St. Louis Blues Look to Extend Winning Streak Versus Rival Chicago Blackhawks

Michael WagenknechtContributor IDecember 28, 2010

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 30: Vladimir Sobotka #17 of the St. Louis Blues knocks the puck away from Nick Boynton #24 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on November 30, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Christmas season has been kind to the St. Louis Blues. Winners of three straight, the Blues have vaulted back into contention in the tight Western Conference.

They will look to continue their streak against an equally hot Chicago Blackhawks team, winners of four in a row. Both teams will be playing their third straight game against a divisional opponent and every point earned here is vital.

After their 4-1 victory against Columbus on Sunday, the Blackhawks sit only two points ahead of the Blues for second in the Central and fifth in the Conference. The Blues will not only be looking for points but also for revenge after suffering a 7-5 loss against Chicago back on November 30th.

In that last game David Backes had four points—a goal and three assists—and is currently on a two game point streak after scoring both goals in the 2-0 victory over Nashville on Sunday.

Backes has certainly stepped up his game in the last two weeks and has contributed more than just points in the Blues current string of wins. Backes has finally been using his size to create mismatches in front of the net allowing the finesse players space in which to work.

Another player who has risen from the ashes recently has been Brad Boyes. While not scoring in bunches, Boyes has finally started hitting the net with shots, which he had failed to do for most of the season. Boyes also scored in the loss to Chicago and he has points in two of the last three games.

Alex Steen is on his second four plus game point streak in the last 10 games. Steen has six goals and five assists in those two point streaks and looks to continue to add to his team leading 11 goals.

Ty Conklin will get the start tonight even though he gave up seven goals in the last game against Chicago. Since that loss, though, Conklin has won his last two games with a 3.00 GAA. With Jaroslav Halak having played in three straight games and coming off of a 32 save effort on Sunday the Blues decided to give the work horse a night off.

Chicago has been almost a mirror image of the Blues this season. Struggling with injuries to key players and inconsistent goaltending, the Hawks find themselves in a precarious position. Even though they currently reside in the second spot in the Central division they find themselves in seventh in the conference, a far cry from the domination they displayed last season.

The Hawks, though, are on a four-game win streak and are getting back star winger Patrick Kane just in time for tonight's contest. Kane had been out with an ankle injury since December 6th but the three day holiday layoff gave him plenty of down time to allow the ankle to heal faster then expected. 

Kane and linemate Jonathon Towes each had two goals and an assist in the 7-5 beat down of St. Louis in November. The Blues defense will need to shut down this duo if they have any hopes of being victorious tonight.

Marian Hossa has been a bane for the Blues over his career, and has continued it this season with two goals in the two games he has played against St. Louis. But Hossa has been a bit off recently, having no goals in his last seven games. Hossa did miss most of December with a lower body injury and the game against Columbus was his first game back from that injury.

Chicago was hoping that Marty Turco would be the answer to its goaltending question but he has yet to live up to his billing. But Turco has fared decently in his career against the Blues, going 11-9-2 with a 2.48 GAA in 24 games played.

Fortunately for St. Louis, Turco is 3-5-1 in his last ten games and has allowed 31 goals in those games.

One player who Turco will count on to help keep pucks out of his net on the PK will be former Blue and fan favorite Ryan Johnson. Johnson signed a contract a few weeks back and this will be his first game against his old team in St. Louis in over a year.

This game is essentially important to both teams' playoff runs and will be a very tight checking, hopefully low scoring, affair. The key to this game will be the Blues ability to keep the Hawks off the power play. If they can succeed at that then this game should be close.

On Chicago's end, they will need to slow down the speed of the Blues and keep them trapped in their own zone as much as possible. The Blues tend to run around their zone when pressured and look for Joel Quenneville to have two fore-checkers in deep to cause turnovers.

Game time is 7pm Central.