The 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is here. The 23-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks will take on the 19-13-5 St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium. Puck probably drops at 1pm ET.
Both the the Blackhawks and Blues enter the Classic having lost their last games so neither has the momentum and both have a point to prove. Chicago are slight favorites sitting top of the Central Division, eight points clear of third placed St. Louis. The Blues on the other hand, need to take both points to try and avoid dropping into a wildcard place. This is the Blackhawks’ fifth outdoor game and their third Winter Classic.
Chicago might have the better league record but the (likely) absence of winger Marian Hossa and center Marcus Kruger will demand a shakeup on the Hawks’ offensive lines. Defensively Chicago has conceded 94 goals, seventh best in the NHL so don’t expect to see unenforced changes on the blue line. Injuries aside, Chicago has enough veterans on the roster to control the flow of play so expect Jake Allen to be the busier of the two goalies. Artemi Panarin has 38 points this season, 15 of those have come in the last 10 games. Corey Crawford is expected to get the nod in goal but has been so-so since returning from his operation so back-up Scott Darling may see some ice time.
St. Louis will be starting this game without injured blueliner Robert Bortuzzo. Former number one draft pick Nail Yakupov is a healthy scratch. The Blues will likely try to get the puck to Vladimir Tarasenko who has 39 points this season (fourth best in the league) and 10 career points against Chicago. Blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk has been offensively productive so expect him to finish the game with a point. The Blues may be slight underdogs but they have form against Chicago, having knocked the team out of last season’s playoffs (from being 3-1 behind in the series). St. Louis will be hoping that their strong 14-3-4 home record also applies to Busch Stadium
Here are a few things to look out for in today’s game:
Weather Delays: Outdoor games are always affected by the weather, be it snow, rain or just too much of that pesky sunlight. Lunchtime faceoffs are always subject to that damned winter sun, so expect a delay or two. In fact, the league already has a contingency plan if the worst case scenario happens:
If the game is tied after two periods and conditions are unplayable, a shootout will be held at the United Center before the Feb. 26 game.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) January 2, 2017
Early Blackhawk Dominance: It seems like Every game Chicago plays is outdoors so the visitors have a slight edge when it comes to managing the different conditions.
Outdoor games are special, and so much more than just a regular season league game, so expect a good effort from both teams. The Blackhawks may have the edge coming into this game, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. What are your thoughts/predictions? Comment below or join in the conversation on twitter.