Photo: Associated Press

How did the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues two weeks ago? By pounding them into submission? By Jamal Mayers making dents in B.J. Crombeen’s melon? By Brandon Bollig trying to tenderize Ryan Reeves? So many will say ‘yes’, and assert that a physical game will be imperative to beating St. Louis tonight. I’m going to disagree.

Chicago beat the Blues by first of all, recovering from a 3-goals-against meltdown by Ray Emery in the first period; and secondly, by throwing 46 shots at the Blues’ goal while limiting their shots against to just 24.

Tonight will be no different. If the Blackhawks use their speed, press their forecheck, take advantage of a demonstrably slower St. Louis defense, and not waste time and energy throwing the body, they will win. How do I know? One week prior to that game, the Blackhawks managed only 20 shots on goal against St. Louis while allowing 31 shots against. Chicago lost 5-1. And Bollig and Reaves went at it in that game too, precious little good it did.

This game, like any game against the Blues, is a matter of beating a hot goalie. Jaroslav Halak will get the start for St. Louis, the same netminder we have faced the last 2 outings. Halak has been sitting the last 3 games (while “backup” Brian Elliot racked up 3 consecutive shutouts) following a 4-goals-on-22-shots effort against Anaheim. So if Halak comes into this game in the same kind of funk, the Blackhawks may have an opportunity to jump out to an early lead.

The other key to this game will be defensive, and that’s where the Blackhawks’ forwards will be important. Duncan Keith and Sami Lepisto — two of our fastest defensemen — are both out. Back-checking on the part of the Blackhawks forwards — hustling to catch up to the attackers and picking their pockets from behind — will absolutely need to be there. If you make the other team constantly look behind them, they will have a harder time making accurate passes and completing their breakout. We’ve shown the ability to do this before, most recently against Detroit (*spitting noise*) when we gave the Wings’ forwards fits in the neutral zone and created many transition opportunities. A repeat of that performance will go a long way towards securing a win tonight.

The other name decidedly absent from the lineup is, of course, Jonathan Toews, who will miss the game again tonight. The Blackhawks forwards have adapted fairly well to his absence. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa have stepped up and combined for just shy of 30 points in the last 9 games, while speedster Viktor Stalberg and scrappy fire plug Andrew Shaw have chipped in with substantive contributions that have made a huge difference.

On the back end, well, there’s no predicting what we’ll be in for tonight. Steve Montador made his return against New Jersey taking a few shifts as a fourth-line winger, as Head Coach Joel Quenneville kept the bottom defensive pairing of rookie Dylan Olsen and AARP spokesperson Sean O’Donnell together — but giving them each less than 8 minutes of playing time. As of this writing there is no word on Montador’s status for tonight, as he sustained a blow to the head during the 2nd period against the Devils and didn’t take a shift in the 3rd period as a precaution. If he has re-aggravated his concussion, we can likely kiss him good-bye for the season. Hopefully, though, we will get good news on his return to the lineup this afternoon.

Johnny Oduya has drawn the short straw for taking Duncan Keith’s minutes, leading the ‘Hawks in ice time by playing just shy of half the game against New Jersey. He and partner Brent Seabrook did well, but as expected, putting rookie Nick Leddy back with Niklas Hjalmarsson took both of their games down a notch. I’m not sure there’s a better solution even assuming Montador is able to play, but I’m also not confident in anyone but the first pairing.

In goal, Ray Emery yielded his seat on the bench and allowed Carter Hutton his first chance to back up a real life NHL goaltender on Tuesday. But Emery is back tonight, and will likely sit in the exact same place Hutton did — Corey Crawford is expected to start. One member of the Twitterscape observed that Crawford’s positioning is dramatically improved over his slumping days in December, and truer words were never spoken. Crawford looked terrific against the Devils: if he can deliver that type of game consistently, the Blackhawks will have a chance to win every time they step on to the ice.

Administrative nonsense: St. Louis is reportedly healthy coming into tonight’s game, as Andy McDonald’s shoulder injury is seemingly not serious enough to sit him again, and Matt D’Agostini is scheduled to make his return tonight after a lengthy injury. The Blackhawks are without the usual cast of characters as mentioned above. Halak starts in goal for St. Louis, Chicago will (most likely) give the crease to Crawford.

7:30pm start time at the United Center this evening. Comcast SportsNet has the television coverage; WGN AM-720 will broadcast the game on terrestrial radio; XM subscribers should tune in on channel 216; and Sirius Premiere customers can find the game on channel 215.

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