The Chicago Blackhawks face arguably their biggest rival Saturday night as the St. Louis Blues host the first matchup since last spring's postseason series. One of the toughest opponents Chicago will likely face all season, the big question Saturday is just how many guys will be able to take the ice for St. Louis.
While a road matchup against the Blues should represent one of the toughest games on the schedule for Chicago, this sounds like a game the 'Hawks should be drooling over. A devastating bacterial virus is raging through the St. Louis locker room, leaving the roster in shambles entering game.
We certainly would never wish injury or harm upon another team, but this is undeniably an opportunity against a roster that's ailing. Several key players are expected to miss the game while recovering from illness, and that could make something resembling a B-squad for the Blues on Saturday night.
As for the Blackhawks, Antti Raanta will once again start in goal due to the ongoing absence of Corey Crawford, who is back in Chicago recovering from nagging injuries. Raanta has been pretty good in his first two starts of the season, including that shutout of Philly, and will have a chance to further cement his status as a strong backup Saturday.
The rest of the lineup isn't expected to see many changes beyond whatever in-game blending we see, so this is mostly about making necessary adjustments.
Viruses aside, expect a particularly hard-hitting game, as many players from last spring's postseason series haven't exactly forgotten things. "We'll finish our checks as hard as we can and see what happens," Blues captain David Backes said Saturday morning. Brent Seabrook will presumably be one target after the hit he laid on Backes in playoffs, but hard hits should likely be a theme in this one. GOOD THING WE GOT CARBOMB, RIGHT???
Opponent Breakdown: St. Louis Blues
The Blues entered the season with high expectations after a strong offseason that included the signing of Paul Stastny, but an early injury to the star center and the subsequent virus issues have put the team in a holding pattern. With a 2-3-1 record, St. Louis is currently sixth in the Central Division and showing a complete lack of offensive firepower.
This isn't to say the Blues should be underestimated, however. Even with Stastny missing a couple games, St. Louis is third in the NHL in both Corsi and Fenwick -- trailing only Chicago and Minnesota -- and has a 97.8 PDO that indicates some better puck luck around the net could be on the way. In other words, ignore the record, because this remains an extremely dangerous team.
That team won't fully take the ice Saturday, though, so the difficulty of this matchup may ultimately depend on how many Blues can play. St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock didn't exactly sound optimistic in reports before the game, and numerous key players weren't even skating during practice on Saturday morning. If the Blues are a shell of their normal team, it's hard to pose this as anything but an opportunity for Chicago.
No Crawford once again, though he could be ready to return Sunday when the team heads home for a matchup against Ottawa. If not, Scott Darling is pegged to start against the Senators.
The Blues aren't looking nearly as lucky. Outside of Stastny, who isn't even eligible to play after being placed on IR, it looks like several other players will miss the game with viral infections. Backes, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jay Bouwmeester didn't participate in practice Saturday morning, and all could be considered gametime decisions for the game. It's unclear if any other players are also dealing with the illness, but felt comfortable skating in the morning.
|Also see: St. Louis Game Time, SBN's Blues blog|
(Note that the lineup for St. Louis could look much, much different if a few of those guys are sidelined. We'll update the lineups in the first game thread later if any updates come out.)
When: 7 p.m. CT
Where: Scottrade Center