Blackhawks head to the house of Blues tonight
Hockeybroad on Tue, 2012-03-06 14:27
Chicago briefly stumbled after posting some excellent wins at the end of their epic February road trip; they've now won the first two games of a three-game road trip, taking contests against Detroit and Ottawa.
Tonight, the Blackhawks roll into St. Louis for the 4th of six games against the Blues this season. So far, Chicago is 2-1-0 versus the Blues, including being shut out during their first match up of the year. St. Louis boasts one of the best home records of the season, and a pair of goalies - Halak and Elliot - that together have compiled 12 shut outs for their team. The Blues allow a meager 26.0 shots against/gm (1st in the league), the lowest amount of giveaways, and the lowest amount of goals allowed (1.89 ... all those shut outs help that average considerably).
These 4-point "swing games" are important during the home stretch; in the ultra-competitive Central, with four out of five division teams likely to make the playoffs, there's still the possibility of stealing home ice advantage by finishing second in the Central. With Chicago's recent lengthy losing streak, the Blackhawks lost a lot of ground towards home ice, but it's still not entirely out of reach.
Of note in tonight's game: rookie Brandon Bollig, who will be playing in his 4th NHL career game. Bollig went undrafted and was signed by the Blackhawks in 2010; he has been playing for the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate. After enforcer John Scott was traded to the NY Rangers, Bollig was called up from Rockford. Bollig is a St. Louis native and this will be his first NHL game in the building that he grew up watching hockey games in, against his hometown team.
‘‘Not only do I get to play with the Hawks right now and keep living that dream, but I get to be able to come home and play in front of my hometown crowd. It’s going to be quite the ride," he was quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times article on Monday. Bollig is a physical player and more than willing to drop the gloves - he was one of the AHL's leaders in PIM before being called up to the Blackhawks - but he also can skate and score, like fellow teammate Jamal Mayers. Bollig has been skating on a line with Mayers and fellow rookie Jimmy Hayes - just call this trio "the Bruiser Line".
Newly acquired defenseman Johnny Oduya has also already made a mark on the team's blue line. While it is good to know the Blackhawks' new d-man can play 25 TOI, there were reports of Ducan Keith and Brent Seabrook being "gassed" after similar TOI after the last game. In comparing their TOI from the last game to the rest of the season, 25 TOI has been lower than average, especially for Keith.
Dylan Olsen and Sami Lepisto have made for a solid defense pair, yet Coach Quenneville continues to play Lepisto at 12 minutes or less, when he's capable of 15-18 TOI - and helping to ease the burden on Chicago's top pairing. Keith, Seabrook, Oduya, and Leddy will all need some rest heading into the playoffs; but will Coach Q run his top defensive pairings into the ground out of fear of missing the playoffs? Furthermore, with Lepisto's consistently solid play and documented capacity to soak up more TOI, why isn't Q using him more? It is likely that when Niklas Hjalmarsson returns from his "upper body injury" (concussion?) that Lepisto gets benched in favor of rookie Olsen. Lepisto has the playoff experience - he's been to the playoffs for Phoenix, and he's played in multiple Olympics and World Championships; there's no good reason to bench him further at this point in the season.
Ray Emery will be in net for the Hawks; he has a 3-0-0 career record with 1.30 GAA against the Blues. Jaroslav Halak is expected to start for the Blues.
The game starts at 7pm CT and will be aired on CSN-Chicago (TV) and WGN 720 radio.