As the St. Louis Blues head into Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, coach Ken Hitchcock will be faced with a tough decision that not too many people would have forecasted him having to make about a week ago: which player to remove from the lineup.
Just one week ago, the Blues faced the Detroit Red Wings while being down six of their top 12 forwards and two of their top six defensemen. Forwards Ty Rattie and Keith Aucoin, neither of whom had been up with the club at any point until last week, were recalled from the AHL Chicago Wolves, and players like Dmitrij Jaskin, Chris Porter and Adam Cracknell, who had seen very inconsistent action, were put into more significant roles.
Though the Blues lost that contest and added to a more than two game-long scoreless streak, Cracknell and Porter played very well and earned themselves spots in the lineup for Game 1 against the Blackhawks, even as the Blues got back forwards David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka and Brenden Morrow. Very few, however, could have predicted the impact that the two career minor-leaguers would make in the game that ended up going to triple-overtime.
Cracknell scored the first goal of the game and set the tone for the Blues’ renewed scoring efforts, while Porter delivered the assist. Though he could not convert on any of them, Porter tied for the team lead with seven shots. In relatively limited ice time, Cracknell and Porter also delivered five and three hits, respectively, making their presence very much felt along the boards by an aggressive Blackhawks squad.
While the Blues have the good fortune of having one of their biggest contributors, T.J. Oshie, likely returning from injury for Saturday’s game, that means that Hitchcock will have to make a tough call, and he acknowledged on Friday that it would likely come down to either Cracknell or Porter. Despite the heavy impact that both of them made in Game 1, their status as longtime minor-leaguers who didn’t do much during the regular season (two points for Cracknell, one for Porter) means that they can be removed without much controversy.
It could be just as easy to take out Derek Roy, who many hailed as the prize of the Blues’ free agent class this offseason. The 30-year-old Roy, who was signed to a one-year, $4 million-dollar deal, has not quite lived up to expectations during 2013-14. He was expected to be a major scoring threat, but over 75 games, he had just nine goals. He was adept as a passer and picked up 28 assists, but he’s nothing more than a third line contributor at this point. Roy had just 14 hits during the regular season, the lowest number among the club’s regular forwards. To put that in perspective, Cracknell had 33 hits in 19 games, and the 21-year-old Jaskin had 40 in 18. Roy’s 46.9 face-off percentage was also worst among the Blues’ primary centers.
While, to his credit, Roy did pick up a key assist in Game 1, his 5-foot-9, 184-pound frame does not necessarily match up well with the Blackhawks’ physical lineup. It might be easier to remove him from the lineup without effect than it would be with a heavy hitter like Cracknell or Porter.
No matter what, Oshie’s presence should give the Blues a lift in Game 1. Hopefully, however, Hitchcock relies on actual production when deciding who should stay in the lineup for Game 2.