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The NHL coach’s challenge has become an integral part of game strategy for the League’s bench bosses; in particular, it affects when coaches are willing to call a timeout, knowing that they’ll need one in order to challenge a goalie interference or offside play -- and that if they're wrong, they lose it.
So the trick then becomes how a coach can get a timeout without using one.
And Ken Hitchcock is a man of many tricks.
Twice this season, Hitchcock has pulled his goalie from the game briefly to give his team a breather without using a timeout. Like against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, when the Blues were down 3-1 and Jake Allen was replaced by Brian Elliott for 2 minutes and 8 seconds, before returning to the game. Meanwhile, the Blues got a break without calling a TO.
As Hitch said to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post Dispatch, his goalies aren’t thrilled with the strategy:
“I don’t think they’re OK with it,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think so, but I’m not wasting (a timeout) until I need it. Just get back in and play. Hey, you’re going out, get back in and play. Nothing you can do about it.”
Allen said that he understands Hitchcock’s strategy and added that Blues coaches have prepared the goalies for the move.
“Timeouts are so key, especially with challenges,” Allen said. “If you waste it, come to the last minute of the game and you need it, it’s a crucial time, right? I think it’s another strategic way to get a breather and give the guys a chance to regroup. We knew that that’s going to happen throughout the year. It’s not a big deal.”
Not a big deal, but not necessarily optimal for Allen and Elliott either.
These “timeouts without timeouts” happen all the time in the NHL, but you rarely hear coaches ‘fess up to using the tactics. But in a League where timeouts have been commodified, to the sneaky team goes the coach’s challenge.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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