By Jeremy Clements
The St. Louis Blues find themselves just one point behind Vancouver for the lead in the Western Conference after a 5-1 road trip. Tonight they welcome the Chicago Blackhawks who have won three straight and four of their last six games on the road. Despite the fact that the Blues have a ten point advantage in the standings, and are 26-4-4 on home ice, tonight’s game will be a battle.
Both sides are banged up as the Blues are still missing Alexander Steen, Matt D’Agostini, Kris Russell, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Meanwhile, Chicago is without their captain Johnathon Towes and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Injuries won’t be the only challenge the Blues face tonight as Blackhawks goalie, Ray Emery, is also on a roll as of late as he’s won his previous three starts as he was named the NHL’s third star of the week yesterday. Emery has only allowed one goal in each of the last two games against Ottawa and Detroit.
Although, the Blues have two stellar netminders to boast about in Brian Elliot and Yaroslav Halak, who stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced in the 3-1 victory over San Jose on Sunday. St. Louis has also had unbelievable play on the defensive end of the ice, especially when a man down. They have killed off 27 consecutive penalties and haven’t conceded a powerplay goal since February 14th.
Fast Start and Strong Defense Are Keys To Blues Victory
Head coach Ken Hitchcock said that the team plays better when they get off to a fast start and statistics back that up.
The Blues are 27-7-2 when scoring first and 21-5-1 when they lead after the first period of play including a 13-2-0 mark when leading at home after one period. On the flip side, the Blackhawks are just 14-17-3 on the road and are only 1-15-1 when trailing after the first period on the road. The ‘Hawks are also 8-1-0 when they lead after the opening frame.
In addition to the fast start on the offensive side of the ice, the Blues will have to keep up their stingy defensive play. In the two most recent games against the Chicago, they surrendered early leads on the way to defeat.Tonight the ‘Note must maintain a high energy style of play on both ends of the ice.
The Blues try to even up the season series at two a piece tonight as they take on the Blackhawks at Scottrade for the final time this year. The puck drops at 7pm.