The Blackhawks catch the Blues as the latter is slowly returning to Earth after a 17-game stretch that thrust the Blues into fourth place in the Central Division, where a playoff spot would be assured. Between Dec. 7 and Jan. 23, the Blues went 13-3-1 — including a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild at the Winter Classic. Just before the All-Star break, though, St. Louis dropped two of three and then emerged from the layoff with a 7-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils — a score made more lopsided by a pair of empty-net goals.
The driving force behind St. Louis’ success this winter is young Jordan Kyrou, a 23-year-old forward who’s just over a point-per-game pace with 42 in 41 games. Vladimir Tarasenko has also flourished (15 G, 25 A in 41 games) after being the subject of trade talks for what felt like several years. Offseason acquisition Pavel Buchnevich (15 G, 22 A) has also been as advertised, providing an additional offensive punch in the Blues’ top six that’s steering the NHL’s sixth-best goals per game rate of 3.44. On the blue line, the trio of Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk and Torey Krug will handle a substantial portion of the defensive assignments, with Krug and Faulk being the two primary offensive threats from the back end.
As a team, the Blues don’t really dominate play at 5-on-5. Per Natural Stat Trick, they’re ranked 24th in the league with a 47.07 percent shot share and are slightly behind the Blackhawks when it comes to expected goal share: 27th in the league at 45.77 percent (Chicago is 25th at 46.17). Despite its lack of possession, St. Louis has outscored opponents 100-89 during 5-on-5 play this season. Any shortcomings at 5-on-5 play have been amended by the Blues’ dominant special teams units: St. Louis is No. 3 on the power play at 27.6 percent and fourth on the PK at 84.6.
But the most interesting development in St. Louis over the last month is in net.
Jordan Binnington has struggled mightily of late, with our friends over at St. Louis Game Time mentioning his subpar numbers since returning from COVID protocols on Dec. 19: 3-5-0 record, 4.52 goals-against average, .872 save percentage. With Binnington scuffling, 27-year-old backup Ville Husso has been getting more looks and has season numbers of 9-3-1, 1.90 and .941, respectively. Husso’s last start was in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets two weeks ago, so he may have some rust to knock off as the expected starter on Saturday.
Ville Husso the first goalie off, he's tonight's starter. #stlblues— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) February 12, 2022
As for the Blackhawks, the team is riding a bit higher after a rather thorough 4-1 win over the Oilers on Wednesday night. Chicago overcame a subpar second-period performance with strong showings in the first and third, which was more than enough to dispatch a scuffling Edmonton side. That may not suffice against the Blues, though, who’ll be looking to rediscover their form from that aforementioned stretch in December and January. One point of recent focus has been in the activation of Chicago’s blue-liners, as coach Derek King discussed during the two days off:
Derek King has the Blackhawks taking more risks in the O-zone lately.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 11, 2022
"We could have just stuck with what we were doing. But the position we’re in, I felt we had to give these guys something, like a task or challenge. And the challenge was to be a little more aggressive."
Seth Jones is certainly capable of that, but navigating the line between aggressive and reckless will be crucial against a St. Louis team with the offensive thrust to punish mistakes on the counterattack. Marc-Andre Fleury will be the last line of defense against that:
Fleury is first off, so he’ll start yet again tonight for Blackhawks versus the Blues.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 12, 2022
The gameplan against St. Louis can be similar to the one against Edmonton: prevent the game from being made lopsided by the Blues’ potent special teams units and take your chances at 5-on-5 play. Chicago lost 1-0 to St. Louis back on Oct. 30 and won 3-2 at home on Nov. 26. Regardless of this season’s fortunes, two points taken from St. Louis will never go unappreciated.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Blues
46.68% (27th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 47.07% (24th)
46.17% (25th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 45.77% (27th)
2.40 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.44 (6th)
3.32 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.80 (13th)
49.2% (18th) — Faceoffs — 49.31% (17th)
19.9% (15th) — Power play — 27.6% (3rd)
74.6% (28th) — Penalty kill — 84.6% (4th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Kubalik — Strome — Kane
DeBrincat — Dach — Hagel
Borgstrom — Slavin — Lafferty
Kurashev — Carpenter — Entwistle
de Haan — S. Jones
C. Jones — Murphy
McCabe/Galvas — Gustafsson
Schenn — O’Reilly — Kyrou
Buchnevich — Thomas — Tarasenko
Saad — Barbashev — Perron
Kostin — Joshua — Sundqvist
Mikkola — Parayko
Krug — Faulk
Walman — Bortuzzo
How to watch
When: 7 p.m. CT
Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis
TV: NBC Sports Chicago