Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Wade County: Litter Box Cats
As if Florida in and of itself isn’t fucking weird enough, this is the first year in nearly anyone’s memory that the Hawks are out east over the Thanksgiving weekend thanks to the long overdue demise of the animal rights violation spectacle that was the Ringling Brothers circus. So it’s a little odd that the Hawks are in Sunrise tonight to take on the Panthers (who are also weird) rather than catching the ass end of a back to back in LA after a Friday afternoon in Orange County, but again, Florida is inherently weird to begin with.
To recap, the last couple seasons, including last year, the Cats tried to do things things in the vein of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s by trying to find value based free agents with strong peripherals due to being in a small market that has trouble drawing. It was an interesting test case for the Computer Boys, one which booted Dale Tallon upstairs with his hands off the day to day transactions of the team. But there was a faction of ownership that preferred to to things old school, and when the immediate results weren’t there, that faction won out and reinstalled our namesake Uncle as the GM and the philosophy shifted back to OLD TIME HOCKEY. To this point the results haven’t been encouraging for that method either, with the Panthers sitting at 18 points, only three better than the basement dwelling Coyotes.
There’s still plenty of talent on the Panthers, particularly up front with Vincent Trochek, Sasha Barkov, and a now healthy Jonathan Huberdeau all around a point a game so far in the season. Evgenii Dadanov returned from The K and has 17 points in 21 games, which is basically found money, and evens out the fact that Nick Bjugstad hasn’t turned out to be what was projected of him, even if he’s a decent player with 10 points from the third line. The rest of this grouping is populated with castoffs and has beens, as evidenced by the fact that Radim Vrbata is now back here, and Derek MacKenzie is unironically this team’s full time captain.
On the blue line, the Panthers have a clear #1 to build around in Aaron Ekblad, and he’s still mostly flipping the ice while taking the toughest shifts with the worst zone starts with next to no help having to cover for frequent partner Keith Yandle’s noodling in the offensive zone. Mike Matheson looks like he could possibly be a long term second pairing guy, and certainly just got paid like he’s one, but this is far from a complete grouping. Mark Pysyk managed to survive the Coup of the Computer Boys, and is basically David Schlemko with even fewer vowels in his name. Some WASP children by the names of Ian McCoshen and Mackenzie Weegar apparently patrol the Cats’ third pairing.
This is all taking place in front an aging Roberto Luongo tonight, and Borat continues to defy father time with a bit of a bounce back season. Ol’ Bob is currently a sporting a .931 overall and .936 at evens at damn near 39, though he and Reimer are basically splitting time evenly at this point. And with Optimus Reim sporting a robust .888 overall and .898 at evens, they’re going to have to trot Luongo out there far more often than they’d probably like to, and those excellent will probably regress with an increased workload. The book is still the same on Luongo having prototypical butterfly style size and technique, and though his reflexes may have slowed a little bit with age, he’s currently making up for it with veteran guile and relying on his technique.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, who currently reside in last place in the Central despite taking 5 of 6 points from decent teams and having games in hand, and that’s at the dreaded Thanksgiving mark that apparently no one who’s not in a playoff spot by that point in the season ends up making it thanks to the charity point system, so it’s clearly time to sell off everything and tank. But the Hawks continue to trend in the right direction on the possession ledger, particularly among the top 6, where both units are pretty comfortably above water despite getting a variety of zone starts and competition. But the “top” line of Toews, Panik, and Saad, while having great peripheral numbers, clearly lacks any kind of finish. The process is there, and it’s getting a little difficult to keep waiting for the results. They’ve basically become Calgary’s line of Backlund, Tkachuk, and Frolik, which isn’t a bad thing, when it’s not collectively paid $20 million against the cap and counted to to have first line scoring production. And in this current configuration, Alex DeBrincat will continue to be wasted on the right wing side with linemates who either can’t think the game like him or can’t get to the spot anymore in Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp collectively. A lineup jumble would hopefully include him getting some more offensively gifted linemates, but for now he’s at least entrusted with power play time.
On the Hawk blue line, things are still kind of ill fitting, but at least Connor Murphy is doing his part in bailing out Porkins even from his off side, and his development is encouraging for long term growth. After a few great games, Gustav Forsling took a bit of a step back, but he was not done any favors by his coach not getting him away from a line with two MVP candidates on it in Stamkos and Kucherov, and that’s on top of his incongruous amount of defensive zone starts. Corey Crawford gets his net once again tonight.
The Cats don’t get much production out side of their top unit of Hubby, Barkov, and Dadanov, even with Trocheck anchoring the second line. It’s a hell of a trio to be sure, but if Quenneville can be a little bit more judicious with his matchups tonight than he was on Wednesday, there should be opportunities. However, with the way Luongo has been playing, he might just simply slam the door tonight as he’s been known to do against the Hawks for basically a decade now. It’s not as late yet as some of those sounding air raid sirens would have the masses believe, but two points is still two points. Let’s go Hawks.
Game #22 Preview