TV/RADIO: CSN round here, NHLN-US not round here, WGN Radio 720
FLASH BEFORE MY EYES: Raw Charge
If the Hawks got to find their defensive feet, and overall game without Patrick Kane, against an offensive soft underbelly ready for tickling against the Panthers, they will swing wildly to the other end of the spectrum tonight. It’s also the second of a back-to-back and while in previous years the Hawks have excelled in this situation, this year they’ve been stunningly mediocre.
The Hawks are only 6-5-1 when having played the night before, and previous years saw them go unbeaten or only lose a game or two. So the challenges are clear.
The biggest one is the one on the other bench at home, because this Lightning team is just about the fastest you can find anywhere. They’ve lost touch with Montreal a bit at the top of the
Northeast Atlantic Division, five points behind and having played a game more. They only sit one ahead of Detroit, who have two games in hand. Basically, we all need to hope it stays this way because a Detroit-Tampa first round, annoying narratives aside, would have every game end about 6-4. Because both teams are highly skilled with highly questionable blue lines.
Did you know Steven Stamkos doesn’t lead the Lightning in scoring? Bet you didn’t. That honor goes to Tyler Johnson, somehow criminally under the radar as one of the more exciting players in the league. Behind Krejci, Datsyuk, and Malkin, you could make an argument he’s the best #2 center in the East. And the latter two of those spend a good portion of time playing wing. Along with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, “The Triplets” are about as terrifying of a second line you’ll find anywhere. And of course, there’s only Stamkos to deal with on the top line, though playing with Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan isn’t exactly the same as it was with Martin St. Louis. Still, when you have Valtieri Filppula playing on your third line and Jonathan Drouin playing on your fourth, it’s a nice spot to be in. Needles to say, the Ning are very deep up front.
Still, this defense doesn’t totally convince. Victor Hedman is a stud, obviously, and comes a little more red-assed than most Scandinavian d-men. Analytics darling Anton Stralman mans the second, and yet when you watch Stralman you’re always just a tad confused how his numbers come out so good. But after that? Andrej Sustr is a giant but kind of reminds me of what it would look like if Jimmy Hayes played defense. Mark Barbeiro? Jason Garrison has a big shot and not much else. It’s kind of an immobile defense for a team so fast up front. Radko Gudas might miss the rest of the season, and that actually matters as he’s underrated.
But yet, they don’t ask Ben Bishop to bail them out much. This is a team in the top five in both Corsi-for and against per 60 minutes, and only give up 27.5 shots per game. So while the names don’t set the heart aflutter, they get the job done. Bishop himself has come down a bit from his near Vezina season last year, with only a .912 SV% and a 2.41 GAA. Andrei Vasilevsky, who’s clearly the starter of the future, hasn’t been any better in his 10 starts and got perforated by the Avs last time out, so it’ll be THE BISHOP! tonight. He’s had a rough go of it in February, getting lit up by the Kings, Ducks, and Blues all in a row but seeming to even out on their recent roadtrip in San Jose, Anaheim, and Arizona. But really Bishop hasn’t been anything more than league average since November. But when you don’t give up that many shots, you don’t need much more.
For the Hawks, you basically just want Q to say, “Same again.” While last night felt a little more tense than it should have, some of that is basically trying to find out what the Hawks are without Kane and waiting to see what they’ll do trade-wise. Still, Andrew Shaw looked a completely different player on a wing, at least for last night. Because he was running around making car noises and unable to stop without crashing into something, Bryan Bickell felt inspired to be similar. These are things that will be needed from here on out. Keith paired with Hjalmarsson can dictate play over all of the ice better, and Erixon didn’t at least have mold growing on him like Rozsival by the end of the game. But if there’s a team that’s going to expose Kyle Cumiskey, the Lightning would be it.
This is the first game back at home for Tampa after an extended trip, and you know the pitfall that can be. Still, this is a team that will have no problem going up and down with the Hawks, and it’s not like the Hawks have had that easy of a time with teams that can do that (*cough* Avalanche *cough*). It’s a good test early in the non-Kane stretch, because this is a team where you’d think the Hawks would need him to run-and-gun with the opponent. Also wouldn’t count on any rebound of the Hawks shot-suppression ways to continue tonight. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, cheat toward Stamkos on the power play. Y’know, like they didn’t against PK Subban.
Games between these two are always entertaining, and have an annoying habit of going to overtime or a shootout. It went to the coin flip in November. Both games last year went beyond the 60, with the Ning taking a shootout and one in OT. It won’t be boring.