GAMETIME: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN for the locals, NHLN for the outsiders, WGN 720 for the dead
WAITING FOR THE GOPHERS: Hockey Wilderness
The Hawks embark on a pretty ridiculously packed schedule the next 10 days here. There’s three games in the next four days, five in the next eight, and seven in the next 12. Only after the 17th’s trip to Nashville will the Hawks get as much as three days off. And the roster is looking a bit stretched tonight with both Michal Handzus and Andrew Shaw not making the trip.
In some curious quotes and decisions, the Hawks will line up Kris Versteeg between Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, as well as Joakim Nordstrom between Jeremy Morin and Sheldon Brookbank, and entire line that will be lucky to crack seven minutes tonight. While I understand to a degree the decision to send down Brandon Pirri to regain some confidence, it certainly could have waited a day to find out if you were going to be down two centers. You may remember Quenneville trotting out Versteeg at center a couple times in 2009-2010, and you may remember it being an unmitigated disaster. Apparently he’ll flip with Brandon Saad at the pivot, and Saad was so impressive there in training camp they scrapped that experiment after about three days. Scoff all you want, but this is a definite THROBBING BRAIN ALERT.
Secondly, with three games in four days do you really want to be attacking it with essentially nine forwards that Q will actually use? Especially when the big bodied and straight-line Ducks await tomorrow, and they were certainly a headache for the Hawks last year. Thankfully, the points the Hawks have already banked do allow some leeway, but this seems an unnecessary use of that margin for error.
Oh, and even more weird was Q’s bouquets tossed at Nordstrom’s feet, who apparently was sent down to learn the art of penalty killing and that he can fill the “Frolik” role, as if that was an actual thing now. If Nordy was so lost in the first place why was he here then? And whose spot is he going to take assuming he’s got it down now? Smith’s? Bollig’s (HA!)? Meanwhile, Kris Versteeg looks longingly during Hawks’ penalty kills at the ice and tries to remember a time when he would have been out there. Patrick Sharp sits next to him and ponders would impressive work on the kill enhance his chances of going to Sochi.
The Wild themselves aren’t at full strength either. Mikael Granlund, who has torn the Hawks apart in the two games they’ve played, is out. Charlie Coyle only just returned from injury. Coyle is centering the second line between Neiderreiter and Heatley, while Jason Pominville has moved up to the top line with Parise and Koivu. Pominville’s separation from Granlund has cooled him off a bit, but obviously he’s been the main danger for the Hawks this year.
However, for the first time this year Jonas Brodin will trot it out against the Hawks, paired with Ryan Suter. Brodin is a true treasure and gives the Wild one of the best top pairings around. They’re not totally incompetent below that, thanks to Marco Scandella’s excellent year, but Keith Ballard still rides around at times and you have to target that. I haven’t seen otherwise, so I’m assuming Josh Harding will make his first start of the year against the Hawks after shutting out the Flyers on Monday. Harding leads the league in SV%, and has been marvelous. He’s totally capable of stealing this himself, especially with the Hawks lineup being as wonky as it is.
The two games these two have played mirrored each other, with the home team just shading the play but not making it count, and the road team being utterly ruthless when its chances appeared. We know the Wild are going to attempt to skate with the Hawks now, and with Coyle back in the lineup the Wild have a little more size than they did. Cleary the top unit Red Wedding Line (10-19-81) are going to have to do the heavy lifting while Saad and Kane watch Versteeg thrash about and try and stifle a laugh. Special teams could play a huge role, as you feel the Hawks are going to have to get a power play marker. But the Wild’s power play has hummed all year and now has Brodin back to help out on the back end, and the Hawks’ kill hasn’t been a synonym for “extinguisher.”
Should be a good one.