Speaking with Mike Kelly of KMOX for a 10-minute interview on Sunday morning, Hitchcock said he watched three movies and read two books over the break. In one of those books, written by Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, the veteran hockey coach found some new ideas he’ll be taking back to his team.
“I think the thing that really hit home in reading Meyer’s book is the word ‘autopilot.’ You can’t go on autopilot, you can’t assume that the same old, same old is gonna work. You has to be creative,” Hitchcock told Kelly. “I think being creative out of the break and doing things a little bit different keeps everybody sharp.
“Sometimes it’s the way you play your personnel, sometimes it’s the way you align things, sometimes it’s the way that you go about your business. But I found he had that word ‘autopilot’ in quite a bit early in the book and it really hit home with me because if you’re assuming that you’re going to keep going or you’re going to get the same record, but what happens is if you do stay the same eventually you end up getting stale.”
The Blues (28-16-8, 64 points) get back together on Monday in advance of their road game against the Nashville Predators (24-18-8, 56 points) the following night.
Hitchcock will be using some of what he learned from Meyer’s book.
“I found that really interesting and something that we’re going to adapt,” he said. “So it’s going to come in the way we play our people, the way we align them on the ice and then tweak a couple things offensively and defensively so that you have the players’ interest right out of the gate.”
Kelly asked Hitchcock for an example of what he’s going to change.
“I think it’s going to be offensively,” the coach said. “Everybody talks about when Jaden Schwartz gets back and the team’s going to be healthy they are going to be better offensively. I don’t think you can assume that and I think you’ve got to look past that stuff. … For whatever reason, like overnight, the league’s gotten so quick now that speed and agility is everything and anybody that’s a little bit slow really struggles. So you’re going to have to find ways to create more offensive opportunities, more confusion for the opposition defensively. Some of it involves risk but some of it involves continuity. I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
“Rather than sit there and say you have to go to the net harder or you have to have more traffic at the net, those are all the blah-blah-blah stuff. But I think there’s things that we can help the players that get them excited about doing things a little bit different that allow us to maintain a higher competitive balance and I think that’s what we’re going to do. It’s not difficult, but it’s just tweaking things and doing things a little bit different that get everybody’s attention.”
The Blues are fourth in the entire NHL in points at the All-Star break, but those 64 points are only good for third in the Western Conference and third Central Division with St. Louis trailing the rival Chicago Blackhawks (33-16-4, 70 points) and Dallas Stars (31-14-5, 67 points).
The Blues will get a boost with the return of injured players like Schwartz, who ranked second on the team in goals and third in points a year ago but has played just seven games this season.
“We’ve hung in there and now we’re starting to get players back and I think it’s just going to add to the mix here,” Hitchcock said. “It’s going to make us better because we’ve had to play some of these people higher levels of minutes or even kept them in the league when we weren’t sure they were going to make the team and I think at the end of the day it’s going to do nothing but help us.”
Hitchcock will have a difficult decision to make when Allen is ready to return.
Allen was 18-10-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 33 games. Brian Elliott, who is 5-2-2 since Allen was injured, is 10-6-5 in 24 games this season with a 2.23 GAA and .927 save percentage.
Hitchcock said he didn’t know what he was going to do with his goalies when Allen returns.
“Where would we be without the good play of Brian Elliott?” he asked. “Look what’s happened to Montreal. They lose their starting goalie and they have the worst record in the National Hockey League in two months.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, whether I’ll go moment to moment or whether we go back to the old routine which is win and you’re in or get a shutout and you keep playing, whatever, I don’t know. Brian Elliott has sure earned a lot of street cred for what he’s done here and he’s really helped us.”
The Blues have 30 games remaining in the regular season and know they are in for a tough fight with the Blackhawks and Stars as well as some talented teams behind them in the standings. Then they’ll have to figure out a way to advance past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
“Getting set, we’ve got 30 games left, it’s time to get going,” Hitchcock said.