Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Getting Hitchcock's buy-in message on the docket for Blues again

Season winding down, team feels it understands
what's needed, needs to take action on ice

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The day after closed door meetings, delays in speaking with the media that centered around a subtle phrase, the Blues were back in a familiar area: trying to balance out a game that has had its share of peaks and valleys.

And once again, that subtle phrase was at the forefront of discussion: buy-in.

Coach Ken Hitchcock always seems to use it when talking about the overall complexion of it's going to take to make the Blues successful. But what exactly is the buy-in for this team that has now lost three of four and is one game under .500 (11-12-2) since beginning the season 6-1-0?

I think it's doing the right thing at the right time during critical stages," Hitchcock said after an optional skate that saw 14 players on the ice at St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone. "It's the small details that ... the buy-in is details. It's the details that at the end of the day, in 2 1/2 hours of competition add up to good play. I think it's the reaction to getting checked hard. There are critical areas on the ice that have to be managed properly for your team to win. And then the buy-in is all the hard things that you have to go into to be competitive offensively and defensively."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (right) and his teammates seemed to be
chasing Edmonton and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (35) all night Tuesday.

That would explain why the Blues were blanked 3-0 on home ice by Edmonton. There was no buy-in.

"So you look at us (Tuesday), lots of shots on goal (a season-high 43), lots of scoring chances, but a lot of the (opposing) goalie being able to look at things," Hitchcock said. "Not enough traffic, not enough activity at the goal, and I think the bigger area for us is the turnovers in the critical ice. If we manage the game properly and do a better job of that and we have more activity at the net, clean up some areas, we're doing a lot of good things. But we are not managing the puck in the proper areas and that's why we're giving up 2-on-1s and breakaways. We might give up eight or nine scoring chances a game but they are doozies. I've said that for a month now. You're not going to win games -- no matter if you give up five scoring chances -- if all of them are odd-man rushes or breakaways or 2-on-1s ... you're not going to win hockey games. You're opening yourself up and that's what happened yesterday. We gave up a 2-on-1 for the first goal, a breakaway for the third goal. You're not going to win games that way."

With 16 games remaining for the Blues (17-13-2), who entered Tuesday clinging to the seventh spot in the Western Conference, why hasn't this buy-in that never seemed to be an issue for the majority of last season's 109-point run, so inconsistent in this abbreviated schedule?

Everyone seems to always have the right answers when asked. But putting the finished product on the ice seems to be a different story.

"It's not concerning because we've done it before and we know what it takes, but I think in that respect, it's nothing new to us, it's nothing that we haven't found, nothing that we haven't experienced before," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "So I think when it comes down to it, we know what we need to do. We're just not happy with ourselves right now as a team. It's unacceptable. We know we have a lot more in us. It's time that we get to it and we start playing the way that we're supposed to."

Added veteran center Scott Nichol, who's seen his share of ebbs and flows: "It's getting down to the nitty-gritty. It's all about the wins right now. We've just got to do the little things. It looks good that we shoot the puck a lot, but it's hard areas, going to the net, getting all that kind of stuff. Maybe a little bit of the buy-in that (Hitchcock's) talking about is away from the puck, creating offense by not having the puck and breaking the seams and going to the net that way.

"We'll just keep harping on it and harping on it. It'll sink in. We'll get a couple ugly goals and then we'll be out of it, but that's hockey. You've got to keep every shift, every battle ... it's so important. It starts from the faceoff and right down. Those are the good habits to kind of get into."

With the Blues, who host the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night, getting into the gauntlet of their schedule now in survival mode, leaves one to question how can they -- as Hitchcock said Tuesday night -- one game be in and one game be out? He said it's a process.

"It's not going to happen overnight. It's not going to change," Hitchcock said. "Every team other than two or three teams go through this stuff, and sometimes you get away with it. We're not getting away with it this year, and sometimes you don't get away with it. We're one team that's not getting away with it. We make a mistake, it's usually an odd-man rush, it's usually in our net. We have to do a better job of the details of managing the game and the proper manner have to be done.

"I really believe in some ways it's a competitive area where we just have to compete harder that we make sure the other team does't get transition easily. If you don't allow the other team transition easily, you have a really good chance of winning the hockey game. What we gave up yesterday was easy transition. We did the same thing in (Sunday) Calgary."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Andy McDonald (pictured) was one of the leaders involved in closed-door
team meetings after Tuesday's 3-0 shutout loss to Edmonton.
It once again, though, brings into play if there is a trust issue going on with any five particular guys on the ice if they're trying to do too much.

"I think it's just believing in that what we have in place works," Shattenkirk said. "When things go wrong, you don't have to feel like you need to take it on yourself and correct everything. Everyone here wants to be the hero. Everyone wants to be the guy to help the team out and get the big goal, whatever it may be. That's when you really need to start trusting the system and trust that what we have works.

"When we play together, that's when we get those big goals. It doesn't matter if it's David Backes, it doesn't matter if it's Jaden Schwartz. It's whoever gets it, gets it."

It may be one of the issues the team leaders addressed following the game Tuesday night.

"It was a team meeting that we needed to have," Shattenkirk said. "We all said what we needed to say. I think it'll be beneficial for us going forward."

Hitchcock hopes so.

It's not the conversation I have. It's the conversation they have," he said. "Those are the critical conversations. The coach is coaching. It's what's embraced after the conversation.

"The proof will be in the game tomorrow. How we play tomorrow will answer how much information is being absorbed. You can have all these conversations, but it's the conversation after the conversation ... because we don't live in the locker room, we're not in the locker room all the time. The buy-in has to take place throughout the lineupI think every team reaches a critical stage. I think we're in that stage now, and it'll be really interesting in the next week or 10 days whether the buy-in is being absorbed. But it has to be that way if you expect to win in the league right now."

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