Blackhawks Buzz: March 19, 2014 vs. St. Louis Blues
St. Louis and Chicago are set to renew their Interstate 55 rivalry after nearly three months between tilts; the Blues have won the first three matchups this year, including two straight shootout victories. At 22-9-3, St. Louis has the league’s second-best road winning percentage, and they’ve been especially stingy away from home, sharing the NHL lead with just 70 goals allowed in 34 road contests. The Blues have also been dangerous on the power play, converting 22.3 percent on the road, good for seventh in the league. The Blackhawks have allowed power-play goals in each of their last two outings at the United Center, although they went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill last night in a 3-2 overtime loss at Philadelphia.
Both the Blackhawks and the Blues have excelled at team offense this year; Chicago ranks first with 228 goals so far this season, while St. Louis is in second with 218 goals. For the two teams, success starts at the back, as they also rank 1-2 in defensemen point contributions—the Blackhawks with 178 (28G, 144A) and the Blues with 166 (33G, 133A). Leading the way for the visitors are young blueliners Alex Pietrangelo (47 points) and Kevin Shattenkirk (40), while veteran Jay Bouwmeester has also contributed 34 points. Stopping the potent St. Louis offense will hinge on pressuring their blue line and preventing their rearguard from getting clean looks on net.
Since joining the Blues from Buffalo at the trade deadline, Ryan Miller has yet to record a regulation loss, going 7-0-1 in eight starts, with a 1.61 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Having spent the first 11 years of his NHL career in the Eastern Conference, Miller has faced the Blackhawks just a handful of times, but he’s played fairly well, posting a 2-2-0 record with a 2.03 GAA and .939 SV%, including a 38-save effort for the Sabres on Oct. 12 in a 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks at the United Center.
The Blackhawks will need to recover quickly from their loss in Philly last night, but the Blues won't offer any physical respite. After absorbing 34 hits and allowing 37 shots on goal against the Flyers, Chicago will fly home to face a team known for throwing their weight around, and they'll hope to have the services of Brandon Saad, who did not travel with the team. Goaltender Corey Crawford will most likely get the start after resting in Philadelphia; he has a 9-2-3 career record against St. Louis, with a 2.45 GAA and .909 SV%. Andrew Shaw netted the opening goal for Chicago on Tuesday and now has six points (3G, 3A) in as many contests, while Blues captain David Backes netted two goals—including the game-winner—in their last game, a 3-1 win over Winnipeg.
Michal Handzus is expected to play in his 1,000th game tonight against the Blues, becoming the 30th active and 152nd overall NHLer to reach the mark. The Slovakian native was drafted by the Blues in 1995 and totaled 93 points (39G, 54A) in 183 regular-season games with St. Louis. Over two stints with Chicago, Handzus has collected eight tallies and 19 helpers in 68 appearances and won his first Stanley Cup with the club in 2013.
The Blackhawks face a significant late-season test on Wednesday against the rival Blues, who recently became the first club to cross the 100-point mark this season and currently pace the league with 103. St. Louis always brings a physical game, but this season they’ve produced the offense to back that up. Adding Ryan Miller—a proven veteran starter in net—at the trade deadline has yielded early returns, as the Blues have dropped just one point in their last nine games. Chicago hopes to recover quickly from a 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday, and it'll take a full-throttle, 60-minute effort to displace the NHL's top team.