Tag:Ken Hitchcock
Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.

So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.

If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.

And he's been winning ever since.

Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).

"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."

Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.

While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.

It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.

That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.

"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."

He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.

I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.

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Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).

But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.

There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.

Bachman overdrive

When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.

"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."

The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.

On the other bench ...

What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.

There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.

They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.

When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.

The Wings are good

Just in case you missed that memo.

I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.

The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.

Some things never change.

One-sided rivalry

What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?

Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.

The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.

Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).

Quote of the weekend

If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.

On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).

Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.

Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 3, 2011 11:40 am
Edited on: December 3, 2011 11:45 am
 

Halak's overtime save fooled everybody

By: Adam Gretz

Fun times in Colorado on Friday night, as the Avalanche picked up a 3-2 win in a shootout over Ken Hitchcock's St. Louis Blues.

Before it could get to that point, however, the Avs thought they had a win in overtime when a bouncing puck off the stick of Ryan O'Byrne made its way behind Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak, which was then called a goal by the on-ice official, sparking an Avalanche victory celebration, complete with the goal horn going off and all of the Avalanche players rushing off the bench to greet their teammates to celebrate what appeared to be a game-winning goal.

The only problem is the puck never crossed the goal line, and the only person in the building that didn't believe it was a goal appeared to be Halak, and after review, it was correctly ruled no-goal.



Fortunately for the Avalanche they were able to get the win in the shootout, because it would have been extremely frustrating to lose a game just minutes after celebrating what you thought was a win.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 2, 2011 4:14 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 4:15 pm
 

Blues' David Perron to return Sat. after 97 games

By Brian Stubits

David Perron is finally back for the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues announced that the forward will return to the game action with Saturday's game vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. Including missing Friday's game in Colorado, that will make it 97 games since Perron last played.

"It's been a long road obviously," Perron said Friday (courtesy of Jeremy Rutherford of St. Louis Post-Dispatch). "I didn't expect it to be that long. But I'm really excited to get back into the lineup."

Optimism picked up that Perron was nearing a return to game action when he was cleared for off-ice workouts on Sept. 26. Then he was given the OK for participating in full-contact drills on Nov. 19. A couple of setback-free weeks later, and his return is finally set to happen.

"It's the end of a long journey for David Perron and we're excited to get him back in a Blues' uniform," GM Doug Armstrong said. "One thing that never wavered was [Perron's] passion to get back on the ice."

He's been out since taking the following brutal hit to the side of his head from the San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton on Nov. 4 of 2010.

Before the injury, Perron had scored five goals with two assists in 10 games for the Blues last season. For his career, the 23-year-old has 53 goals and 78 assists in 235 games, including highs of 20 goals in 2009-10 and 35 assists in 08-09.

The next question becomes how will Perron fit in with new coach Ken Hitchcock's lines? Andy Strickland at True Hockey says it's most likely that Perron will return to a top-six forward role right away and will likely spent most of his time with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. There will likely be a little more line juggling, but this one can be filed under the "good problems" file.

I think I speak for a lot of hockey fans when I say it's great to see Perron back, it's been too long.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 2, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 8:42 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Quick on top of his game again

By Brian Stubits

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

It's tough to find a position in sports that lends itself to streakiness more than goaltender in hockey. For some reason, most of them fail to maintain an even balance throughout the course of a season -- Tim Thomas' consistently spectacular play notwithstanding. There season charts resemble roller coasters tumultuous enough to turn even the heartiest rider's stomach.

L.A. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick isn't immune to the turbulence. In the opening month of the season, Quick was absolutely phenomenal. He turned in three consecutive shutouts in mid-to-late October. For his work, he was given a day off on Oct. 25 and that good mojo seemed to vanish.

In his next seven starts and nine of 11, he surrendered at least three goals. Instead of being a large part of why they were winning early in the season, he became a large part of why they were losing. It was a quick reversal of fortunes, if you'll pardon the pun.

But like any streaker -- we're still talking goalies here -- he has reversed course again. Entering Saturday's matinee against the Montreal Canadiens, Quick comes in on a tear. Thanks to a shutout of the Sharks and a nearly flawless 41-save showing against the Panthers, Quick has stopped 74 of the last 75 shots he has seen. Go back a little further and he has actually saved 84 of the last 85 shots.

Here's what Pierre McGuire told an Ottawa radio station about how good Quick was in Thursday's win. "If the kings don't have Quick Florida wins that game. Kevin Dineen's team dominated with speed game".

Yes, he's back on his game. It really is no coincidence, then, that the Kings enter their game against the Habs having earned points in seven of their last 10 games.

They really need him to be the good Quick this season. The Kings have high hopes for this season. Many, myself included, saw them as legitimate threats in the Western Conference race this season. Despite the addition of Mike Richards to some other talented offensive players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, the Kings aren't going to do a whole lot of scoring. As of now, they are 24th in the league in goals per game with 2.32.

So much more than other goalies, when Quick is playing poorly it shows.

Assuming he'll get the start on Saturday, he'll have a chance to extend his already league-high shutout mark of four. The Canadiens haven't been very good this season, that's obvious. But moreover, they have really struggled on the road. You have to go back four weeks to Nov. 4 to find the last time the Habs won a road game in regulation.

In Kings terminology, that was near the beginning of the bad Quick days.

As a bonus for L.A., if the Kings are victorious, coach Terry Murray will have his 500th career victory.

The Bryz is back in town

When the Flyers visit Phoenix on Saturday Ilya Bryzgalov's arrival will be highly anticipated by the local crowd for the second time this season. Earlier this year he made his first trip to Winnipeg, a city he wasn't too fond of possibly moving to once upon a time. He didn't play in that game.

Now Bryzgalov returns to Phoenix, the city where he did play and left this past offseason. It was with the Coyotes that Bryz built up his reputation as one of the better goaltenders in the league before taking a bigger pay day with the Flyers.

This will be the second time Bryzgalov has faced his former team this season. Before the first meeting in Philadelphia, some of his former teammates had some less-than-kind things to say about Bryz. Derek Morris even admitted to being glad that Bryzgalov was gone.

Everybody knows the Coyotes don't draw a lot of butts to the seats. But this game should have a few more tickets purchases not only because of the abundance of Flyers fans who will be there -- rest assured, they will be -- but likely from a few of the Coyotes fans who just want to boo. Or thank Bryzgalov for his time there. Take your pick.

Welcome back, Bruce

We hardly forget ye.

Anaheim Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau (looks weird) will make his debut with his new team on Friday with the Philadelphia Flyers in Southern California. One thing we know we'll see, at least to start the game, will be the reunion of Bobby Ryan with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf on the top line.

In his final days as coach, Randy Carlyle had been trying to mix and match, trying to find the best results and cure the woes the lack of depth was causing his team. Boudreau, however, restored the top line to its old self and will try to make due.

Remember, when he arrived in Washington he didn't inherit a Caps team with a lot of depth. It was a very similar situation, actually, with some highly skilled forwards. They soared under his leadership. Will the same happen in Anaheim? We'll get the first glimpse on Friday when the Ducks host the Flyers.

Too bad HBO hasn't begun the 24/7 filming yet and depriving us a chance of more Boudreau, if only in a very small sampling.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

In this case, the ranch would be Washington, Boudreau's old stomping ground.

The Capitals enter the third game of the Dale Hunter era still searching for their first win. If the third time's the charm, it will have to come at the expense of the Ottawa Senators, who visit the Caps on Saturday.

They are badly in need of a win, for their confidence if nothing else. The Caps have lost four games in a row and seven of their last nine. They have fallen -- get this -- five points behind the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division, and that's even with the Panthers leveling off in recent weeks.

There has been a whole lot of difference so far for Washington, but they do appear to be focusing more on defense again and the effort has appeared to be better. But right now they just need a win.

Jason Chimera put it better than I can. "We're going to find ourselves packing an early golf bag."

Still searching Part II

Carolina Hurricanes new coach Kirk Muller is in the same boat as Hunter, 0-2 in his NHL career behind the benches. His task, on paper at least, looks a bit tougher than Hunter's.

That's because the 'Canes will host the high-flying Penguins on Saturday night. Not exactly the team you want to see when trying to bust out of a slump.

It has to start with getting the defense squared away. In the Hurricanes' current five-game losing streak, they have given up at least three goals in each game. Tomas Kaberle isn't working out, that's no secret. But that's only part of the defensive woes. The unit continues to leave Cam Ward high and dry in net behind them.

Nobody told Muller this was going to be easy.

More to prove

The St. Louis Blues have been ridiculously good since Ken Hitchcock came aboard. They are 8-1-2 under his leadership.

But Hitchcock is still delaying his excitement for the team's play until their next stretch of games. Starting with the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, they will begin playing teams for a second time. That's when you can start to draw some conclusions.

"We're going to get a push," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You can surprise a team, but we're now playing a second wave. When we start playing the Chicago's and Detroit's again, now we'll have a look. They'll be ready for us. They won't be surprised by our game

What's shocking about it all is that by the end of the weekend, the Blues -- 14th in the West when Hitchcock was hired -- could be leading the Central Division. With their crisp and disciplined play, that's certainly a possibility.

We're going streaking!

New York Rangers: It took them a few games to get going at the beginning of the season, but when they got going, boy did they. John Tortorella heads back to Tampa Bay with the Rangers having won four in a row.

Blues: In addition to Saturday's game against Chicago, they play the Avalanche on Friday night. That's where they take their four-game win streak.

Detroit Red Wings: All this team does is streak. No seriously, look at their schedule. Like the Blues, they have two games over the weekend, Friday in Buffalo then Sunday at Colorado.

Canadiens: Already mentioned, the Habs go into Los Angeles on Saturday having lost four straight.

Capitals: See above: Caps have lost four in a row headed into Saturday date with Senators.

Hurricanes: Currently at five losses in a row, the Penguins visit next. Ouch.

Edmonton Oilers: With the battle of Alberta looming, the Oilers enter on a three-game skid. They would probably like to have Taylor Hall back.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 1, 2011 11:24 am
Edited on: December 2, 2011 12:24 am
 

Lessons in Ducks' Carlyle-Boudreau exchange

By Brian Stubits

The Anaheim Ducks couldn't buy a win. They had lost seven straight games and had only two wins in 18 games going into Wednesday.

So for finally getting a win by beating the Montreal Canadiens 4-1, head coach Randy Carlyle was fired. Literally, within an hour of winning the game. At the time of the firing, the Ducks announced the hiring of Bruce Boudreau, the former Capitals coach fired just 65 hours earlier, with a two-year contract.

"I was shocked," Teemu Selanne said. "I didn't see this coming. But obviously with the situation, we were expecting something was gonna happen."

The Elias Sports Bureau points out that is the quickest turnaround for a coach in NHL history.

Carlyle was the third coach canned this week. That means in the span of three days a former Stanley Cup-winning coach (Carlyle), Stanley Cup-finalist coach (Paul Maurice in Carolina) and former Jack Adams Award-winning coach (Boudreau) were all terminated. If anything shows how much of a win-now business the NHL (and all professional sports for that matter) is, this is exhibit A, B and C.

So there are a few of lesson in there. OK, there are a lot of lessons in there, but we're going to talk about two.

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The first lesson is the easy one: Don't let your team suck. It's obvious to say, but that was the primary reason Carlyle was fired on Wednesday, the team was playing awful hockey for the last month and a half. None of the tumult in Anaheim would have been spinning like the tea-cups at Disneyland if they could win a game or two.

To illustrate the Ducks sucktitude, the Battle of California blog dug up this little nugget: In the first eight minutes of periods this season -- any period -- the Ducks are a minus-24 in goal differential. In the other 12 minutes, they are even. That doesn't bode well for a coach.

"They didn't seem to believe in themselves anymore, and I hadn't seen that in six years here," Ducks general manager Bob Murray said.

The second lesson is one for general managers. Don't wait to make a move you think needs to be made. The Ducks had hit a point where a shakeup was necessary. That's why they have been talking about trading star young winger Bobby Ryan.

Then Boudreau became available. The move was announced on Wednesday night, but don't be fooled into thinking that wasn't a decision already made. It's not often a coach is fired right after a game, a win no less.

Murray admitted on Thursday that he called Capitals general manager George McPhee very soon after Boudreau was fired. Considering Murray was already looking for "a new voice," as he put it, Boudreau sort of fell into his lap.

On Wednesday Boudreau was doing an interview with 106.7 The Fan in Washington D.C. about his firing. During the call he was walking in the airport and he told the hosts he was headed to Toronto to see his mother. That might have been a white lie it turns out. Instead he was getting ready to see his new employer in Anaheim.

Good coaches don't last long when they are on the market. And make no mistake, Boudreau is a good coach. You don't go 201-88-40 by being a poor coach. It wasn't until he came aboard that the Capitals took off and became a regular-season stalwart. This situation can be similar.

"It's great to be here," Boudreau said. "I don't think opportunities like this come around every day, with the talent we have here. I jumped at it."

We saw it earlier this season with the St. Louis Blues, too. They obviously wanted Ken Hitchcock to be their coach. There was a lot of talk that the Columbus Blue Jackets were going to fire Scott Arniel and name Hitchcock his replacement. So what did the Blues do? Fire Davis Payne somewhat unexpectedly then announce Hitchcock as his replacement.

Speaking of Hitchcock, he comes off looking like a prophet. It was just on Tuesday he predicted that within 72 hours Boudreau would be back in rinks. Nailed it.

So when you see somebody you want, don't hesitate. Get while the gettin's good. Or should I say get while the gettin's still there to get. There are still a handful of teams who could potentially make a coaching change. The Montreal Canadiens don't have the most secure coach. Same goes for the Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and even Los Angeles Kings. That would have been a lot of teams interested in Boudreau's services. So instead of taking a chance, Bob Murray decided to cut the line now and be the first to reel in the fish he wanted.

The third lesson? Star players will always win out in power struggles. Or at least, coaches will never win them.

Was there a battle between Carlyle and Ryan in Anaheim that led to so many trade rumors regarding the 24-year-old? Hard to tell for sure, but as of yesterday it seemed pretty clear that not all was right near the Magical Kingdom.

The Ducks were shopping a player that every other team in the NHL would love to have. That right there is probably a sign you have somebody worth keeping.

Then there was the incredibly ... odd quote from Carlyle to Ryan. When Ryan got around to talking to Carlyle about the rumors that had Ryan admitting he wouldn't be surprised if he were traded, this was the response from his head coach. "[He] has to find that inner peace in himself to deal with it."

Pretty rough. Never seen a coach give a response like that before. Some might say tough love. Others might say tough times for their relationship.

Obviously this shares a similarity to Boudreau in Washington. The two sides will continue to deny it, but it won't stop the speculating that not all was great between Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin. There are some who will believe for the rest of their time that Ovechkin pushed Boudreau out.

In the end, it seems as though Murray came to his senses and got rid of Carlyle. There is certainly no guarantee this brings an end to the Ryan speculation, but it should. The Ducks got their shakeup with this moves and don't need to trade away Ryan. He's still young and talented, it would be a trade they would likely rue forever in Anaheim.

"I'm hoping everything settles down right now," Murray said, "and I think it will."

That came right after Nick Kypreos, the one who first reported Boudreau was on his way out in Washington and reported the trade rumblings on Ryan, tweeted that Ryan is off the market.

Now, under Boudreau, Ryan will be an asset. It's a situation somewhat similar to what he walked into four years ago in Washington. There are some very talented skill players up front. It will be interesting to see if he does what he did in Washington and just let them go crazy. Open up the ice and let them loose. Ryan would fit into that scheme very nice.

I love the turn of events for the Ducks. Much the same as Boudreau in Washington, Carlyle's time in Anaheim had clearly just come to an end. It was a great run that included a Stanley Cup.

"I want to think Randy for six-plus years of outstanding work," Murray said. "He’s a terrific coach and will be a terrific coach again."

But obviously what Carlyle was doing was no longer working. There is no reason the Ducks should be so low in the standings when they have last year's Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry on the roster along with one of the best skill players of all time in Selanne, who is still playing at a high level.

They might have just bought themselves a lot more wins in future seasons.

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Photo: Getty Images/Ducks Twitter feed

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 30, 2011 1:48 pm
 

Blues have that winning itch with Hitch on bench

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- When a team fires a coach midseason, what the St. Louis Blues are doing is exactly what that team is hoping for.

It was 11 games ago that the Blues fired head coach Davis Payne and brought in former Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock to fill his spot. Since then the Blues, once seemingly meandering, are now dominating. How else would you describe an 8-1-2 record under his watch?

They aren't flashy, they don't have any real superstars. So unless you've been paying really close attention, it might catch you by surprise that the Blues sit only one point behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild for the best record in the Western Conference. But Surprise! They do.

The team has taken to Hitch like a fish to water. The same can't be said for the Hitchcock to the team. He has been around the NHL a while, but there was still plenty to learn.

"It's been a wee bit of a whirlwind," Hitchcock said. "But at least I know how to get to the rink so I'm doing good." That after getting lost for the first five days on the job.

"I think the two things was that surprised me was that we took two penalties and I didn't even afford myself enough time to put my head up and see who was in the box," Hitchcock said before Tuesday's game. "I knew somebody in our sweater was over there, but I didn't know the numbers. That's when I came home and said, 'Man, I got to get going here.' I would go home and visualize rotations, visualize numbers. I spend at least 30 minutes at home just visualizing how I want to match lines, how I want to get the right people out at the right times."

Well, so far so good. More like so far so great.

"We're starting to dial in and playing the way we need to play to win hockey games," Hitchcock said. "Doesn't matter who's in or who's out, when you play this well it's a good feeling."

Here's where I point out they are doing with defense. Considering who their new coach is, is anybody surprised by that? If you are, you haven't followed Hitchcock's career very much. This could as well be his motto: "The only way you can play defense in the league is you've got to sustain forecheck." That was Hitchcock after Tuesday's 2-1 win in Washington.

The Blues have the best defense in hockey right now. They are allowing the fewest goals per game in the league (2.00). They are only surrendering an average of 25.1 shots per game --including only 19 to the Capitals -- 1.5 shots fewer than No. 2 Detroit.

Statistically, the Blues were already doing a good job with Payne when it came to shots against and overall defense. It's just they are doing even better now under Hitch.

"We're still working through some things," T.J. Oshie said. "Those first few games, everyone is playing for a new coach and everyone's trying to make a good first impression and work hard and it seems like we haven't taken our feet of the gas since then."

One player who has floored it and taken off speeding since Hitchcock arrived is goaltender Jaroslav Halak. In his first season-plus in St. Louis since coming over from Montreal was less than superb. To put it frankly, he was one of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL.

But check this out. In his last seven starts, Halak has a 1.57 goals against average and .937 save percentage. Now he's almost plays as well as fellow goalie Brian Elliott who has been, without a doubt for me, the most surprising individual player this season.

So when it comes to his goaltenders, Hitchcock doesn't have much to worry about. Just a little concern with Halak.

"The only time that we're nervous is when he has the puck," Hitchcock said of Halak. "So when he has the puck we're all nervous. We've got to fix that. But he's solid, he's been good, both goalies have been great. I trust both of them. But we've got to clean up Jaro when he goes out to play the puck because there's miscommunication there. If we can clean that up, he can have a really big impact on us winning games."

A lot of people think that if you have two goalies you really have none, like the old adage about quarterbacks in football. In most cases, that is true. It's usually because the starter is struggling and a coach is looking for the best fit. In St. Louis they have two because right now neither deserves to come off the ice.

It really seems that Hitchcock is having a really big impact on the entire team winning games. You can't argue with results.

"The first three games felt quick. One of the reasons it did is that, I've never had a card. I carry a card now because I'm still getting used to the players," Hitchcock said. "Here's it's like get behind the bench and get coaching. So I think it's hard. I think it's a lot harder than I said it was and a lot harder than I thought it was."

His team is sure making it look easy.

"I think first game it was pretty simple," Oshie said about the change in coaches. "Getting pucks behind the dmen and getting as many shots on the net and things like that. We're still working a few things out. Other than that, it's going really well."

Hard to argue.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 29, 2011 10:47 pm
 

Blues' Hitchcock on Boudreau: Bruce is a lifer

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Ken Hitchcock has a message for everybody about Bruce Boudreau: Don't worry.

"Bruce is a lifer, OK?" Hitchcock said before his Blues beat Boudreau's former team, the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. "So, for me, Bruce will recover the quickest of anybody because he's a lifer. So it wouldn't surprise me if, within the next 72 hours, Bruce is back in rinks again. He's a lifer. So he's a guy who will bounce back the quickest of anybody because he loves the game so much, he loves the people in the game."

That's the kind of impression Boudreau made in his first and only NHL job thus far. He racked up 201 wins in his four seasons with the Caps, becoming the fastest coach to hit the 200-win plateau. He'll sometimes talk too much, but he's a prety well-respected coach and the NHL hasn't seen the last of him.

Some will say they don't feel sorry for him or any fired coach one bit. It's not like a hourly-wage employee being fired or anything. But Hitchcock says you shouldn't feel bad for Boudreau being out his salary, but instead the day-to-day operations of being a coach.

"Understand what we're going through as coaches, being on the outs and sitting at home," Hitchcock said. "All the money in the world doesn't help. It's about wanting to be part of something."

He will be, Hitchcock has no doubt.

"I would be surprised if he wasn't back watching American League, NHL games within the next few days and bouncing back and ready to go. He's a guy for me I worry the least about because he's had to bounce back lots and he knows how to do it. He'll mentally position himself very quickly and get back in the saddle again."

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 29, 2011 10:01 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 11:01 pm
 

Caps need time before change seen with Hunter

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Before the game, Dale Hunter had to feel like a rookie again. He had the incredibly rare opportunity to make a first impression for the second time, this time as a coach to a fan base that endears and reveres still from his playing days.

"I got the butterflies going," Hunter told a big scrum about two hours before his NHL coaching debut. "It's like the first game after being traded."

It probably didn't help when the fans gave him a standing ovation early in the first period when a video montage of Hunter was played with the final message being "Back where you belong."

For the first time in four years, the Washington Capitals played a game without Bruce Boudreau behind their bench. There wasn't a whole heck of a lot that was different in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues from the rest of the season, particularly the past few weeks. Part of the idea behind the firing of Boudreau was to spark the team, get them to start playing the way everybody thinks they are capable of. Or as general manager George McPhee put it a day earlier: "We have their attention now."

One thing that was different, according to Hunter, was the team's effort. He had no qualms there.

"We got better as the game went on," Hunter said, "and they competed real hard. That's the important thing. That's what you need to win."

That wasn't the end of the positives that Hunter is taking away from the game.

"We didn't give up odd-man rushes tonight," Hunter said. "There were no two-on-ones and three-on-twos and they competed. We played smart, but they're a good team [St. Louis] and we got to give them credit, too."

OK, so that was one big difference, the defense was much more solid than it has been. The leaky D was one of the reasons McPhee cited for canning Boudreau in the first place, so improvement there is a must. This was a good start.

"I think we did a good job from [a] defensive side today," goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. "You know obviously one goal is not enough."

I'm not here to make any swift judgments. Remember, 48 hours ago, Hunter was still the coach of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. There's not a lot, if anything, he can be expected to get done on such short notice. All you can hope for so soon is hustle and effort, a department the Caps might not have been giving it their all in recent weeks.

More on Blues-Caps

"You can't set a time period to it," Hunter said about how long it will take to get the team playing how he wants. "By watching them live now, we have some stuff to work on."

But ironically enough, the man behind the other bench on Tuesday, Ken Hitchcock, was in the same position as Hunter a few weeks back, taking over a similarly struggling St. Louis Blues team. With the win here, the Blues are now 8-1-2 under his command. So it's a tough comparison right out of the gate for Hunter to compete with.

Of course, it's not entirely fair, either. They have each won championships, it's just that Hitchcock's was in the NHL while Hunter's was in the OHL. Hitchcock, who has seen a lot in his coaching days, offered up his thoughts on the transition that Hunter is making from the juniors to the bigs.

"Well I think the one thing, he said it best, he's got satellite on the bus so he watched all the darn games," Hitchcock said before the game. "So he has a handle on the players, but it's a lot different when you're standing on the bench. It's making the right decisions under fire."

One thing that isn’t going to start a fire yet but at least send off a few smoke signals was the ice time of Alex Ovechkin. The Caps captain has been a large focus of the recent slump in Washington, many saw -- while the two still deny it -- a rift between Ovechkin and Boudreau. His ice time was down this season. One of the things that has been repeated about a new start with Hunter would be a return to 21, 22 minutes per game for Ovechkin. On Tuesday he had just 16:46, well below his season average.

"In the second period there was all them penalties," Hunter said. "He wasn't killing so he didn't play as much. I thought he was pretty much out there a lot in the third."

Ovechkin did have an assist on the night, creating the play that led to the only Capitals score of the night. Taking the pass in his own zone from Vokoun, Ovechkin didn't try to race up the left boards as he has down countless times through his NHL days, instead he drifted to the open ice on the far side and waited for the cavalry to arrive. A backhand pass on the tape of Nicklas Backstrom from there gave the Caps their only lead of the game.

"Next step [is] to play hard like we play tonight, especially in the third period," Ovechkin said. "I think, I would say, energy was there, we make some hits, we did what he [Hunter] ask us to do and I think if we going to play the same way we going to get some success."

So it's funny how things flip. This team, this franchise which is in win-now mode, feeling that its window to a championship is wide open, is in a wait-now mode for the time being. Not every team can take off like the Blues under a new coach, but this was a start.

Photo: Getty Images

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com