Game Time: 2:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, TVA-S, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Holidae In: St. Louis Game Time
After having the tide of the series flip on a dime on two controversial goal calls (and one not at all controversial slashing call), the Blues are now afforded with an opportunity to show the hockey world that their continual, perennial faith in them is justified. To show them, yes indeed, this time it will be different.
For all of the talk about 70 hits harf harf harf going into to Game 2, Ken Hitchcock showed that he isn’t a complete and total moron and actually deployed the correct strategy against the Hawks even with Duncan Keith in the lineup. The Hawks don’t have a very mobile blue line at all (often times by choice), so harassment by oncoming forecheckers serves a dual purpose of pressuring a stone handed defenseman and keeping the Hawk forwards deeper than they would like to be for the ensuing breakout. The results bore out on the possession ledger as well, with the Blues taking 49 attempts at evens to the Hawks 43 (53%), a far cry from Wednesday night where the Hawks held a 50 to 41 advantage. But even still that leaves the Hawks at just a shade over 50% (93 to 90) for the series which is now turning back to the UC, where they have been significantly better.
With yesterday being a travel day and today’s early start, there would not appear to be any indication of any lineup changes for the Blues. Jabba The Hitch has shown a willingness to toss out Jaden Schwartz and Vlad Tarasenko together to get some offense generate, and that’s really the only tactic he has up his sleeve. That is a far more useful ploy at home, as he can pick the matchups. But even then, Hitch did not shy away from getting either out against Duncan Keith, who played against them more than any other forwards. It’s becoming more and more clear that once again Tarasenko is left with the sole responsibility of scoring for the Blues.
At home Hitch elected to have Pietrangelo and Jabe O’Meester wall off Garbage Dick and Panarin, which was mostly successful considering the Hawks’ woes on the blue line and that line by design not able to retrieve the puck frequently once they’ve lost it. However, that allowed Jonathan Toews to go nuts away from them, with 11 shots on goal in 2 games, which is tempting fate in and of itself. Look for that matchup to be flipped today and Tuesday with Quenneville now making the decisions.
Brian Elliott was once again excellent for the Blues on Friday, however within the context of that team, that’s just good enough to break your heart, as he couldn’t come up with a save when the Blues had to have it after the Tarasenko slash. He’s still throwing a .968 for the series which will continue to give the Blues a chance in a short series, but his margin for error is basically none.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, while Joel Quenneville quickly righted a wrong by getting MANSHITTER out of the lineup in favor of Richard Panik on the third line (to minimal effectiveness, but still the potential for making a play is at least there), there are still issues on the blue line. Perhaps it was the more conservative play on the road, but Omer Svedberg is simply out of his depth at the NHL level, and if he’s only going to play 10 or fewer minutes a night, there might as well be someone out there who has the potential of making something happen at the other end. Viktor Eaton was a -10 in shot attempts against in less than 7 minutes on Friday. That’s so bad it’s almost impressive.
Corey Crawford has basically gone save for save against Allen to this point with a solid .939 save percentage of his own to this point, and similarly, his margin for error is effectively zero as well given the scarcity of goals in this series.
Now with last change, look for Quenneville this afternoon to use the Toews line against Petro and Jabe whenever possible, and Kruger’s unit against whichever line that has Schwartz or Tarasenko that Toews doesn’t handle. That should free up the Anisimov centered unit against either Backes or Brodziak with Teuvo getting the scraps. Baron Harkonnen generally plays more conservatively on the road as well, so look for him to dial back on the harassment of Hawk defensemen due to not being able to decide the matchups.
The Hawks pissed away home ice the last time the Blues were in the building, making it all the more important that they take advantage of that fact now. The matchups will be there for them, it’s just a matter of solving Brian Elliott, who is clearly up to the task.