The Chicago Blackhawks are heading into their game with the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night full of confidence after a successful road trip, but they will be in for a stern test as they face the top-seeded team in the Central Division.
The Blues, who have lost only twice in regulation since October 23 (a span of 18 games), have been contributions from all over their lineup as they’ve pushed their way into the conversation as a Stanley Cup contender, with players like TJ Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, and Vladimir Tarasenko all pitching in during their run. They’ve also been getting some solid goaltending from Jake Allen, including a 36-save performance against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
As for the Blackhawks, their offense has been excellent as of late, with the second line of Kris Versteeg, Patrick Kane, and Brad Richards driving the scoring surge. They’ve also gotten tremendous goaltending from Corey Crawford, but after sustaining an injury at a concert in the last few days, he will be out of the lineup for the next few weeks.
With Crawford out and Antti Raanta in net, the Blackhawks will need to do something they’ve been highly effective at this season: limit the number of shots he has to face. So far this season the Hawks are only allowing 27.4 shots per game, good for the fifth-best total in the league. They’ll be hard-pressed to replicate that success against St. Louis, who is averaging 31.1 shots per contest (seventh in the league), but with guys like Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson well-rested (Brent Seabrook is still recovering from being sick, so he may get a few shifts off Wednesday), they’re at least in a position to do so.
In addition to limiting the number of shots on goal, the Blackhawks will also need to make sure that they stay out of the penalty box. Yes, the Blackhawks have the best penalty-killing unit in the league, killing 91.3% of power plays against, but the Blues have the fifth-best power play in the NHL this season, and with snipers like Tarasenko and net-crashers like David Backes (who has five power play goals to lead the Blues), the Hawks would be well-advised to avoid trips to the United Center penalty box.
If the Blackhawks can limit shots and stay out of penalty trouble, they should be able to knock off the Blues. It will be a good test to see where they are after their recent road success, and we should see a good game between two well-rested teams.