Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM
Baseball’s Greatest Fans: St. Louis GameTime
For the second time in just over a week, the Hawks and Blues will square off in what many are already billing as the preeminent rivalry of the new iteration of the Central Division, and last week’s game down in the Meth Capital of the Midwest certainly didn’t disappoint, with the Hawks coming out on the short end of things in the last minute. Since then, Joel Quenneville has remarked that he still has a bad taste in his mouth about the end of the game, and tonight his squad will have an opportunity to correct that on home ice.
The unwashed come into tonight’s game after just about the most Blues-y implosion imaginable on Tuesday. All of the check marks are there. “Big game” (whatever that means two weeks in)- check. Near riot energy in the crowd- check. Excess aggression leads to stupid penalties- check. Visiting team cashes in on the advantage repeatedly and a resultant cock-knocking of a blowout ensues- check. The only way it could have been more Blues-y would be if it happened against the Hawks or Kings (or Wings in days past), but the Sharks proved able to follow a script.
Tuesday’s inciting event was a blatant check to the numbers of Dan Boyle by Max Lapierre as Boyle was prone along the boards. Everyone knew that Lapierre would be a quick fit with the Blues, but I don’t think anyone expected he’d earn his stripes this quickly or emphatically. Needless to say, he’ll be missing tonight’s game as he sits and waits to find out the full degree to which he’ll be pecker slapped by the league for his actions. And though Lapierre has a storied career as a complete turd, he can actually play when he feels like it, and the Blues will miss his proficiency at the dot (even if he’s down to about 47% at the moment), particularly in this their first road game of the season after 5 straight at home.
Magnus Pajaarvi figures to make his way into the lineup in Lapierre’s spot, which would be his first action of the season, spending the first five games as a healthy scratch. Pajaarvi came over to the Blues for ass-rash David Perron, and his two-way game figured to jive nicely with Coach Jiminy Glick’s system, so it’s curious as to why he’s only now cracking the lineup as a result of Lapierre’s turddom. Brenden Morrow is also reportedly ready to go for the evening after landing awkwardly from a Brent Burns hit.
On the back end of things, the Blues’ d-corps should remain unchanged. In the early going so far this season, the script has been flipped a little bit, as the Blues’ offense has been bailing out the defense, as the Blues are only 14th in goals against at 2.6 per, allowing 29 shots against, which is a high water mark for the Hitch era. Conversely, they’re scoring 4.2 a game with a power play operating at 30%, so a march to the box certainly isn’t advisable with the way the PK has started out the year.
Jaroslav Halak figures to get a shot at redemption tonight after getting yanked in the middle of the Sharks’ deluge earlier in the week, and other than that performance, he’s been his usual solid self, as is usually the case for the 10 minute stretches where he can remain in one piece.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they return home yet again after escaping Raleigh with two points by the hair on their nuts. In what’s starting to develop into a mildly concerning trend, the Hawks came out asses ablaze in the opening frame in Carolina without putting a team away early, only to allow them back into the game, and needing the backgammon tournament to resolve matters. While this can probably be attributed to a short offseason, even if the Hawks had a longer layoff, they’d still have a serious case of “The Olds”, as Quenneville favorites Michals Handzus and Rozsival are sucking serious wind in the late goings of games. Rozy will get a breather in favor of the perceived burl of Sheldon Brookbank given tonight’s opponent, but Zus figures to still play more minutes and situations than he should.
Elsewhere up front Brandon Pirri draws back in tonight, though in favor of Ben Smith while Joakim Nordstrom and Brandon Bollig remain consistently in the lineup. Smith sitting in favor of Nordstrom is particularly puzzling, given that Smith is built like a fire hydrant and Nordstrom weighs 160 with his gear on against this St. Louis bunch. But at least Quenneville is making it clear that everyone is going to get a look in the early going, so there’s that.
Corey Crawford keeps the cage tonight after a scintillating effort against numerous Canes surges on Tuesday. While the numbers aren’t where they fully need to be for Crow yet, he’s at least rounding into form by way of the eye test.
The approach tonight needs to be the same as it always is against the Blues. If they come out aggressive on the forecheck, the Hawk D will need to remain patient and absorb hits before finding space behind caught-deep forwards. Should Baron Harkonen park 5 bodies in the neutral zone, attacking with straight ahead and wide speed with nothing cute at either line will be paramount. In either scenario, avoiding penalties and cashing in on the advantages the Blues are sure to give will lighten the 5 on 5 burden. Quenneville has said he wasn’t happy with last week’s loss, and his team now gets the opportunity to hit the ice and reflect that. Let’s go Hawks.