Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CSN, WGN-AM 720
Kings Of Prussia: Broad St. Hockey
Pennsylvania is a an underratedly terrible place, in the team photo with the worst that the contiguous 48 has to offer. The roads are stupid, the accents are all nauseating, its institutional support of a Child Abuse Colony in State College reaches all the way to the highest offices in the state, the food is terrible, and the crown jewel of the state, Philadelphia, boasts some of the most intentionally asinine people on the sporting fandom spectrum, as would any place where college football, province of losers and toothless townies, is king. These are people who proudly throw batteries at athletes, boo Santa, beat up opposing fans after a Winter Classic, and need their T&A fix so badly at a hockey game that they boo a male ice crew. Or if you’re Travis Hughes, SB Nation’s hockey editor and one-time chief of Broad Street hockey, go four and a half years without making good on a bet, even if cheesesteaks are far inferior to italian beefs. Seriously, fucking cheese whiz?
The Flyers come into Chicago tonight as they ever have, with misguided Stanley Cup aspirations despite the fatal flaws of mediocre goaltending and a blue line in disarray. In the wake of Chris Pronger’s quasi-retirement and having Nashville call their bluff on Shea Weber, Paul Holmgren and now Ron Hextall (a Philly fan favorite obviously), have now deemed it necessary to spend a combined $10.25 million dollars on Mark Streit and Andrew McDonald, who were the foundations of an Islanders club that was never once in the top 10 of goals or shots against in their entire combined tenures in Nassau. That’s wise spending. Combine that with the defensive disinterest Michael Del Zotto and Braydon Coburn (who is still rubbing salve on himself from the 3rd degree burns he sustained in June of 2010), and obelisks Nicolas Grossmann and Luke Schenn, it’s not surprising that this team is giving up just a shade under 30 shots per game to this point. And while the loss of long-time stalwart Kimmo Timonen certainly hurts, at 39 he was never going to be that big of a difference maker among this group. And to put it all in front of the decidedly below average duo of Steve Mason and Ray M. Murray (a combined .877 save percentage) is a recipe for underachievement relative to expectations once again.
Fortunately the Flyers do have some fun forwards to counter-attack with, starting with captain Claude Giroux. Giroux predictably is leading his team in scoring with 7 points so far this young season, tied with Jakub Voracek and human bowling ball Wayne Simmonds, who already has five goals. Scott Hartnell was swapped for RJ Umberger’s second tour of duty in Philly, and the early returns are less than optimal with a lone assist for RJU thus far. Sean Coutourier will likely emerge as the league’s premiere defensive center if he hasn’t already, devouring Toews in the Hawks’ trip to Philly last season. Coutourier starts nearly shift in his defensive zone, but still manages a 48% corsi share at evens, all while facing the toughest competition the opposition has to offer. And it’s a good thing Vinny Lecavalier is still pretty. The Flyers are putting 34 shots on net a night to this point which is out of necessity given what their goaltending has provided, so look for them to not let up on the gas at any point in the evening.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the lineup gets a bit of a jumble tonight for the first time this young season. Kris Versteeg is apparently healthy enough to go, which of course means he’ll hop right back onto his spot on the second line, which is apparently his birthright, flanking #2 Center Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane. The numbers for Kane and Versteeg together last year weren’t as bad as they might be remembered, but it’s still an oddly put together and undersized line. This of course slots Brandon Saad down to Brad Richards’ left, which could end up being quite helpful in getting much of anything out of he and Bickell given Saad’s ability to move through the neutral zone and gain clean entry across the blue line as a one man breakout.
Naturally, that chain reaction brings things back to what will be the ongoing conflict of the season, whether Jeremy Morin or Gorilla Salad draws in along Marcus Kruger’s left opposite Ben Smith. There’s only one right answer here despite Carcillo’s apparent (and assuredly temporary) desire to actually play hockey, but Quenneville was cagey at the morning skate, and given his tendencies it’s pretty obvious where he’ll go. Q also had the audacity to yet another insult to a seemingly interminable string of them for Morin when Quenneville yesterday remarked that there “hasn’t been enough time for a fair assessment“, even though he’s the one only giving 6 minutes of ice time a night.
Antti Raanta will get his first start of the season tonight with Corey Crawford unavailable due to an illness that’s rendered him day-to-day. Scott Darling has been recalled to back up the Finnish Floodgates, and will somehow manage to be the most popular player the Hawks have by the end of the game. He is a HOME TOWN KID after all. Either way, a helmet and probably a cup are probably necessary even when viewing from home.
This game will likely have the calamatous, heart-racing feel of Game One of the 2010 Final where neither goalie was particularly interested in stopping anything, except without any of the actual consequence. That won’t stop Joel Quenneville from adding to the vibe however, and once again leaning on his veterans for well over 20 minutes for all involved. Let’s go Hawks.