Goalies couldn’t save Hitch­cock

The Washington Post Sunday - - HOCKEY - BY NEIL GREENBERG neil.greenberg@wash­post.com

The St. Louis Blues an­nounced Wed­nes­day that Ken Hitch­cock, the fourth-win­ningest coach in NHL his­tory, had been fired.

Hitch­cock was in his sixth sea­son be­hind the bench for the Blues and guided them to the play­offs in each of his pre­vi­ous five sea­sons, in­clud­ing an ap­pear­ance in the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals last year. But un­even play, cited by Blues Gen­eral Man­ager Doug Arm­strong, led to a 5-8 record in Jan­uary, put­ting the team in jeop­ardy of be­ing out of a play­off spot by year’s end and prompt­ing Arm­strong to cut ties with his coach.

You could ar­gue Hitch­cock is the scape­goat for the Blues’ un­der­whelm­ing sea­son, which has had a lot to do with the team’s strug­gles be­tween the pipes. Af­ter all, when Hitch­cock won the Jack Adams Tro­phy, awarded to the NHL coach “ad­judged to have con­trib­uted the most to his team’s suc­cess,” in 2011-12 with St. Louis, his Blues team was sim­i­lar to this one. The dif­fer­ence is that goal­tenders Jake Allen, Carter Hut­ton and Pheonix Co­p­ley have com­bined for a .906 even-strength save per­cent­age com­pared with the team’s .939 save per­cent­age just a few years ago.

Allen’s strug­gles might have been the most detri­men­tal to Hitch­cock. The 26-year-old net­min­der had stopped 599 of the 661 shots he had faced at even strength, a ca­reer low as a starter, af­ter rank­ing 13th (.928) in those same con­di­tions dur­ing the 2015-16 sea­son. And this is de­spite the team play­ing bet­ter de­fense this sea­son un­der Hitch­cock than it did when he was named coach of the year.

St. Louis al­lowed 26.8 shots per 60 min­utes at even strength in 2011-12 af­ter ad­just­ing for score, zone and venue, com­pared with 27.9 per 60 this sea­son. This year’s squad, how­ever, is al­low­ing fewer even-strength scor­ing chances (6.9) than it did in 2011-12 (7.3). The team’s save per­cent­age dur­ing the penalty kill also took a hit (.899 in 2011-12 com­pared with .868 at the time of Hitch­cock’s dis­missal) de­spite al­low­ing fewer scor­ing chances in 2016-17.

Now this be­comes Mike Yeo’s prob­lem. Yeo was hired as the coach-in-wait­ing last sum­mer when Hitch­cock an­nounced this sea­son would be his last, but un­less Yeo has magic beans that can help Allen and the other net­min­ders sud­denly re­gain their form, the Blues will con­tinue to un­der­achieve.

“Ken is pay­ing the price for all our fail­ures, start­ing with mine,” Arm­strong said Wed­nes­day when he an­nounced the move. “I’m the man­ager. I’m the pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions. It’s my team.”

And they’re Arm­strong’s goalies. And they were a big rea­son Arm­strong’s coach just lost his job.


Ken Hitch­cock, above, planned to coach the St. Louis Blues through the end of this sea­son, but sub­par goal­tend­ing con­trib­uted to his fir­ing Wed­nes­day.

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