The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues face off for the last time this season on Sunday afternoon at the United Center. In the last three meetings between these team, the home team has won each time, most recently a 5-1 Blues win on Feb. 12.
The Blues are a team on the rise in recent games, winning three straight games and five of their last six while outscoring opponents 27-11 during that six-game span. Most importantly, they’ve been winning in a convincing and possibly sustainable way.
Overall this season, the Blues have been a mediocre statistical team, sitting in the bottom half of the league in shot possession and quality metrics. Over their last six games, though, they’ve owned 50.75 percent of the shot attempts and a whopping 57.73 percent of the expected goals. Granted, the Blues’ opponents have been some of the worst teams in the league by standings — the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and even the Blackhawks themselves — but it at least shows the Blues are separated from the bottom teams performance-wise.
The Blues have been powered all season and especially in their current streak by their top-end forwards, four of which are around a point-per-game this season. Wonderkid Jordan Kyrou is coming off a three-point outing (2 G, 1 A) against Buffalo, during which he hit 20 goals for the season and now leads the Blues with 48 points. Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t register a point in the last game, but he had six points (4 G, 2 A) in his last six to bring his total to 46 points (19 G, 17 A) in 46 games. Pavel Buchnevich, acquired via trade by the Blues last summer, is having his best season ever with 45 points (18 G, 27 A) in 45 games. And finally, young stud Robert Thomas’ five-game point streak ended against Buffalo, but before that he had been on fire with eight points (2 G, 5 A) in those five games, bringing his total for the season to 40 points (7 G, 33 A).
In net, the Blues’ have enjoyed a solid performance throughout the season, but especially over the last handful of games. The .912 save percentage for the season jumped to .922 over their last six games. This is primarily because of Ville Husso, who is having a Vezina-worthy season with the second highest save-percentage (.935) among goalies who have played at least 15 games. Jordan Binnington has had a disappointing season by his standards with a save percentage of only .900, but he did stop 25 of 26 shots faced in his last start: Tuesday’s 4-1 St. Louis win over Philadelphia.
Meanwhile in Chicago, the Blackhawks snapped a seven-game losing streak at the United Center on Friday night with an 8-5 win over the New Jersey Devils. It was a defense and goaltending optional affair that was wild but entertaining. Brandon Hagel and Patrick Kane both netted hat tricks, the first time two Blackhawks had done so in the same game since 2003. Alex DeBrincat and Seth Jones both also had three-point (all assists) performances while Kirby Dach and Ryan Carpenter contributed a goal.
However, prior to Friday night, the Blackhawks had been in a lull, going 1-3-1 while being shut out twice at the United Center in February. And it wasn’t against the toughest opponents, either, with only the Florida Panthers being a legitimate top team in the league. The Blues aren’t at that level, but they’re a big step up from Columbus, Dallas, and New Jersey, and have already beaten the Blackhawks twice this season. In fact, the last time these two teams met, the Blues rolled the Blackhawks 5-1 and outshot them 40 to 20. It was also one of the more lopsided statistical losses for the Blackhawks, as they had only 37.65 percent of the expected goals share at 5-on-5, the tenth lowest percentage of the season. With the Blues trending positively in every sustainable way, the Blackhawks are likely going to need one of their best performances of the season if they hope to pull out a win.
The Blackhawks will be without Calvin de Haan (groin) Sunday afternoon but Jake McCabe (lower body) is expected to return. Lukas Reichel and Jakub Galvas were sent back down to Rockford Saturday while Isaak Phillips and forward Josiah Slavin were recalled.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Blues
46.55% (28th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 47.52% (23rd)
45.83% (27th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 47.13% (24th)
2.47 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.57 (5th)
3.38 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.73 (7th)
48.6% (19th) — Faceoffs — 48.7% (18th)
20.7% (14th) — Power play — 26.9% (3rd)
75.5% (29th) — Penalty kill — 84.7% (5th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Strome — Kane
Hagel — Dach — Lafferty
Kurashev — Borgstrom — Kubalik
Slavin (?) — Carpenter — Entwistle
C. Jones — S. Jones
McCabe — Murphy
Phillips (?) — Regula
Saad — O’Reilly — Perron
Buchnevich — Thomas — Tarasenko
Kyrou — Schenn — Barbashev
Kostin — Bozak — Sundqvist
Mikkola — Parayko
Krug — Faulk
Walman — Bortuzzo
How to watch
When: 2 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago