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Blues’ Hitchcock doesn’t like accusations of coaching dead-puck hockey: “If people bitch about this, then they should bitch about the Olympic team”

Mar 2, 2012, 4:13 PM EDT

Ken Hitchcock AP

St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock has a question for all the critics who say his St. Louis Blues are playing pre-lockout hockey:

Are you even watching what we’re doing?

“It’s really ill-informed,” Hitchcock told the Vancouver Sun about claims St. Louis is rekindling the dead-puck era. “To me, when I hear that comment, that tells me people don’t watch the game.

“If people bitch about this, then they should bitch about the Olympic team because it’s the same terminology, the same philosophy, the same set of buzzwords.”

That’s in reference to the gold medal-winning Canadian team Hitchcock coached at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Along with Mike Babcock, Hitch put emphasis on playing a “200-foot game” where importance of checking (specifically, back-checking) was on par with the importance of scoring goals.

He says there isn’t a good team anywhere that doesn’t know how to check.

“The difference is, now it’s all based on forecheck, where in the late ’90s it was neutral-zone forecheck,” Hitchcock explained. “You could play more of a 150-foot game, but now you’ve got to play 200 feet.”

“If it’s 6-0, great, if it’s 1-0, fine, but the focus is on the zero. It’s done with making the other team spend as much time in their own zone as possible. It’s not anything other than that.”

The Blues have seen plenty of zeroes this year. They lead the NHL in shutouts (12) and have the league’s lowest goals-allowed average (1.95) — a big reason why folks keep making the ’99 Dallas Stars comparison. But St. Louis’ defensive success hasn’t come at the offense’s expense as the Blues are right around the league average for goals per game (2.49, median is 2.62) while averaging 30.8 shots per game, 10th-most in the league.

Hitchcock says it’s because this Blues team takes plenty of chances.

“It’s the philosophy that the forwards work for the defencemen, and everyone works for the goalie,” Hitchcock said. “We pinch more now than ever, but it’s all calculated on putting as much pressure on the other team as possible while not giving up odd-man rushes.

“That’s the way we did it in the Olympics, both Mike and I believe that’s how you play the game.”

  1. lsxphotog - Mar 2, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    Hitchcock is a master of words and a master of team structuring. He has created a beast in St. Louis.

  2. mickeyb21 - Mar 2, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    I like the line in the Van Sun article about pretty much missing the entire “Kesler line.” People seem to forget that some of the scoring issues come from missing three of your top forwards all year. The Blues are playing well while in the top 10 in man games lost. I am excited for what’s to come if they get any of them back.

  3. davebabychreturns - Mar 2, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Hitchcock can wax poetic about strategy and the national team’s playbook all he wants, doesn’t change the fact that obstruction, holding and hooking are back in a big way.

    Look at the decline in powerplays.. slower and skill-poor teams would be crazy not to capitalize on the slow creep towards dead puck hockey we’re seeing. And look at teams like St. Louis, Phoenix and Dallas skyrocketing up the standings, there are good players making great efforts on those teams but it’s not entirely a coincidence.

  4. danphipps01 - Mar 2, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    So Hitch plays a conservative strategy. He also wins like three-quarters of the Blues’ games because that strategy is perfectly moulded around the players he has to work with. Two months ago, I’d have said of them what I said of Nashville – “Add a scoring piece or two and they’ll go for the Cup.” Now? I could see them doing it as they are. A longer shot than Vancouver, Detroit, New York or Boston, granted, but still a top-tier contender even without a forty-goal man to count on. What Hitch has done with this team is amazing. Guy could easily win the Jack Adams for this year’s results. Who else has been this much of a difference-maker?

  5. salmon90 - Mar 2, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    St.Louis is a very good team and Hitch is obviously a very good coach. The point is the style they play, whatever he claims it is, is extremely boring to watch. Nashville, Phoenix and a few others fit into the same category. Are they effective? Extremely. No ones arguing that. I just would prefer to watch a team like the Hawks, Wings, Philly, Canucks. I’d rather watch slick passes and fast skating than clutching and grabbing and grinding it out along the boards. What’s with the reffing now too? All of that crap is seeping back into the games. The game last night was points wise the two ‘best’ teams in the league and it was a garbage game (even though I was extremely happy with the result). I don’t know anyone who would argue that they’d rather watch a suffocating defensive struggle with guys grabbing onto each other all game than a free-flowing game with lots of chances etc. It’s like comparing the first two Canuck series from last playoffs. Against the Hawks – unbelievable hockey. Against the Preds – no casual observer is going to enjoy watching that mess.

    • mickeyb21 - Mar 2, 2012 at 5:38 PM

      As an opposing fan, you see a lack of your team’s offensive chances, which is boring for you. As a Blues fan, I see the Blues backchecking, quickly getting out of their zone, and getting into the other team’s zone. Last night, Vancouver played the EXACT same way, thus resulting in little time for either team in the attacking zone. If you saw the Blues play the night before against the Oilers, you saw a rested team sustaining pressure and creating scoring chances in the offensive zone, exciting for Blues fans not so much Oilers fans. That resulted in a 5-2 score. Don’t say it’s the Blues that are causing this when other factors come into account. Play the Vancouver game with both teams rested and better ice (puck bouncing stop scoring chances for both teams), the score is not 2-0. Just look at the other games played between them. There has been higher scoring in all the previous match ups.

  6. stevedurbano - Mar 2, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    Adapt or die. It’s a system that Hitch has introduced and the Blues have embraced. The criticisms remind me when I was a kid and saw Bob Gibson beat Don Drysdale 1-0. Several people commented how boring it was while I thought it was the best game I’d ever seen. High scores do not equate exciting hockey, baseball, or any other sport.

    • loinstache - Mar 2, 2012 at 6:44 PM

      A hockey game doesn’t need to be high scoring to be entertaining. You can’t honestly say you prefer a game where 75% of it is spent with players hugging the boards protecting the puck with their feet.

    • salmon90 - Mar 2, 2012 at 8:19 PM

      no but scoring chances do. Brian Elliot’s GAA is ridiculous – no disrespect but do you think he’s actually an ‘elite’ level goalie? He didn’t make one difficult save last night. Canucks could have been better sure but the whole game was completely bogged down by a suffocating defensive system coupled with a lot of clutching and grabbing. It’s very effective – no argument. But good for the game? No Good for entertainment? No. This isn’t a a hate on for the Blues either. I put them right up there with any as a contender this year.

  7. loinstache - Mar 2, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    It’s effective yep. Also boring as hell to watch. Last three games the ‘nucks played were dallas, phoenix, then the blues. Watching ~9 hours of hockey like that makes it glaringly obvious the kind of strategy it is. Sugar coat it all you want but there’s a reason it’s notoriously called the dead puck era. And for whatever reason it makes the reffs OK with all the garbage obstruction that comes with it… at least OK until they decide to randomly change their mind.

  8. wardmanone - Mar 2, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    Let me understand the issue it’s the style? Not the fact that it’s winning hockey for the Blues. So what do they play the game for style or winning? Don’t like it don’t watch it if he is not successful he will not have a job…

    • salmon90 - Mar 2, 2012 at 8:35 PM

      Yes it’s the style. No one’s disputing the effectiveness and if that’s what makes you successful then you’re going to do it. The point is that drastic changes were made a few years ago to open up the game and make it more exciting – it seems now we are slowly getting back to seeing a lot of defensive minded teams eerily similar to the dead puck era teams. Remember that Dallas/NJ final a few years ago? See if you can find a tape of that and try to watch it for more than 10 minutes. Hope you like play along the boards. A Nashville/St. Louis series which is a real possibility in the first round will look very similar. I hope they prove me wrong.

  9. bcjim - Mar 2, 2012 at 9:11 PM

    Its effective and dreadful. Why the league is permitting this is beyond me. Kopitar, Ovechkin, Getzlaf, etc..these guys didnt forget how to play hockey..

    I have great respect for Hitchcock, he know how to win but its killing the sport. And that smug look he always wears really irks me.

    More ice is the only real answer. Just make the ice bigger.

  10. andrew2260 - Mar 2, 2012 at 11:17 PM

    Let me sum it up. Vancouver is just pissed off that there team cannot win the big dance, so everyone else just plays a crappy style of hockey. Maybe they she focus on defense first. Secondly, someone made the comment that Mason does not.deserve deserve credit for the weak saves, so what does that say for Broduers entire career. Not to mention king hank. He is another goalie that plays in a defensive style, but he is the Vezina favorite. Well this is just a rant from a player and not just a fan.

    • kitshky - Mar 3, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      Ha .. yes, this criticism is entirely from Vancouver and is because they lost Game 7.

      Move on ya frng knob.

  11. stevedurbano - Mar 3, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Let’s be honest- if it was (insert Chicago, Detroit, NYR, Toronto, Montreal, or your favorite team here) the headlines would rave about how they were revolutionizing the game. “Genius Coach Dazzles League with Great Defense”. It’s really just because the Blues, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

    • mickeyb21 - Mar 3, 2012 at 10:44 AM

      Really NYR are playing more of a defensive style than the Blues are. More shot blocking, collapsing defense. They are getting praised for doing so well this year. Vezina and coach of the year accolades. Never hear about their “boring” style of play. Found the Canucks/Blues game much more exciting than the Rangers/Devils game this week.

  12. hsnepts - Mar 3, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    Hitchcock, you are right and wrong.

    You are right when you say good teams absolutely should play a 200-foot game. Defense is important. That’s how teams win. You are a great coach, your coaching philosophy is beyond reproach, and you should keep doing what you are doing.

    You are wrong when you talk about the complaints. The fans are not complaining about your coaching philosophy – they are complaining about the officiating. Go ahead and coach a defensive game – but refs: CALL THE INTERFERENCE. Its still a penalty. A good 200-foot game is not predicated on cheating. The Olympics featured defensive hockey – CLEAN defensive hockey. The dead-puck era was not a result of coaching styles, it was a result of the level of interference deemed acceptable by officiating.

  13. brockohol - Mar 3, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    I’m a blues fan and I have a great time watching this team. if the blues are “clutching and grabbing” so much why doesn’t the other team do it back? its funny the first I hear of this is after Vancouver game…bunch of whiners. maybe you guys should flip some cars over and light your downtown in fire again, that will show the blues

  14. salmon90 - Mar 3, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    First you’ve heard of what? That Hitchcock’s teams play a suffocating defensive system that’s boring as hell to watch? Seriously?

  15. brockohol - Mar 4, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    boring for who? I’m sure as hell enjoying it. I’ve been to 10 games and left everyone one of them satisfied. personally, I think the red wings are boring to watch…but I’m sure a Detroit fan would say that’s because we always beat you.

  16. stevedurbano - Mar 4, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    The argument pretty much comes down to this- if the Blues are challenging the top teams in the league they must be getting away with murder while the refs look away. Why? Hey, they CAN’T be beating (insert your team here). And besides, it’s really boring to see (insert your team here) get beat. And it was REALLY boring when Dallas won the cup because (insert your team here) should have. And if (insert your team here along with the media darlings) don’t win the cup every year then it’s not real hockey.
    I think that pretty much sums it up.

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