RECORDS: Hawks 17-11-5 Stars 18-14-3
PUCK DROP: 7:30
TV: NBCSN Chicago
FROM A DC-9 AT NIGHT: Defending Big D
For the third time in three weeks or so, the Hawks and Stars will get down and boogie as they continue to pass the wildcard playoff spots to each other and the Wild like a Willie Nelson joint. Both sit on 39 points, with the Hawks having one more ROW than the Stars. Both have been streaky, matching winning and losing streaks and preventing them from getting amongst the glitterati at the top of the division. Both are possession-strong or metric-strong, the Stars more so, but have been undone by low shooting percentages (Hawks) or wonky goaltending (Stars). Both are set for a dogfight of a second half of a season.
What I’m getting at is they’re similar.
Things have not gone well of late for the Balls Of Gas Of Texas. They’ve lost three in a row, and six of their last eight. There are two main cruxes of their issues. One, they can’t get any secondary scoring other than Radulov, Benn, and Seguin. Jabba The Hitch has attempted to solve this by breaking them up, with Benn returning to center and Seguin centering Shore and Janmark. It hasn’t really resulted in much yet, but they’ve only gone this way for two games and look to be doing the same again tonight. You can bet if they trail late, their big three will be reunited.
The other problem for the Stars, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, is their goaltending hasn’t been good. Ben Bishop just hasn’t put it together at all, and Kari Lehtonen is a lesson in being true to yourself in that he’s having a season where he’s Kari Lehtonen, i.e. bad. Of course, the one good game Bishop has had of late was here in Chicago, because that’s just the way things go.
There is a lot of potential for the Stars here. If they let Julius Honka be Julius Honka and live with his mistakes, they’ll have two pairs that can really push the play. Klingberg has been excellent on the top pairing, even if his partner Esa Lindell is on a first name basis with the blender. Janmark and Faksa have scored in the past, and the Stars desperately need them to. If one or both fires consistently at some point, the Stars could shoot up the standings (#SeeWhatIDidThere).
For the Hawks, the pressbox axe falls tonight on Patrick Sharp. He can’t really have any complaints. He hasn’t scored, he doesn’t skate as well as he did (Father Time always wins), and you can’t really use him as a strict checking winger. You certainly can’t with Hinostroza and Hartman. So he’ll take a seat for Wiener Anxiety to return to the lineup, who at least is good in the corners and down low and keeps the puck in the right end. On a third line, the pressure for Panik to score isn’t as high, which is good, because in another lesson in being true to yourself, he’s still Richard Panik, whatever last year told you.
You know what the “Hitch Plan” for the Hawks will be. It’s been the same for years, and you saw it in the first two games between these two. For some reason, Hitch doesn’t want to go hammer and tongs at evens with the Hawks, even though the Stars have just as much scoring talent and more speed. So you’ll see something of a slog, and if it turns into a penalty-fest then Hitch will take that. Especially given how much the Hawks’ PP blows. The Stars one isn’t all that good either, but Hitch knows putting the Hawks on the advantage a lot probably isn’t going to hurt.
I’m not sure the Hawks want to turn this into a track meet either, given what Radulov and Seguin can do in space. But given that the actual defense of the Stars isn’t all that good at the whole “defense” thing. Lindell and Klingberg aren’t shutting you down in their zone if you can get them there, and HamHock and Pateryn aren’t either. Johns can’t do it all himself. Maybe this is why Hitch looks to turn things into mud with a team that’s built to do the opposite.
Six is better than five.
Game #34 Preview