Monday, April 24, 2017

Blues to lean on Carter Hutton for information

St. Louis goalie spent past three seasons as Predators 
backup, speaks highly of relationship with Pekka Rinne

ST. LOUIS -- Beating the Minnesota Wild in five games had its advantages for the Blues.

Most obvious, the play on the ice had a lot to do with it, but getting information on players that Blues coach Mike Yeo, assistant coach Rick Wilson and center Kyle Brodziak knew from their days with the Wild perhaps helped Blues players gain an edge in certain areas.

The Blues are hoping more of the same when they face the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Second Round.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton spent the past three seasons backing up Pekka
Rinne in Nashville, St. Louis' next opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Want to know what makes Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne tick? Ask Blues backup Carter Hutton, who was Rinne's backup the past three seasons.

Want to know how perhaps Viktor Arvidsson gains an edge with his speed? Ask Hutton.

Want to know how Roman Josi moves the puck out of his defensive zone, through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone? Ask Hutton.

Or want to know where Filip Forsberg's sweet spots on the ice are for his lethal shot? Ask Hutton.

The Blues hope that any information he can provide will be useful.

Anything to gain a competitive edge.

"Yeah, I think knowing some guys and their mentalities, the way they handle games, the ins and outs of every guy is important," Hutton said. "Before each series, we try to analyze it the best we can and obviously they're playing good hockey. It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but I think we're pretty pumped for it."

And the Blues and their coaches will take any insight Hutton may have.

"Absolutely. For sure. 100 percent," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "You try to get as much information and use as many resources that you have available and obviously a player being inside their locker room is a useful tool for us. I know Marty (Brodeur) has talked to him. We'll talk more to him about even their team. We’ve talked to scouts, our scouts who followed the series. We've got all video and we can obviously go back on our past experiences against them. There's plenty of information as far as getting prepared. It's easy to see what they are. They're a team with a lot of skill, a lot of speed. They obviously checked very well against Chicago, made it very, very difficult on them. And they are very competitive. That's one thing that really shows up. So it's gonna be another great test for us."

Hutton, who was 13-8-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .913 save percentage during the regular season, his first in St. Louis, became very close to Rinne when Hutton was in Music City. 

The two would go to dinners together, spent plenty of time together as the 1-2 punch with the Predators, who were ousted in the second round last season in seven games by the San Jose Sharks, who then went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final in six games.

Hutton said Rinne already sent him a text message saying he looked forward to seeing the Blues goalie and looking forward to the competition. There's no such animosity between the former teammates.

"He's a close friend of mine. I think we're going to take a week off here of being friends and get after it," Hutton said. "When the series lined up for us, he texted me and just was excited to see me and go against us, but at the same time, it's going to be a battle out there when it drops. We can be buddies after. It's going to be interesting and I think we're excited for the challenge here. They've got a good team, but at the same time, we've got a really good team in here.

"... He was just really good to me, kind of took me under his wing when I got there. When I first came in, I didn't know Nashville and there wasn't a night where I wasn't going out for dinner with him or ever paid for a bill, that's for sure. Along the years, he bought me suits for being his goalie partner, things like that. He's a good person. He's a good human, so he's just one of those guys that I'm happy for his success and the way he's going, but at the same time, I'm not too worried about him. We're going to take care of our business here and hopefully take it to him."

Hutton has had a first class seat alongside Rinne, who was 4-0 with a 0.70 GAA and .976 save percentage with two shutouts against the Blackhawks in the first round, and now with teammate Jake Allen, whose 1.47 GAA and .956 save percentage are only second to Rinne in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's going to be different," Hutton said. "They're both playing so well. I've been with Jake this season, you see how strong he's playing and how good he is. I think the biggest difference with us heading into this series, compared to (Minnesota's Devan) Dubnyk, compared to Pekka is Pekka handles a lot of pucks. He does a really good job of getting out and eliminating dumps. It's something that we have to be aware of. He's one of those guys that he's a streaky goalie at the same time, so I think we have to do a good job of getting traffic and getting in there. At this time of year, everything's so fragile, you kind of repeat a lot of things that are said, but it's going to be a battle of the goalies. We've got two of the best going at it here."

Hutton credits Rinne for his improved success; having to step in for Rinne in 2013-14 when Rinne had a hip injury, Hutton got a firsthand look at what it took to be counted on every day. And with the knowledge Rinne gave him, he got a full appreciation of just how good he is.

"I think he's kind of been over the years that I've played with him and against him here in my NHL tenure, he's definitely one of the best," Hutton said of Rinne. "He's a big man. He's very mobile. I think sometimes his strengths can be his weaknesses. I think if we can get him moving a lot, things are going to open up, but he's one of those guys, he tracks the puck so well. He eliminates a lot of second chances, he's got a really good glove. You can come off the wall and try to put it off the pad and he scoops it off the ice. His puck-handling is one of the better guys in the league. Sometimes on the glass, he eliminates pucks. Little things that I try to implement in my game from playing with him. Sometimes you play with a guy long enough, it's monkey see, monkey do. I think for me, he's been a big impact on my career. It's going to be exciting. It's kind of weird. It obviously worked out coming here in St. Louis and obviously getting a big matchup here against the Preds. It's going to be awesome."

Hutton will also have a good analysis of the Nashville skaters, who he faced in practice countless times.

"Personally, I think their defense is really mobile." Hutton said. "They have a lot of mobile defensemen and I think they got even more mobile with some of the guys they brought in since I left. They do a good job in the neutral zone. Their reloads are really good. That's something (Predators coach Peter) Laviolette takes a lot of pride in, their forecheck, and the way they reload on pucks and getting back on plays, eliminating second chances. 

"For us, just controlling the zone puck protection. You look at some of our really good players, when we have success, we're getting pucks in deep. You look at (Paul) Stastny being back, (Jaden) Schwartz, (Patrik) Berglund and (David) Perron, these guys that are so good along the walls. I think puck possession down low is really going to wear them down and then pucks low and high to the net and just creating off that."

Hutton hasn't played a second in these playoffs, but he's been instrumental as a teammate that can be a good sounding board when times get tough, and he obviously has to mentally stay with it just in case he's called upon at a moment's notice.
(Nashville Predators photo)
Goalies Pekka Rinne (35) and Carter Hutton formed a close relationship
for three seasons in Nashville. Hutton now is a backup with the Blues.

"I'm fine. I've been in this situation many times," Hutton said. "I did a playoff run with a couple teams as a black ace. I had a Stanley Cup and then did a conference final, first round, second round, I've done it all four rounds. 

"It's hard, right? You obviously want to contribute, you want to play, but I know there's other ways I can contribute. It's off the ice, it's being vocal in the locker room at times when guys are tired and you need a boost. Being a support bell for Jake here and helping him out the best I can. I stay ready because it's a fragile thing. Things can change quick and you can only control what you can. For me, I try to have a positive attitude and the outlook, the biggest thing here is that we're winning and that's all that matters."

* NOTES -- The Blues held an optional skate on Monday, giving the majority of the regular players, especially those who played big minutes against Minnesota, a second day off the ice before getting after it on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday's Game 1.

"It's a quick turnaround for us, so we want to make sure we have a quality practice tomorrow, so today was just a day to get moving," Yeo said. "Guys that didn't skate got in the gym, got the work in that they needed there and obviously the guys that hit the ice, it was not an incredibly intense practice, just an opportunity to get moving, get feeling the puck. Like I said, we'll get back at it tomorrow with a real focused practice in terms of the habits that we need going into this series."

Among the skaters included defenseman Thomas Vannelli, who was recalled on Sunday after the Blues assigned Jordan Schmaltz to the Chicago Wolves to benefit them in their first-round series against the Charlotte Checkers.

Vannelli, 22, was a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and split time with the Atlanta Gladiators and Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL this season.

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