It seems like a simple concept: Five skaters on the ice at a time. When one guy comes off, another comes on. For as basic as it feels, it’s a facet of the game the Blues have struggled with this season.
Being penalized for ‘too many men on the ice’ is a coach’s nightmare, yet with their second-period blunder during Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Wild, Ken Hitchcock’s Blues earned that specific two-minute minor for the sixth time on the season.
Hitchcock has admonished the occurrence on previous occasions, but it hasn’t curbed the behavior. In one recent instance, Hitchcock said the team needed to determine a way to hear one another better at ice-level. The Blues continue to collect ‘too many men’ penalties like vintage stamps. After Saturday’s win, however, Hitchcock did not appear especially concerned about it.
“They go in cycles and sometimes you get caught at the bench,” Hitchcock said. “There seems to be a lot of them because everybody's trying to short-shift their players. I saw five last night on TV and everybody's trying to short-shift your players. We got caught at the bench, puck ends up at the bench.”
Because the Blues managed to kill the penalty Saturday, it ultimately did not hinder them in any significant way. That fact may have had Hitchcock in a better mood than if Minnesota had capitalized on it for a power play goal, potentially altering the outcome of the game. Another explanation for Hitchcock's tranquility is that he considered these infractions different from than the ones that get his blood boiling.
“If you're skating around the ice with six guys, that's a little bit different, but we've been caught at the bench a lot,” Hitchcock said. “I don't really worry about those. Those aren't the ones that concern me. The ones 200 feet from our net, that's the ones that bother me because that means you're on the wrong side of the puck. Those are the ones that bother me.”
Overall, the Blues are fourth in the NHL in penalty minutes served. While St. Louis has minimized the damage from those penalties with the second-ranked penalty kill in the league (88.4%), improved discipline in every area related to penalties would serve the team well.
Though they have racked up penalties, the win Saturday got the Blues to 27 points for the season, good for second in the Western Conference. Rumblings about Ken Hitchcock’s job security have stalled. Considering Hitchcock’s resume, these discussions probably didn’t have much basis in reality to begin with; Doug Armstrong has stressed that Hitchcock is not going anywhere, even during lulls in the season a couple weeks ago.
That Hitchcock’s job could be on the line in a given week in October or November would normally be laughable, and it has only been a conversation topic for fans and media based on Hitchcock’s eventual replacement, Mike Yeo, already having a spot behind the Blues bench. Though his job is safe, Blues fans probably wouldn’t mind seeing Hitchcock convince his team to commit fewer penalties.
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