FACEOFF: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
WILDSIDE, WILDSIDE: Hockey Wilderness
No time to fret or rest, as the Hawks will turn it right around tonight to take on the Minnesota Wild. Whatever complaints there were about yesterday’s effort can be quickly solved, and the Hawks usually do that in both the second of a back-to-back as well as after a rather tame effort. Generally, they haven’t doubled up the half-hearted outings. And even if they do, they might not need top gear or anything resembling it to get past a crumbling Minnesota team.
It all started so well for the Wild, going 15-4-4 to start the year and right there with the Avs, Hawks, and Blues. Coach Mike Yeo was transitioning his team from the dump and chase All-Stars they were last year to more of a possession team, which you kind of have to be in this division to survive. Josh Harding was warming everyone’s heart with a Vezina worthy season, Ryan Suter never left the ice, Jason Pominville was “hotter than shit, ” to quote one of my favorite historical figures, some of their kids were cracking the lineup and the Wild looked like they were really going to take a step forward after splashing all that cash.
Yeah, not so much.
First, Harding got hurt. Then everyone else got hurt. Harding, Spurgeon and Koivu will all miss out tonight, and various others have missed chunks of time as well (Brodin, Granlund, Coyle, Prosser). Parise missed the last 14 games but looks poised to return tonight. Pominville stopped shooting a billion percent, with two goals in his last 14. Niklas Backstrom has basically been woeful when filling in for Harding, and is just about to lose the backup job to Darcy Kuemper if he hasn’t already. A thin defense behind Brodin-Suter got exposed. And it’s basically been a shitshow, as the Wild have gone 12-15-1 since that start. They still hold on to the last playoff spot in the West though, with a four point cushion on the Yotes but seven adrift of the Avs for an automatic spot. They’re kind of entrenched, but have to pick it up somewhat before they hear the pitter patter of little coyote paws behind them.
And yet, I’m not sure the Wild should be this bad. I know, they have giant holes in their roster. And Koivu and Parise being out is the entire top line basically. But when everyone’s healthy, they do have two solid scoring lines — Granlund has basically torn the Hawks apart this season. I like Coyle’s game. Brodin is the truth. Maybe they aren’t good, but they’re not far away from being so. But then, neither is Yeo from losing his job.
Whatever state they’re in, the Wild have been a serious blister for the Hawks’ this season. They pretty much pantsed them in their one trip so far into the UC, and then scored twice in the last 10 minutes in a 4-3 win that sandwiched the Hawks kind of putting it on their face in St. Paul in October. Granlund especially has been a problem, quickly taking Hawks turnovers and depositing them in twine or helping them to be so. However, that was while shielded by Koivu and Parise, not as the main danger as he should be tonight. Parise’s return sees him being centered by Charlie Coyle, so take your pick whether that’s the top line or Granlund-Pominville is. Interesting if Hammer and Oduya take the top assignment again after last night’s….whathaveya.
For the Hawks Antti Raanta will get the start, and he’ll see Kuemper at the other end of the ice. Maybe he should wave. Much like last night, this is still a beat up team that the Hawks should handle if they can be bothered. But also like last night, they’ll see a team that is going to work very hard against them and if the Hawks aren’t bothered, they’ll make life hard on themselves. You’d hope there’s residual anger from last night to be carried out tonight.