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May 15, 2016

Ken Hitchcock

St. Louis, Missouri: Game One


Q. Hitch, in this series specifically, do matchups become important for you, especially with the amount of scoring lines they do have?
COACH HITCHCOCK: Not really specifically line versus line. But we perform better when we do territorial matchups, depending on where the puck is dropped. We're much better when we play that way rather than specific people.
The game changes whether you're leading or down. We're not at our best when we're fixated on the matchup. We're better when we are fixated on the zone that we start the faceoff in. We prefer to go that way more than anything.

Q. Ken, the Sharks power‑play, where do you rank that unit right now compared to the successful ones the last couple years that you've broken down?
COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, I think when you have people that have been together that long, things are automatic. I said this yesterday. They're automatic in their release points under pressure. They're going to get their looks. You're going to have to negate some of their looks.
One of the reasons they're successful is they're able to keep the puck in the zone longer than most power‑plays. When you have a chance to clear it, you have to get it cleared. When you have a chance to win the faceoff and get it down the ice, you have to do that. You can't give them extended zone time. It's in the extended zone time they make you panic, they force you into mistakes, they make tired errors.
We've got to make sure that when it's an opportunity to clear it off a faceoff after or after a shot on goal, we have to get numbers over there and get the puck cleared. If you don't do that, when you're standing on the bench, you can literally feel the puck coming. They have the ability there with four guys who are shooters and one guy is an elite passer. They know what they're doing.

Q. How different is the feeling‑out process in a series when you switch over from two divisional rivals?
COACH HITCHCOCK: Under normal circumstances, it would be substantial. But because we played these guys three times in the last third of the season, it's a little different.
We feel like we know them, they know us because we played each other, for whatever reason on schedule, we played them all late games. We played them Game 74 and 62 even.
It wasn't like we played them in November and October and December and that. So we're pretty familiar with them. I think that because of the Olympics, there's a lot of familiar players on both sides to each other.
I don't think it's going to be a big feeling‑out process as it would be under normal circumstances having to play a Pacific team.

Q. Is everything okay with Jake?
COACH HITCHCOCK: Yeah, he's fine.

Q. They put in the new system in the first round to help with the ice. Can you tell if that's helping.
COACH HITCHCOCK: I've never met a player in the last three years that likes the ice in any building. It's bad for everybody in June. We're all looking to play in June. So I don't really care.
For me, it's never going to meet any player's standard very often. I just think you got to deal with it.
We're hoping that it's good. But it's never going to be to the satisfaction of any player, to be honest with you.

Q. Hitch, you have multiple options in terms of who you want to use as a shutdown line. How do you make that decision? Is that more of a feeling‑out process as the game gets started?
COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, again, I think it depends on the zone. In the Chicago series, we had Stastny take a lot of D zone faceoffs, so he ended up starting there. In the Dallas series, it ended up with Steen and Backes taking a lot of D zone faceoffs.
Like I said, we're much better doing zones. The players know ahead of time who is responsible for what zones. They adjust their thinking accordingly.
The days of checking people and of negating people, I think the only way you play defense and the only way you check another team's line is playing the offensive zone. I don't think you can counterattack or check another line anymore because there's just too many things going on in the game.
With all of the timeouts and everything, you end up, when another team has a top line, they can get it out there so much more now than we used to be able to.
Like I said, we let the players know ahead of time who has got responsibility in what zone where the pucks are dropped and it works really well for us.

Q. Backes said the other day he thought he found the sweet spot as the captain.
COACH HITCHCOCK: I think one of the things that you learn over time in dealing with this age group is that things that worked five years ago in team‑building exercises don't work with this age group.
What works now is a narrower focus, a smaller leadership package, a smaller voice, fewer voices. I think it empowers the people you need to empower.
We all were trying to have a big group hug. That was the plan that all the experts gave us. With this age group, the way that this dynamic is now, in my experience it doesn't work anymore. What works is very defined, very small leadership packages. I think that's what's worked this year.
The voices coming out of the locker room, within the locker room, back to the coach's room, are very defined, very direct, and not coming from a lot of people. They're only coming from three guys. David is the head of that group. I think it's empowered those guys. By empowering them, they felt more and more confident that their voices were being heard. There was active listening going on in every aspect between Doug, myself, the other players. I think it's empowered those guys and given them confidence because of it.

Q. Some games in the last round against Dallas, the fourth line was not seen much. Do you envision this being a series in which the fourth line gets more action?
COACH HITCHCOCK: I don't think we have a choice. We have a number of choices who is going to play there. Obviously the first look is going to be the lineup we finished with. But we have a number of options and we'll play what's best there.
We have four or five different ways we can play. We can add a lot of physicality and we can add a lot of speed. But regardless of what we play, we're going to have to play it because Pete's not afraid to put his fourth line against the other team's first line. He did it in the important games in 6 and 7. We have to be ready for that.
If our fourth line can't play against a line up the lineup, then we're going to always be at a disadvantage and chasing things. So it's going to have to play.
We got basically six guys to choose from, and we get the three that get the first look at it today. If they do a great job, they get to play the next game. If not, we'll adjust quickly. We're not going to wait on it.

Q. Hitch, you talk a lot about the Sharks power‑play and how it's going. How do you feel about yours?
COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, we're in a very unique situation because we have two units. Two are completely different, hard to check because one is a shooting power‑play and one is a set power‑play. That's what makes it hard for teams to play against our team because you cannot prepare for one unit.
Both units play about 45 seconds. When one unit hasn't been going, the other one has stepped up. That's what has given us our high percentage. Everyone talks about how good the Sharks are. We're the third overall team, we're right behind them. Ours has been as good on the road as it has been at home. The reason that is is because we give you two different looks, completely different, and it's hard for penalty killers to adjust to that.
Like I said, when the Backes unit isn't going, then the Stastny unit comes through every time for us. It's a real advantage for us and we've used it and, quite frankly, won a couple hockey games because of it.
Thanks, folks.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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