Blues realizing grit just as important as skill -

Blues realizing grit just as important as skill

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St. Louis Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk, left, and Nashville Predators' Andrei Kostitsyn, of Belarus, chase a loose puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 27, 2012, in St Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) By Jeff Roberson St. Louis Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk, left, and Nashville Predators' Andrei Kostitsyn, of Belarus, chase a loose puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 27, 2012, in St Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) By Jeff Roberson

(HockeyStL) -- The Blues are finding that what looks good on paper, doesn’t always translate into success on the ice. When the regular season came to an end, the Blues found themselves in a bit of a slump, going 4-3-3 in their final ten games. This is a bit of a scary situation as the Blues are looking to make their first playoff appearance in three years, a long run. Finding the culprit of the Blues’ struggles may be easier than you think, and can be done by returning to the point in which it started.

When the Blues received the news that every one of their injured players could return to the lineup, they viewed it as a chance to get even better. Unfortunately, the Blues have not gotten better, and have played very similarly to when they were coached by Davis Payne, much to the disbelief of fans. The Blues’ lineup looks like that of an All-Star caliber team, but that may be their problem.

The return of Alex Steen, Andy McDonald, and Matt D’Agostini, as great of news as it was, left a gaping weakness in the Blues’ play, one that only certain players can fix. The Blues became a one sided team when those three players return, replacing all of the gritty, hard-checking players, with skill. A well-rounded hockey team displays all of these qualities every night and as of late the Blues haven’t been able to. Until recently, the Blues had zero grit in the lineup, removing Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves, and B.J. Crombeen from the lineup to make room for the returning players. This quickly backfired for the Blues, and head coach Ken Hitchcock quickly realized his mistake and put Ryan Reaves back into the lineup. But he has found that this is not enough.

One player cannot provide enough checking, emotion, and energy for the whole team. The Blues have become a team that has relied on their fourth line to provide all of these aspects, and to give their skilled players time to re-energize and rest. By taking out the players that would normally make up the fourth line, the Blues have removed several very important characteristics of what has defined their team all season. This has become a very obvious problem recently, and head coach Ken Hitchcock has come to the realization that he needs these players in the lineup to balance out his team.

After last Friday’s embarrassing loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, Ken Hitchcock put an emphasis on his team’s lack of hard work, stating that the Blues are relying solely on skill, and getting out-competed because of it. Skill can only take a team so far, and without grit in the lineup, it is easy to get pushed around until you crack. This has happened several times over the past two weeks of the Blues’ schedule.

Heading into the playoffs, it becomes direly important for the Blues to find and insert their gritty play back into the lineup. This starts with jumbling lines, and making room for players like Porter, and Crombeen. Finding room for grit will prove to be difficult for Ken Hitchcock, as he will have to decide who to scratch from the lineup. Matt D’Agostini will likely be the player that Hitchcock decides to sit. D’Agostini recently returned from a concussion that forced him to miss a good portion of the regular season, and it was clear that he was not back to his original self.

Ken Hitchcock will likely elect to sit D’Agostini for the first game, freeing up a spot for Hitchcock to insert a grinder. Hitchcock will take it one game at a time from here on, and should the line combinations fail to impress Hitchcock on Thursday, he will be switch things up for the next game.

The Blues are still feeling confident about how they play as a team going into the playoffs, and know that in the playoffs anything can happen. But one thing remains certain, if the Blues go into the first round playing the same way they ended their season, it will be a short-lived experience. The Blues must use the assets that they have in players like Ryan Reaves, and Chris Porter, remembering that it is those players that helped to get the Blues to where they are now. The Blues have come to realize that skill alone will not win games, and in today’s NHL, grit is an important aspect of a team’s play. The playoffs are nearing at a great pace, and games will only get harder for the Note, as they look to compete with the NHL’s elite. One thing is for certain, the Blues cannot compete in the playoffs with just skill. They must elevate their game to the next level and must implement a more physical game with the proper personnel if they hope to play on in the postseason. This is no easy task for Ken Hitchcock’s Blues, but then again neither was clinching a playoff berth, or winning the Central Division. Hitchcock has led his team through so many obstacles this season, so keep the faith in him and the Blues.

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