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Blackhawks Buzz: Keith, Rozsival give blue line a boost ahead of St. Louis clash

by Eric Lear / Chicago Blackhawks


1. BLACK AND BLUES

The Blackhawks will take on the Blues on Saturday for their second meeting in two weeks. In their first clash on Nov. 4, the Blackhawks suffered a stinging loss on home ice. In that contest, Chicago scored five first-period goals and ended the opening 20 minutes with a three-goal lead. St. Louis stormed back and tallied four unanswered goals, capped by an overtime winner from Vladimir Tarasenko. Including that game, the Blackhawks have lost three of their last four. The Blues have won three of their last four, though they’re coming into Saturday’s game off a 6-3 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

2. COLT 55

There’s an intimidating presence lurking on the blue line for St. Louis, wearing No. 55. Colton Parayko stands at 6 foot, 5 inches, weighs 226 pounds and has had a strong start to his rookie campaign. The 2012 third-round selection (86 overall) netted 17 goals and 49 assists in three years with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, then played 17 games for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL last season. Now just 16 games into his NHL career, the Alberta native has tallied five goals and six assists for 11 points, the most among St. Louis defenseman as well as NHL rookie blueliners. Parayko played 22:54 last week against the Blackhawks while picking up two helpers for his third multi-point game of the season.

3. CALL ON LINE 2

The bulk of the Blackhawks’ offense through 15 games has come from the second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. The trio has combined for 22 goals and 50 points while the rest of the team combined has just 57 points. Most of the damage has been done by Kane, whose 11 goals and 25 points share the league lead after Thursday’s games. He’s scored goals in each of the last five games and has at least a point in 11 straight games, marking the longest point streak in the league this season. Panarin enters Saturday’s tilt with three goals and four points in the last two games. While the productivity from the second line has been valuable, the Blackhawks know they need scoring from the other three lines.

“You can’t have one line doing it every night,” said Andrew Shaw after Thursday’s loss to New Jersey. “We’re trying to come together as a unit.”

4. DEFENSIVE REINFORCEMENTS

Both Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival were activated off long-term injured reserve on Friday and will be in the lineup on Saturday. Keith missed 10 games with a torn MCL, and his return is a little ahead of schedule, while Rozsival has been patiently rehabbing an ankle injury sustained last May during the playoffs. Rookies Victor Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson, who filled in admirably in their absence, were assigned to Rockford to make room for the two veteran defensemen. Joel Quenneville said he didn’t think his team defense suffered too much without Keith, but his return, along with Rozsival’s experience, could be the boost the Blackhawks need to get back on the right track in their own zone.

5. VLAD TO THE BONE

The Blackhawks defense will have to be aware of the dangerous Vladimir Tarasenko whenever the young Russian is on the ice. The former first-round pick has been good for a point a game over the last four, including his eighth goal of the season in the Blues’ last outing. Tarasenko aside, St. Louis has other sources of firepower at the top of the lineup. Alexander Steen has posted a team-high eight goals, including a pair against Chicago on Nov. 4, and center Jori Lehtera has the second-highest possession numbers on the team despite posting just four points so far this season.

Despite being bitten by the injury bug—Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz and Patrik Berglund have all missed substantial time, while Kevin Shattenkirk returned to action last week after missing the previous 10 games—the Blues sit just three points behind first-place Dallas in the league’s toughest division. The Blackhawks can expect a physical game from a team looking to prove they can contend for a Stanley Cup, and their success will need to start from the blue line, where their own reinforcements hope to contribute upon their return to the lineup. Corey Crawford, who has a 12-4-4 all-time record against St. Louis, will be ready for redemption after the last tilt between these two rivals.

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