2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Preview
It’s one of the National Hockey Leagues most anticipated events of every season since the tradition began on New Year’s Day in 2008; The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. This year is the 9th happening of this event which takes us to St. Louis, MO, for the 368th meeting of a bitter rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues. As we all know The Hawks were dispatched in 7 games in the playoffs last year by the Blues, They’ve already met 3 times this year with the Hawks taking 2 of the 1st 3 meetings.
Chicago Blackhawks – 90th Season (1926-27 to 2016-17)
NHL Playoff Appearances: 61
NHL Championships: 6 (6 Stanley Cups)
Conference championships: 4
Division championships: 16
Presidents’ Trophies: 2
The Chicago Blackhawks come into this Winter Classic as the top team in the Western Conference; 23-10-5 = 51 points, lead the Central Division by 1 point for the surging Minnesota Wild. The Blackhawks started the season 10-3-1, they’ve gone 13-7-4 since and still despite the current rough patch they are on still lead the conference and the division.
The Hawks all season long have been led by maybe the best line in the league in Artemi Panarin, 5th in the NHL in points with 38 – leads the Hawks in scoring, and who just got a 2 year extension yesterday, Patrick Kane, The reigning MVP in the NHL, although the numbers are nowhere NEAR what they were in his 46 goal, 60 assist = 106 point season last season but still 37 points on the year – good enough for a T-6th in points in the league, and the final member of that line; Artem Anisimov (1 of my favorite players to watch), who matched his career high in goals last year with 22 – has 16 already and is on pace to have a career year in points, Goals, and Assists. He has been fabulous since joining Chicago last year as a free agent.
Of course the other common contributors like Marion Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and contributions from new guys like Goalie; Corey Crawford, Richard Panik, Rookies; Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyler Motte, and Defenseman; Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook.
Going forward, though, the main concern that the Blackhawks have that needs addressing; The Blue Line, after Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook the Hawks are thin in terms of depth. Now this is NOT me degrading Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Trevor van Riemsdyk & Brian Campbell because they are quality players, and maybe they’ll flourish as the season goes on (Kempny, Forsling, and van Riemsdyk are all 25 and under). But the Blackhawks will not go far in the playoffs with JUST the Big 3 on the Blue Line.
St. Louis Blues – 50th Season (1967-68 to 2016-17)
The St. Louis Blues come into this Winter Classic with a mark of 19-12-5 = 43 points, 3rd place in the Central Division 8 points back of the Hawks. They’ve had 6 streaks of 2 losses (1 of them a 3 gamer), but for the most part have been in the thick of thing. The Blues attack this year has been lead entirely by 1 player; Vladimir Tarasenko – he leads them in goals with 16, assists with 23 and points with 39. Aside from Tarasenko’s 39 points, they have 4 other players over 20 points in; Kevin Shattenkirk (24), Robby Fabbri (23), Jaden Schwartz (21) and David Perron (20). In goal, Jake Allen has been fantastic; 16-8-3, 2.63 GAA and a Save% of .905.
For the Blues, as we move along in this season, Scoring depth behind Tarasenko is a must-need. You can not have 1 player be your entire offense they need most consistency out of their other offensive players. Defensively, they need to cut down on some coverage busts every now and then – an issue that is coachable.
Overall, coming off their berth in the Conference Final last year, the Blues continue to be in the consideration as 1 of the perennials in the conference.
This is meeting #368 All-Time between the Blues and The Hawks. Chicago leads the series 181-151-35, 30-24 since 2010 and has won 4 of the last 6 meetings. The Blues hold a 94-72-17 All-Time in St. Louis.
If the last 8 Winter Classics have told us anything it’s that these games usually are full of pageantry before and after the game, and the game itself with the exception of last year’s route win but Montreal over Boston usually lives up to the hype and goes down to the wire for a decision as we all hope this game does!