Coach Ken Hitchcock is
a great big man many things, but one of the best is that he is very quotable. In his first ever Blues press conference, he said he could fix the team's terrible power play in "one practice" and then did it. He started a shutout war among the goalies by telling some guy with a tape recorder that if a guy gets a shutout, his rule is that the goalie automatically starts the next game.
He's been quoted as a guy who is new and changed from his screamy, taskmaster days as coach of the Dallas Stars. He has said a lot of things in his first, memorable, season as Blues head coach. But the one that stuck with me was that he will not tolerate, in his words, "passengers" on his team.
I love that term for a few reasons:
- Everyone is accountable.
- No one is expected to play outside of their role: plumbers plumb and the painters paint.
- No one, no matter the name, reputation or paycheck, gets to just go along for the ride.
But the last few games, as the Blues finally get healthy and have everyone at their disposal, not everyone is playing to potential. There are too many sightseers, too many people not making things happen. Too many passengers.
I can understand a lack of intensity at the end of a long season for these guys. They know they're in the playoffs and they know they have home ice to start. It's hard to get motivated to pay the price for every little play at this point if it has no real meaning.
But when the games are all-important next week, who will flip that switch and get going again and who will still be a passenger? Look at these guys and tell me what you think:
David Backes: I don't want to be that guy, but the Captain and leading point-scorer has one goal and is minus-1 in his last three games, with zero points against Chicago and Detroit. I know he does everything, including shutting down the other team's top line, but being The Man means being The Man all the time, especially against your biggest rivals.
T.J. Oshie has two points in the last five games and both came in that big win over Nashville. You're more than just the motor now, kid, you're a first-liner. It's his best statistical season, but he's still not a 20 goal guy and 52 points means second line on most other NHL teams. The time to excel is right now.
Patrik Berglund has zero points in his last four games and just two in his last nine. In a season that is fast becoming a season just like every other season for the big Swede, at some point he needs to either realize he has the size, skills and hands to become an elite NHLer or just decide that it's his heart and drive that are lacking and that he's really more of a second tier guy who teases people into selecting him way too high in their fantasy leagues every year.
Chris Stewart has all of the ability in the world to become the biggest. baddest playoff monster in all the history of hockey. Right now? Dude is on the verge of sitting down in favor of a guy who at least looks like he cares in Chris Porter. Stewart has two points in his last 11 games and just three goals in his last 20 games played. This guy is a passenger that has fallen asleep in the last row with his book open in his lap.
Carlo Colaiacovo is a passenger, all right. He just happens to be riding the Alex Pietrangelo Express. The only guy who can play with Kid Phenom, apparently, Colaiacovo, who was a first round pick and supposed offensive threat with solid defensive sensibilities, has been the weak link in No. 27's rise to power. He has just four points in his last 22 games, is minus-1 in that time.
Most of the rest of the players I'll let go for now because they're either trying to regain their pre-injury form (Matt D'Agostini, Roman Polak) or are doing exactly what their role requires of them (Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Vladimir Sobotka, Scott Nichol, Barret Jackman) or they are playing to expectations.
It's been a fun season so far, but the only thing that counts is the playoffs. Can the Blues make a run or are there too many passengers?