Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Carnivorous Vulgaris: Five For Howling
Since the calendar turned to 2015, the Hawks have now gone a sub-par 3-5, which in Conference III has been enough to drop the Hawks tied for third with the Jets and four points back of second place St. Louis. Even if any of the other teams in the division weren’t winning any and every game they played, this would still be an unacceptable record, particularly with the Hawks not playing on home ice until February 9th after tonight. And though the bottom appears to have finally fallen out on Dave Tippett’s Coyotes this season, the Hawks aren’t currently playing well enough to count any game as a given.
The Desert Dogs enter tonight with a 16-24-5 record on the year, which even in the somewhat mediocre Pacific Division has got them 16 points out of a playoff spot. For all intents and purposes the carcass of their season now lays beside a desert highway awaiting their namesake to come and pick away the remains. As has been a familiar chorus of late, the Yotes’ season has been sunk by shit goaltending, which in this case comes in the form of Academy Award Winner Mike Smith. Smith has appeared in 30 games so far and boasts an .887 save percentage, which by any and all measures is terrible and hilarious because Mike Smith is an asswipe. For a time the Coyotes got a bit of an upgrayedd (spelled thusly) in Devan Dubnyk, who was average just long enough to get himself traded to Minnesota. And if Devan Dubnyk is a step up for not one, but two teams in a single season then the state of goaltending league wide is fairly dire.
Unsurprisingly, the Coyotes are near the bottom of the league in scoring, and that’s even in spite of having a power play that operates at 21.6%. At present UFA trade bait Antoine Vermette is the team’s top center and leading scorer with 30 points. Mikkel Boeddker is the team’s leading goal scorer with 14, but underwent an emergency splenectomy after Sunday’s shootout loss to the Jets, and will be unavailable for the forseeable future. That leaves the likes of Martin Hanzal, old pal Marty Erat, and Shane Doan and his elbows to pick up whatever slack that’s needed at this point in the Yotes’ season. This is a forward corps that has dressed B.J. Crombeen for 31 games so far this season, so it’s probably best not to dig too deep into the depth chart.
The blue line still boasts some good young components in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Connor Murphy, and future Flyer Keith Yandle can still shotgun with the best of them from the back end providing 2G and 17A on the power play alone. But Zbynek Michalek’s best days are behind him, and a steady plattoon of fringe NHLers like Brandon Gormley and Michael Stone aren’t doing much to keep the puck away from their flailing netminder. As a team the Coyotes allow 31.6 shots per game at all situations, and have a 49.1 share of all attempts at evens. And among regulars on defense, only OEL and Michalek are above water in Corsi, and it shouldn’t be a question of who is doing the heavy lifting in that pairing.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, this is their last opportunity to earn points that they should have been earning at home before the All Star break and the Capades trip. Even if it appears that no one else in the Central will ever lose again for any reason at the moment, seasons can turn on a dime, and the Preds still have both fingers crossed that Pekka Rinne returns soon no matter how much they publicly back Carter Hutton. For the most part the lineups will remain the same tonight with Dan Carcillo rightfully still suspended. David Rundblad will get back into the lineup after (presumably) being sat punitively on Sunday for some lackadaisical play on Friday.
Antti Raanta correctly gets the start tonight against the Coyotes given the travel tonight and game tomorrow in Pittsburgh. Additionally, Raanta is 13-0-2 with a .943 when starting at home, as opposed to 6-8-2 and .879 on the road. So if Crawford is going to get some rest, it might as well be when the Hawks are at home considering the road trip ahead.
Apologies in advance if this sounds like a broken record, but the Hawks should put enough shots on the Coyotes tonight to have Smith’s save percentage rear its ugly head, though that was said about the Colorado Criminal and he stopped all 54 the Hawks threw at him. But the Coyotes don’t have the speed to counter the way the Avs did, especially with Boedker being out. So look for Dave Tippett to do what Dave Tippett does, and that’s turn the neutral zone into a sludge pit and try to not allow the Hawks to gain the zone with speed, force them to chip the puck in, and allow Smith to use his plus-puckhandling skills. In the past the Hawks have shown shockingly little willingness to play the game in front of them when it comes to the Coyotes, regardless of how outgunned they have them. They can ill afford to do so tonight, as none of the next 8 games on the road are against popsicles. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to the UC tonight, pick up a copy of our gameday program outside. We’re outside Gates 2 and 3, and on Damen and Wood on the south side of the building. If you’re not going to tonight’s game, you can get tonight’s issue for free right here, because we’re good like that.