The Chicago Blackhawks have their team set for the rest of the 2012 – 2013 season as the revamped St. Louis Blues visit the Windy City in a Thursday night showdown. This will be the third of five match-ups between the Central Division rivals this season and Chicago aims for a 3 – 0 – 0 record against St. Louis in the United Center.
Much like Chicago, the St. Louis Blues did not make the blockbuster type of trades made elsewhere in the NHL like Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers but they have added some key players that can help where needed most. The Blues acquired defenseman Jay Bouwmeeseter from Calgary on Monday in hopes of solidifying the blue line that has troubled them all season. Bouwmeester boasts 15 points (6G, 9A) in 33 games this season with Calgary but has registered a -11 rating, something that Ken Hitchcock hopes will improve very soon.
St. Louis is 18 – 14 – 2 on the season with 38 points, just one behind the eight place Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference. The club has 14 games remaining in the season and it looks like they’ll need at least 12 more points if they want to break that eighth place marker.
Two of St. Louis’ three goalies have save percentages less than .900% and only two D-men (Russell, Jackman) have a positive rating – going +4 and +6, respectively. Winger Chris Stewart leads the Blues with 29 points (15G, 14A) through 34 games this season, including several tallies during St. Louis’ 10 – 7 – 1 road record this season.
Chicago made some trade deadline moves this week, most notably acquiring Center Michal Handzus from the San Jose Sharks on Monday. Handzus has a 55% faceoff win percentage and Bowman thinks he could be a good addition to that part of the Blackhawk’s game, which has been lacking on the bottom lines. Head Coach Joel Quenneville alluded that Handzus would center the second line tonight in Sharp’s absence, but may be moved to the fourth line once the 31 year-old winger returns.
Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 43 points (19G, 24A) this season, placing him at 4th in the league in scoring. Marian Hossa is expected to return tonight against St. Louis after missing 7 games with an upper-body injury. His speed and stickhandling is unrivaled in the NHL and Chicago could use a boost going into the final few weeks of the season. He skated between Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad during Thursday morning’s practice skate.
Playing St. Louis is always special for Joel Quenneville, as he is the Blues’ winningest coach during seven seasons behind the bench as the head coach. It’s always a special match-up for the fans as well, as these two teams always place a fast and physical game. Believe this: St. Louis is hungry for points and they will play like it – Chicago has a deadly top line ready to go, and they’ll use it.