Mike Yeo began his first game day as new head coach of the St. Louis Blues on Thursday promising no quick fixes and no major changes.
“I think it would be pretty foolish to try to make some big changes,” said Yeo, whose team plays host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Scottrade Center. “There’s a couple of little things that we’ve talked about, that we’ve identified. For me, our practice days are when we’re going to try to change some of the habits or try do some things a little bit differently.
“This time of the year we don’t have a lot of practice, and the fact that we’re playing so many games ... when it comes time to drop the puck, we’re just going to focus on that.”
Yeo said there would be no line changes and forward Dmitrij Jaskin and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were the healthy scratches.
Blues center Paul Stastny said the players are well aware of the significant change made Wednesday with the dismissal of former coach Ken Hitchcock. How does Stastny see that news changing the struggling team’s approach?
“You want to do little things, you’re not going to obviously change everything overnight,” Stastny said. “(Coach Yeo) knows it; I think there’s just a few little things that we want to tweak. Once we get that done, then we can kind of move over with those adjustments.
“It’s just a new voice; it feels like day one of a new training camp kind of. I think everyone’s kind of nervous and excited at the same time.”
Sometimes NHL coaching changes lead to quick turnarounds for teams. The Blues just fired one of the winningest coaches in the history of the league and began Thursday at 24-21-5 for 53 points two points out of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Blues began Thursday two points behind Calgary, though Calgary has played three more games.
“My point to the players is we just can’t expect it to happen, we have to make it happen,” Yeo said. “There’s been a good energy, there’s a good focus. We’re in a dogfight right now and our focus just has to be on building our game. The only way we do that is we come to the rink and we try to get better every day.
“If we win a game, we get right back on the horse the next day, and the same applies if we lose that hockey game. We have to make we have a real ‘stay in the moment’ type of attitude right now and if we do that we’ll be fine.”
Stastny said he had a feeling change was coming, whether it was a trade or something else.
“Something was going to happen,” he said. “We were just very stale, it almost seemed, throughout the whole year. We always put the onus on ourselves, we never try to point fingers. Everything starts within this locker room, the product on the ice, it’s all what we do as a collective 23, 24 or 25 guys.
“We know we’ve got to be better whether it’s a new coach or not. It’s going to come down to us again.”
Blues set to retire Plager’s jersey
Also on Thursday, the Blues will retire the familiar No. 5 jersey of defenseman Bob Plager during a pregame ceremony set to begin at 6:30 p.m.. A member of the original Blues team in 1967, Plager has become an indelible part of the hockey community through his playing career and his overall contributions to the franchise in a variety of roles.
For Blues players, hearing Plager’s stories makes the franchise’s colorful past come to life.
“Fifty years ... it seems like such a long time but at the same time it seems like yesterday the way you hear these stories,” Stastny said. “It’s how active he is, how much energy he brings to a room. Like with all his stories, I think everybody kind of pays attention and half the time you don’t know if he’s lying or if he’s telling the truth.
“You come out of the story looking at each other wondering if half of it’s true and half of it’s not.”
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is looking forward to a special night.
“Sometimes you get focused on on what’s going on right now and every game’s so important,” Bouwmeester said. “But when you get a chance to see a guy like that who’s been here for as long as the Blues have, that’s really cool ... not only for when he played, but it goes beyond that, for what he’s done for hockey in St. Louis.
“I think it speaks for the city that he’s stuck around that long. The honor is probably overdue and you know it’s going to be special for him and his family.”