FACEOFF: 3pm Central
TV/RADIO: WGN for both
After taking a break from it last season, the Hawks return to their usual Black Friday matinee at one of the biggest hives of scum and villainy in the world, Honda Center in Orange County (at least for me personally). In the past, these games have been something of a looney bin. The last two times it happened, in ’12 and ’11, the Hawks managed goal-explosions in the 3rd period to win. That would be all right this time, as the Ducks remain something of a bogey team for the Hawks, beating them only twice in the past seven meetings.
For the Hawks, and this is just a guess because there is no morning skate today, but I would wager this is where Antti Raanta is tossed out. There is no soft landing in either Anaheim or downtown Los Angeles, and as the Hawks are more likely to need a heroic goalie performance on the back end of a back-to-back, that’s probably where they’ll need Crawford. But considering the size and aggressiveness of the Ducks around the net, this is going to be quite the challenge for Raanta. He has a tendency to get caught up in traffic needing to come out and challenge at his smaller size, and the Ducks do not shrink from providing traffic. It’s even more amped up for Raanta because Scott Darling’s performances in Rockford have not dropped, and you would think it would only take a couple shaky performances from the Finn before another swapping took place.
The rest of the lineup should remain the same, though Rozsival going against this forecheck and speed is not going to help last night’s revelry and today’s leftovers settle all that well, eh?
It’s all going pretty swimmingly for the Ducks at the moment, who I think have taken the Sharks’ longtime mantle of the NHL’s Legends Of The Fall before falling on their face when it matters. Bruce Boudreau teams can certainly pile up the regular season points though. They’ve won three in a row after losing three in a row, and sit atop the West (their usual spot the past now three seasons).
It’s not quite how they’ve always done it, as Getzlaf is slightly below a point-per-game pace and Perry has missed some time. But Ryan Kesler has been everything they’d hoped so far (sigh…) along with growth from Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm on the back end.
What they have been getting is plus-goaltending from Frederik Andersen, though he’s had to take a boatload of starts with John Gibson out for a while. He’ll go again today, his 18th start of the season, although I suppose with the Ducks heading up to San Jose tomorrow the Hawks could get a look at Jason LabarberaMagillaGorilla and that would be most all right with just about everyone.
Still, the Ducks remain a little more top-heavy than they’re supposed to be. There’s the top line Perry-Getzlaf-Doofus Du Jour, and then Kesler and Beleskey (10 goals) on the 2nd line. Beyond that though it’s a little bare. Slifverberg, who really needs to decide if he wants to go with the “f” or “v” in his last name and leave it at that, only has one goal. Professional Hawks-boil Andrew Cogliano only has three. Kyle Palmieri only has three goals as well. Devante Smith-Pelley, who sometimes looks like he should score 30 and has gotten time on the top line, only has three as well. At some point some or all of these players will fire and the Ducks could be a very scary outfit with this goaltending.
They’ll need that goaltending, because the defense is yet to convince. The top pairing here is still Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin and based on the severe burns and blisters they have from last spring from what Kopitar and Gaborik did to them, questions remain. Lindholm and and Lovejoy beyond that? Yeah, no.
That said, the Ducks are the exact type of team that give the Hawks fits in that they’re big and can’t be completely out-skated either. In their first meeting at the UC, the Hawks tossed 38 shots at Gibson but couldn’t find the breakthrough and a Seabrook hairball at the blue line on the power play let Smith-Pelley pot the only goal shorthanded. When the Ducks keep the game along the walls the Hawks have a real problem because they are so much bigger than the Hawks. They’ll attempt to stand the Hawks up at the blue line to force them to dump it in and they’ll probably do the same themselves at the Hawks’ line in order to lean on the defense (should be a wonderful day for Adam Clendening). In Chicago Boudreau made sure that the third forward stayed high on the forecheck to clog the neutral zone so the Hawks couldn’t get much speed going. See if he does the same at home. Because if the Hawks can find space to the outside of the Stoners and Beauchemins of the world (Lovejoy is out injured) then they could get a lot of chances.
The Hawks have already broken even on this trip, but you want to get greedy with how the West is. They’ll end it with games against two of the serious contenders in the conference, always nice to throw down a marker if you can.