Chicago Blackhawks: St. Louis Shutdown, Part I

By Colin Likas

You won’t often see members of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues working together, unless it’s in the NHL All-Star game or in a players’ union activity. But that doesn’t mean the teams’ fans can’t collaborate once in a while.

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Blackhawk Up and Bleedin’ Blue, the St. Louis Fansided site, are working together the next two days on a look at the Blackhawks’ and Blues’ top forwards and defensemen, and how the opposition can go about shutting them down. Kate Cimini has provided her take on which six forwards and four defensemen will grace the Blues’ top two lines and pairings in 2015-16, and I’ve offered the same for the Blackhawks.

But how can the Blackhawks shut down and take advantage of the Blues that Kate has chosen? That’s what I’m here to answer. Today, we’ll look at the forwards, and tomorrow we’ll move on to the defensemen.

First, the forwards Kate selected to fill out St. Louis’ top two lines next season, and why she made those picks:

First line: Alexander Steen-Jori LehteraVladimir Tarasenko

Why Steen: Steen is a smart player who makes big bodies look foolish. He can switch direction in a blink and is highly creative on the ice. Good two-way player whose physicality comes out when faced with a challenge.

Why Lehtera: Has unbelievable chemistry with Tarasenko. Lehtera is a strong playmaker with strong vision, and his two-way play makes him a tough one to fool.

Why Tarasenko: One of our best players, Tarasenko (or, “Tank,” as he is sometimes called, after his habit of blowing through lines with ease), has hands like butter and is a big body to match. He led the NHL in postseason goals long after the Blues were eradicated from the race.

Second line: Jaden SchwartzPaul StastnyDavid Backes

Why Schwartz: Schwartz isn’t large enough to go up against certain big bodies, but he’s speedy and skilled with the puck.

Why Stastny: A great playmaker and good passer, Stastny would anchor this line well. A two-way player, his patience on the ice could also tip the scales his way.

Why Backes: Backes is a physical, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of player who leads his line in hits and grit. He’s full of passion and persistence, and is a shutdown player who’s more than up to the challenge of fighting off opposing forwards. He has a sixth sense when it comes to scoring goals and is one of the toughest players out there to neutralize.

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  • So, how would the Blackhawks go about shutting these lines? Let’s start with the first one.

    To me, the Blackhawks can match first line against first line here. The first line I offered for Chicago consists of Teuvo Teravainen, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. While Teravainen is a bit undersized compared to the three Blues on that first line, that’s about the only disadvantage I’d see for the Blackhawks when matching Teravainen-Toews-Hossa against Steen-Lehtera-Tarasenko.

    Lehtera isn’t often going to beat Toews over a full game at the dot, and Toews is a more effective player than Lehtera both offensively and defensively. Admittedly, Lehtera and Tarasenko have chemistry, but it could be easily argued the chemistry Toews and Hossa possess is stronger. Steen is a shifty player but still stands at 5-foot-11, 212 pounds and can be bulled around by Hossa.

    The really difficult matchup here would be Tarasenko against Teravainen. I’ve been very impressed with Tarasenko during his brief time in the league, and I think he’s among the league’s toughest forwards to stop, no matter who’s on the other side. So, Duncan Keith needs to be on defense against this Blues trio. With the way the defense is currently constructed, that means he’s bringing David Rundblad with him, but it’s not as though Rundblad is hopeless.

    The Blackhawks need their best defenseman against the Blues’ best forward, and that would pit Keith against Tarasenko. Having Keith out against this St. Louis line would do a lot to eliminate any defensive troubles Teravainen might have. Keith would also team well with Toews and Hossa in blunting the offensive attack from Steen and Tarasenko. Limit the chances for those two, and this line becomes muted. And send a line featuring Teravainen, Toews, Hossa and Keith the other way, and either Brian Elliott or Jake Allen is bound to have a rough night.

    On to the second line. In a perfect world, the Blackhawks would be able to send their fourth line out against this Blues line, featuring Schwartz, Stastny and Backes. I still imagine that Chicago line consisting of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley on the blue line. Kruger and Co. have proven they can shut down some of the league’s best top lines, and this line wouldn’t be the biggest challenge Desjardins, Kruger and Shaw have faced.

    Sure, Backes is a sizable guy, but so are Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. We know how that matchup turned out. Kruger wins enough at the dot to be effective against Stastny, while Shaw and Desjardins would frustrate the living daylights out of Schwartz and Backes. And then you’ve got the defensive defenseman Hjalmarsson on the back of all of this, as well as Daley to quickly turn play the other way once the Blackhawks forwards stall St. Louis’ attack. If Desjardins, Kruger and Shaw stay smart and stick to their tenacious forecheck, this St. Louis line will quickly become agitated and likely break down.

    Check back in tomorrow as we take a look at what Kate has to offer for the Blues at the blue line, and how I think the Blackhawks would combat and attack it.

    Next: NHL Power Rankings: Western Conference Goaltenders

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