Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
I’ll Be Deep In The Cold, Cold Ground Before I Recognize Missourah: SLGT
Now that the trading deadline has passed, the season enters into what is generally regarded as the home stretch. Much to the dismay of many in Blackhawks Nation, GM Stan Bowman by and large maintained the status quo on West Madison. However the same can not be said for tonight’s divisional opponent, the always cantankerous and rarely smart St. Louis Blues.
The Blues enter tonight on the outside looking in in the Western Conference playoff picture, currently sitting in 9th with 38 points, only a point behind the Oil with two games in hand. To rectify this, GM Doug Armstrong went out and procured himself some defensive reinforcements in the forms of Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester. Both have been generally solid positionally their entire careers, and the hope is that they’ll stabilize young-go-hards Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo on the back end. While Shattenkirk garnered early Norris talk, that’s since cooled, who has only had 6 points since the beginning of March. Pietrangelo has had a rougher go of if this year after a breakout campaign last season, and is a team-worst -4 among defensemen. In Leopold and Bouwmeester (who will be paired with Petro), the Blues now have two more rearguards who can skate themselves out of trouble, and thus relegating sucker-punching troglodytes Barret Jackman and Roman Polak to the third pair.
Getting help on the blue line made sense for St. Louis, as the record setting goaltending they got last year is nowhere to be found. Jaroslav Halak still can’t stay upright, and pretty much fell over out of nowhere in the Blues’ win over the Wild, and Brian Elliott, who gets the start tonight, has gone all Brian Elliot this season. Elliott’s stat line of 4-6-1 with a 3.50GAA and an .859 save percentage is downright Lightning-like in its atrociousness, and the Blues may have to resort to rookie Jake Allen carrying the mail for the final kick if Halak can’t be slapped back together with duct tape and snot and whatever else they use to fix things in St. Louis.
Up front, the Blues are paced in scoring by Chris Stewart, who has 15 goals and 14 assists, and is shooting an unholy 22.4%. And that’s not even the most ridiculous shooting percentage on the team, with Patrik Berglund netting 27.5% of his shots, resulting in 14 goals. T.J. Oshie has another boo-boo, and is on IR, so that’s one less catapulted forward that the Hawks defensemen will have to worry about crashing headlong into them behind the goal line. Alex Steen is back in the lineup after having missed the last tilt with the Hawks, and he means more to the Blues’ offense than he probably should. Andy McDonald is also in tonight, and is sure to score an irritating goal at some point.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they welcome two Slovaks back into the lineup tonight, with Marian Hossa returning from a shoulder injury suffered back on March 18th against the Avalanche. This will also mark Michal Handzus’ first game in the Indian Head since October 21, 2006, where he tore his ACL and then signed with Los Angeles the following off season. Despite the fact that Handzus has always been a center, has won 51% of his draws over his career and 56% of them this season, and that Stan Bowman SAID that he wanted to acquire Handzus for the purpose of shoring up that position, Joel Quenneville as always knows better, and he’ll be skating on Marcus Kruger’s wing on the fourth line along with Brandon Bollig, who will assuredly have a useless fight with Ryan Reaves.
Hossa will return to his usual spot with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad, which should help ameliorate any potential seizures one would have regarding the configuration further down the lineup. Michael Frolik will fill in for the still missing Patrick Sharp on the left side of Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane, which should be a welcome sight after Jimmy Hayes sucking wind there for the past two weeks.
Corey Crawford gets the start tonight in net trying to shake off a couple of shitty goals allowed late against Nashville on Monday, and will have the same defensive pairings in front of him as he did then. However, it won’t be a shock if Brookbank might get swapped in for Rozsival despite his shootout circus act, because PHYSICALITY.
The Blues’ remodeled D-corps might not allow the Hawks to carry the puck wide with speed entering the Blues zone, as Bouwmeester is rangey and Leopold can keep up, so a more chip-and-chase game might need to be implimented, especially if Jiminy Glick has given orders to his forwards to clog the neutral zone. St. Louis still allows the fewest shots on net in the league per 60, so winning those races will be key, because anything and everything should be thrown at a struggling Brian Elliott. But the plan of letting the Blues inevitably take a stupid penalty and capitalizing on those opportunities against a fairly stingy (82.9%) Blues PK should still remain in place.
A win tonight in the middle of this Predators sandwich (don’t forget about Saturday, by the way) nets a four point swing in the Hawks’ march toward officially ending things for the Central division, as well as keeps the Blues on the outside. It’s an opportunity that cannot go to waste. Let’s go Hawks.