Blues exit break with road test versus red-hot Blackhawks
CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks can attest to the fact that teams around the NHL haven’t had the best luck coming out of their week off.
The St. Louis Blues will soon find out whether the same applies to them.
The Blues will return from their hiatus Sunday when they travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks, who have won eight of their last nine games. Chicago’s lone hiccup over that stretch was a loss to Edmonton in its first game back on the ice. The Blackhawks won three straight games since, including a 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.
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The Blackhawks’ offense is soaring right now as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane posted hat tricks in the last two games. On Friday, Chicago added to its offensive depth when they acquired forward Tomas Jurco from the Detroit Red Wings. Jurco played in only 16 games this season and hasn’t registered a point, and had made it clear to management that he wanted to go elsewhere.
“We’ll be patient with him, but we really think there’s a good fit there looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told reporters Friday.
Jurco joins a Blackhawks’ offense that has gotten balance throughout its four lines. But the most effective line has been the unit of Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik. While Toews was the headliner against Arizona, Schmaltz had a goal and an assist.
With the top line flourishing, Schmaltz’s confidence is taking a leap as well.
“I feel like I’m playing at a high level, where I need to be,” Schmaltz told CSN Chicago. “But I can’t get happy or complacent in my game. I have to keep working and keep that level as high as possible.”
The Blackhawks face St. Louis without defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who left Thursday’s game with an upper body injury. Hjalmarsson is listed as day-to-day as coach Joel Quenneville told reporters Saturday the injury — believed to be a back ailment — isn’t serious.
“He knows his body and he knows when he can fight through certain things,” Quenneville told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving him enough time to get back to where he’s basically 100 percent is where we want to be. … With him he can go through anything. But let’s make sure at this time of the year that he recovers from this.”
While it’s uncertain how the Blues will come out out of the break, their road ahead should provide some relief. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues’ final 22 opponents won only 44 percent of their games.
On Friday, the Blues agreed to a five-year extension with center Patrik Berglund, who scored 17 goals this season — 16 in the last 30 games.
But with Berglund locked up and heading into the season’s stretch run, the Blues’ opening test Sunday won’t be nearly as easy as the Blackhawks appear to be back in a groove after stumbling out of the gates coming off the break.
Yet, Blues center Paul Stastny isn’t overly concerned with the result of one game and said the bigger focus needs to remain on how St. Louis plays in the near future.
“It’s not about the next game, it’s about how you feel 10-15 games down the road,” Stastny said this week, according to the Post-Dispatch. “I think sometimes people look at the small picture instead of the big picture and that’s more big picture, long term.”