TV/RADIO: WGN for both
MAKE SURE YOU’VE HAD YOUR SHOTS: St. Louis Gametime
You can’t avoid it forever. Eventually you have to go visit the outdoor prison that is St. Louis and play the hockey team comprised out of whatever they scraped out of the drains that resides there. It’s hardly enjoyable usually, and you’ll just want it to be over, but the NHL schedule-makers make you do it anyway.
So the Hawks will return to the scene of the crime, their first visit down I-55 since Jonathan Toews essentially put the Blues and the Ryan Miller experiment to the sword. It’s also Brent Seabrook’s first appearance there since he went Ultimate Warrior on David Backes’s head in Game 2. So this should be a quiet affair, eh?
What the Hawks will find there is a team in something resembling turmoil, or at least as much turmoil as you can be in this early in the season. The Blues are 2-3-1, with their two wins coming against Calgary and Arizona. They’ve lost their last two, and have gotten fairly well clocked while doing so to Anaheim and Vancouver at home. Ace free agent Paul Stastny is out hurt, and the only player scoring regularly is last spring’s nightmare Jaden Schwartz. He has seven points with four goals. The only other player with more than one is David Backes, and I’m not sure he’ll be too concerned with scoring tonight.
Of course, this team not scoring isn’t a huge shock, as Goodyear Blimp alternate Ken Hitchcock behind the bench is allergic to offense. While he actually encourages creative play in the Blues own end, figuring they’re already back there to cover for mistakes, the Blues don’t attempt much of anything inspired at the other end unless there’s an obvious break. Even a 2-on-2 is call for a dump in and playing Murderball with opposing d-men. The Blues this year have been especially sloppy at times and turnover prone, which makes you wonder if the coup on Hitch’s regime is starting to arrive. It always does.
Still, everything is in line for the Blues, as they’re still taking a ton of shots while hardly giving up any. Their goalies in Brian Elliot and Jay Gallon have been fine for the most part, they’re just not getting much help at the other end. Without Stastny this is just about the same team that finished with well over 100 points last year, a blunt if talented top six outside of Schwartz and Tarasenko but no Sobotka now. And then there’s the shitheads on the bottom six where the Blues fall off. Lapierre and Ott are still on the 4th line, so expect Carcillo to become unhinged tonight.
With the Blues not having played well the past two games, the sight of the red should drive this over-caffeinated bull into a pure frenzy and snap them into gear. Or it could completely destabilize them and they’ll be looking to settle imaginary scores all over the ice except where the puck actually might be. You can look for Backes to invite Seabrook to settle that matter early, even though everyone said the right things last year during the playoffs. No such consequences in late October as there are in April, however. That kind of bullshit will probably be popping up all over the ice as the Blues try and claw back last spring’s result in their mind.
The Hawks go one of two ways in these games in St. Louis. Either they let the Blues punch themselves out and run out of position trying to weight their scrotum and pick them off easily. Or they simply don’t want to bother with any of it and get run out of the building. The last time Antti Raanta appeared in St. Louis it was right after last Christmas it was not pretty. He and Seabrook combined to blow a 5-3 lead with five minutes to go before the Hawks lost in a shootout. Considering Raanta’s more aggressive style this is not the best matchup for him as the Blues basically depend on crowding the crease and trying to rugby scrum/monkey hump the puck into the net. Raanta could find himself tied up in traffic all night while the Blues get whacks at abandoned rebounds. He’ll have to be at his most reserved tonight.
The Hawks could send the Blues into a straight up tailspin tonight, as we know how they treat these games and things are already not going well. After this the Blues see Dallas and Anaheim, so a two-game losing streak could easily become five, and then we’ll see some real fireworks down there. Make it so.