RECORDS: Penguins 38-15-8 Hawks 39-18-5
PUCK DROP: 7pm Central
TV: NBCSN (because hoo boy is this a “rivalry”!!!!)
IRON CITY BEER SUCKS: The Pensblog
ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Penguins – 51.8 (9th) Hawks – 51.2 (10th)
ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Penguins – 54.0 (3rd) Hawks – 49.1 (16th)
POWER PLAY %: Penguins – 21.6 (9th) Hawks – 18.9 (16th)
PENALTY KILL%: Penguins – 80.3 (20th) Hawks – 76.4 (28th)
You don’t get many marquee matchups in the league anymore. No one cares about the Wild yet, despite their bleeding, so the only teams from the West that anyone in the East is the least bit interested in seeing are San Jose and the Hawks (sit down, Kings, no one gives a shit about you either). And really in the East, there aren’t too many more teams you’d make time out for. So over the NHL season, there’s really only six to eight games that would get the dreaded and overused “Final preview” tag. This happens to be one of them, and you better believe it’s what everyone in the NHL offices is absolutely dying to see. Not that it matters, because if any league could completely biff any momentum from the Gone-Plaid-Speed of a possible Pens-Hawks Final, it’s this home for wayward children.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a little extra juice for this one, because you should. The star power in this could only be matched by one or two other matchups. Add to that the style these teams play–neither of these team is really all that good at stopping prime chances, though they can create a fair few, the Penguins far more so than the Hawks–should make for some Loyola Marymount ’90 shit. If that’s too dated for you, than mid-2000’s Suns. And if you don’t get the basketball at all, then get outside your comfort zone more often, jerkass jerk.
The Penguins are the fastest team in the league, and feature probably the best forward depth around. Even Old Man Matt Cullen (you’re legally obliged to call him that) on their 4th line has 10 goals. Justin Schultz, who normally marauds on the third pairing when everyone is healthy, has 39 points. PHIL KES-SEL has 21 goals on the third line. This outfit makes the jump to hyperspace without running coordinates through the navi-computer as soon as the puck is dropped. Much like the Oilers when they’re on song, plays that look like simple banks and chip outs out of their zone are actually fly patterns that their forwards can get to. Their forecheck can be hellacious, because there’s just no time.
And when you fuck up, chances are there’s a generational player out there who can make you pay. There’s no bullshit to Crosby’s game these days. He’s just heading to the net and depositing whenever he gets the chance. He’s far more straight-lined, and content to let his linemates make the plays to him instead of vice versa. There’s a ton of bullshit to Malkin’s game, who can go off his meds with a stiff breeze, but he’s also probably the most gifted player in the game and when he’s focused he can make entire defenses look like that bird your cat got a hold of in the yard.
This won’t be the full-throttle Penguins showing up tonight. For one, they played last night in Dallas, blowing a lead in the third period. So it’ll be Fleury instead of Murray, and that’s a downgrade. Second, their blue line is beat up and their pick up this afternoon, Mark Streit, isn’t going to get here in time. All of Letang, Maatta, and Daley will miss out, and for at least the first two that’s the normal state of affairs. What this looks like when everyone’s healthy should bring all kinds of joy, both genuine and schadenfreude, because the Penguins could sport Letang, Maatta, Streit, Daley, and Schultz all at the same time. This would be the Rex Cannon defense, with Mike Sullivan pretty much having to say, “Oh fuck it, just go deep!” How many odd-mans they give up the other way is going to send all the crusty talking heads into a comatose state. Milbury might implode, and maybe that’s what GM Jim Rutherford was aiming for. And if so, we thank him.
The Hawks won’t have their new toy either, as Johnny Oduya won’t make it in time either. Without Hammer as well, this Hawks defense is up against it tonight if the Pens are feeling it in any way. This will be probably the last test for Keith as far as taking on the top line of the opponent, as Q has already said he sees the reunited Ebenholts och Elfenben doing that. Still, it’ll be a fun watch following how Keith handles Crosby and Co. tonight. It might have been better to see how Oduya handles all that speed at 35, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the month for that.
These are the ones you circle. Should be a good one.