It would be so easy to say the St. Louis Blues are where they are right now because of Ken Hitchcock. The longtime coach is a proven winner with a Cup to his credit, and no matter where hes been he has a habit of bringing out the best in players.
But Hitchcock is hardly the only reason the Blues are now atop the Western Conference standings. From maturing young players to newly infused veterans to stifling goaltending, the Blues ascendance has truly been a team effort.
Its just everything coming together, said forward B.J. Crombeen. We brought in a couple core veteran guys who have all been winners in their careers and installed that mindset. Its also younger guys really maturing. Theyre in their fourth or fifth years and theyre figuring out what it takes to be a pro every day and what it takes to win.
The Blues arent here to dazzle anyone offensively. Its defense first, offense second -- David Backes is the only player with more than 20 goals this season. Hitchcock puts the emphasis on checking, and the results have been evident.
When you do that you can manage games properly, he said. I think mentally, when you cant check its really taxing on your team. And you always seem to end up on the wrong side of that. But this teams bought into that puck management-checking game and its allowed us to win these close games.
Having two excelling goalies doesnt hurt, either. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halaks goals-against averages are 1.61 and 1.84, respectively. Theyve been so consistent Hitchcock said he doesnt even worry about them anymore just flip a coin, whos up next?
Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo credits Elliott and Halak with much of the teams success this season.
Its been our backbone all year, he said. We have two guys weve been able to depend on night in and night out and sometimes have won us games on their own. When you have that confidence in your goaltender, the guys in front of him feed off it.
And as far as Hitchcock, it was just the right coach at the right time with the right pieces already there. He came in with a simple message and a simple game plan, giving the Blues a chance to adjust in smooth fashion.
He just funneled everything together, Blues center Scott Nichol said. We had all the tools and everything, and he came in and had a system that we really bought into and weve won with it. Weve stuck with it and its not rocket science. Its just hard work and making the right plays at the right time.
The Blues are at the top for a variety of reasons. Theyre a confident bunch -- winning will breed that. But the only way the Blues will truly be satisfied with how far theyve come is when they get hardware to show for it.
No ones looking around thinking weve made it, Crombeen said. Even if we continue and play well through the end of the regular season, were not happy with that. Were working toward the final goal everyones after. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us and were focused on that.