In order to get more, sometimes you have to do less. It’s a saying as old as time and it seems that Blues new head coach Mike Yeo is taking that saying to heart.
For years legions of Blues fans, including myself, have complained how frustrated they were with the former coach’s constant line juggling. It got to a point where it seemed like the relentless tinkering was more of an obsession than a necessity.
Switching line combinations between games is one thing, especially when the players have time to practice with one another. Or even in the final minutes of a frustrating game when the team has failed to generate any kind of offense, that I can understand. But the constant switching from one shift to another seemed to be nothing more than an obvious case of over-coaching.
One reason may have been the abundance of talent. Almost like a kid that can’t decide which of his favorite toys he wants to play with, it seemed like the coach just had too many options. I’m not saying that the Blues are overloaded with top-tier talent but they do have an over abundance of middle of the road, good but not great payers.
If there had been a true number one European style center to go with Vladimir Tarasenko or a big, bruising stay-at-home defensemen to go with Alex Pietrangelo things might have been different. However, it seemed like Ken Hitchcock was always searching for something that was impossible to find.
Instead of giving the lines time to gel and build some chemistry, the coaching staff was constantly looking for a spark that never ignited. An “ah-ha” moment that never unfolded. So instead of admitting that it was never going to happen the coach kept banging his head against the wall hoping to eventually break through.
One thing is for sure, on the morning of February 1st all the line juggling came to an abrupt halt.
It’s important to note that the biggest change Mike Yeo made to the Blues when he took over as head coach was to halt the changing. His biggest decision was essentially a non-decision. Just leave things alone and let the players play.
Sure, Yeo has made some subtle but still important changes to the way the Blues were playing. However, it was the two most noticeable variations to the game plan that had the greatest impact. Put the Blues three best players on a line together and then don’t mess with it.
I say that those decisions were important to note because hopefully it is an attribute and not an aberration of Mike Yeo’s coaching philosophy.
Too often I get the feeling head coaches in the NHL believe that if they aren’t constantly changing or tweaking something then they aren’t doing their job. It’s the idea that you have to give more in order to get more.
For the time being Yeo has decided to go the other way. He understands what works for the Blues and then he sticks with it.
A good example would be the top line of Steen, Stastny and Tarasenko. Much to the chagrin of Blues fans the previous coaching staff was hell bent on having three balanced scoring lines. In essence, putting one great player with two good players and hoping that everything will even out. It was assumed that having three good lines would be harder to defend against than one great line and two that weren’t.
The problem that arose was the two lesser players were dragging down the one great player instead of the “A” player lifting the other two.
Tarasenko couldn’t get the time and space he need to be effective. Stastny couldn’t find a winger that could exploit his play-making ability. Steen was pouting.
When Mike Yeo took the reigns he elected for a more hands off approach. Throw your five best players out there and make the other team decide how to defend them. Usually resulting in the Blues opponent countering with their five best.
Not only has it allowed some of the Blues secondary players like Lehtera, Agostino, Perron and Berglund to get some more favorable matchups. It has allowed Steen, Stastny and Tarasenko a chance to showcase their talents. Effectively what the coaching staff said, in not so many words, is go show us what you’ve got boys, the weight is on your shoulders.
Whether or not the decision to put Steen, Stastny and Tarasenko was born out of the coach’s desire or out of necessity after Robby Fabbri was hurt doesn’t really matter. The point is that Yeo made a plan and stuck with it.
Mike Yeo has also elected to stay the course with Jake Allen. After Carter Hutton’s shutout in Philadelphia it could have been very easy for the head coach to go with his hot glove the very next night in Ottawa. However, Yeo stuck with the decision he had made when he took over. He had declared that Jake Allen was going to be the team’s starting goaltender and he stood behind that statement, allowing Allen the start in the second game of the back to back.
Instead of creating an unneeded controversy or subjecting Allen’s confidence to yet another blow, he kept the ship headed on its original course. Yeo’s steadfast leadership was rewarded when Jake stopped all 30 shots on goal in the Blues 6-0 victory and again last night when Allen stopped 31 of the leafs 32 attempts in the Blues 2-1 OT win.
Like everything else with the Blues only time will tell if this is the rule or the exception. And like many of his counterparts Mike Yeo may soon be unable to resist the urge to micromanage his talent. But for now, he understands that less is more. Let’s Go Blues!