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How Ken Hitchcock shifted the St. Louis Blues into championship gear

Getty ImagesKen Hitchcock may not be a runaway for Jack Adams honors; respect must be paid to John Tortorella of the New York Rangers, Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators, Glen Gulutzan of the Dallas Stars, Kevin Dineen of the Florida Panthers and other more usual suspects.

But Ken Hitchcock is going to win the Jack Adams. Not just because the St. Louis Blues are the best team in hockey at the moment but because there are obvious, tangible changes in the way this team has played since he replaced Davis Payne.

For example: special teams. Under Payne, the Blues had a power play that clanked along at 7.5 percent; now it's 16th at 17.2 percent. Under Payne, the Blues had a penalty kill that ranked 27th in the NHL at 73.8 percent; now, they're on the verge of making NHL history with their kill, entering Tuesday night's game vs. the Chicago Blackhawks.

From NHL.com:

When the NHL-leading Blues (45-18-7) lace up their skates against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, they'll have a chance to make some history. After killing off all eight Columbus power plays Sunday, the Blues have killed off 47 in a row. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the most consecutive kills by a team since the Washington Capitals killed off 53 straight during the 1999-2000 season.

The three primary forwards on the kill for the Blues this season, in average ice time, are Vladimir Sobotka (2:01), T.J. Oshie (1:53) and David Backes (1:45). The latter two are also top until contributors on the power play, which is to say that they play a lot for Hitchcock. What's interesting, however, is how Hitch utilizes Backes, Oshie and other key forwards without burning them out.

Here are the NHL leaders in shifts per game for forwards during the 2011-12 season, through Monday:

NHL.comSix of the top 16 are from the Blues. The San Jose Sharks have three and the New Jersey Devils have two. But check out the Blues players in comparison to those teams: None of the six have an average shift length over 42 seconds. Plenty of shifts, but high-energy and low duration.

Compare that with the Blues' leaders in shifts from 2011-12 under Coach Davis Payne:

NHL.comFewer shifts, and greater ice time on average.

Shift length was a problem for these Blues going back to the Andy Murray days, but Hitchcock seems to have reeled in his forwards. It's frequency over duration; and based on how good Backes and Oshie in particular have been this season, it's working.

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