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Ken Hitchcock's ongoing quest to find the right lineup

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Lineup changes and goaltender shifts are a way of life for the St. Louis Blues.

It’s not uncommon for players to come to work and find that coach Ken Hitchcock has done something personnel related for that upcoming game.

The Blues have changed lines, strategies and goaltenders multiple times during the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. 

Sometimes it’s worked – like in Game 4 when the Blues beat the Sharks to even their series at 2-2. Sometimes those changes seem to have a shelf life and the team struggles after the initial jolt like in Game 5 when the Blues lost 6-3 to set up Wednesday’s elimination game at SAP Center.

During this time of year does the added stress of Hitchcock going mad scientist with his lineup gnaw at players? Especially before this mega important Game 6?

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The team doesn’t see it that way. It’s just how they’ve operated and the Blues have gotten used to it. If anything part of this is because general manager Doug Armstrong has given Hitchcock strong players up and down the lineup that's enabled Hitchcock to make those moves. 

“The beauty of it is we have such a deep team,” defenseman Colton Parayko said. “We’ve been through it all year with injuries and stuff. We didn’t have a healthy team all year. Coming around playoff time we’ve started to get everyone back but having different type of players we have we’re able to do that. Able to bring guys in and take guys out.”

The Blues’ assistant coaches sit down with players and discuss the moves and why they’ve been made. This lessens the stress of uncertainty for the players during this crucial juncture of their season.

“Part of it’s (Hitchcock), part of it’s assistant coaches too and they communicate with the players pretty well,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “If a new line is made up they talk to the line and kind of tell them what the expectations of the line are and how they see them having success. They’ve done a good job of communicating with everyone all year.”

In Game 6 the Sharks will again likely stay with the same type of lineup and line combinations to knock St. Louis out of the playoffs. The Blues will make one big change and one minor change.

Goaltender Brian Elliott will draw back into the series after sitting Games 4 and 5 in favor of Jake Allen. Also, energy forward Scottie Upshall will jump back into the team’s fourth line, which had played well the last three games when they were put together with Brodziak, Dmitrij Jaskin and Magnus Paajarvi. 

It seems likely that Paajarvi will exit the lineup, but that’s not 100 percent clear currently. Upshall was out with an undisclosed injury since Game 2 and had been a regular for the team this playoff before his issue. 

Hitchcock explained that he thought the rest would do Elliott some good since the playoffs have been such a grind on him. Before this posrseason, he hadn’t started more than seven playoff games in a year. This year he’s started 17. 

“I think the break gave him a freshness and a focus that's strong,” Hitchcock said. “He's such a competitive guy. He's such a battler. But in order to play the way he plays, he's very athletic in the net, he's acrobatic at times. You need to have a certain level of energy to play that way.” 

Can these changes knock the Sharks off balance one more time or will the Blues players struggle to adapt? Either situation is a possibility, but Hitchcock pointed out that at this stage, whichever teams win the little battles will come out ahead. 

“Both teams are built a certain way,” he said. “There's a lot of similarities between both teams. Whatever team establishes their game on the other one usually wins the hockey game.” 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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