NHL

Hitchcock has Blues playing well

Hockey Primetime Jim Diamond
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When the St. Louis Blues relieved Davis Payne of his coaching duties and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock on Nov. 6, the Blues were treading water with a 6-7-0 record. More was expected of St. Louis this season, and general manager Doug Armstrong felt the former Stanley Cup-winning coach could get more out of an under-performing squad than Payne.

Eleven games into Hitchcock's tenure in St. Louis, Armstrong is looking like a genius, as the Blues have gone 8-1-2 in that span. They have steadily risen in both the Central Division and Western Conference standings in the process.

In his first 10 games as the Blues' bench boss, Hitchcock set a franchise record for the best 10-game start as coach with his 7-1-2 record, besting the previous mark set by current Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who was 7-3-0 in his first 10 games at the helm of the Blues.

The Blues are having success playing traditional Hitchcock-style hockey — heavy on defense and goaltending with just enough offense to get the job done. They have scored 27 goals in 11 games played under Hitchcock.

Getting the early lead has helped the Blues play to their new coach's system. Through Tuesday's win in Washington, St. Louis has scored first in six of its past nine games.

Hitchcock's handling of his goaltenders has been noteworthy. Tuesday night, he decided to go with Jaroslav Halak against the Capitals despite the fact that Brian Elliott had been the starter in the team's previous three games. All three of those games were St. Louis victories, and Elliott surrendered a total of three goals. Even after giving Halak the nod in Washington, Hitchcock realizes that Elliott has the hot hand right now.

"He's feeling it right now," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I don't like to talk. It's like a pitcher that's throwing well. I don't like to talk about it. Halak plays in Washington and then we'll see from there."

POWER RANKINGS

Best on the ice or just playing nice? Which team tops our power rankings?

Elliot is sporting an impressive 10-1-0 record this season. His performance last week was good enough to earn him the NHL's Third Star of the Week. When a team is winning, it is hard to argue with the methods of the coach who is guiding them to those victories. Having two goaltenders playing well certainly makes Hitchcock look like he was the right fit for the Blues.

Central Division notes:

Chicago Blackhawks LW Daniel Carcillo will soon add a new piece to his resume, and it has nothing to do with the lofty number of penalty minutes Carcillo is best known for. Chicago-based WGN Radio announced Tuesday that the rambunctious winger, known as "Car Bomb," will host a radio show entitled "The Bomb Shelter." "I'm proud to be a member of the Blackhawks with the chance to broadcast a show on WGN Radio in the great city of Chicago," Carcillo in WGN Radio's press release. "I've always been fascinated with songs and songwriters that tell a story and this will be an amazing outlet to tell my own story through music. When I first walked into the WGN Radio music vault and saw all that classic vinyl, I was like a kid in a candy shop." ... Friday night, Columbus LW Vinny Prospal played his 1,000th career NHL game. The Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic native became the 268th player in NHL history to reach the milestone, and the second to do so in a Blue Jackets uniform, following long-time Red Wing Sergei Fedorov, who earned his silver stick in 2005 while playing for Columbus. ... Detroit RW Patrick Eaves will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks after suffering a fractured jaw in Saturday night's game against the Nashville Predators. Late in the third period, Eaves was stuck in the ear by a one-time off the stick of Nashville D Roman Josi. Eaves had the jaw surgically repaired Monday. ... Nashville played a part in the coaching changes that occurred Monday morning. After Bruce Boudreau was fired in Washington, Carolina relieved Paul Maurice of his head coaching duties. The Hurricanes named Kirk Muller as their new bench boss. Muller began this season as the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville's AHL affiliate. Despite Muller being under contract with the Nashville organization, GM David Poile did not stand in the way of the Hurricanes hiring the longtime NHL vet to his first NHL head coaching position. ... The Blues did not allow a goal against in the second or third period for five consecutive games from Nov. 8-17, setting a new franchise record. The bid for their sixth was denied Nov. 19 at Minnesota.

Tagged: Red Wings, Avalanche, Blues, Patrick Eaves, Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott

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