With Rusty Klesla now out for four to six weeks, Ken Hitchcock will now show us how he can coach. The defense has clearly been lagging this season and things got worse last night. I want to see how he coaches players he clearly does not want to play.
First off, the comments GM Scott Howson made last week, that the fix for the team would “come from within,” was a subtle way of saying that he got the players that the coach wanted and even let one go, so now the job was up to the coach. Since those remarks were made, Kris Russell has been a healthy scratch until last night. An injury to Marc Methot put Russell back in the line-up and now Klesla’s injury will keep him there. My question is, will Hitchcock play Russell in all situations? He always made Russell part of his third pair of defensemen and never played him on the penalty kill. But that is about to change.
With Mike Commodore still having flu symptoms in his groin and Jan Hejda not playing like he has in the past, something has to be done. Anton Stralman is fine in offensive situations and Marc Methot has played as expected. Fedor Tytutin has his good days and bad days. But Kris Russell has never been able to overcome the objections that Hitchcock has regarding his play. I always thought that it was because of his size. Hitch likes big defensemen (and big forwards, too) and the five-foot ten Russell has nearly everything else in terms of skills and talent except that. When I have had contact with Russell off the ice, he has never said a word about the way he is played or the way other players are managed. So his chance may be here. Last night, he got a lot of minutes and had a nice goal and assist.
I’m certain that other NHL clubs want to see Kris Russell play more, but not for what you think. Russell has been the subject of trades, so if he plays more in the next month, his value will either rise or fall. If it falls, the team will have to make a move quickly, because the current defense is not going to get the team into the playoffs.