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Ian Cole And The Over-Information Effect

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The Blues' defenseman has been putting up consistently good stats this year, but is the information overload getting to him?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Cole is not why the Blues lost Tuesday night's game against the Colorado Avalanche by the score of 5-0. Cole has been the cause of several dunder-headed plays throughout the course of his 30 games played, many of which have resulted in goals against the Blues. Overall this year, he's still performed fairly ok. Nothing mind blowing, nothing atrocious, just there. Just Ian Cole. A case could even be argued (though it'd be on small sample size, obviously) that based on Corsi stats he's having a better season than Alex Pietrangelowith an even strength CF of 51.2 versus Petro's ES CF of 48.8.

Still, Cole has been placed into a rotation of defensemen by virtue of Chris Butler's decent play. Cole can improve. What is the problem? Ken Hitchcock put it in some baseball terminology for Jeremy Rutherford:

"I think he’s just got to simplify, start hitting singles rather than looking for home runs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said before Saturday's game. "If he does that, I think he’s going to be very effective. He played a cut above everybody, so he earned the responsibility of being an everyday player. But he’s got to keep that game simple.

"Forcing offense makes the game complicated at this level. If he simplifies the game, man, he’s really effective. But when you complicate the game by trying to hit that home run, sometimes those end up in the back of your net or they end up in scoring chances against. So that’s the focus for him — just keep it simple, keep it in front of you, and good things happen."

The K.I.S.S. method is pretty foolproof. Cole, to his point, recognizes the mistakes. From Rutherford's article:

"Would I want to play perfect every single game? Absolutely," Cole said. "Do I never want to make a mistake? Absolutely, for sure, without a doubt. Some of the mistakes have led to goals, some haven’t. But everyone makes mistakes. I’ve seen it, every single guy on this team makes mistakes ... it happens.

"At the same time, for me, in the position that I’m in and the situation that I’m in with this team, the necessity of limiting those mistakes is huge. When you’re playing 30 minutes a night down in the AHL, you make a mistake and you’re back out there for the next shift. Now, that’s not the case.

"I’m playing some games 10 (minutes), at most 15, 16. So if you make one mistake, that’s a much higher ratio of your time on ice. So it’s just more profound, I guess you could say. It sticks out when you’re not out there much."

I quoted this at length because I feel that if you edit out any of the response you lose the point that Cole is trying to make here. He knows that small sample size leads to an increased sense of obviousness of his mistakes. The key here is the quote containing the line "the situation that I'm in with this team." He's aware that he's the sixth or seventh man (when Carl Gunnarsson) is healthy. He is aware that he's wandering close to the edge of the precipice due to Hitch's belief that he's trying to do too much.

The problem here may be how Cole is being worked with. He is being told to simplify while at the same time being inundated with information. He knows that he needs to skate better, to not stand still. Instead of just focusing on that, though, there seems to be more going on.

He understands that when he gains possession of the puck in the defensive zone, he’d suit himself well to "turn it up, start moving my feet, start getting to open space and make a play, versus standing still or trying to make a play without moving. I think I’d get myself into much better situations. So I don’t think it’s any secret how I need to play to be successful."

But Cole added that the club may be overloading him with too much information.

"They’ve said a lot of things that I agree with," he said, "(and) they’ve said a lot of things that you know ... I think that you as a player are told so much that trying to remember every single thing that they’ve said and apply it ... sometimes I start to overthink what’s going on in every given little tiny situation because I’ve been told so much. So, I think being able to pick through and take the general points and try to apply those in the smartest way possible is what you’ve got to do."

Think back to your hardest class in school. It could've been advanced trig, it could've been econ, it could've been physics. Do you remember how you felt when your teacher taught you something new on top of other things that you were still struggling to figure out? Wouldn't've been beneficial to you if you'd've been taken aside and shown what you were having problems with so you had a foundation to build on?

There's long been chatter that Hitch has a "shelf life." All coaches do, unless you're Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville (and your owners aren't idiots). Players tune out coaches for many reasons - personality clash, lack of respect, or a lack of understanding. If the Blues' players are in fact tuning out Hitch, perhaps it's beneficial to view Cole as a case study as to why.