RECORDS: Hawks 16-17-6 Jackets 17-14-7
PUCK DROP: 4pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
SNAPPING TURKS?: Jackets Cannon
For once, it won’t be the Hawks making the locals sad and despondent. The Hawks will head into a city-wide black veil in Columbus as the place mourns the death of another Ohio State season, because Columbus is creepy and weird and strangely southern and no one needs it. Some will try and ease their pain by watching the only pro team in town take on whatever it is the Hawks are these days.
It was supposed to be a disaster of a season for the Jackets. The departures of Mssrs. Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel, and Bobrovsky were supposed to leave them bereft of any identity, strip them of any goaltending, flatten out their offense, and leave them facing yet another rebuild for an organization that’s seen just a little too many of those. It hasn’t worked out that way quite yet. That’s because for all his self-celebratory bluster and nonsense this is probably where John Tortorella is at his best–getting the best and more out of an unheralded bunch. Recall his Rangers teams only really had star power in net, and yet they were frequent visitors to the later rounds of the playoffs.
It did come to fruition that the Jackets don’t score much, 26th in goals per game. But like a true Torts team, they defend well and are getting goaltending, mostly through blocking a fuck ton of shots. The Jackets are middling at best when it comes to attempts against per game, but in the top five when it comes to shots against. Hence their overall expected goals share is pretty good, especially for a team where you couldn’t pick their first line out of a crowd if they were all nude and painted blue.
The Jackets have also survived a raft of injuries, with Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, and Josh Anderson missing out today and Zack Werenski and a few others missing time earlier in the season. You know it’s bad when Nathan Gerbe is suiting up for your side.
The goaltending hasn’t crashed down around their ears like expected. The Jackets are getting top-ten SV% at evens, and Joonas Korpisalo is carrying a .913 overall. He’s been decent shorthanded as well, so that isn’t why the Jackets are currently out of the playoff spots, as their six points out of a wildcard and eight from an automatic spot.
It’s the lack of firing talent that’s keeping them back. Especially without Atkinson, who murders the Hawks with his speed and has done for far too long now, there just isn’t any top line scoring here. They may claim it’s supposed to be Pierre-Luc Dubois and his superfluous first name, but without Panarin he just hasn’t looked it. If Jones and Werenski aren’t filling the net on the power play as they did two years ago, they’re short of goals.
That doesn’t mean the Jackets won’t be a continued headache for the Hawks. They’re still filled with speed that works hard because they have to, and are coming off a win in DC which are something of a collector’s item these days. So they’ll be feeling themselves. They keep it pretty simple, which is just fine against the Hawks as their defense is happy to give you things.
For the Hawks, Adam Boqvist will return to the lineup, and they’ll need his mobility if he’s given license to use it. Robin Lehner is likely to get a stretch of starts here, as Crawford has stumbled and this might be something of a last stand for the Hawks before they decide if it’s fire-sale time.
They’ll talk about consistency and doubling up on Thursday’s effort. But that’s their thing, and they’re not good enough to keep putting those kinds of games together. Also, they won’t be facing a team that flew in that morning after a Christmas break. But that’s the assignment.