Blues' Hitchcock makes debut vs. Chicago

Ken Hitchcock said he was shocked to get a phone call from leading Chicago Blackhawks.

St. Louis opened the season 6-7-0 under Davis Payne, falling under .500 with Saturday's 2-1 setback to the Wild. That prompted the front office to relieve Payne of his duties on Sunday and replace him with Hitchcock.

Payne was named the 23rd head coach in team history after serving in an interim role during the 2009-10 season. St. Louis went 38-33-11 under Payne a season ago.

However, following a third loss in four games, the Blues now look to Hitchcock to turn things around. The 29-year-old was last behind an NHL bench during the 2009-10 season with the Blue Jackets, getting fired mid-season.

Hitchcock won a Stanley Cup championship as head coach of the Dallas Stars in 1999 and was also an assistant coach for Team Canada during the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, winning gold each time.

"I think you look at any successful team, they embrace the sacrifice," Hitchcock said. "That's my job is to sell what I'm asking them to do, which is hard and difficult. I'm going to sell them on the fact that it's worthwhile."

Hitchcock, who is fifth on the league's all-time wins list among active coaches with 533, will be tested right off the bat as the Blues will play in front of their home crowd for the next five games. St. Louis is 3-1-0 at home this year and has won three of its last four as the host over Chicago, but has lost nine of the last 13 in this series overall.

Signed through 2012-13, Hitchcock hopes to have the fans back on the bandwagon by residency's end and become the first Blues head coach to win his coaching debut since Mike Keenan on Jan. 20, 1995 versus the Sharks.

"By the end of this homestand, I think we'll tweak a few things," Hitchcock said. "I think they'll see an attention to detail that we can get ourselves into here that I think people will be proud of. I think the team's already shown really good flashes of that, but you got to do it for 60 minutes if you're going to beat good teams."

Getting Jaroslav Halak on track could help. The netminder fell to 1-6-0 with a 3.35 goals-against average and .856 save percentage in seven starts after making 24 saves in Saturday's defeat. It was his fifth in a row.

St. Louis was nearly shut out by the Wild before Jaime Langenbrunner scored with 2:02 left in the game.

"We got down two and it was one too many," Blues forward Matt D'Agostini said. "We have to focus on bearing down and not letting those lapses hurt us."

The Blues will try to deal the Blackhawks a third straight defeat after Chicago dropped a 6-2 decision to the visiting Canucks on Sunday. The defeat snapped the Blackhawks' four-game point streak (3-0-1) and marked the first time this season they have lost back-to-back games.

Special teams plagued the 'Hawks in defeat. They gave up five power play goals and went 0-for-5 on the man advantage themselves, giving them just one goal in their last 26 power plays.

"Give them credit for making some nice plays on the power play, but I think they were results of what we did on several of them," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said.

Corey Crawford gave up all six goals on 38 shots and both Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger scored for Chicago, which lost at home in regulation for the first time this year (5-1-2). The Blackhawks are 3-2-1 on the road and will play eight of their next 10 away from Chicago.

Former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith missed his third game in a row with a left hand injury, but did return to practice on Monday. He said he is "optimistic" about returning to action tonight.