EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In addition to having teams that mirror each other in playing style, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter and St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock were both early-season hirings brought in because of poor starts under their predecessors.
Sutter replaced Terry Murray [and interim coach John Stevens] on Dec. 20, when the team was 15-14-4, and guided the Kings to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season. After nearly two years away from coaching in the NHL, Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne in November after a 6-7 start and went a stunning 43-15-11 with the Blues, including a 27-5-5 record at home.
Overall, St. Louis went 30-6-5 at home, a number that has gotten Sutter's attention when he looks at the differences between his club and Hitchcock's, who are set to meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.
"They have 30 wins at home, and that's a significant number," Sutter said on Thursday before the Kings departed for St. Louis. "I don't care how you cut that. You win 30 games at home, that's something special. And if you look at seasons, both teams made coaching changes that have impacted how the teams play. I know Ken's style really well and he knows my style really well, and that's sort of where you leave it."
The two have a seven-year difference in age. Sutter playfully noted that Hitchcock was "a '51," meaning he was born in 1951 while Sutter is "a '58" for his birth year of 1958. But the two have similar backgrounds and paths to getting behind the bench.
Hitchcock grew up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alberta, not far from Sutter's hometown of Viking. Hitchcock began his NHL coaching career as an assistant in the 1990s and guided the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. Sutter started out as assistant and head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and later took the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Final.
The respect between the two is clear. Sutter, of course, isn't surprised by what Hitchcock has done with the Blues.
"It's a pretty good hockey club and he's a pretty strong leader, [with] a good veteran group and kids that probably just needed a clear focus," Sutter said. "Hitch can establish that in a hurry … that's what good coaches do. Guys who have coached for a long time, they can adapt, and they have a good pulse on the room. He does that."