FACEOFF: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN for the locals, NBCSN for the non-locals, WGN Radio 720
GOIN’ CRAZY OUT BY DA LAKE DERE: Hockey Wilderness
This road trip broke up nicely into two distinct legs, and I’m sure the Hawks categorize them as pre- and post-Vegas. Hopefully that two-day stop in Sin City left the Hawks feeling refreshed instead of lethargic. Not that they had too much to complain about, because even though they ended up 1-2 the effort over the three games was mostly, mostly ok. It wasn’t perfect, and probably not even close, but a bounce here or there and they could have walked with a maximum six points instead of only two.
Unfortunately, this won’t be the reeling Wild squad the Hawks beat up on last month as they were perilously close to having their season spin over the cliff. Since then, they’ve stabilized the goalie position with the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk, and had Mikael Granlund return. With those two components, the Wild swept Western Canada on the road, and have gone 5-1-1 in their last seven. If you believe that the Flames and Canucks are going to freefall out of the playoffs like Martin Sheen off the roof in The Departed (and you should), the Wild are not out of this at all.
Dubnyk has made seven starts in green and red and yellow and whatever other fucking colors are involved up there, and surrendered only 11 goals. But Dubnyk hasn’t had to be Laser Floyd in net. He’s only done what Kuemper and Backstrom couldn’t manage, and that’s simply benefit from the Wild’s pro-possession ways. He’s only had to face more than 30 shots once in those starts. The Wild remain in the top 10 in score-adjusted Corsi, and if Dubnyk can remain slightly above “guy,” the Wild can make a move here.
The return of Granlund shouldn’t be slept on either, though Hawks fans don’t need any reminder considering the way he tore them apart for most of last year. The top line with him, Vanek, and Parise just has more speed and creativity now–things with which Mikko Koivu just doesn’t come equipped. Koivu slots down to the 2nd line, where he’s always needed to be, with Pominville and the lightning-quick Jason Zucker.
The Wild don’t boast Nashville’s blue line depth, but they’re not bereft either. They’ve called up hotshot prospect Matthew Dumba and while he’s been pretty sheltered and hidden, he’s a better option on the third pairing with Privateer Red Ass Nate Prosser. Brodin and Suter you know about, as well as the underrated Scandella and 4th chipmunk Jared Spurgeon.
For the Hawks, it looks like the lineup will remain the same so our fears of Teuvo being benched for either the returning Gorilla Salad or Dr. Rasmussen can be quelled for another night. Corey Crawford gets the start, and one would imagine he’s taking the rest of the trip with Raanta getting the first game back at home against the stationary target of Arizona. Crow has been pretty stellar against the Wild this year, stopping 78 of 81 shots in back-to-back wins last month against them. We also remember how good he was up there last spring.
While the results didn’t go the Hawks’ way, at least their shot-suppression ways returned to see if it could see its shadow in California. 27 to the Kings, 22 to the Ducks, and 20 to the Sharks. These are the numbers I’ll be watching the rest of the season, because it indicates if the Hawks base, which is their defense, is returning to form. You know that if the Hawks are regularly holding teams to 25 shots and under, things are probably going to be ok.
And yet I always get a little urpy, because I’m a paranoid lunatic and will never be happy, when the Hawks face a team they’ve already beaten three times. That didn’t go so well when Dallas was here last. It’s awfully hard to be a team four straight, if simply the law of averages eventually come back to bite you. This trip can still be salvaged, as the Jets are sliding and then there’s the small matter of St. Louis on Sunday. So the Hawks need this one to have a pretty good chance at a .500 trip.