PUCK DROP: 7pm Central (Holy shit a normal time)
TV: CSN and NBCSN
GOOD GOD DON’T GO THERE: St. Louis Gametime
It took about one game for this series to get annoying in all the ways we knew it would. The raging debate out of St. Louis is whether the Blues were physical enough, which is always the fucking debate down there and shows that no one has learned anything from the Hawks’ reign of dominance or how the one team to beat them during it actually did it. For the Chicago side, the return of Duncan Keith is the main story, and whether he will shift the balance of this series and/or change how the Blues might play it (I tend to doubt it).
So… for how things might change in Game 2. I suppose if we read between the lines here, and give Ken Hitchcock and the Blues more credit than they’ve ever warranted, what they’re saying when they’re saying they have to be more physical is that they have to be more aggressive. And that’s not wrong. While the chasing of hits could and probably would be fatal to their cause, pressuring the Hawks’ defense down low far more than they did in Game 1 is the right call. Aside from the top pairing, as we’ve said all year, you’ve got mistake-prone players aching to turn the puck over when hassled. Cutting off their escape routes along the boards is also the right play. Now if the Blues are just going to concentrate on finishing checks instead of playing the puck, allowing the Hawks to make quick passes and plays out of the zone and through the neutral zone, they’re going to lose. We’ve seen it far too many times to think this will be any different. But if the Blues are going to try and cause turnovers and beat the Hawks to the puck while being hard on them physically, then that is the right way to about things.
Because Keith is not a panacea to all the Hawks’ flaws. Sure, he and Hammer are going to play at least half the game tonight, and while he’s out there the Hawks will have someone who can open up enough space for himself to break them out. It’s the other 30 minutes that are the problem. At the time of writing the Hawks haven’t had their morning skate but I would hope and pray it’s Svedberg who comes out of the lineup, and TVR who was pretty solid before OT in Game 1 slots up with Earthquake.
That doesn’t mean the Blues don’t have room to improve as well. Tarasenko is going to be under strict orders to take every shot he has tonight after turning down a few on Wednesday. That is less than good. Hitch has already played one of his few cards here in pairing Tarasenko with Jaden Schwartz on either side of Whatever It Is Jori Lehtera Does (his new official name). Those were the two that tore the Hawks apart the last playoff series, but leaves the other three lines without any sort of East-West other than what Robby Fabbri can conjure. It’s not an easy attack to get around but it sure is simple to figure out. And once you do there is no Plan B.
Other lineup changes should include either Weise or Panik coming in for Man Shitter And The Nothing He Does (new official name). I don’t care which at this point. Both can skate, both have something of a brain, though Weise is obviously the more combustible of the two (and probably why he’d be the first choice). The Hawks need to be playing four lines, and they can if they just choose the lineup that’s sitting right in front of them and stop getting cute about it.
I would find it hard to believe the Blues could be as conservative tonight as they were in Game 1. While they’ll point to their win and shutout as proof it was the right choice, your 18th shot being a doink of TVR to go in is not a sustainable route to winning. With Keith back in the lineup the Hawks will be able to bust a trap more often and play at a higher pace for longer. They won’t get shutout again if the Blues play that way and don’t try and force the play more than they did in Game 1.
Being down 2-0 certainly won’t have the Hawks in any sort of panic, though you can’t keep asking yourself to dig out of two-game holes. While the Hawks are certainly more than capable of overcoming that, and the Blues are even more capable of blowing it, you set yourself up for one bad bounce or call to put you down 3-0 on Sunday. A win tonight probably unleashes all the gremlins in the Blues’ minds, and that’s basically halfway to victory right there. Still feels like this is another one the Blues have to have and the Hawks would merely like to have. But after losing Game 1 they should like to have it a lot more.