One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The expression feels far too harsh when we’re dealing with a class act like Ken Hitchcock, but its sentiment may apply in the case of the St. Louis Blues and the Edmonton Oilers.
Hitch’s stay in the Show Me State has a strong chance of ending this off-season. Yes, he accomplished a lot with the Blues. He guided them to a 43-15-11 record and won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 2011-12 after taking over from Davis Payne. Hitchcock’s Blues teams in his four seasons with them:
For the fourth straight season, the St. Louis Blues exited the playoffs rather unceremoniously and well before many had expected them to be heading home. And for the third year in a row, there are more questions than answers.
Say what you will about the coaching of Ken Hitchcock or the lack of scoring shown by the Blues in their first-round, six-game defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, but, simply put, what it all boils down to is that they haven’t had a goaltender that can win them games. For three straight seasons, while clubs like Chicago and Los Angeles have dominated the Western Conference thanks to goaltenders that perform well enough to propel their teams through the playoffs, the Blues, once again, exit early because of the inability to keep the puck out of their net.
The problems arose for St. Louis early this season when Brian Elliott, then having one of the best seasons of his career, was sidelined with a lower body injury. The Blues, desperate not to lose ground in the Central Division, went out and snatched up veteran netminder Martin Brodeur and inked him to a bonus-laden contract. The signing of Brodeur was, in a way, St. Louis’ way of showing they weren’t yet ready to trust young goaltender Jake Allen with the starting duties and that Jordan Binnington, the Blues’ option in the AHL, wasn’t ready for the bright lights of the NHL quite yet. Read more
In January, few would have considered the Minnesota Wild a threat for the post-season, let alone a true Stanley Cup contender. After knocking off the St. Louis Blues in six games, however, it might be time to start wondering just how deep these surprising Wild can go.
Early in the year, aside from some extremely substandard goaltending, the Wild were one of the most impressive teams when it came to controlling the flow of play. That could only take them so far, and with a goaltending duo consisting of Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota was falling well short of playoff contention before they made a move to acquire Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes.
Since Dubnyk’s arrival, the Wild have played inspired hockey. In a first-round series against the Blues that was likely to be won or lost on the play of the competing netminders, Dubnyk stood tall when it was required and outdueled St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen to help Minnesota come out on top. Read more
St. Louis has one of the most complete rosters when it comes to forward depth and a solid defense corps, but the one thing that has continuously haunted them has been the play of their netminders in the post-season. Coach Ken Hitchcock decided to go with Jake Allen for the Blues’ first-round series against the Wild, but in a must-win Game 6 on the road, Hitchcock might be regretting that decision.
With both teams scoreless early in the first period, Justin Fontaine took a tripping minor and put the Wild shorthanded. While it looked like an opportunity for the Blues to take the lead, Minnesota winger Matt Cooke forced a loose puck on the penalty kill and Zach Parise skated into the St. Louis zone shorthanded. After being forced to the outside, Parise saw a sliver of daylight behind Allen from an unthinkable angle, but fired the puck hoping for a break. Parise got it and Allen will probably have nightmares about the goal he gave up: Read more
The St. Louis Blues played a statement game of sorts Wednesday in Game 4 of their first-round series against Minnesota, stomping the Wild 6-1 to pull even at two games apiece. But that dynamic performance was only going to resonate in the minds of their fans if they followed it up with a series victory. And after the Wild answered back in Friday’s Game 5 with a 4-1 win to put the Blues on the brink of elimination, the likelihood of people remembering that Game 4 win is not strong.
For the third time this series, the Blues had no real answer for Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 36 of 37 St. Louis shots after he registered a rare sub-par performance Wednesday. Young star Vladimir Tarasenko beat Dubnyk for the game’s first goal eight minutes into the first period, but after that, there was nothing from any Blues player. They had some tantalizing chances – including Alexander Steen’s second-period opportunity directly in front of Dubnyk – and came strongly out of the gate, but goalie Jake Allen surrendered a softie three minutes after Tarasenko scored and all their momentum evaporated, never to return. And although their strong possession meant Allen only faced 19 shots on the night, he allowed four goals for a gruesome .789 save percentage.
This consistent inconsistency is going to be the end of the Blues, and probably, of head coach Ken Hitchcock’s tenure in St. Louis. Read more
Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk is a big-bodied presence between the pipes, and in Game 5 of the Wild’s first-round series against St. Louis Friday, he used his athleticism and frame to keep Blues winger Alex Steen from scoring at point-blank range.
The teams were tied at a goal apiece nearing the 12-minute mark of the second period when Steen got a slick pass from captain David Backes that left him alone with the puck directly in front of Dubnyk, who was already sprawled-out on the ice and on his stomach. Steen couldn’t beat him, though, as Dubnyk got a pad on the puck to keep the score 1-1: Read more
After the St. Louis Blues fell meekly to the Central Division rival Wild in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, the sense of doom looming around the franchise was unmistakeable. Without a strong effort in Game 4 Wednesday in Minnesota, the Blues would be down three games to one in the series. And if it got to that stage, it would be a matter of days until they were eliminated and significant change within the organization commenced.
Well, they may still get to that stage. But the Blues did in fact respond in Game 4 by more or less wiping the mat with the Wild, whose defensive presence vanished in a 6-1 rout by the visiting team. St. Louis received excellent performances from a slew of players who had yet to make their mark on the series, including star winger Vladimir Tarasenko (who had two goals), Kevin Shattenkirk (three points), captain David Backes (one goal and two points) and Patrik Berglund (one goal and two points). Six Blues players had their first point of the series in Game 4, and the road win halted a nine-game playoff losing streak that dated back three years. This wasn’t quite an exorcism, but it sure felt like a second chance. Read more
The St. Louis Blues have been searching for a post-season game-breaker on offense for many years now, and although they’ve had some scoring issues in the first three games of their series against Minnesota, star winger Vladmir Tarasenko stepped up in a meaningful way Wednesday in Game 4 with a two-goal performance against the Wild that included a dazzling breakaway goal.
Tarasenko’s first of the night (and fourth of the post-season) in Minnesota came 6:59 into the first period, when he tipped in a shot from blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk to give St. Louis a 2-0 advantage:
But Tarasenko’s second of the game was a true thing of beauty. After teammate Jori Lehtera found him with a brilliant pass from the Blues zone to the Wild’s blueline, Tarasenko broke free from Wild defenders Matt Dumba and Jordan Leopold, then undresses goalie Devan Dubnyk with a famous deke he’s used before: Read more