ST. LOUIS -- Following a tightly checked Game 1 that resulted in a 1-0 Blues win, both the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks anticipate the physicality to be increased even more for Friday night's Game 2.
Intensity wasn’t a problem in Game 1 -- scoring was. Here are four things to watch as the Blackhawks and Blues try to scrape together enough scoring to get out of the first round:
1. The return of Duncan Keith: The Blues eked out a Game 1 win, taking advantage of the absence of one of the Blackhawks’ most important players. Keith sat out, serving the final game of his six-game suspension.
Now he’s back, and it’s going to affect every part of the Blackhawks' attack. Keith plays 30 minutes a night. He’s a part of the special teams and his high-end skating can help keep the puck out of the defensive zone.
The key for Keith will be to not let the suspension change the way he plays, although the expectation is that he’s going to be observed closely following his high-profile swing of the stick at Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.
“He knows that discipline is always going to be a key and he’s probably going to be watched a little tighter,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday after the team skate.
Quenneville said the call on who Keith replaces in the lineup will be a game-time decision but, based on the amount of practice time turned in between Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg, the smart guess is that Gustafsson sits.
2. More offense needed from Vladimir Tarasenko: The Blues' big 40-goal scorer finished Game 1 without a single shot on goal. He was a threat at times in the offensive zone but passed on a couple of scoring opportunities to try to set up teammates rather than taking the shot himself.
If the Blues are going to break through offensively without relying on fluke goals, Tarasenko needs to lead the charge.
“We will have a meeting tonight. Coaches let us know what we did wrong, what we did right,” Tarasenko said on Friday morning. “You always try so much the first game and you’re really nervous the first game. You want to score ... we need to play our best tonight.”
3. Ken Hitchcock wants better shot selection: Given that the Blues were limited to just 18 shots on goal in Game 1, the typical answer is more shots from anywhere on the ice.
Hitchcock’s solution is the opposite.
“I know this might sound funny, but we were guilty of trying to shoot too much,” the Blues coach said. “That’s what put us in a bad spot. We didn’t show the patience necessary to play this team. We tried to shoot the puck too much, had numerous shots blocked and ended up with both teams collectively having close to the same scoring chances, almost identical ... . We were guilty of not having enough shots because we tried to shoot too much.”
4. Both teams want more physicality: After Game 1, Hitchcock suggested he wanted to see his team’s hits total get into the 70s. They had 41 hits.
On Friday, he came clean a little bit, saying that the high number was thrown out there to give the media something to talk about.
“It was fun watching you guys chase the tail yesterday, all the way up to NBC,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to have fun. Watching you guys have to write and work ... is fun.”
That said, he still wants a focus on physical play from his team. Not so much running up the hits total but making physical plays to get the puck back from a talented offensive team.
“There’s a difference between finished checks and hits,” Hitchcock said. “Finished checks means you get the puck back, finished checks means you win a board battle to regain possession or you force mistakes. Those are the elements of anybody’s game when you play against skill -- you need to control that part.”
The Blackhawks aren’t necessarily known for their hitting, but forward Andrew Shaw said there’s room for improvement there for his team as well.
“They’re going to use their body to get the puck back, try to create more space for their skill guys as well,” Shaw said. “We need to do the same. I think we need to get more hits than we did last game, that’s for sure.”