DENVER - More than any other player on the Blues' roster, T.J. Oshie gets mentioned the most regarding one player who looks much better under Ken Hitchcock.
Oshie leads the Blues with 23 points and he's tied with Alex Steen for the club high in goals with 11. In 19 games since Hitchcock took over, Oshie has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists).
Recently, Hitchcock said that Oshie was playing a more north-south game.
"I feel like I'm going more north," Oshie said today, "but it's really hard to tell (why he's been more successful). I don't feel like I've made a dramatic change. I feel like I'm just focused more on going toward the net."
One noticeable aspect, which could be leading to more direct play, is the limited number of hits Oshie is delivering. In 2009-10, Oshie was second on the team with 149 hits in 76 games (1.96 per game). This season, Oshie is sixth on the club with 41 hits in 32 games (1.3 per game).
"I noticed that too," Oshie said. "I really haven't gotten too many of those big hits. I don't know if that's positioning or not running out of position. I'm finding now when I get the chance, I can just go stick on puck and get the puck away from guys. I think I'm getting more takeaways from it."
On Saturday against Nashville, Oshie had two takeaways and four shots on goal. He netted the game-tying goal with 3:57 left in regulation before the Blues lost 2-1 in a shootout.
Oshie followed that up Sunday with a goal and an assist in a 6-4 win over Columbus, giving him seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last five games.
"I feel like I can play better," Oshie said. "I feel like I can still put myself in more positions to shoot the puck. I think I can still make crisper plays going up ice, finding (Steen) a little more. I tend to put the puck at his feet quite a bit. I don't know if he notices it but I do. He ends up catching them and putting them up to his stick just because he's a great player ... but there's a lot of little things I can still improve on."
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
STEWART ON 2ND LINE
Chris Stewart will be in his usual spot on the Blues' second line tonight, despite playing a shade over 14 minutes in Sunday's win over Columbus. He spent some time on the third line as Hitchcock swapped him and Jamie Langenbrunner.
"I'm the guy with the least knowledge on him," Hitchcock said. "I see flashes and I'm looking for more consistent play, like I'm sure he is. But I don't believe in a short-term fix for the long-term problem. In other words, you can move him down and it might work for a game or two, but at the end of the day, the player himself has to get himself going. You can only coach so far and the player has to take on that responsibility."
Hitchcock said that he didn't move Stewart to the third line Sunday because of individual poor play.
"That's not what it was," Hitchcock said. "It was based on ... the line was playing loose and so when I see a line play loose, that's Jamie's job. That's his job to tighten down a line. And when we put him there, the line tightened up. It held onto the puck, it didn't make "hope-for" passes. The same thing with Backes. If I think Backes' line is too loose, I'll put Jamie there because he plays the game the right way."
But that's not to gloss over Stewart's struggles, which have been documented. He has four goals in 29 games and just two points (both assists) in his last six games. In those six games, he's been held without a shot three times.
"The thing for Stewy is, he shows flashes of being a power forward," Hitchcock said. "And to get to the next level, there has to be a consistent level of the hard before the skill. So it has to be hard play, then the skill takes over.
"Where he has to go to score goals is not easy areas. So pushing him into those hard areas, that's our job. Then he's going to have to convince himself over time that those are the areas he's going to get goals in, and he's going to have to be determined to go in there. Sometimes when you play with highly skilled players, sometimes you want to play with skill ahead of work. So when I see the skill go in ahead of the work, I make the change."
ODDS & ENDS
- The Blues are 7-0-2 this season when T.J. Oshie scores a goal.
- Colorado defenseman and former Blue Erik Johnson has a four-game point streak (1 goals, 4 assists) heading into tonight's game.
- B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) and Vladimir Sobotka (ankle) are both on the two-game road trip. Crombeen could be ready in about 10-14 days away from playing, according to Hitchcock. Sobotka rode the bike today and the Blues are hopeful he can skate before Christmas.