(Editor’s note: This is another game being broadcast exclusively on ESPN+ and will not be viewable by any of the traditional cable methods. Hulu should work as well, based on the last game. Prepare your viewing habits accordingly.)
Reunited in the Central Division, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues will renew their rivalry on Friday afternoon at the United Center.
Following a first-round sweep against the Colorado Avalanche in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, St. Louis bolstered its forward depth by adding Pavel Buchnevich and — sigh — Brandon Saad in the offseason. Those new additions have helped the Blues to a 10-7-2 start, with 22 points that are good for a second-place tie in the Central with the Winnipeg Jets. At a very basic level, the statistics spell out what St. Louis does well as it’s ranked in the top 10 in the league in goals scored per game (3.26, 8th) and goals against (2.74, 10th). Not allowing too many goals against while scoring them at a decent rate appears to be a path to success in the NHL — more on this story as it develops.
The Blues’ most recent outing was a letdown for them: a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. But there’s still plenty of firepower on its way up I-55 for Friday afternoon’s game. Jordan Kyrou has emerged this season, as the 2016 second-round pick leads the team with 20 points (8 G, 12 A) in 19 games. Behind him is a slew of familiar names: David Perron at 18 points (7 G, 11 A), Robert Thomas at 17 (2 G 15 A) and Vladimir Tarasenko at 16 (5 G, 6 A) — with Tarasenko’s prior discontent with the organization that led to trade requests last season apparently no longer in play. The Blues’ biggest offensive weapon is their power play, currently No. 2 in the league with a 29.1 percent conversion rate.
On the blue line, Marco Scandella and Colton Parayko form the team’s top defensive pairing, while Torey Krug and Justin Faulk are a more offensively minded duo. That quartet gives St. Louis a decent top-four in front of No. 1 goaltender Jordan Binnington, who’s been mostly average this season with a 7-5-2 record, .914 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average. In an extremely limited sample, backup Ville Husso has been quite good: 2-1, .952 and 1.35.
Overall, St. Louis should provide a decent challenge for a Chicago team that hasn’t done much against quality opponents. Of Chicago’s six wins this season, only one has come against a team that’s currently in a playoff position, and that was a Pittsburgh Penguins team without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Wins against fellow basement-dwellers like the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks are great and all, but if the Blackhawks are going to turn this season around, they’ll need to find a way to land punches against teams above them in the standings. The Blackhawks are already 0-1 against St. Louis this season, losing 1-0 in Missouri on Oct. 30.
In hopes of sparking some offense, coach Derek King shuffled the lines for Thursday’s practice:
Blackhawks lines in practice:
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 25, 2021
It’s a worthwhile exploration even if a few of the lines seem odd. Specifically, having Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik on the same line feels redundant as they have similar sniper skill sets, while putting Dylan Strome on a line with two guys who have minimal offensive capabilities looks like a good way to ensure all three players struggle. Still, it’s refreshing to see a coach who understands that, while it can be the work ethic, sometimes it’s the line combinations, too. Of note on the blue line is the apparent season debut of Wyatt Kalynuk, who’s been out since the preseason.
Regardless of how the lines are set up, it appears that the biggest key for success on Friday will be utilizing the benefit of the last change to keep whatever line Patrick Kane is on away from St. Louis’ top D pairing of Parayko and Scandella. Do that, and Chicago should be able to tally enough goals to make this one interesting.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Blues
44.35% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 50.63% (17th)
41.24% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 48.51% (22nd)
2.16 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.26 (8th)
3.32 (27th) — Goals against per game — 2.74 (10th)
48.1% (28th) — Faceoffs — 50.1% (14th)
17.5% (22nd) — Power play — 29.1% (2nd)
86.0% (7th) — Penalty kill — 82.0% (14th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Hagel — Toews — Kane
DeBrincat — Dach — Kubalik
Kurashev — Borgstrom — Carpenter
R. Johnson — Strome — Khaira
de Haan — S. Jones
McCabe — Murphy
Kalynuk — Gustafsson
Barbashev — O’Reilly — Perron
Saad — Schenn — Kyrou
Buchnevich — Thomas — Tarasenko
Kostin — Bozak — Sundqvist
Scandella — Parayko
Krug — Faulk
Mikkola — Perunovich
How to watch
When: 2:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago