ST. LOUIS — His tools are a five-game winless streak and a wounded St. Louis Blues team headed to the arena of one of its arch-rivals, the Detroit Red Wings.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said this is exactly the type of dire situation that can define teams, make them sturdy and strong -- not just for now but into the future.
"This is an unbelievable opportunity to build a very strong fabric of your team," said Hitchcock, whose team has slumped to 6-5-1 after winning six of its first seven games. "You just can't pass it up. If you pass it up it maybe never comes back."
He began the process with a spirited, determined practice session Tuesday at the St. Louis Mills Outlet Mall.
"If we really want to build our team, we can't get a better opportunity than what's sitting in front of us right now," Hitchcock said. "This is the time hockey clubs are built because you have no choice -- you either come together or you go the other way.
"I've seen it both ways and I expressed my opinion today on what needed to change. By the response at practice it was exactly what we were looking for."
Blues players have been saying all the right things during the losing streak. They have talked about paying better attention to detail and holding each other accountable for their actions.
However, those words have not translated into on-ice success and the losing has continued. Gone are the intensity, the forechecking, strong goaltending and smothering defense that were Blues' hallmarks last season.
"The talking's been done, there's no more great speeches that are going to pull us out of this," Blues captain David Backes said. "It's putting the work in and doing this on the ice."
What better place to turn things around than Detroit, a place the Blues typically have struggled even during their stretches of good hockey.
"We're going to have to be really good and it's going to take all 20 guys pulling the same rope," Backes said. "It's another team that will expose you if you're not doing it together, so there's no better time than tomorrow to turn it around."
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo agreed.
"That would be an emotional win," Pietrangelo said. "It's always an emotional game when you go in to Detroit. We know what our game is and we know how to win hockey games, we did it all last year. We've got to get right back to it."
Hitchcock took over as head coach 13 games into last season telling the players there were no short-cuts. Only hard work, attention to detail and tight defensive coverage would lead to more offense and more success.
The Blues responded by finishing second overall in the NHL standings and won their first playoff series in a decade. After losing to the Kings in the second round, the Blues seemed to build on last season with a 6-1 start.
But much of that promise has faded with the team winless in its last five games and being outscored 21-8 while losing four straight home games.
Hitchcock said it's up to the players to regain the form that made them one of the league's most feared units a year ago. Already one-fourth of the way through an abbreviated 48-game schedule, is there enough time for the Blues to make that type of improvement?
Hitchcock thinks so.
"You're building your team for years, not months," he said. "You're building your foundation to win for years. When you go through (stuff) like we're gong through right now, this is all self-inflicted. This isn't what the opposition is doing, this is self-inflicted.
"There isn't going to be a magic wand and there isn't going to be a cavalry coming over the hill to help us out of it. We've got to help ourselves."
Hitchcock has been patient to this point, deciding against any hard-core conditioning practices or blasting the team in public.
But that patience may be running out.
"We can't look back three months from now and say man, it was sitting right in front of us and we fumbled," he said. "We've got to take advantage of this.
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said the Blues would be wise to return to the fundamentals Hitchcock preached when he took over the team early last season.
The team's porous defense and goaltending has caused numerous problems during the slump.
"It's not even the goals, it's the breakdowns and the type of chances that we're giving up," Shattenkirk said. "It's not a systems thing, it's our attitude and our mentality. We have to go back to taking more pride in those areas like we did last year."