ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 3: Roman Polak #46 of the St. Louis Blues clears the puck against Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the Scottrade Center on December 3, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Blackhawks are looking up at the Blues in the standings right now, but that doesn't mean they're not a tough challenge for St. Louis. They're responsible for one of the Blues' league-low four home regulation losses.
While some people consider where the Blues end up against the Detroit Red Wings to be an indication of how well St. Louis has done over the season, the best and original rivalry is the one with the Chicago Blackhawks. The one with Detroit is oftentimes one-sided, but the games against Chicago have contempt and hatred that go all the way back to the Arena. The Blackhawks and Blues live just a short drive from one another, but it's long enough to let that anger stew.
The Blues have to be at least mildly miffed at their last two performances against Chicago. Losing 5-2 at home and then losing 3-1 on national(ish) TV during Hockey Day Across America could not have done anything but motivate the Blues to win tonight. Chicago is a tough team to gauge, especially their goaltending. Tonight's starter should be Ray Emery, who was responsible for St. Louis' home loss to the Hawks way back on December 3rd. Emery isn't who you would expect the Blackhawks to be relying on, but with the way that Corey Crawford has been playing, it's become a necessity for Emery to play and play well.
It's also going to have to be a necessity for Chicago's other big guns to step up in the absence of Jonathan Toews, who has what's believed to probably be a concussion. Marian Hossa's the Blues killer out of the bunch, with three goals against St. Louis this year. Also dangerous are Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, the latter having outstanding speed and playmaking vision. Luckily for St. Louis, that describes one of their forwards as well: Andy McDonald. McDonald had three goals and two assists during the six game road trip. Also recently lethal has been T.J. Oshie. Oshie in his last 15 games has two goals and 12 assists. The whole team has been playing better, including Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. That hasn't necessarily shown up on the scoresheet, but they're a lot more visible on the ice and effective in using their size.
The Blues have a perfect penalty kill streak going back to Valentine's Day, but that doesn't mean that they can be sloppy against the Hawks. Sure, they're 22nd overall in effectiveness on the power play (just one slot ahead of St. Louis), but they're able to make you pay for a slip-up. They'll be waiting for one.
As Chris Stewart said, though, "Everyone's been kind of waiting for us to fall off … 'When's St. Louis going to fall off?' ... We've hung in there with the best teams in the League. There's no reason to think why we wouldn't." True enough. Chicago can wait all they want, but it appears that the Blues might be able to finish the year well ahead of their old rivals.