November 4 – Day 29 – These towns don’t like each other

In yesterday’s Game of the Day, the New York Rangers held home ice to beat the Washington Capitals 5-2.

The Blueshirts opened the scoring just before the ninth minute began when Kevin Hayes and Viktor Stalberg assisted Third Star of the Game Oscar Lindberg to his sixth goal of the season, but the Capitals leveled the game at one-all at the 15:45 mark when Nate Schmidt assisted Alex Ovechkin to his sixth tally of the season.  New York broke the tie 2:01 later when Lindberg and Marc Staal assisted Hayes to his third of the year.  The 2-1 lead held into the first intermission.

At the end of the second minute of the second period, Second Star Derick Brassard assisted Kevin Klein to what came to be the game-winner, followed 5:06 later by Brassard’s fourth of the season, setting the score at 4-1.  Washington scored the final goal of the period at the 18:53 mark when Karl Alzner and Justin Williams assist Marcus Johansson to his third of the season.

The lone goal of the final period belongs to Jarret Stoll and the Rangers, assisted by Keith Yandle and Klein at the 10:53 mark.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist saved 32 of 34 Capital shots (94.1%) to earn his sixth victory of the season (6-2-2 overall), while Braden Holtby earned his third loss (6-3-0 overall) after stopping only 16 of 21 (76.2%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 18-7-3 in favor of the home squad, who leads the roadies by 17 points.

After a busy nine-game schedule last night, Wednesday provides a light break in the action with only four games.  The festivities get started at 7 p.m. eastern when Winnipeg visits Toronto (SN/SN1), followed an hour later by St. Louis at Chicago (NBCSN/TVAS).  SN/SN1 viewers get an extra helping tonight, as their TVs will turn to Pittsburgh at Vancouver following the completion of the JetsLeafs game.  That game gets started at 10 p.m. eastern.  Finally, Florida faces Anaheim on The Pond at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

St. Louis at Chicago is the only divisional rivalry being played this evening, and Pittsburgh at Vancouver is the only game between two playoff squads.  While the PenguinsCanucks game is tantalizing since it also includes the return of Nick Bonino to Rogers Arena, the BluesBlackhawks rivalry has been too good in recent years to pass up.

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Last night, the 8-2-1 Blues were shutout by Jhonas Enroth and the Los Angeles Kings on home ice.  Jake Allen gave up two goals on 33 shots (93.9%).  Although those numbers sting, it still does not change the fact that St. Louis puts a team on the ice that features a strong defense.  The Blues currently sit second in both the Central Division and the Eastern Western Conference (trailing Dallas by three points).

So far this season, the Notes have given up only 26 goals (five below the league average), even though their goaltenders have faced 47 more shots than the league average.  Assisted by Colton Parayko’s 22 blocks, 4-2-0 Allen and 4-0-1 Brian Elliott (whom I expect will get the start this evening) are even shutting down the opposition’s power play opportunities.  While the Blues have given up the average number of power play goals (seven), they’ve had to defend against four more opportunities, setting their penalty kill-rate 2.17% higher than the league average.

On the other hand, the offense hasn’t quite been as strong as Coach Ken Hitchcock would like.  His squad has only managed 30 goals so far (one under league average), even though Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen already have five or more goals to their credit.  The most frustrating part about not being as potent as in years past is it is not due to effort.  The Blues have put 355 shots on goal so far this season, 18 more than the league average, but their shot percentage is a lowly 8.5%, .6% lower than the league average.

Especially distressing has been the power play.  The Blues have only notched four tallies with the man-advantage, for a measly 10.53% success rate (8.31% below league average).

Turning our attention to the 7-5-0 Blackhawks, we find a team sitting in sixth place in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference, a position that does not qualify them for the playoffs.  In their last game played, Chicago bested the same Kings that shutout the Blues yesterday by a score of 4-2.  You can read a short recap about that game here.

Similar to tonight’s opposition, they have not been able to rely on their offense, so Corey Crawford and Co. have been responsible for much of the Hawks‘ success.  They’ve only allowed 26 goals so far this season, five below the league average.  Although Niklas Hjalmarsson’s 28 blocks have surely been much appreciated, it has been Crawford and his backup (1-2-0 Scott Darling) that have been busy, as they’ve had to save 342 shots against, of which they’re successful 92.4% of the time.  Even when a man-down, the Blackhawks have found a way to prevent the opposition from scoring 84.38% of the time and allowed only five man-advantage goals.

On the other hand, the offense has not been completely on par with the rest of the league.  They’ve only scored 28 times (led by Patrick Kane’s seven goals), which trails the league average by three tallies.  Similar to the Blues, it may simply be bad puck luck for the Hawks, as they’ve put 374 shots on goal, 37 more than the league average, but only 7.5% of those shots have found the back of the net.

Luckily for Chicago, the power play has been able to find success, scoring 19.51% of the time (compared to the 18.84% league average).  On 41 attempts, that is a total of eight goals in favor of the Hawks.

Last season, the Blues won the season series 3-2-0 by winning both April matchups, but were not able to utilize the momentum in the playoffs and fell in the Western Conference Quarterfinals to Minnesota in six games.  On the other hand the Hawks won the Stanley Cup, so maybe they aren’t too worried about winning the series?  Yeah, right.

This rivalry runs deep, maybe to the point of being one of, if not the best rivalry in the Western Conference.  In addition to the BluesBlackhawks rivalry, these cities also have the infamous CardinalsCubs rivalry that was rekindled this season when the Cubbies beat the Redbirds in the National League divisional round.  Don’t think even for an instant that the St. Louis faithful don’t want to serve a little payback to Chi-Town.

That being said, the Hawks are favored in tonight’s matchup at -124.  With home ice behind them in this rivalry, it is hard to pick against Chicago, especially since they are playing on a day of rest and their much stronger power play.

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