Hitch would have freaked out. He would have absolutely lost his mind. No one pinching. No one forechecking. Open passing lanes. Open in front of the net. I was losing my mind watching the Hawks and Wings on Saturday afternoon.
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The St. Louis Blues play a gritty style of hockey. They take no shifts off. They put the opponent under pressure from the get-go and never let off. That's the style that works for them. They are led in goals by a modest 14 from their captain David Backes. They're without and have been without their leading scorer in Andy McDonald for all but three games this season. They lack that scoring punch. But they play a team game. The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings play it a little differently.
Watching the two "big boys" in the Central playing against each other was enlightening. It was like watching an all-star game. The forecheck wasn't there. Not a lot of takeaways in the other team's defensive zone. Open passes all day. It looked like they were saving themselves for something bigger on every play. Lose the puck, get back, get puck, try to score, lose the puck, and so on. Second chances came in the form of rebounds, not takeaways. Once the possession was lost there weren't a lot of men flying to the puck to get it back. There weren't a lot of secondary players looking to get into passing lanes to break up the long passes up the ice. It was like watching the Bizarro Blues play a game.
It might say something to the skill the Hawks and Wings obviously have. They don't need to play 110% every shift. They only need to capitalize on their opportunities they have. Both teams can play like garbage for more than half the game but still come away looking like they dominated because they happened to score some pretty amazing goals.
The St. Louis Blues, on the other hand, play like every possession is their last. Hitch has the boys playing like their hair's on fire. Keep moving, get in the lanes, use your stick, get the puck back. The players the Blues have are perfect for that philosophy, too. Guys like Oshie, Steen, Backes, Perron and even Stewart thrive in this sort of game. They have the guts to keep up the work ethic to get the puck back. They have the skill to find the open men when they strip the puck. It works, and it has them looking down at most teams in the conference standings. It would be nice to have the luxury of playing like an all-star team, but for now.....Hitch has them hunting, and it looks good.
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