ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues become the 23rd team to play in an outdoor game Monday. They’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks, who always seem to be a part of the outdoor festivities, but are a perfect rival for the Blues after St. Louis eliminated them from the 2016 playoffs.
With the looming specter of rain at St. Louis’s Busch Stadium and plenty of hoopla surrounding the event, both teams are attempting to remain focused.
But rain was a hot topic during Sunday’s practices, with both teams preparing mentally for what it would mean to face a delay. “I think for us players, we aren’t trying to think about that too much,” said Patrick Kane after Tuesday’s practice. “Hopefully, we hear about it early in the day, whether it’s going to be a 12:05 game or 3:00 or 7:00. But if it gets delayed and we’re supposed to play at noon and it ends up getting delayed, you know, you just maybe relax in here, maybe grab a bite to eat and just kind of enjoy the whole process.”
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) January 2, 2017
Monday morning the rain paused and the NHL announced they plan to proceed with noon central start time.
“I think both teams are ready for anything,” said coach Ken Hitchcock on Sunday. “I think the one thing we probably aren’t used to is if we come here and there’s a three or four-hour delay, that would take something, you’d have to have some experience to go through it before. That might be a bit of an advantage to Chicago. They’ve gone through some delays before. We’re hoping that if the delay is on, then it’s a long one. Otherwise, we start on time. But if it’s a short delay, we’ll have to figure out what to do because we haven’t experienced that part of it.”
Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues
Busch Stadium – 1 p.m. EST (delay expected)
Broadcast channels – NBC, SN, TVAS
2016-17 Season Series: Blues are 1-1-1, Blackhawks are 2-1-0
Chicago Blackhawks – 23-11-5 – 51 Points
Road Record: 10-7-1
Key Injuries: Marian Hossa, Marcus Kruger
Vinnie Hinostroza-Jonathan Toews-Ryan Hartman
Patrick Kane-Artem Anisimov-Artemi Panarin
Richard Panik-Tanner Kero-Dennis Rasmussen
Andrew Desjardins-Tyler Motte-Jordin Tootoo
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brian Campbell-Brent Seabrook
Michal Kempny-Travor Van Riemsdyk
St. Louis Blues – 19-13-5 – 43 Points
Home Record: 9-6-2
Key Injuries: Robert Bortuzzo, Jaden Schwartz (missed practice with illness), Nail Yakupov (missed practice with illness)
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
1) Chicago has played 16 of their last 84 games — including playoff and preseason games — against St. Louis. That’s more than any other two teams.
They’ll face each other again on Feb. 26.
2) There are a couple question marks in the Blues lineup. The team has been plagued by a bug in recent weeks. Jaden Schwartz and Nail Yakupov are the latest victims. They missed Sunday’s outdoor practice and family day because of the illness. That they weren’t on the ice for family day, said Hitchcock, “gives you an idea of how sick they are.” He also added, “We’re hoping that both Schwartz and Yak make it in tomorrow.”
For what it’s worth, the Blues are listing Schwartz in the game-day lineup and not Yakupov.
3) Despite the national attention the Winter Classic generates, both teams emphasized that it’s really just a two-point game against a division rival. With the Minnesota Wild 12-1-1 over their last 14 games, both teams are feeling the pressure of the Division.
Chicago’s stranglehold on the top spot in the Central isn’t firm anymore and the Blues see themselves receding in the rearview mirror of Minnesota. Chicago is just one point up on the Wild and they’ve played three more games. The Blues are seven back and have played one more game than the second-place Wild.
Meanwhile, Dallas and Nashville have both garnered more points than the Blues over their last 10 games and sit just four and five points back of St. Louis, respectively.
4) Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Robby Fabbri are players to watch for the Blues. Though he has just one assist in the last four games, Tarasenko ranks fourth in points league-wide. Meanwhile, Fabbri is just one game removed from a hat trick and a December that saw him tally six goals and seven assists in 14 games.
On the other side, Jonathan Toews has picked up the production lately while playing on a line with rookies Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. He’s put up two goals, four points and 15 shots over the last four games. “We’ve kind of been clicking a little bit better I think,” said Hartman. “We’ve had a lot of puck possession and the more [Toews] has the puck the more plays he’s going to make.”