Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Southern Culture On The Skids: Canes Country
With the deadline now passed earlier this afternoon, the Hawks now have their team going forward, at least until Patrick Kane gets healthy. Two of the three Hawks acquisitions will make their debuts tonight against a Carolina fresh off unloading more players in the middle in their seemingly never ending rebuild.
Just prior to the deadline the Hurricanes shed free-agent-to-be Andrej Sekera and Jiri Tlusty, with the former fetching top dollar from the Kings as the deadline’s most sought after blueliner. Sekera saw the Canes’ toughest minutes and came out on the positive side of the possession ledger, and was highly mobile, so it’s not a wonder that he was moved with Carolina going nowhere. Tlusty has yet to meet the pedigree that led him to be drafted 13th overall in 2006, with only one 20 goal season to his credit in the lockout year.
Much like the Panthers last week, the Hurricanes play a pretty sound possession game at an uptempo pace. They hold a 51.5% share of shot attempts at evens, and do a fair job at suppressing attempts to the tune of 53.5 per 60 minutes. Up front it’s still the Staal brothers who carry the mail in most every major offensive department, and Jordan has been a possession monster at 59.2% since his return from injury. But it’s just simply not resulting in goals. Brother Eric leads the team with 18 goals, which is a far cry from his earlier years of nearly a point per game, and the guy who once tallied an even 100 in his sophomore season. And for what they’re paying both of these guys, I’m sure that they’d like a little more return on investment. Even ghastlier still is Alexander Semin with two, yes TWO goals overall, both of which are at even strength. Semin is a career 12.6% shooter even factoring in this year’s abominable 3.6% rate, so it’s likely just horrendous luck, but unfortunately for the Canes and Semin, if he’s not scoring, he’s not really doing a lot elsewhere to contribute. Which of course means he will have two tonight.
With Sekera now gone, even more of the workload falls to Justin Faulk, perhaps the most unheralded player in the entire NHL. He leads the Canes in scoring with 40 points which is impressive from the blue line even if damning with faint praise. Faulk plays 24 minutes a night in all situations, and it’s a wonder that coach Bill Peters has resisted the urge to go all Doughty with Faulk’s time, as he’s clearly capable of handling it and plays a similarly rambunctious game. J-M Liles has gone through a bit of a renaissence after getting away from Randy Carlyle, and is slaying bums on the third pairing with youngster Ryan Murphy with the benefit of cushy zone starts.
In net Cam Ward remains with his unmovable contract, still never performing up to the standards he set in Canes’ Cup run nearly 10 years ago. Ward is perfectly average at .913 overall and at evens, and that’s even an upgrade from recent years. But for a budget strapped team average isn’t good enough with that albatross contract, and average isn’t good enough when the team is scoring impaired, which is why the Canes find themselves as sellers once again.
As for Our Men of Four Feathers, the warning beacons of Gondor have finally been lit, and Stan Bowman has gone out and made real acquisitions in the wake of Patrick Kane’s injury freeing up long term injured reserve salary cap space. Up front Antoine Vermette comes primed as a player that Joel Quenneville would predictably love and gain immediate entry into the circle of trust. While Vermette’s been catching the business end of tough zone starts and assignments in Phoenix, with him immediately slotting into the “second” center role here should get him on the right side of the puck more frequently, and he’ll start off with Saad and Sharp tonight. But perhaps most importantly is that it keeps Andrew Shaw on a wing, which is where he’s always belonged. Vermette is an ace at the dot and can kill penalties, which is what made Ben Smith expendable, in a precursor move to what will be more salary shedding in the off season for Andrew Desjardin. Yes, the guy who used to wear 69 (nice) for the Sharks. Desjardins is big and ornery but can take a draw if needed, but because he’s big, it’s only a matter of time before Quenneville puts him on a power play. Mark it down.
Also interesting was that Teuvo was not sent down on a paper move today to make him eligible for the Rockford playoffs, which is another thing that the Smith trade enabled. Teuvo skated with Toews today with Marian Hossa sitting out the morning skate, so it’s a very real possibility that he is besuited in the pressbox with the UC’s finest popcorn, particularly after probably his worst game in the show at Tampa on Friday.
The defensive corps also gets some much needed help in the form of Kimmo Timonen, who is a far bigger risk. Tonight will be Timonen’s first game of the year after battling back from life threatening bloodclots, and he will also be 40 next month. But Timonen is as smart and as crafty a defenseman as can be found in the league, and if his health holds, this is an amazing pickups for the Hawks. It also helps in not having to have Duncan Keith cover for either Rundblad or Rozsival, running to their corner to retrieve dumped in pucks, so any energy he can spare will be a plus. Corey Crawford will get the start tonight, just as he probably will for pretty much every game going forward.
While the division is for all intents and purposes lost to Nashville at this point, home ice during the first round is still up for grabs with St. Louis, and every two points helps even as this group now tries to find its footing. The most important thing is that management has given the group on the ice every opportunity to still be playing when Patrick Kane returns. The chemistry experiment begins tonight. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to the UC tonight, make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program outside, and you can pay whatever you want for it. If you’re not going, you can get the digital version right here.