These days, it never seems to leave his mind. Even after a convincing home victory, Ken Hitchcock can’t help but bring up his team’s problems in road games this season.
“I don't think the third periods are an issue at home,” Hitchcock replied to a generic question about his team finally managing to deliver a late-game death blow in a 6-3 win over the Flyers Wednesday. “They're not an issue at all. We've gotten scored on the last minute, one fluke goal for sure. That's not an issue for me. The bigger issue is on the road."
Oh, here we go again.
Hitchcock’s not wrong; the Blues have been a different team away from Scottrade Center (which begs the question: is the Winter Classic a home game, or will the Blues be at a competitive disadvantage in that one, too?). On the road this season, the Note is 5-10-1, a stark difference from a sterling 14-2-4 mark at home. But to keep mentioning the road flaws unsolicited–did Hitchcock lose a bet?
As a coach, it has to eat at you. At home, you coach one of the best teams in the league. On the road, that same group loses its edge.
Hitchcock is one of the wisest hockey minds around–when everyone else sees a win or a loss, he’s busy analyzing what it means. Regardless of outcome, Hitchcock is not strictly results-oriented; he’s about the big picture.
"I think the importance of the win is, it's the way we won,” Hitchcock said. “If we played the way we did today and we didn't win today, you just know as a coach you're going to win. But if we would have even won today and got into the game that we've been playing on the road, which is trying to hit home runs, it wouldn't feel good.
“To me, it's about the feel. We feel good today because we stayed on task. We stayed with the program. We did the things that we talked about. We didn't try to hit home runs and we were successful because of it.”
Hitchcock credited his team’s scoring opportunities Wednesday to consistent traffic in front of the net. St. Louis scored twice on the power play, and Hitchcock cited Robby Fabbri–who earned the first hat trick of his NHL career in the win–as an example of what can happen with a strong net-front presence.
"We can play a heavy game,” Hitchcock said. “It's not fun to play that way, but that's how we're built. We can play a heavy game if we get our minds set. We played heavy today, which is a good sign."
Never mind that the Blues alleged identity was supposed to move away from ‘heavy’ in favor of a speed game–determining this team’s true identity is an emotional experience for another column. If Hitchcock sees ‘heavy’ as the way to procure offense at this point in the season, that’s what the Blues should be–especially on the road.
“We haven't got outworked on the road,” Hitchcock said. “We've got involved in the track meet and we've tried to play in the track meet and it doesn't suit us. It's not good for us to play that game. But it's hard not to get wrapped up in that and that's the mistake we've made on the road."
Can games like Wednesday get the Blues to translate quality play to road ice? For the sake of the season, it should happen soon.
The schedule dictates the Blues will play more road games late in the season–February and March combine to feature just 10 home games to 17 on the road. St. Louis is banking as many points as possible while the schedule has them in in friendly confines. The day is coming, though, where the Blues will be forced to replicate their home success elsewhere–or take a dive in the standings.
“We’ve had chances to close out games, we’ve found ways to lose them,” Scottie Upshall said. “Good team plays well with the lead. We’re learning and we can be better, but tonight was great.”
Sure, closing out the Flyers in a decisive rout was a good step. Until the Blues do it with regularity on the road, it probably won’t be enough to satisfy Hitch.
Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.