Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720
So Devoid Of Culture That Fried Ravioli Is Considered A Delicacy: St. Louis Game Time
It's certainly been a while since a Blackhawks trip down I-55 to the land of delicious Waffle Houses and shitty Emo's Pizza actually meant something for both teams, yet here we are today. Since firing the first nameless Davis Payne in favor of the Baron Harkonnen-looking Ken Hitchcock, the Blues have stormed to an 8-1-3 record, and have interjected themselves into the conversation in the western conference playoff picture, as they now sit only 2 points behind the Hawks with a game in-hand. They've done so on the back of outstanding goaltending from both Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak, neither of whom have allowed more than two goals in a non-shootout scenario. Even last year under Payne, the Blues did a fairly decent job of limiting shots against, and this year they're allowing only 24.9 shots per. Elliot in particular has been revelatory, with a cartoonish stat line of 10-1-0, a .951 save percentage, and a 1.31 goals against. While these numbers are bound to come back to earth a little, the mean they regress to shouldn't render Elliott a sieve behind Hitch's Dagobah quagmire of a defensive system.
Offensively, the Blues are no juggernaut, but they haven't needed to be. Alex Steen paces them with 18 points, followed closely by the always unpleasant David Backes and drunken whirling dervish T.J. Oshie at 16 a piece. Part of the reason for the low numbers is a league-worst power play at only 9.6 percent. Even the penalty kill hasn't been wowing anyone, being ranked 18th at 81.8 percent (though I'm sure many would kill for that caliber of PK from the Hawks at this point). What these numbers should tell you is that the Blues are excellent 5-on-5, making them the red-faced, cornpone version of last year's Bruins, which poses a problem for the Hawks specifically. The Blues are still going to be physical and forecheck the shit out of Hawk d-men, but Hitchcock has them actually playing hockey instead of running around and the results of that are pretty telling.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, things have been a lot harder than they've needed to be for the past couple weeks, and it starts from the net out. Sam detailed a lot of what's wrong both individually and systemically in last night's wrap, but digging splinters out of ones ass pining for Brian Campbell does no one any good tonight. The Blues have given the Hawks fits even before they had an actual adult telling them what to do from behind the bench or before the Hawk defense suddenly looked like a rodeo clown car on fire, so steady, thoughtful plays tonight will be imperative. Taking a hit to make a safe, tape-to-tape pass is a must, and yes, I'm looking at you, Hammer. Though no specific word has come out from the beat contingent at the time of this writing, it's probably safe to assume that Corey Crawford will get yet another crack at righting the ship tonight, if only because Ray Emery doesn't particularly get anyone puffy chested with confidence as an alternative.
The lineup up front figures to look similar to last night's, but it wouldn't be shocking in the least to see the useless John Scott out there in place of Sean O'Donnell, given that it's the Blues on the road at the tail-end of a back to back (because we know how well that worked out the last time). The revamped lines didn't blow anyone's skirt up last night, but we'd have to imagine Q goes with the same configuration tonight if only because there's been no time to practice anything new.
With both teams playing and needing a shootout for a decision last night elsewhere (the Blues lost to Colorado in Denver), both will be seeking a quick start and hope to hold the fort for the rest of the game, which is kind of what Hitchcock teams are built to do in general. The crowd on hand at DrinkScotch will be baying for blood with a healthy Hawks contingent on hand, and it being a Saturday evening game. Scoring first for the Hawks is more important tonight than most, as Hitch's Blues simply don't let you come back against them, and a loss would drop the Hawks to third in their own division, which isn't an ideal place to be even in December in the west. Patience will prove an immense virtue tonight. Stay composed, gentlemen. Let's go Hawks.