Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Fatso + St. Paul Sandwiches + Toasted Ravs, Man: St. Louis Game Time
With the annual Circus Trip now in the rearview mirror, the Hawks will get a brief two games back on West Madison before heading out east for another four game trip. And there will be no respite in coming off of two victories against Pacific contenders in the forms of the Ducks and Kings, as the Hawks face a Blues squad in their usual December slot just ahead of the Hawks in the Central Division standings.
The big news (GET IT?) out of West East St. Louis is their signing of the bloated and past best-use-by date Martin Brodeur, who will be backing up Jake Allen tonight. However, that won’t be for long, as Baron Harkkonen Ken Hitchcock stated yesterday that Brodeur will be in St. Louis to play, which is all kinds of hilarious. That move signifies one, if not both of the following things. First, that Brian Elliott is likely to miss a significant amount of time, as he’s already listed as week-to-week with a knee injury. And the second being that the Blues’ brass (GET IT?) aren’t fully sold on Jay Gallon just yet. Allen has long been the heir apparent to the Blues’ crease with Elliott always being just good enough to get their hearts broken when he inevitably turns into Brian Elliott every spring. Allen was spectacular in the three games he saw in October, with a fantastic .944 save percentage, but cooled off with the increased workload in November, with only a .909 save percentage in 8 appearances. The Blues were still 6-1-1 in those games because they’re a good team, but the fear is that the book might be getting out about Allen. How Martin Brodeur is in any way viewed as a solution to this problem remains a mystery, but I highly doubt anyone clad in red will fall over his or herself to keep the Blues from dumping him out of the wheelbarrow and into the crease.
The real strength of this Blues outfit has been its blueline, as has been the case for the past few seasons. Alex Pietrangelo and Jabe O’Meester have formed as good a top pair as there is in the league, and their primary function is to absorb the top unit of the opposition, and take the most difficult zone starts, while Kevin Shattenkirk drives play from the second pair with Carl Gunnarson. Gunnarson was a smart pickup for Doug Armstrong, particularly for the price of circus bear Roman Polak, but Gunnarson’s problem has always been remaining healthy, and he’s actually dragged Shattenkirk down to this point. Gunnarson has been for the most part this year, playing 86% of his time during his 17 active games with Shattenkirk, and during that time the two are just underwater with a 49.6% Corsi share, compared to Shattenkirk’s 60% when they’re apart. With Bouwmeester set to miss yet another game tonight after his 800+ iron man streak ended, the pairs will probably be jumbled throughout the night, meaning toilet baby Barrett Jackman may very well see some time on the top pairing with Petro.
This will also be the first time that the Hawks will get a look at Paul Stastny in a Blues uniform. And to this point he’s been somewhat of a disappointment, but it is only December after all, and Stastny has notoriously vivisected the Hawks. He only has 7 points in 16 games, and only 3 at evens while carrying a 50.49% share of shot attempts. But similar to the defensive configurations, Stastny tends to cancel out the opposition’s top line while the Blues’ second line goes absolutely bonkers. Just like was observed last spring, Vlad Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are the real threat the Blues boast, as they have the most east-west to their game, and are centered by KHL product Jori Lehtera. Tarasenko is 8th in the league in scoring with 26 points, and his linemates aren’t far behind. And this isn’t anomaly, as he’s shooting an identical 15.4% compared to last year. Unfortunately, this is what his maturation looks like, which will be problematic for the rest of the division for a while.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Antti Raanta will get his first start in over a month with LOCAL KID Scott Darling backing him up after today’s news that Corey Crawford will miss 2-3 weeks with a foot injury he sustained leaving a concert on Monday night. Reports place Crow in “good spirits” at the Rise Against show at the House of Blues on Monday night, and it would be hypocritical of this fine publication to pass judgement on someone having a few at a punk rock show on an off night. But such is the situation, and Raanta has never done well with net crashing teams given his smaller stature and aggressive style. Raanta hasn’t been bad so far this year, stopping 84 of 90 shots he’s faced in three starts, but if any team can expose the flaws in his game it will be the Blues.
In front of Raanta the lineup will remain the same as it did the final two games, with Patrick Sharp not quite ready to return, and Jeremy Morin and Adam Clendening still sitting the corner with dunce caps on.
With Bouwmeester out and not having last change, there is a chance that the Blues defense could get exposed a little bit based on how Quenneville wants to target his lines. It’s assumed that Hjalmarsson and Oduya will see most of the Taresenko line, and given that line plays more with speed than with size, it should cater more to what Swedish Ebony and Ivory do well, which is stand up attackers at the blue line. The real question is which forward unit will get that assignment, whether it’s Toews or Kruger. Toews, Saad, and Hossa were basically neutralized playing in SoCal, but that allowed Kane and Richards to buoy the Hawks’ offense. But just because Stastny hasn’t set the world on fire to this point doesn’t mean he couldn’t if he got looks at Kruger or god forbid Shaw’s line. This is what happens when two deep teams play one another, and there will be matchups chased on both benches.
As usual the Hawks will need to stay out of the box, because even though the PK has been a strength this year, the Blues’ power play always buzzes, and Raanta may get pushed around a lot or have Backes’ big stupid ass in his face preventing him from seeing the puck. The Blues also haven’t taken as many imbecillic penalties as is their usual order of business, which is probably a good thing considering their PK is only middling. Either way it should be raucous. Let’s go Hawks.