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Blues blank Hawks in Hitchcock's debut

by Louie Korac
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock called himself the worst player on the ice during Tuesday's 3-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. The St. Louis Blues' new coach said he has to catch up to speed.
"I think far and away the worst player was me," Hitchcock joked after becoming the first Blues coach since Jan. 20, 1995 (Mike Keenan) to win in his Blues coaching debut. "I'm going to have to get a little bit further up to speed because it was a playoff atmosphere with a playoff style of game. Not a lot of room out there and a lot of determinations by both sides.
"When Scotty Nichol (upper-body) went out, I was down to 11 forwards. I was lost. I need to get up to speed a little quicker. It won't take me very long, but for me, this isn't like walking into a regular-season game. This was not a regular-season game, this was a playoff game. I walked into a playoff game and it was quick. I was up to speed for a little while, but when it really got going, I need to improve."
The Blues fixed three issues that had been ailing them early in the season, and all it took was the changing of the guard behind the bench to do it.

Hitchcock's coaching debut was a rousing success. The Blues played inspired hockey for the man that took control of the reigns on Monday.

The Blues opened a five-game homestand by sending the Blackhawks to their second straight loss on a night in which they honored former players Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, who were both killed in the Russian plane crash in September.

The Blues (7-7-0), helped fix the League's worst power play, the fourth-worst penalty kill and goalie Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 29 shots to win for only the second time in eight starts this season after coming in with a 1-6 record, a 3.35 goals-against average and .856 save percentage.
"When the coaching change happened, we just needed to look in the mirror and ask yourself if that was the best you had," said Halak, who improved to 2-6 on the season and lowered his GAA to 2.91 and his save percentage to .879. "If you look at the guys, everybody did their best. Hopefully, we can start again where we left off."

Vladimir Sobotka, Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie scored for the Blues, who are 4-1 on home ice.
"I think we just kept it simple," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who had two assists. "We were very direct in a lot of our plays. We got to the tops of circles, we were shooting on net. A lot got blocked tonight by their D-men, but the direction was there and we had guys going hard and getting the pucks back."

The Blackhawks (8-4-3) dropped their second straight, the first time they've lost two in a row in regulation.
"We were sloppy, we didn’t move our feet," Hawks center Jonathan Toews said. "When you don't get open and support your teammates with the puck and you don't play without the puck, you're going to make mistakes and (it will) cause turnovers.
"We just didn’t have the effort. Our legs weren't moving out there and we just have to get rid of that laziness and play harder and help each other out there."

The Blues got on the board first when Kevin Shattenkirk saucered a nifty backhand pass to Sobotka into the slot, and the latter was able to beat Corey Crawford with a second-effort shot after Crawford stacked the pads. But Sobotka stayed with the puck and popped in his first of the season 8 minutes 15 seconds into the game.

Always expect some fisticuffs when these two teams play, and the Blues' Ryan Reaves and the Hawks' Daniel Carcillo didn't disappoint. Both heavyweights sized one another up before engaging, and Reaves got in a good right-handed shot and the takedown midway through the first.

Hitchcock said on Monday that he could fix the Blues' power play woes with one practice. Well, he backed those words up on the Blues' first power play, as Stewart snapped his 10-game goalless streak by redirecting Oshie's pass into the high slot past Crawford for a 2-0 lead 1:23 into the second.

The Blues came into the game 3-for-40, or 7.5 percent on the power play. They also came in allowing 11 goals on 42 penalty-kill attempts but killed three Hawks power plays in the second period.
"Guys were buying in all over the ice making plays," Blues center David Backes said. "Jaro was outstanding and bailed us out with a few chances. We really needed him at critical times in the game."

When asked if Hitchcock allowed the players to play, just to get a feel for everyone in the first game, Backes said with a smile, "I think he's just telling you guys that. ... He's a little bit more strict than he's leading on, but the result being what it is today and we can smile all over the locker room. Good win for us tonight and that's the kind of effort we need every single night."

Oshie gave the Blues the comfort level they needed after the Hawks had a big push in the final period. Oshie took a stretch pass from Shattenkirk and snapped a shot that got through Crawford, using a Hawks defenseman as a screen at 13:54.

The Blues finished 1-for-2 on the power play and killed off all four Chicago power plays. The Blues have now killed eight straight power plays.

Shattenkirk and Jackman -- one of the Blues' defensive pairings -- each had two assists in the game, and Sobotka, who scored for the first time in 19 games, extended his point streak to four games (three assists).
"Their team played good, too," Hitchcock said. "Our goalie was the difference. I've coached in a lot worse top-end playoff games than this one, I'll tell you that."
Chicago limps to Columbus looking for a win after getting the Blues' best shot.
"That's a team we've been used to for years now," Toews said. "They come at us hard in their own building and they're excited to play us when we come here. We were talking about that before the game. We just didn't prepare for it."
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