After losing Brad Shaw and Kirk Mueller, the St.Louis Blues will be retooling their neutral zone strategy heading into training camp. From The Hockey News:
Following an off-season of change that has seen St. Louis say farewell to some key players, Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford that the most notable alterations will be made to the way the Blues play in the neutral zone. The departures of David Backes and Troy Brouwer make the team smaller in stature — something Hitchcock acknowledged — but the hope is tapping into Yeo and Wilson’s system from their time with the Minnesota Wild will make up for the loss in size. It’s the first time Hitchcock has done something of this scale in St. Louis, he said.
"This is the first time in five years that there’s going to be a significant change in a part of the system that we play," Hitchcock told Rutherford. "We’re able to cherry-pick what (Minnesota) did. Their team was built the same way that our team is going to be built this year, not really big on size, but a bunch of puck-hunters."
Hitchcock told Rutherford that Yeo and Wilson have explained their style of attack through the middle of the rink in detail and the belief is it can help the Blues log more neutral zone takeaways. That’s a scary thought given St. Louis and Minnesota were already stellar defensive teams that ranked 13th and 14th, respectively, in takeaways this past season per NHL.com. If Yeo’s system improves the takeaway numbers for the Blues, St. Louis could be one of the most difficult teams to play against. That’s saying something with the defensive prowess Hitchcock’s club already possesses.
During the 2015-16 season, the Blues ranked ninth in the league in shot attempts against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, allowing 27.8 shots to get through. The Wild, who said goodbye to Yeo and Wilson this past season, fared similarly with 27.7 shots against per 60 minutes. If the combination of Hitchcock and Yeo’s defensive philosophies can gel, that bodes well for the Blues this coming campaign. That’s not to mention it could provide a boost for goaltender Jake Allen, who is set to begin his first season as a full-time starter following the trade of Brian Elliott.[THN]
The Minnesota Wild were excellent defensively, especially during their playoff series against St.Louis, but didn't Dubynk's superhuman performance have as much to do with their success as Yeo's neutral-zone magic? Maybe this is just an attempt to acclimate this roster to Yeo's system. Maybe it's designed to make the eventual coaching hand-off go much more smoothly, but this does little to address the secondary scoring problems that plagued St.Louis during the Western Conference Final. Hang on a second, didn't we do this last season with Hitchcock's renewed focus on being a fast and "reckless" team?
"We are going to have a different look," Armstrong said. "We’re going to explore improving our team to levels we probably haven’t explored in the past. But it has to make sense."
The word Hitchcock kept coming back to describe it Tuesday was "reckless," and he must have believed it because he used it five times in the span of 85 words at one point. Recklessness, he admitted, has the potential to be a lot of fun and can also give a coach more gray hairs, which brought a smirk to the face of Armstrong, sitting next to Hitchcock, as he no doubt was trying to figure if Hitchcock had any hair that hadn’t already turned gray.
"We’ve got to go back to reckless," Hitchcock said. "(Our style is) too conservative, it’s too careful, it’s too much skill ahead of work. We’ve got to get back to reckless. We’ve got more skill than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. But skilled, careful hockey doesn’t win. You’ve got to play reckless. We need to get back to the reckless play we had before. That’s what Doug and I talked about. You can do it and still be responsible. But we’ve got to get back to reckless play. We’ve got to ask more people to be involved offensively and defensively." [STL Today]
Teams have to make adjustments going into training camp, and the Blues simply won't be able to play the same type of heavy-hitting style without Backes and Brouwer on the bench. Can the Blues maintain their defensive structure without those two dependable workhorses? If Blues dump and chase less with a more rigid neutral zone system, pounce on turnovers, and build a game plan on speed, it'd be easier to forget about Backes.