The Blues keep toying with their coach.
Ken Hitchcock can be a curmudgeon, especially when he feels there are correctable deficiencies in his team’s game. Though the Blues had opened their recent home stand with three consecutive wins, Hitchcock was far from adulatory. He recognized troubling elements within those performances, and warned of the effect it could have in the near future.
It’s tough to put these Blues in a box. Hitchcock has often recited his belief that St. Louis has yet to establish an identity this season. But when the team is winning, his grumbling can be dismissed as a product of perfectionism. If the Blues would just stop earning so many darn points in these games where they play at less than their best, at least Hitchcock’s concerns would be validated.
Though there have been valleys in the season, the frequency has been limited of late, as the Blues have managed to climb the standings while playing few complete games. At times, they’ve been a fast-starting group struggling to close the deal. Other nights, they thrive with the game in the balance, but only following an uninspired start.
Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Canadiens at Scottrade Center was the latter. To describe the first two periods as offensively modest would be generous; the Blues had chances, but rarely provided a significant threat to score. Hitchcock didn’t like what he saw, and proceeded to play puppet-master with the line combinations.
Eventually, Hitchcock found a favorable fit, pairing Paul Stastny and Jaden Schwartz on the same line. Each member of the duo scored in the third period, with Schwartz ultimately capping the comeback with the game-winner in overtime.
“Third, thirteenth, I'm not sure,” Hitchcock remarked on which alteration of the lines was the one that finally did the trick. “A lot. Trying to find it. What looks like it works on paper and then it works for a little while, it wasn't working today. It wasn't going. We weren't doing the normal job of getting pucks deep and we were feeding right into their transition game.
“I thought the first period was an even period, even though we were down 1-0, we had lots of really good chances in the first, but I thought in the second, we were really losing our energy there. We were too stretched out; we were trying to hit home runs, we were trying to long-pass it.”
Once the Blues found their stride, things turned around splendidly. However, that didn't occur until the third period, meaning another incomplete effort overall.
Ideally, some wins would eventually come a little easier. The comeback effort Tuesday was impressive on its own, but St. Louis grappled for points throughout the entire home stand. Four of the five games went to overtime, where the Blues claimed three wins. The other was a hard-fought regulation win over the Avalanche.
Though Hitchcock expressed concern for how the energy poured into recent games may sap his team’s vitality down the road, there is an understanding amongst the team that quintessential victories don’t happen very often.
“You're going to win different ways each night,” Schwartz said. “Not every game is going to go how you want it to. Sometimes you get off to a good start and the other team picks it up as the game goes on. Today, we didn't get off to a good start and stuck with it and got a big comeback win. I think it just gives confidence to our group. You've got to find different ways to win.”
Montreal entered Tuesday evening with an NHL-leading 37 points. For the Blues, ending the home stand by rallying back from a two-goal deficit against the top team in the Eastern Conference can only bode well as they head out on a lengthy trip.
“Hopefully we get some positive energy on the road,” said goaltender Jake Allen, who saved 28 of 30 shots in the win. “Obviously it capped off a really good home stand, we got points in every game. We took advantage of it. Overall, when you look back on it, you have to be happy with it. I think this was a testing game for us to see where we're at and we were able to get a win.”
With four straight road games looming, the Blues hope to carry their recent knack for collecting points into less forgiving territory.
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