California can be a polar opposite within itself. If you find yourself in the southern part of the state, you’ll likely be sitting outside with the temperature staying between 65 and 75 degrees. However, if you head north on Pacific Coast Highway, you can expect weather to fluctuate more and rest between 45 and 80 degrees. In one spot, you can run into movie stars; in the other, a large, red bridge.
Nobody knows this better than the St. Louis Blues.
The franchise’s struggles with southern California teams has continued into this season, as both the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have posted a combined 4-2-0 record against the Blues with each victory coming away from Scottrade Center.
Since Ken Hitchcock became the head coach, the Blues have posted an abysmal 7-14-3 record against southern California with each of the team’s victories coming in Missouri.
Sometimes, taking a drive helps take the load off your shoulders and allows you to refocus. Let the wind blow through your hair and make the rules of the road your only worry. The most satisfactory drive for the Blues is north to San Jose.
Conquering San Jose
The Sharks have been the Jeckyll to the south’s Hyde. The Blues have posted a 7-4-1 record against San Jose since Hitchcock’s arrival in St. Louis, including matching 7-2 blowout victories on the road over the weekend and again at home on Thursday.
T.J. Oshie shined in the first victory, potting his second career hat trick and first four-point contest of the 2014-15 season. His second goal stood as the game winner.
“He’s been playing great,” teammate Kevin Shattenkirk said after Saturday’s win. “He’s doing the right things. He’s going into the hard areas. He has such a knack for finding the puck out of those scrums and around the net. That’s where you see a lot of his goals come from.”
Oshie was a factor in the Blues’ rout of the Sharks again on Tuesday. However, this time he only scored just a goal and an assist while his team saw seven different players add to the scoresheet.
“Everyone’s doing their jobs,” said Jaden Schwartz, who added three assists. “We’re sticking to our systems and we get good changes in the (offensive zone) and we continue to get chances.”
Hitchcock credited the team’s success Thursday night to a strong start and a group that played as a team and not as individuals.
“The first 12 minutes was just a continuation of the way we played on the road,” he said, recalling a 6-0 victory in Arizona and the previous meeting with San Jose. “We were dialed in and we actually looked exactly the same.There was good energy and good focus. Unselfish hockey is what’s really evident for me right now. When you change at the right time, you leave your teammate in a good spot. You’re going to have success.”
The Blues improved to 4-3-0 when hosting San Jose, while posting an impressive 3-1-0 record when visiting the SAP Center in California. Despite losing 3-2 in overtime to the Sharks earlier this season, St. Louis closed the 2014-15 season series by outscoring San Jose 16-7.
This comes after a 2013-14 campaign that saw the Blues amass an 0-3-0 record against the northern California team. Amazingly, the total game scores equaled this season’s (16-7), but the Blues were on the losing end.
The St. Louis head coach was not shy when asked if he thought his team matched up well with the Pacific Division team.
“A year ago, I would have said no,” said Hitchcock. “I don’t know why, it just seems like everything we shot went in against them (in the past two games). We were talking today about the game in San Jose; we went down 2-1 and we played really well, but it wasn’t looking good. Then, we gave up a breakaway and a two-on-one (that resulted in) two big saves. Then, we came back and tied it and took off from there. There’s turning points. It’s 3-2 (Thursday night), and they get a big push on the power-play, and then we come back and score two goals right away. This is the best we’ve responded to turning points in games and I think that’s why we’ve kept our pedal on the floorboard.”
The road to betterment against southern California
Los Angeles and San Jose seem to be whole different animals for the Blues. The glitz and glamour of Hollywood may be offputting to some who aren’t California natives, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s holding the Blues back from visiting. It’s those pesky hockey teams that seem to keep the Blues longing for the Gateway City.
Last season, in an interview with Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, Hitchcock explained why his team struggles with both Anaheim and Los Angeles.
“(For Anaheim, it’s) speed without the puck. It’s consistent. It’s hard to play against,” he said. “I think what really is fun to see, hard to play against, is when [as] the opposition, when you have the puck, all their players look the same. And when you look at Anaheim, all their players look the same. They all hunt the puck, they all forecheck, they all play physical. They all have great support. When you have the puck, they hound you. You get no space, no time. You’ve got to be really sharp.”
Hitchcock stated at that point that his team needed “a better start” against Los Angeles, who ousted the Blues from the postseason in 2012 and 2013.
More recently, the Kings defeated the Blues on Dec. 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, 6-4. Hitchcock blamed in-game management for the loss.
“When you’re on the road, you’ve got to manage the game the right way,” he said, “you’ve got to manage the puck the right way. We didn’t do it, lost the hockey game, simple as that.”
The Blues seemed to have righted the ship against the Sharks, but correcting the sails against the Ducks and Kings could prove to be much more difficult. Both teams have captured the Stanley Cup in the past eight years (Los Angeles twice, Anaheim once), and both are widely considered perennial Cup contenders again in 2015.
After the Blues defeated the visiting Ducks 2-0 on Oct. 30 earlier this season, Hitchcock commended his team for their efforts. He said that his team “managed the game the way we had to,” which led to just 24 shots on goal and just four power-play opportunities for Anaheim.
“…we’ve done a better job of managing the lines, and when we do that, with our work ethic, we can take advantage of it,” he added.
The Blues will not face a California team again this season, but the potential to faceoff in the playoffs is always lingering. With the abundance of NHL talent in The Golden State, it seems that another trip down Pacific Coast Highway may not be too far into the future.
The Blues will hope for a different result if, and when, that trip takes place.
I am a former NHL media member and reporter for the St. Louis Blues, working for various media outlets. Currently, I am an NHL News Writer and Editor for The Hockey Writers. I live in St. Louis and work as a freelance copywriter in numerous industries.