Hitchcock ‘probing’ for effective line combos behind No. 1 line
ST. LOUIS — The Blues’ top forward line of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen has been scorching hot recently with 11 of the team’s 13 goals over four games. But with eight games left in the regular season, Ken Hitchcock is still searching for the right line combinations after them.
Well, searching isn’t the word the Blues’ coach would use.
"I would use the word ‘probing,’" Hitchcock said Monday after the team’s practice at the St. Louis Mills. "I would say we know we’re going to need it, and we’re doing probing and pushing to find it. We’re not looking for combinations that work. It’s too late for that. We’re trying to get people to understand when they play really well, how it looks and what it feels like. We had some conversations with people today. We’ll have some more tomorrow. We’re trying to get more people connected and involved in the finishing part of our game."
The Blues (50-17-7, 107 points in 74 games) will go into Tuesday night’s game against visiting Philadelphia at Scottrade Center leading the Western Conference and second, behind Boston (110 points in 75 games), for most points in the NHL.
One of the Blues’ strengths is their depth with being able to use four lines. Now they’re working to get more out of those other three groups.
"I think all of us feel, as happy as we are for the one line, you can’t win with just one line doing that," Hitchcock said. "So we’re trying to get more people included and trying to get them a bird’s-eye view of what it looks like when they are successful and what’s in their game. We had quite a few individual meetings today — no group meeting at all — but some individual meetings that I think gave people some interesting insights into what gives them success."
Hitchcock said one of the reasons the team has been so successful this season is because they’ve gotten great seasons from a lot of players besides Backes, Oshie and Steen.
"Now one of the guys is not there, (Vladimir) Tarasenko, so other guys we’re kind of probing to see if we can get other people to step up their game and fill that void," he said.
Hitchcock did not comment on the lineup for the Flyers-Blues game Tuesday but did say Ryan Miller will get the start in net.
For the season, Miller is 24-25-4 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 53 starts. He is 9-3-1 with 2.18 GAA and .912 save percentage since joining the Blues.
OSHIE NETS AWARD
The NHL announced Monday morning that Oshie had been named the Third Star for the week.
Oshie was tied for second in the league with six points (four goals, two assists) over a three-game span last week, which included his first career hat trick in a win over the Minnesota Wild.
The Blues got Sunday off and were able to have a full hour-long practice Monday. It allowed for the team to move past the disappointment of Saturday night’s 4-2 loss to the Stars.
"I think you reach a stage where our team is at right now where you play, you hope you play really well, but you move on to next event," Hitchcock said. "I think you don’t want to waste any energy and take anything away from the team. That’s why we didn’t have any (team) meetings today. That’s why we didn’t have any drama after the game. We were all frustrated with the way we played because we kept mounting comebacks to come back in the game and then gave it back so easy. That was frustrating for all of us, but today was a new day and a new business day and we just got back to work."
The coach called Monday’s practice a great teaching day with great tempo.
The players were more than happy to move on from the loss and get back to work.
"That’s the whole focus, I think, is to get headed in the right direction going into the playoffs," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Before last game we had a couple pretty good games and everything was great. It’s a bump in the road, you move on and tomorrow will be a tough one. We just played Philly and we know what they are all about and that will be another good test. We get to play them at home, which is obviously different than going in there."
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said: "I think we’re happy we’ve got a couple days between games here finally. That wasn’t the way we wanted to start our homestand, but I think it’s great we’ve got a team like Philly coming in tomorrow who’s really playing some of their best hockey right now and a team we just saw a few weeks ago that we’re seeking a little redemption on. It was a good, hard-working practice today."
SPECIAL TEAMS SUCCESS
After a stretch of three games without a power-play goal, the Blues have now scored power-play goals in their past three games, with five goals in 12 opportunities — a conversion rate of 41.7 percent.
St. Louis now ranks fourth in the NHL in power-play percentage at 20.9.
The Blues rank second in the NHL in penalty-kill percentage at 86.1 percent. St. Louis has killed off nine penalties in the past two games and 16 of 17 over its last four games.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.