Hitchcock wants Blues to find another gear

2012-01-18T07:35:00Z 2012-01-24T11:44:18Z Hitchcock wants Blues to find another gearBY JEREMY RUTHERFORD • > 314-444-7135

The Blues have shut out three of their last five opponents. They have not allowed a third-period goal their last nine games, a franchise record. Those are two trends that please coach Ken Hitchcock.

But he said after the Blues' 1-0 victory over Dallas on Monday night that the team has to find another gear. Asked Tuesday to be more specific, Hitchcock said it relates to the Blues' willingness to battle in the hard areas offensively.

"I've watched and seen the gear for years," Hitchcock said. "I know where it goes post All-Star break. Teams that are successful post All-Star break are the teams that ramp up their defending game and make it harder and harder for you to get to the net and score goals. They ramp up the areas that frustrate the hell out of the opposition. So we're going to have to learn how to deal with that."

The lone goal in Monday's game, scored by T.J. Oshie, was a good illustration. Oshie worked a give-and-go with teammate David Perron and with Stars center Tom Wandell on his back, Oshie plowed through the crease and beat goalie Kari Lehtonen with a slick move.

"That's a perfect example of the type of goals that you're going to have to score — perfect example," Hitchcock said.

With only four games left before the All-Star break, beginning Thursday night against Edmonton, Hitchcock wants to see more of those examples.

Perhaps explaining the Blues' power play struggles much of the year, the offense in general has been too perimeter-oriented. The club ranks seventh in the NHL with 31.4 shots per game, but is 19th in goals per game (2.56).

There are six players with double-digit goal totals, led by Oshie and David Backes with 14. But only three teams in the league (Colorado, Minnesota and Nashville) don't have a scorer with as many as 14 goals.

"We're winning despite people having 'off' offensive years," Hitchcock said. "For us to get to another level, we're going to have to get more people involved in the offense. What we need to do, from within the group, we need to add the element of gritty scoring. Not just pay the price defensively, but pay the price offensively.

"It can't be two or three guys. It's got to be everybody — and we're not there yet. We've got some guys in, some guys out and some guys kind of dipping their toes in the water. We've got to really push hard to get people to understand what that looks like and demand that of people."

Few would question Backes' willingness to get dirty, but perhaps the player leading the way with his net-front play is Oshie. He has 11 goals, 22 points and is a plus-10 in 32 games since Hitchcock came aboard.

"He has been on me to play a more north-south game," Oshie said. "He says when I'm skating, that's when I'm at my best. When I catch myself not moving my feet, I try to get them going right away and get back in plays. And then, I'm still trying to get to the net, trying to fight to get there. That's where I'm getting all my goals.

"It's great having Jaro (Halak) and (Brian Elliott) stand on their heads and get these shutouts, but we need to start scoring a little bit more. We were doing well for a little bit, guys getting to the net, but we need to fight harder in the harder areas."

Veteran center Scott Nichol echoed Hitchcock's words that more players need to be involved.

"I think the 'extra gear' is a little bit of peer pressure in here to make the guy next to you (better)," Nichol said. "He thinks he's going all out or he thinks he's a good player, but if you want to separate yourself from a good player to a great player, it's another gear.

"That's where you fortify your identity. It doesn't matter if you're 20 years old or 37 years old — you think you're doing the most, but you're not. You can always get a little bit more out of you and when it comes from your teammate, it means a lot more than coming from the coaching staff."

If Hitchcock doesn't see a more concerted effort to be physical in front of the net during games, he says he'll find time to work on it.

"We're going to have to practice this stuff rather than just talk about it," he said. "I think you're going to see over the next two or three weeks, we're really going to turn up the temperature right at the end of practices and start going into the hard areas. You're going to have people on your back, whacking and hacking. And so that battle of will to create a scoring chance is going to have to be there."

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