(HockeySTL) -- One would think that after a 3-2 victory for the Blues, their tenth of the season, the talk would be focused on the team’s success. However, that wasn’t the case after Thursday’s win as the post game discussions was on the Blues’ undisciplined play.
Any person that has followed the Blues these past few seasons knows that head coach Ken Hitchcock does not mince words. He also never becomes too pleased after any particular game. Hitchcock will point out what he saw in every game, and what he saw on Thursday was a lack of discipline by his team, displayed by way of penalty minutes.
The Blues took 7 penalties on Thursday. The Blues’ opponents, the Flames, took 4. After giving Calgary 6 consecutive man-advantages, including putting Calgary up a man twice in the third period, the Blues allowed the Flames to claw back into a game that should have easily been the Blues’ from the start.
“Everything we needed to do, we did in the first period,” pointed out Hitchcock in his post game press conference. “Then we took those penalties and it took us out of rhythm and we ended up in a bit of a prevent game.”
“You don’t like seeing penalties like we took (on Thursday), 200 feet from your net. When you’ve got something like that going, you want to hope that the players keep building on it.”
For the most part, the Blues are known around the league as a very smart and typically disciplined team. But this year has been different so far. The Blue have been shorthanded 54 times on the season and are currently averaging nearly 4 penalties per game, most of them at inopportune times.
Luckily for the Blues, their special teams, specifically their penalty kill, has been exceptional of late, and has killed off 83% of opponent power plays this season. Regardless, eventually penalties will come back to haunt St. Louis. Already, they are impacting the team negatively in other areas besides on the scoreboard, and as Hitchcock says, they’re not necessary and are standing in the way of the Blues reaching the next level.
“I would call them unnecessary penalties, some of them,” said Hitchcock. “If you want to be a really good team, you can’t afford to take those, so that’s something we are going to have to learn.”
Though the Blues ended up with the victory on Thursday, it was close to being a different outcome. Vladimir Tarasenko started the scoring for the Blues, and the game, in the first period. But despite playing arguably one of his best games of the season, Tarasenko was on the ice for just a little over 10 minutes in the game’s entirety. The Blues would have liked to play Tarasenko more, as well as young forward Jaden Schwartz, who looked impressive as well, but Tarasenko and Schwartz’s line was kept off of the ice due to the amount of penalties the Blues took after the first period.
“The penalties we took (on Thursday) were undisciplined,” said Hitchcock. “It’s not the penalties that you take, but it’s who you take out of the games. All of a sudden, your top players are killing all of the penalties, young players who are playing really well aren’t getting the ice time they deserve. We have to figure out a way to include more people, and part of that is remaining disciplined.”
The Blues’ top players in David Backes and Alex Steen spent approximately one-fourth of their total ice time on the penalty kill in Thursday’s game, limiting their effectiveness for 5-on-5 play as well. This is a fairly large concern for the team.
Still, despite the small bump in the road for the Blues to overcome, most are happy with their early-season performance.
The Blues have started the season with a 10-2-2 record. Players are happy, but not satisfied with the start. Hitchcock, maintaining a typical coach’s outlook, looks past the record and sees a need for improvement.
“This is kind of the yin and the yang of players and coaches,” he said. “Players look at the record, coaches look at the way you are playing. So, I look at the process and I know what is coming down the pike, I know how good the teams are that we are about to play here, I know how well they are playing. The mental part of the game is really important to us and mentally being able to stick with it, stay with it, fight through things, is going to be really important.”