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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Mike Yeo

Blues coach discusses what's gone right since taking over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo:

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo isn't fooled by a strong 15-game stretch.

"It's like every day in this business," he said. "You're always cautiously optimistic and you're always fearful of what tomorrow could bring. All in all we're pleased with the way that the group is playing and the way that the players have responded."

He better be because the Blues have responded the right way since Yeo took over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1.

They are 19-7-2 since the coaching change, including 12-1-2 since March 5. The Blues are scoring more and giving up less. They have climbed the standings, clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are in line to finish third in the Central Division, which likely would mean a date with Yeo's former team, the Minnesota Wild, in the Western Conference First Round.

The Blues (43-28-7) have a two-point lead on the Nashville Predators for third place going into their game against the Winnipeg Jets at Scottrade Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; FS-MW+, TSN3, NHL.TV). The Blues also have a game in hand. They defeated the Predators 4-1 on Sunday.

"We're not even focused on who we're playing right now," Yeo said. "Our focus is just let's continue to grow our game and finish as high as we can. Our goal ultimately is we want to win the Stanley Cup, so whoever we face we're going to have to beat them. We just want to make sure our game is as strong as possible and we finish as high as possible. Who we face we face and we'll have to get ready for them."

Yeo talked about all that's gone right for the Blues recently and what he learned from working with Hitchcock before the coaching change was made in a phone interview with NHL.com on Monday.

 

Here are Five Questions with … Mike Yeo:

You're 7-0-2 in your past nine games and 12-1-2 in your past 15 games. It was streaky both hot and cold before that, including a five-game losing streak from Feb. 18-March 3. What has changed in the past month that you can put your finger on and say this is why we're winning games, this is why we've climbed the standings?

"At 5-on-5 we've been scoring more goals. I think that's the biggest thing. We lost five games in a row earlier and every one of those games we lost by one goal if you take away the empty net goals at the end of the game. We came out of that and we addressed some areas that we needed to be more effective in to be more dangerous offensively and I feel we've been doing a better job at that."

 

You look at the line of Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko and you see 59 points in 28 games since the coaching change. We know the skill that each one of those players have. Why does it work for them when they're all together?

"They're complementing each other really well right now. Obviously if you put one of them on the ice by themselves it's one thing to key on them. But right now the three of them are out there, so if you key on one guy that means somebody else is being isolated. That's what we're seeing more of right now. They've got individual skill to break players down 1-on-1 and they have the vision and hockey sense to get open in other areas. I just think they're a threat pretty much every time they're on the ice in the offensive zone because of that."

Video: NSH@STL: Tarasenko pots scorcher from a tough angle

 

It's been 17 games since you traded Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals. I was looking at the ice time numbers and Alex Pietrangelo has gone up about two minutes per game and Joel Edmundson has gone up about one minute per game since the trade. But on the whole it doesn't look like one player has taken on a drastically different role to fill the 20 minutes per game Shattenkirk was playing. So how have you guys made up for what you lost in Shattenkirk?

"I would say the overall minutes haven't changed drastically but maybe the situations that we're putting them on the ice for have, if that makes any sense. So it's not necessarily the quantity but somewhat the quality. So you've got a guy like Petro [Pietrangelo] who has jumped in on the No. 1 power-play unit and guys like [Jordan] Schmaltz and [Colton] Parayko who are taking on a bigger role on the second unit. All these guys have stepped up. Obviously you've got new guys coming into the lineup. [Carl] Gunnarsson and [Robert] Bortuzzo, both guys are out right now but for a long period of time those guys played big minutes and hard minutes for us. We've lost a number of players this year and mostly our group has done a really nice job of that next-man-up attitude. The only thing we've asked is when a player goes out somebody else obviously comes in and they have to prove that they deserve the opportunity and they belong, and we ask that everybody else raises their game another notch. Because we've been real strong in our team game I think that's supported a lot of the moves we've made. So it's been a good go here for the last little while."

 

None of this happens without goaltender Jake Allen playing the way he's playing. I've spoken a little bit about him with [Blues goalie coach] Martin Brodeur, but with Jake how much do you think his transformation this season has been a result of his mental attitude and how much is a result of his physical attributes? He had an .895 save percentage and 2.87 goals-against average in 36 games before the coaching change, and .945 and 1.63 in 22 games since.

"I would say it's a combination of the both [mental and physical]. I would say some of the physical things or some of the tactics that Marty has introduced, whether it's corrective or whether it's points of focus, it puts him in position to where he can go out and practice, work on things, prepare and go into the games very mentally prepared and very mentally sound. If something doesn't go right, if a goal goes in against him, Marty is quick to show why and I think what that's done is it's put all the control back on Jake. There is nothing that's happening that he can't figure out why it's happening. There's nothing happening that he's not sure of the reason and that puts all the control back on him. Certainly confidence is a huge part of it right now. You can see the confidence in him and his game, the way he's challenging, the way he's playing pucks, the way he makes hard saves look easy and he's not scrambling around the net. Obviously when your goaltender has confidence like that it feeds through the rest of your group."

 

You've been coaching in the NHL for a long time, but you can always learn and adapt. What did some time spent working with Ken Hitchcock do for you? What kind of insight did you gain?

"I would say that I prepare differently now. Watching him prepare his team, watching the way he handles game days, for me that was a real learning experience. I mean, obviously tactics and philosophies as far as how the game should be played, those are all very important things and I think all of us as coaches are students of the game, But when you're around a Hall of Fame coach like [Hitchcock] you see the way he operates day to day and you see the way he deals with players in certain situations. It's hard to pinpoint and point to one small thing, but it's just really how he handles himself that was real impressive to me and made it real easy to see why he's had so much success."

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