(HockeyStL) -- The Blues hit the practice ice in Hazelwood for the second consecutive day. The past two practices have been ones of high intensity, and they have been fast-paced. The team has been working out the kinks in their game in preparation of perhaps their toughest matchup to date.
The Blues will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday at Scottrade Center in what is expected to be a close and hard-fought game. The Blackhawks have yet to lose in regulation, breaking the National Hockey League’s record for most games with at least one point. The Blackhawks will come into St. Louis with at least a point in their last 19 games. A remarkable feat to say the least, but it doesn’t make them immune to losing.
“Winning is a feeling. When you have the right feeling going you win all of the close games,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “It’s a feeling, and they have the feeling going right now. Somebody is going to have to break that feeling and it might as well be us.”
“I think every team is beatable. When you are on the right side of the feeling you ride it out like a hot streak. That’s what they have going. They have played really well and in close games they have found ways to win or get points. It is a pretty remarkable story.”
The Blues are currently 13 points behind the Blackhawks in the standings, and according to Hitchcock, who has crunched the numbers, the Blackhawks only need approximately 10 more wins and they could clinch a playoff spot. But Hitchcock isn’t overly concerned with the future at the moment; his main focus is on Thursday’s game, and lately, he likes what he sees from his team.
While Monday’s practice was pleasing to Hitchcock, he thought that Tuesday’s went even better. He likes the intensity he is seeing from his players, and feels that his team is finally turning the corner.
“I really like what we have done the last few days,” said Hitchcock. “We have really embraced it. We have made a couple of changes, guys have really responded with their play. We have had good continuity with the lines so we will see if we can keep it up.”
It was only a couple of weeks ago when the Blues were in a terrible slump. The team was flailing, and there was no end to the misery in sight. However, the Blues turned their game around on the road, and ever since then, Hitchcock has felt the team has been playing with a more togetherness, instead of individualism, something that they must continue to do when they take the ice Thursday if they hope to counter the Blackhawks’ attack. Unfortunately for the Blues, they may be without two of their top-line players.
Both Andy McDonald and Alex Steen were injured during the same drill in Tuesday’s practice. Specifics of the injuries aren’t known until the players can be re-evaluated on Wednesday, but it’s very possible that one or perhaps both players could miss Thursday’s tilt. If that’s the case, Chris Porter will step into the Blues lineup. Hitchcock has been fond of Porter lately, and with both Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) and Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion symptoms) already sidelined, Porter will be in the NHL for a while.
“Porter, to me, is at another level,” Hitchcock said. “We certainly got him in the mix right now. He’s got size, he’s got skill. He’s got a lot of confidence coming out of the American (Hockey) League scoring at a big rate there. He looks like a very strong player for us right now.”
If the Blues hope to win against the Blackhawks, they will have to rely heavily on their goaltender. It is very likely that Jaroslav Halak gets the start on Thursday, and he is likely to face a barrage of shots from Chicago. The Blackhawks average over 31 shots per game, and despite the Blues’ defense playing better the past few games, it will be interesting to see if they can cut down on the quality Hawks’ scoring chances.
No one can say the Blues aren’t prepared for Thursday, but it won’t be easy to stop the Blackhawks. The Blues have impressed in practice the last few days but carrying over the impressive effort in practice to a game is all that matters.