much harder to play against at home. It should be a miserable time for teams to come into our building. Our fan support is awesome, it's noisy, it's an intimidating place to play if you play an intimidating game and I didn't think ... that doesn't mean fighting every shift, but we didn't play a game that made it uncomfortable for them every shift.
Is that a red flag that happened multiple times?
I hate to say it, it's too late for red flags right now, but obviously it's something that we have to correct. We have a long list of things that have to get better. That is absolutely on our list and Army and I are taking the time right now to meet individually with each player and obviously that's a focus for all of us to make sure that we correct.
Jake Allen owned up that he needs to be more consistent. How do you get him more consistent?
I think again, I like that he's taking that ownership. The way we turn things around is we all have to obviously look in the mirror and analyze everything that you're doing and for us as a staff, is there anything differently that we can do in terms of the way that we managed Jake, whether it's the minutes that we give him, the games that we give him, the way that we manage him through practice, through preparation. I don't think it's fair to just sit here and say that he wasn't good enough. When they're playing for you, they're ultimately your responsibility. I think a lot of that also lies in obviously, you look at that stretch where things weren't going well, and the lack of goal scoring obviously made for the fact that Jake had to play the perfect game. Obviously at that time, he didn't play perfectly. There were mistakes that you could look back and say that cost us the game, but when I look at the body of work and the body of play that we gave during that time, we weren't playing the same game that we were playing earlier in the year, which allowed us to score goals, which allowed us to be more successful and then obviously your goalie is the last line, the guys that you look to when the puck goes in the net. We have to make sure as a staff that we can find a way to make sure that we don't allow our game to slip during those times. If your goalie's struggling, that's when your team has to dig deeper, has to play harder, has to play stronger and play a game that really allows him to be successful to get out of it.
How do you think Vladimir Tarasenko played within the system?
I'd say that there were times that 'Vladi' played very well in the system and then there were some other times where I would say, like our team, there was some consistency that we have to make sure that we have and we see night in and night out, and that's not just him. This is easy to point a finger at one guy. I'm really impressed and pleased with the way that he finished the season. To me, him along with some of our veteran players, that showed a lot in terms of character and how much this team, this franchise, this city means to them. But again, it's up to me as a coach, as us as coaches to make sure that we find that level of consistency. 'Vladi' is a guy that cares. He allows sometimes his frustration, his emotion to affect his play and we have to make sure that we manage that better.
What was your take on the locker room?
I think the room came together at the end of the year. I think there were times where our game slipped a little bit and I don't think it was an issue of guys like chemistry or guys liking each other. It's actually a very close room. Ultimately, you've got to find a way for that to not happen. I think to Army's point, you can never have enough leaders, but as far as looking at the core guys, the guys that we have, these are guys that have won here in the past and they're guys that are gonna want to win down the road as well. Don't question that. It's just ... I know that we have the character inside the room, but with that said, we're sitting here having this press conference. We all have to look in the mirror and we all have to bear responsibility for that. That falls on the leaders in the room, that falls on on our top players, obviously that falls on us as coaches. We've slipped here, and part of being a good leader and part of being a character person, is bouncing back from that, is showing determination and you're really in accountability that forces you to come back to be better and to demand more of yourself.
What's your biggest regret of something that you could have done that could have had you playing playoff hockey instead of this conversation?
It's hard to put it on one, to be honest with you. When we started to struggle a little bit there in terms of scoring goals, we started to alter our practice, our mindset, our focus. As coaches, you start to try to coach the offense, you start to try to focus on offense and with that, I think a lot of things that we were doing, a lot of things that made us a team that was hard to play against and ultimately you look at the way we scored goals at the beginning of the year, we weren't a pretty, fancy, just go and dipsy-doodle through everybody and tic-tac-toe goals. We earned our goals through our checking, through our our team work, through our team game and I think as we started to struggle a little bit as coaches, I think that we started to change the focus and that allowed the players, for their game, for our identity to slip. That was one for me. I'll go back to the power play again. Looking at that, and I would say that the one thing I feel that we relied on a lot is obviously our top guys and that group was out there consistently. I really do believe that you're not going to win in this league and you're not going to win meaningful games if your top players are not at their best. But that said, I think that we can have more accountability in there. If guys aren't getting the job done, then we have to make sure as coaches that we don't just continue to roll players out there just because they're our so-called top players. We expect them to be our top players and I think that's something that we have to do a better job of.
How do you feel about Colton Parayko's season?
It's tough to sit up here and comment on 'Vladi' and Colton now not having the chance to meet with these players first. I think Colton has the ability to be a dominant player in this league. I think that we saw it at times, I don't think we saw it enough. For me, again that falls on us as coaches that we make sure that Colton understands that he's a young player that's still developing and he needs to continue to develop. There's things that have to be in Colton's game on a night to night basis to allow that dominance to show. That's something that we have to communicate here with him today and make sure that we really drive forward with here.
Of all the young guys, is Vince Dunn the one that made the biggest impact and is the biggest riser?
I look at Tage [Thompson] and I think Tage took some big steps this year and then I think we had some other young guys that maybe didn't take a step. I do look at 'Dunner' as a guy that took a real positive step this year. Now, that said, 'Barby' [Ivan Barbashev] was one of those guys last year. 'Dunner,' it was a great season for him as far as No. 1, earning the trust of the coaching staff, proving that he can play in this league and then the confidence that he grew. You look at how his minutes went up, how his role went up and that's obviously a great accomplishment. That said, this league is, for as long as we can all remember, there have been an awful lot of players that have come in and had a good first season and then taken a step backwards, so I think his offseason is going to be incredibly important and how he handles it. But I have no reason to believe that this is a guy that's going to take a step backwards. I think he's a competitive kid, he's a gamer, he wants to make plays when he's out there, he has the ability. We can all see the way that he moves the puck. W're going to continue to develop him and make sure that this isn't the highest that we've seen.
What does Thompson need to take out of his experience this year?
Just how hard the NHL is. I think that's the biggest thing. I think that he really started to understand that, to grasp that. He's improved with his play without the puck. Obviously he went a long time without scoring goals. We all felt if he got one or if he got on the board, then it would probably translate for him getting on a bit of a run or a bit of a streak. But it's a hard league to score goals in. And so with that, you have to be more than just a shooter, you have to find a way to get to the net, you have to find ways to score other goals as opposed to just relying on your shot and you have to do more in your game. And I think that that's something he's embraced and he's working on and again, this is a guy that I think his offseason's going to be very big for him. He's a guy with a lot of potential, he's a guy with a lot of character, he really cares. I think it was a good first step for him and I think part of why it was so big and so important for him is he realized just how good this league is.