After squeaking out a win versus the struggling NY Islanders last night, the Chicago Blackhawks traveled to St. Louis, where they will face off against the Blues at 7:00 p.m. CST.
These two teams last faced off on Tuesday, November 8th, also in St. Louis, and Jaroslav Halak earned a shutout in the Blues’ first game under the direction of new head coach Ken Hitchcock. After that game, the Blues have gone 7-1-3, with all three overtime losses coming in the shootout. The Blues have always been a thorn in the side of the Central division, but this season they sit comfortably in the middle of the top eight in the West, and no indication of slowing down.
In the meantime, Chicago has gone 7-4-0 in the same stretch. Blackhawks fans have to wonder what team is going to show up each night: the one that battles out a tight 0-1 loss vs San Jose? The team that came from behind to win over Anaheim 6-4? The team that suffered a humiliating 2-9 loss to Edmonton, or the one that blew out the Canucks 5-1 in Vancouver?
When the Blues and Blackhawks last met, the Blackhawks were fresh off a staggering 2-6 loss to the Canucks in Chicago. They’d allowed five PPG on six power play opportunities, a stat which had destroyed the Hawks’ PK%. When asked about the change in their PK after the last Blues game, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had responded, “Right now, who cares about the stat? We know we’ve got to be better, so we’ve got to keep working on it. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
The team has yet to recover from that hit to their PK%, and it hasn’t gotten any better, with their current PK% of 73.8% making them worst in the league. The worst that the Blackhawks have averaged in the past 14 seasons has been 79.2% (25th), which was last season; usually their PK hovers in the 82-83% range.
So, how worried should Chicago be for tonight’s game?
Well, on the bright side for the Blackhawks, the Blues have the worst power play in the league, converting a paltry 9.6% of their opportunities. By comparison, Chicago’s PP has improved to 17.2%. St. Louis also averages 12.1 PIM per game vs. Chicago’s 9.4. St. Louis also has an 83.7% PK at home (81.8% overall), so there’s plenty of room for improvement in the Blues PP, and PK, as well.
Ray Emery is expected to get a start in net tonight, giving the struggling Corey Crawford a break. Crawford carried the Hawks much of the second half of last season and started out this one on the same hot streak, but he has struggled in November, and his sv%/GAA have dropped as a result. Emery has his own struggles, going 3-1-1 with just a .877 sv% and a 3.52 GAA, but he needs to have a stellar game tonight – the Hawks should not willingly surrender 2 points to a division and conference rival.
The Blackhawks have had an erratic November. While they still sit comfortably high in the standings – 4th in the West and 4th overall in the league – they cannot afford to continue poor game habits. There is too much talent, too much skill, on this team for Chicago to be fighting so hard for every point this early in the year.
Tonight’s game is going to be an excellent barometer for both teams. Can Chicago pull themselves together against a team that’s hungry to make the playoffs and only far too willing to make the Blackhawks lives tougher? Can the Blues prove that they’re a playoffs-worthy contender? The Blues have only lost once in regulation since these teams last faced each other; it should be an intense game.
Chicago road stats: 7-6-1 (15-8-3, 33 points overall); last 5 games 3-2-0
St. Louis home stats: 8-2-1 (14-8-3, 31 points overall); last 5 games 4-0-1
St. Louis was the third-best team in the NHL in November, going 9-2-2 (.769%), jumping from 13th in the West to 4th – in the process, included setting the franchise record for best 10-game start (7-1-2) for new Blues coach. (Previous record was held by Joel Quenneville, 7-3-0). Blues have a 1.41 GAA and .941 sv% since Hitchcock started as coach.
Tonight is Chicago’s 7th of 17 back-to-back series on the schedule this season. They are 4-3-0 in the 1st game and 4-1-1 in the 2nd so far this season.
David Perron is back in the Blues lineup for his first game since November 4, 2010. (97 games)
Blues point streaks: Alex Steen (4A/past 4 gms); Christ Stewart (2A/past 2 gms); Patrik Berglund (1G, 1A/past 2 gms)
Blackhawks point streaks: Patrick Kane (3A/past 2 gms); Patrick Sharp (2G/past 2 gms).
Noteworthy: Jonathan Toews, 8 points (4G/4A) in past 4 games. He currently leads the NHL with 18 points on the road (9G/9A) and a 61.5% road FOW.
Jamal Mayers spent his first 10 seasons in the NHL with the Blues (1996-2008).