FACEOFF: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio 720
BEYOND THE WALL: Hockey Wilderness
Ah, the old divisional back-to-back. Back before a lot of you became fans (no judgement, honestly), this used to be a staple of the hockey season. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, it felt like the Hawks and Leafs did this on Saturday and Sunday nights at least 15 times a season. That’s why those Norris Division games turned into such bar brawls, because these guys got so sick of each other. Not sure we’re there yet with the Wild.
Doesn’t mean the Hawks shouldn’t be showing some bile tonight, after getting kind of fed it on Saturday night at home by this very same Minnesota outfit. Though the 2nd period saw the Hawks claw back one (should have had another) and were taking it to the Wild, one Michal Rozsival turnover and that was pretty much it. The Wild were certainly full value for their win, and were ruthless when the Hawks made mistakes. Especially Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville (ANOTHER ONE IN THE POPULATION OF POMINVILLE!), who twice instantly made the Hawks pay for brain-lock in their own end.
There can be no such mistakes tonight, as hopefully the Hawks have learned their lesson on what happens against teams in the real conference when you get lazy and stupid. And apparently the blender is out again, with Sharp permanently moving alongside Toews and Hossa. Brandon Pirri is finally going to get a look on the top six, between Kane and Saad. I’m sure Saad is very much looking forward to doing all the defensive work, but at least Pirri is getting a chance to play with some people who can convert his passes into something. Bickell-Shaw-Morin stay together as they were probably the Hawks best line on Saturday, with Morin showing added spice and being kind of everywhere for the first two periods. It’s all worth a look. Marcus Kruger stays on the 4th line as he continues to play himself into trade bait, especially with Mark McNeill filling the net in Rockford.
The Wild will still be without Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle. Brodin’s absence didn’t matter all that much on Saturday because Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella were fantastic, which I’ll admit I never saw coming. Of course, Ryan Suter will be gobbling up half the game with Jared Spurgeon replacing Brodin on the top pair. Niklas Backstrom, after a successful yet awkward-looking performance Saturday goes again.
Speaking of which, there were a fair amount of rebounds lying around Backstrom’s crease on Saturday night that the Hawks didn’t get to. He looked to be fighting a fair amount of pucks as well, and if the Hawks can pepper him again tonight as they did at the weekend, I think they’ll find a little more joy than the one goal that mattered and the two that didn’t really on Saturday.
As for the rest of it, the Hawks had better tune the game up just a tad because after tomorrow night’s tilt with the Senators, they’re West-exclusive for the next six weeks. While that schedule contains a lot of Jets and Oilers and Preds and Coyotes, it’s still the West. Which means some of the bullshit that has crept into the Hawks game – like every forward fleeing the zone early like they were charging upon Custer, or the d-men’s tendency to pass to no one, or Seabrook’s tendency to pass gas instead of do anything, or the cutesy crap in the neutral zone when the only thing on offer is to get it in deep and go get it – is going to have to stop. The Wild didn’t press as much as I though they would on Saturday, but might at home. But they did certainly pinch the blue line at the boards, something the Hawks have struggled with in the past.
And now they know they can’t make too many mistakes, because with Granlund and Pominville firing on all cylinders, to go with Koivu and and Parise on the top line and the ever-annoying Brodziak and Niederreiter on the third, the Wild can punish you in a hurry. Mike Yeo has these guys feeling it, they’ve won three in a row, and they can actually possess the puck these days. So be careful.
Oh, and to add to the old-school feel, the teams will reverse jerseys tonight with the Wild in home whites. AS IT SHOULD BE EVERY TIME.