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Coaching change a reminder to Blues more expected

Monday, 11.07.2011 / 5:44 PM / NHL Insider

By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

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Coaching change a reminder to Blues more expected
With lofty expectations being tempered by a 6-7-0 start, Davis Payne's dismissal and Ken Hitchcock's hiring let the players know the accountability lies within the locker room doors.
ST. LOUIS -- When veteran defenseman Barret Jackman laces up his skates Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, he'll be playing for the fifth coach in his National Hockey League career.

That may be not viewed as out of the ordinary, but considering this is Jackman's 10th NHL season, the defenseman hasn't had much of a chance to get comfortable with anyone.

It's often a shock when a player gets traded or a coach gets fired, as was the case Sunday night when the Blues made their fourth coaching change in six seasons with the firing of Davis Payne, who was replaced by 59-year-old Ken Hitchcock.

With lofty expectations being tempered by a 6-7-0 start, Payne's dismissal let the players know the accountability lies within the locker room doors. Payne just happened to be the fall guy.

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"It's tough. You develop a relationship with the guy," the 29-year-old Jackman said of Payne. "He's a young coach, but he really had a vision for what he wanted to do. For some reason, it just wasn't translating. Now we get a guy with a lot of experience and a lot of games under his belt. Hopefully he could drive this team to the next level."

Many in the hockey world believed the Blues would take the next step toward becoming a Western Conference contender and playoff team this season. There are still 69 games remaining on the schedule to accomplish that, but they currently sit in 14th place, ahead of only Columbus -- the last team Hitchcock coached.

"At the end of the day, we're the guys that have got to go out and play," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "You can have anybody in the world that's the best at it to teach you and give you the right information and right things to do. At the end of the day, it's the players that have got to go out and perform. We've got to hold ourselves accountable."

Although the Blues have played poorly in games, they've also shown the ability to play well. But it's the inconsistent level which they've displayed that's led to an inauspicious beginning.

"Saying it didn't work out's a little unfair to Davis and what's gone on so far," said winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas. "I think we've shown glimpses of what's possible. I think (Payne's) done a fantastic job considering the circumstances. I don't think this was opening the schedule that anyone envied and we got through it a game below .500. Not exactly where we wanted to be, but we're not far off. That's the message being sent in here. … Just being close isn't good enough and that's fine."

So in comes Hitchcock, who brings a different element to his style of coaching. Besides Langenbrunner, Hitchcock has had experience coaching Colaiacovo, Chris Stewart and Alex Pietrangelo for Team Canada, most recently at the World Championship.

"We're getting an experienced guy. He's been through so much," Pietrangelo said of Hitchcock. "He's a guy we can bring in and be a leader. He's been there and seen it all. It could be a good thing for us.

"I think it makes the transition a little bit easier for myself and everybody else with him. We've just got to go out there and play the same way. You can't really change too much, but at the same time we're excited to have him."

Hitchcock went through his first practice with his fourth franchise -- he's also coached in Philadelphia besides Dallas and Columbus -- on Monday afternoon. Instead of trying to change too much, he absorbed all he could and will change on the fly, if necessary.

"Pace and good flow to the practice," winger Alex Steen said. "It's Day 1, so we're still getting to know him. He's getting to know us. We'll evolve here together, but we've got a game here tomorrow and we need to start focusing on that."

Added Hitchcock, "For me, it's just get tempo up and get the … energy back on the ice. We've got to play tomorrow, so we don't have much chance. I don't want to change very much right now. There's details that I can do, even in-period, before games, things that aren't going to require a lot of thinking. Just little tweaks. I don't want to change very much until I get a good read on what's going on here.

"Two things that stood out to me were the size of the players. Either I'm getting smaller or they're getting bigger. … They practiced hard today. There were a lot of drills today and they were done very quickly. I thought they were excellent today."

While the scouting report on Hitchcock may be that he's a drill sergeant that comes down hard -- particularly on young players -- there's a humorous side to the 15-year coach as well.

He mentioned in his press conference earlier in the day that he doesn't like Jason Arnott, the Blues' third-line center. For those that don't realize the history, Arnott played for the New Jersey Devils and scored the Cup-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final that ended the hopes of Hitchcock and his Stars to repeat as champions.

Arnott was watching the press conference prior to practice with his wife.

"We're watching it and then he was like, 'I hate Jason Arnott.' I was like, 'Whoa! That's a good way to start,'" Arnott said, laughing. "He's a funny guy. That's just his humor. We've played long enough and against each other enough. … I know his humor. I'm sure a lot of people are like, 'What?' or didn't realize what he was talking about. Other than that, just go out and work hard for him and do the right things and just try to lead by example what he's saying."
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