The Blackhawks and Blues are both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season. The similarities largely end there.
The Hawks are built on speed and skill, their puck-moving defensemen sparking their transition offense with quick, aggressive stretch passes. They stifle opponents by controlling the puck and playing keep-away.
The Blues are built on size and toughness, using their physical play to grind teams down and goad them into getting away from their style. They stifle opponents by clogging shooting and passing lanes and controlling the boards.
Considering how important their five regular-season meetings will be in the divisional standings, and how often they’ll surely see each other in the new divisional playoffs, whichever team can impose its will — and its style — will be the one who comes out on top.
“They’re really good at what they do, and we’re trying to get good at what we do,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said before Wednesday’s game at Scottrade Center. “I don’t think they can play the way we play, and I know we can’t play the way they play. For them to be effective, they’ve got to control the play in the O-zone. And for us to be effective, we’ve got to control the boards in the O-zone.”
The Hawks successfully managed to avoid getting sucked into the Blues’ style last season. Not counting the season finale, in which the Hawks played nearly half their AHL roster to rest their top guys, the Hawks were 3-0-1 against the Blues, including two shutout victories.
“We did a good job of that last year, especially in this building,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who spent most of last season’s games with Barrett Jackman and David Backes trying to goad him into taking a foolish penalty, or even a fight. “It’s something I’ve kind of grown used to. It won’t be anything new tonight.”
Bryan Bickell, Toews’ left wing, knows it’s up to him to clear room for Toews and Patrick Kane to play the game they need to play.
“I’ve got to get those guys the puck and get the pucks in the corner, finish my hits to open ice for them and make it harder on their defense or forwards,” Bickell said. “Our speed, our transition game are our strengths. We don’t fall into the other team’s hands. We just play our game.”