Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Computer Blue: Hockey Wilderness
If familiarity breeds contempt, then the Hawks and Wild should downright hate the sight of one another at this point after 11 playoff games in the last two seasons on top of the mandatory divisional contests. And even after this one there are still two more matchups in the season series. But a third straight playoff matchup is in doubt if the Wild cannot get themselves turned around in short order.
Not much has changed since Thursday when these two teams last played, mostly in the fact that Mike Yeo still has a job for the moment. The Wild dropped another home game to the Predators yesterday afternoon where they once again peppered the opposing goalie and came away with jack and shit. But 37 shots weren’t enough to pierce Pekka Rinne more than once, and now Mike Yeo might as well be coaching tonight’s game with a blindfold on and a lit cigarette in his mouth.
None of this is really Yeo’s fault, he’s done a fantastic job of turning the perpetually trappy Wild into an uptempo, attacking, possession based team. There is a good mix of youth and experience in the lineup, and they have franchise cornerstones in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, that while purchased at a premium, are certainly excellent players in their own right. But their isn’t a lot of high-end scoring among the forwards, and that point has been driven home by just how big of a bust Thomas Vanek has been. As a result, Minnesota hasn’t been able to outscore their shortcomings in net, and now the team’s playoff hopes and their coach’s future are going balls up.
With Darcy Keumper now on injured reserve, Nicklas Backstrom will be getting the bulk of the starts in net. That is not a good thing. Backstrom went yesterday against Nashville, but because there was no morning skate today for the Wild, it won’t be known who is in net until much closer to game time. If it’s not Backstrom, it will be AHL call up John Curry, who really couldn’t be any worse than what the Wild have gotten so far from Keumper and Backstrom.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they’ll be looking to start correcting some of the frustrating trends that have emerged in their games as of late. Neither Thursday or Friday’s games will be preserved in the Library of Congress, but the Hawks did manage a regulation win in Minny that by all rights they shouldn’t have had. And Friday against the Oil is likely the only arguable game so far this season where it could be said the Hawks pissed away points against a team they absolutely should have beaten. Enough shots were put up in other games, namely against Toronto and Colorado to just chalk things up as a goalie taking a game away, but there’s no excuse against the Oilers.
Tonight’s lineup will be the same as Friday’s save for Crawford now getting the net and Dan Carcillo in for Joakim Nordstrom. Teuvo remains in everyone’s lives on the so-called third line with Sharp and Shaw from today’s morning skate, yet somehow listed on a wing. That pretty much defeats the purpose of having him here, and is extra infuriating given those two linemates and their respective histories with the center position. But the important thing is that he’s here, and that if he and Sharp find some chemistry together from the third line things could get real fun.
Johnny Oduya’s recent struggles have been well documented, and Quenneville has loaded up the last two games with Hjalmarsson and Keith as his top pair to try to stem the tide against. Given Oduya’s status in Q’s Circle of Trust, he will be given every opportunity to play out of this, but it can’t necessarily be counted on for a 33 year old with a lot of hard miles to suddenly revert to a form of two years ago.
With the Wild reeling and death-spiraling down the central division standings as well as likely being pissed off at thoroughly dominating the Hawks on Thursday with fuck-all to show for it, tonight could be one last desperate punch to try to turn things around. But whoever ends up in net between Backstrom and Curry won’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the skaters in front, and the Hawks will no doubt get a fair amount of chances. Hell, they only needed 20 on Thursday on the road. But it’s preferable to not tempt fate again. Let’s go Hawks.