ST. LOUIS — Ken Hitchcock is one of those head coaches that truly believes good offense starts with good defense.
And in that regard, he has seen progress with young Blues winger Magnus Paajarvi.
"For him, the next level is to use his speed as a checking tool," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi, who had three goals and five points in 26 games before Thursday, but also had a plus-minus rating of minus-5 on a team whose only other minus player was rookie forward Dmitrij Jaskin (minus-1).
"I think the next step for him is to create more scoring chances when the opposition has the puck, because he's doing a really good job when we have it," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi, the former Edmonton first-round pick obtained in the David Perron trade. "Every game's he's got two or three scoring chances where he just attacks the net ... beats a guy wide, gets a step on a D-man, all those things you really like in a quick player.
"I think if he gets a little bit more aggressive on the checking side of things. It's going to get him even more chances."
Hitchcock also wants the 22-year-old from Sweden to "do less watching and more initiating. His pursuit is a big part of his game, but he has a tendency like any young player to kind of watch and observe, then the opposition gets turned on him."
In a few weeks, Blues captain David Backes and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick will be trying to help Team USA win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But Thursday, their teams were facing each other once again in what has become a fierce Western Conference rivalry.
"He's an all-world goalie, my teammate in a couple weeks," Backes said of Quick, who recently returned from a groin strain and is playing well. "I'm glad to have him as a teammate in a couple weeks, but tonight we've got to find ways to beat him."
Hitchcock used rookie Dmitrij Jaskin at left wing instead of Patrik Berglund on Thursday against the Kings. That broke up the potent line that included Berglund with center Vladimir Sobotka and right winger Vladimir Tarasenko.
Hitchcock said the move was done to balance the lineup better, moving Berglund back to center on a line with Paajarvi and Chris Stewart.
"It looked good at practice yesterday, but we are not going to hesitate going with Berglund there," Hitchcock said.
Why does Hitchcock feel Jaskin can get the job done?
"We're real hopeful based on a couple practices together and a few shifts together before," Hitchcock said. "They seem to have great chemistry and they're three really strong guys."
Jaskin, who turns 21 in three months, has nine goals and 18 points in 24 games with the AHL's Chicago Wolves. He also scored a goal for the Blues on Dec. 28 against the Blackhawks.
"This guy's a heck of a player," Hitchcock said. "He's strong, he's really determined. Last game (against Phoenix) we had 12 scoring chances, he was in on five of them. He's a hard guy to play against ... a really determined offensive player.
"His game is more mature now and he's dominant at the American Hockey League level. He comes in and gives us energy and helps us."
On the plus side
Jaden Schwartz has done a lot of positive things for the Blues this season and Thursday, found himself second in the NHL in plus-minus rating.
Schwartz's plus-25 rating ranked behind Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen (plus-26).
"You want to be responsible in all three zones," said Schwartz, who seemed a bit embarrassed to be talking about himself as a league leader. "It feels good when you're seeing yourself on the plus side more nights than not. I honestly don't look at it, some buddies will tell me.
"I usually don't look at the stats and the standings too often. It's definitely nice, but you've got to move on and get ready for the next one."