The quirks and oddities of the NHL Schedule are many, but it's nice to know that the pendulum swings both ways. Earlier this season, the Blues always seemed to have been dealt a shitty hand in regards to start times, travel, and back-to-back games. Now, the Blues seem to be catching the benefit of those variables. Our recent games against Minnesota, Dallas, Nashville and Winnipeg were the second of back-to-backs for each of those teams, and most had traveled prior to facing the Blues. That continues again tonight, as the Hawks are returning from an OT Loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday night. That single point, and Colorado's loss, puts the Hawks and Avs tied in points. The Avs take 2nd place in the division by virtue of holding the tiebreaker.
The Blues, of course, maintain a lead over .... (checks standings) .... everyone with their 101 points. Their lead in the Central Division is substantial, but not ironclad. These games against Chicago (2 remaining) and Colorado (1 remaining) will go a long way in helping or hurting the effort of meeting the goal of President's Trophy. There's a chance that Chicago can catch us, but the likelihood of that ... well, that depends on who you ask:
Keith says first is still reachable: "Yeah, absolutely. There’s still a lot of games left to be won and to get points out of." Blackhawks&src=hash">#Blackhawks
Keith says first is still reachable: "Yeah, absolutely. There’s still a lot of games left to be won and to get points out of." Blackhawks&src=hash">#Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 19, 2014
OR Coach Quenneville
No matter who you ask, though, I think everyone can see this game tonight is going to be a tough one. The more enthusiastic among us might think the Hawks won't give us trouble no more. Don't read too much into that 3-0-0 record that we bring into tonight's game, though. Two of those wins were in a shootout, and could have easily gone the other way. Also, both teams have gone through a lot of lineup changes since our last meeting on 12/28. Speaking of lineups, the good news is that the Blues will get proud papa T.J. Oshie back. According to Jeremy Rutherford, Coach Hitch plans on lining him up with Vladimir Sobotka and mannish boy Dmitrij Jaskin . Magnus Paajarvi will be questionable for this game, depending on how he feels during the morning skate today. He's close, but not quite there. Similarly, Jordan Leopold is recovered from his injury, but also dealing with illness. They want him to get a few more practices under his belt before competing in a game situation, so he'll be out tonight. Fortunately, the Blues will have their first 2-day break since the Olympics coming up, after this game and before the next one Saturday. All the more reason to leave it all out on the ice.
That's the kind of effort that'll be required to beat a tough, dangerous Chicago squad. They have Marian Hossa back from injury, but Michal Rozsival and Brandon Saad are essentially day-to-day. The backup, Antti Raanta, played the Philly game, so it would seem that Corey Crawford was being saved for tonight's game. Crawford has a 26-12-10 record, and a 2.26 GAA / .918 Sv% stat line. The scoring leaders are the obvious choices. Tied in goals, and first in overall points is Patrick Kane with 29 goals and 39 assists for 68 points. Right behind that is Patrick Sharp with 65 points (29g, 36a). Captain Serious Jonathan Toews has 64 points (27g, 37a), and that's followed up by the 53 points each of Marian Hossa (25g, 28a) and Duncan Keith (3g, 50a). Really, though, these guys are tough all up and down their lineup, which you'd expect from a defending Cup champion. This is also supported by the #FancyStats. While their recent games have been erratic, they continue to be a dominant Fenwick team (5vs5, close score situations). Even taking a look at their entire season, they seem to have leveled off at a high rate: Since New Year's they've hung out at the 54% or 55% mark, That is really good, especially that consistency. If we can roll all 4 lines, like we did against the Jets, we'll need all of them contributing to our possession game. Accomplish that, and the Hawks will be left standing around crying. Again.
Final Verse: What do you know ... an actual rivalry on Rivalry Night! Tonight's TV Broadcast will be on NBC Sports Network, but the radio call will be on the same-ol' KMOX 1120 AM. The faceoff is at 7:00 PM St Louis time tonight, and the game day thread should drop shortly before the puck does. Until then, this is your own pregame warmup. Gather here, organize the volunteers to babysit for Oshie, mock the NBC guys and their pronunciation of Blues players' names, and try to make it all the way through this video ....