Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Does The Real Caesar Live Here?: Sin Bin
The Hawks finally return to West Madison tonight for the first time in 2018 after their longest road trip of the season that saw them volley back and forth between coasts to welcome for the very first time the Vegas Golden Knights, who inexplicably sit atop the Western Conference with games in hand on basically everyone who is their closest competition for the top overall seed.
While many bouquets have been thrown in the direction of General Manager George McPhee for putting this roster together and having the Knights where they are right now, there will be absolutely none of that here. While McPhee did capitalize on Dale Tallon’s odd choice of letting both Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault go, the fact of the matter is that having an expansion team lead the conference halfway through its inaugural season is a far bigger indictment of the cap-crushed parity of the league right now than it is praise for McPhee, who will always be the asshole who sucker punched Lorne Molleken in the tunnel after a preseason game in Washington, and the fact that he still has a job nearly 20 years later also makes this a joke of a league. Fuck, Buddy Ryan didn’t even connect with Kevin Gilbride, and it basically ended his career, and McPhee doesn’t have nearly the track record that Ryan did.
As far as the on ice product, things are just as baffling. The Knights are a middling possession team, and aren’t surfing any kind of ridiculous wave of shooting or save percentage, though it is fortuitous that they’ve gotten representative NHL goaltending from about 7800 different netminders this season to this point, posting a .922 collective save percentage at evens. But now that everyone is healthy, it appears that they are moving forward with a Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban platoon, and with Flower playing last night in West East St. Louis, it’ll be Subban’s cage tonight. He’s been exceptional lately, throwing a .922 overall and a .926 at evens, and last lost a decision all the way back on November 30th.
In front of him will be a top pairing of the coveted Nate Schmidt and Braden McNabb, who exemplify a free-saftey puck mover ideal while still taking on the top assignments, which they have been playing to about a draw, but Schmidt does add a dynamic element to the unit, and adds some scoring punch leading Vegas blueliners with 17 points. Derek Engelland and Shea Theodore make up the middle pairing, and Jon Merrill and Colin Miller get cherry picked zone starts from the third.
The forward lines for Vegas have basically stuck together for the entirety of this season, and that bit of continuity has been rewarded with solid production from the top 6. The newly rich Marchessault is on pace for 30 goals again, and former Panthers teammate Reilly Smith plays the opposite side and is basically the exact opposite of what his brother Brendan is (a good hockey player). William Karlsson has been a revelation potting 20 goals in an increased role, but he’s currently shooting 26.3%, which is surely sustainable. The second line features a trifecta of ass boils well known to Hawks fans in Erik Haula, James Neal, and David Perron, and the less that’s said about the three of them the better. Longtime blog favorite Cody Eakin, the Ginger Ninja, is properly slotted as a third center, and does a solid job of flipping the ice against tougher competition along with Brendan Leipsic and Alex Tuch. And the fourth line for Vegas does what everyone thinks the Hawks fourth line does but doesn’t, and that’s keep the puck in the other end. Tomas Nosek, P-E Bellemare, and Oscar Lindberg have a 54.0 share as a unit, and that’s really all one can ask of a fourth/energy line.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, there will assuredly be blathering on the broadcast about the first game home after a long road trip being a trap game which hopefully the masses by now should know is utter bullshit. The Hawks at least have a solid victory from Wednesday night they can feel good about coming into tonight, even though the Rangers hemmorage attempts against, Henrik Lundqvist was the only thing that kept that game really close. Well, that and Jeff Glass gifting the Rangers a 5 on 3. But as he always is, Quenneville is laughing in the face of the gambler’s fallacy and not changing his lineups after a win, and to do so against the team from the city that is basically only known for gambling would be the height of irony. And while Quenneville is a smart guy by hockey standards, it’s unlikely he’s thought that bit of subversion through.
But with the lineups remaining static, so does the mantra, and that’s that the Hawks need to fucking finish for all of their territorial dominance. Of the five goals scored on Wednesday, only one came as a result of sustained possession, the other two non-empty netters were off of rushes. At some point all of this work needs to be cashed in on, particularly while the defense is still giving up seemingly exclusively prime opportunities at the other end. And with a third pairing of Franson and Forsling, especially at home, there is zero fucking excuse for them to start a single shift in the defensive zone. They’ll do so in front of Jeff Glass, because no one can beat a good story to death like hockey people.
With the Knights playing last night and giving up about five more attempts per 60 minutes of five on five play on the road than they do at home, there should be no lack of opportunities for the Hawks, but as always it’s a matter of cashing in those chips. GET IT? Let’s go Hawks.
Game #40 Preview