The long awaited and much anticipated NHL Winter Classic 2017, will kick off tonight in St. Louis as two Western conference titans meet up to play a game in the fresh air and great outdoors.
The Classic has been played since 2008, and has showcased some of the league’s best talents by taking the game back outdoors and returning to the glorious roots of hockey. In this year’s edition, the St. Louis Blues will host the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium. It will be a contest the home team will want to win since the Blues need to close the gap on last year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks are setting up to take on their greatest enemy in the league in their fifth regular season outdoor game. They have lots of experience since it will be their third Winter Classic. But their outdoor record is not so good at 1-3-0, so you can expect Chicago to want to prove that they deserve all of the recent outdoor exposure, and be worthy of the spectacle the league has put on for their fans in the natural elements. The Hawks will also be looking to break out of their recent slump where they’ve only gotten three of their last 10 possible points.
In the season series, the Blackhawks lead over the Blues 2-1 after a 6-4 victory on Dec. 17 in a game played in St. Louis. Chicago will certainly be looking to avenge their 2016 playoff early elimination served to them by the Blues in seven games, after Chicago was able to claw back from being down 3-1 in the series.
This year though, as of today, the Hawks are on top of the Central Division with 51 points. The Minnesota Wild are sitting in second place with 50 points, and the Blues are in third with 43 points. So, they need these two points to close in on the leaders.
Jonathan Toews will be dangerous in this game since he has the most points in NHL regular season outdoor games with 2 goals, and 4 assists in four games played. Toews also has three points in his last two games. So, look to him to take the lead. Corey Crawford is expected to start in net for Chicago and it’ll be his fourth game outside too. Marion Hossa is still questionable to play, and when local media asked head coach Joel Quenneville, if he would be in the lineup, the answer they got was: “Somewhere between expecting and hopeful.”
Monday night’s game will be the first-ever the NHL outdoor regular-season game will be played by the St. Louis Blues and in St. Louis. So, the Blues will want to play hard for their fans and get the two points and the win.
The hosts have built a literal fortress on home ice, beating their guests 14-3-4 at home, but when they’re away it’s totally different, they have a dismal 5-10-1 away record and it’s held them back immensely. Strangely enough though, even if they don’t need to travel very far, Busch Stadium is not really home ice. But if their win-loss trend continues, one win, one loss, next win, another loss; they should be able to overcome their Central Division rivals.
In terms of injuries for the St. Louis Blues, they’re doing pretty well, they only have defenseman Robert Bortuzzo out, and have no other injury concerns. Bortuzzo should be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks and could be back in the lineup within the month.
The Blues will be looking to their star Vladimir Tarasenko who’s leading the team with 39 points in just 37 games. He’s definitely one of the best players of the year, but the Russian has gone a bit cold recently. In his last five games, in which the Blues have gone 2-2-1, Tarasenko scored only one goal and one assist. And just prior to that, he scored ten points in five games, so look for him to break out tonight on open ice.
Tonight will be a hotly contested game on the outdoors ice, since both teams have combined for 109 hits, 75 blocked shots, 58 penalty minutes, 173 shots and 20 goals over just three games so far. So, this should be chippy. The weather might also not be optimal for an outdoor game so these two squads could be playing in some unfavorable conditions on shoddy ice which means the puck could be hard to control.
But no matter what the the standings are, this really is anyone’s game. It should be another great Winter Classic game with lots of goals and big hits in the open air. Expect lots of shots for both Goalies, Crawford and Jake Allen, and they should have a lot of saves to make if they want to last the full 60 minutes in the crease. Almost certainly there should be a fight, look for big man Ryan Reaves to throw down the gloves for the Blues to spark his team.