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At the Rink blog

Coaching changes have sparked Blues, Kings

Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:46 PM

By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent / At the Rink blog

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At the Rink blog
Coaching changes have sparked Blues, Kings
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are two teams that are perfect examples of how in-season coaching changes can work out for a franchise.

The Blues have gone 23-6-7 since Ken Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne, and the Kings are 10-2-6 under Darryl Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray.

"This is the same way that Calgary played. They play hard," Hitchcock said of the Kings. "They play on their toes, they get after you, they play a simple, fast game, and it's just the same way ever since I've seen Darryl coach ... from Chicago to Calgary to here. It's the same thing, and he gets the team engaged.

"I think it looks like he's having fun, even though he's got some funny faces on the bench. I think he's a very underrated communicator. He's really good at getting the most out of players. He squeezes every ounce out of every guy. I don't think there's many players that play for Darryl that have off-years. He knows the buttons to push."

When coaching changes occur, it's the cliche of players needing to look at themselves in the mirror. Both of these teams have done that and reacted accordingly.

"For us, realizing that we weren't playing as good as a team as we should have been," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "We were getting pretty individualistic, pretty down on ourselves when we made mistakes. It was a fresh start for everyone to clear their mind of all the mistakes and the bad hockey and mistakes we were playing. And we started well (with Hitchcock) and I think that just kept building confidence."

Added Blues winger Chris Stewart: "Everyone was a little shocked with Davis being fired. I think we came together as a team."

"Everyone's systems are close, but he definitely added some twists to his that definitely helped us out: funneling pucks to the net, the back-checking, things like that," Oshie said of Hitchcock. "He definitely played a big part in our change. When you're seeing good clips on the video, instead of him yelling at us or telling us what to do, he coached us into what to do. He showed us why we were doing stuff instead of just telling us to do it. It worked well and we've been building confidence ever since."

Kings captain Dustin Brown said Sutter's brought in fresh energy that has helped this team refocus.

"The one thing that comes to mind when you have a coaching change like that is the type of team you have," Brown said. "We knew we had a good team in here. For whatever reason, we weren't playing under our potential under Terry and a change was made, but at the same time, all the players in here are the same players we had in here under Terry. It's just a matter of refocusing after that. Darryl's also brought attention to getting emotionally attached to the game, which was something this team needed.

"When Darryl came in, I think it brought some renewed energy to the team. I think it's showed in our play."

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The Kings and Blues not only have coaching changes in common, but both teams will also play the majority of their respective remaining schedules on the road.

While the Blues have 20 of 33 away from Scottrade Center, where they're 21-3-4 on the season and 13-0-3 in their last 16, the Kings will also play 20 of their final 31 games away from Staples Center.

But unlike the Blues, who are 8-10-3 on the road, the Kings seem to thrive away from home. They are 10-5-6, one of the best records in the NHL.

"This is just a gut feeling for this team, but over the last couple seasons, I think we've been a better road team than a home team," Brown said. "I'm not sure statistically if that's true, but that's the way it feels.

"Maybe it's people want to try and play a different game at home that makes it more exciting. I would have to believe that we're a pretty frustrating team to play against the way we play D. It kind of suits that road mentality very well."

The Kings begin a six-game trip here tonight that also takes them to Carolina on Saturday, then Tampa Bay, Florida, the New York Islanders and Dallas.
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