ST. LOUIS – The Chicago Blackhawks could take momentary satisfaction in their 7-2 drubbing of the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night. We say momentary, because another tough division foe awaits them tonight.
The St. Louis Blues have already beaten the Blackhawks twice this season, with late-regulation and shootout victories in October. Obviously that was then and this is now, but the Blues are always a formidable and physical opponent for the Blackhawks. And we agree with coach Joel Quenneville: tonight’s game is unlikely to be like Friday night’s contest: “It’s going to be a tight and a close-checking affair. It’s going to be a hard game.”
Still, the Blackhawks are finding their groove, and they’re also 7-0-2 in the second half of back-to-backs this season. So while you say goodbye to family following the Christmas holiday, or travel back home yourself, we’ll look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blues-Blackhawks game.
1. The Blues are the anti-Avs. We’re not talking in terms of team-to-team comparison here; we’re just talking about the Blues’ situation today. Unlike the Avs, who traveled Friday morning and didn’t get a morning skate in after the three-day holiday break, the Blues have been resting, practicing on Friday and waiting for the Blackhawks. And as good as the Blackhawks have been on the road (13-5-1) the Blues have been excellent at home (14-3-2). The Blackhawks will want to put Friday night’s euphoria behind them fast.
2. Keep riding that top line. The Blackhawks’ top trio of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have been stellar, with Sharp (hat trick) and Jonathan Toews each having four-point nights against the Avalanche on Friday. They’re confident, they’re in tune with each other and they could end up being key once again tonight.
3. Neutralize remaining Blues scorers. The Blues are missing a big piece of their offensive puzzle tonight in Alex Steen, who’s out with a concussion. While Steen was the hottest among Blues scorers, they have threats remaining in David Backes, who has 16 goals and 14 assists; and Chris Stewart, who has scored eight goals in his last seven games.
4. Build off that penalty kill. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has improved as of late, as they’ve killed off 16 of their last 17 opportunities. We have a feeling that could be key tonight, so the Blackhawks need to do what’s worked for them on the kill in recent games.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Andrew Shaw. It’s going to be a snarly, scrappy contest between these two teams, and that’s Shaw’s kind of outing.