FACEOFF: 6:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: NBCSN, WGN RADIO 720
METH COUNTY PICAYUNE: St. Louis Gametime
Well it’s a whole St. Louis-Chicago thing tonight, ain’t it? Not that any St. Louis resident will be aware that there’s a hockey game tonight. But there is, and it’s an important one, and this could be the first of up to nine contests between these two teams in the next three weeks. Tasting your lunch again? Thought so.
The Hawks sit one point behind the Blues who sit one point behind the Predators. Winning both of the contests this week in regulation and not dropping any of the other two would cinch home ice for the Hawks in the 1st round, against TBD. And TBD is awfully tough, we know that.
The Blues come in at the beginning of their usual spring flowering, if that flower smells like a carpet that has had bongwater spilled on it, eaten by hippo and then shat out. They’re 3-3-2 in their last eight, which isn’t horrible but really should be 2-4-2 as the Blues did everything they could to lose to the Stars on Friday but Kari Lehtonen simply wouldn’t let them. They’re also banged up, as Alex Steen and Vlad Tarasenko look set to miss out on tonight’s proceedings (and Tarasenko is done for the regular season most likely). Kevin Shattenkirk just returned from injury and is still finding form.
Without Steen and Tarasenko, this becomes the same blunt object attack it’s been for the past four or five years. Only Jaden Schwartz can consistently create chances for himself and others on his own. The rest of the crew, the Mensa meeting of Backes, Oshie, Jaskin, Stastny, and whoever else they scraped out on furlough are battering rams and wrecking balls, hoping to create turnovers and mistakes on the forecheck and profiting from there. The Blues with this lineup want to cycle and hit and grind on the wall. They do not want to get in a track meet without their most dynamic weapon in Vlad.
On the back end, the Blues are improved. Zbynek Michalek, after returning from his own injury problems, may be the answer to the problem of who to partner with Shattenkirk, and could succeed where Leopold, Jackman, Gunnarsson, and a host of other circus animals have failed. Michalek can play free safety for Shattenkirk’s meanderings up the ice where he does his best work, as well as cover for some of his defensive shortcomings.
The top pair is still Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo, and you can get at this pair. While they carry possession, they come out underwater when it comes to goals. Bouwmeester isn’t quite the skater he was and Pietrangelo is straight-up slow, and the Hawks have taken advantage before.
The acquisition of Michalek has seen Gunnarsson slide down to the third pairing with Robert Bortuzzo, forcing Barrett Jackman to enjoy his favorite meal in the pressbox, sucking the slime off the mold in the walls. However, replacing Jackman with Bortuzzo is essentially replacing Curly with Shemp, except Curly and Shemp skated better.
You’ve seen the Blues enough to know what the gameplan is, especially without Tarasenko. They’re going to put pucks deep, they’re probably not going to even attempt a pass in the neutral zone, and then they’re going to try and play splatter ball against the glass hoping to get the Hawks to turn the puck over. Support from the forwards is paramount to give the Hawks quick and easy options with the puck, and when there’s time those flips out of the zone will be a neat toy as this Blues’ defense doesn’t move that well. It’s a big test for Kimmo Timonen tonight, as this very well may be what he sees to start the playoffs and he needs to prove he can handle it to reduce Rozsival’s ice time.
At the other end. the Hawks will see Jay Gallon, as Brian “I’ve Come Down With A Case Of Being Brian Elliott” Elliott has given up 15 goals in his last four starts. Allen has only surrendered seven goals in his last five starts, but hasn’t seen more than 29 shots in any of them. Make him work, he’ll crack most likely.
It’s all about how the Hawks break out of their zone. Do it cleanly and they can hit the Blues’ line with speed we know they can’t handle. Don’t, and it’s just a lot of hopeless flings out of the zone and the Blues’ defense can settle.
It’s all in play for the Hawks in terms of the Central Division. They can match the Preds point total tonight and move into within one in ROW. No reason to stop the rhythm they’ve established before that hiccup in Buffalo. Let’s Go Hawks.
If you’re going to tonight’s game, make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program sold outside the UC (outside Gates 2 and 3, on Wood and Monroe and Damen and Monroe). If you’re not going you can get the digital copy right here.