Jan 16, 2012, 11:06 PM EDT
If you look at the St. Louis Blues’ success through Ken Hitchcock’s eyes, it makes perfect sense that his team moved into a tie for first place in the NHL by beating the franchise that brought him his Stanley Cup ring.
The Blues even beat the Dallas Stars in a way that Hitch’s old squad won it all in 1998: by playing skin-tight defense and working hard all game long. St. Louis topped Dallas 1-0 thanks to a T.J. Oshie goal and a 27-save shutout from Jaroslav Halak.
St. Louis now has 60 points, which matches the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks’ marks. Technically speaking, the Rangers are No. 1 since they’ve played two fewer games than the Blues while the Blackhawks trail St. Louis for similar reasons. (Chicago has played in an extra contest.)
As impressive as the chase for the Presidents Trophy might be for a St. Louis squad that’s been nowhere near that discussion for several years, the Central Division race is more important. Just look at how little breathing room there is in what might just be the best division in the league:
I included the goals stats and home/away records for a few reasons. For one thing, it shows how important Hitchcock’s system – and not coincidentally, improved play from Halak and continued output from Brian Elliott – has been for St. Louis’ success. The Blues are obviously doing things differently than the Red Wings and Blackhawks. Excuse me for oversimplifying, but it’s essentially a battle of defense-first and offense-first teams.
(One might even say that the Blues are out-Trotzing Barry Trotz, to abuse the English language a bit.)
Looking at the away records of the top three teams in the Central, one could argue that the Blues and Red Wings need to win their division as much as any team in the NHL. (The Blackhawks are a bit better on the road with a 10-8-3 record, but they’ll fight just as hard for the crown.)
Long story short, both the Blues and Red Wings have reason to celebrate tonight, but they can’t take any nights off in this cutthroat division. Being in the conversation probably isn’t good enough for Hitchcock.
Check out highlights from the Blues’ 1-0 win below.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
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