RECORDS: Hawks 24-21-6 Coyotes 26-21-6
PUCK DROP: 6pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
NO REGRETS: Five For Howling
The Hawks won’t get to ease their way back into the swing of things after their midseason bye, as they’ll immediately be plunged into something of a wildcard four-pointer in Arizona. And this has not been a location that has been too kind to the Hawks of late, nor the opponent.
The Hawks only have one win in their last five games against the Yotes, and they were popped there earlier in the season and lost what was essentially their last stab at relevance late last season. You wouldn’t think this would be such an issue for the Hawks, given the lack of star power Arizona has and the usual majority of Hawks fans in the stands making it a de facto home game. But their collective speed on every line provides the same problem that teams like Vegas or Colorado do, just on a smaller scale. They can harass the Hawks deep in their own end into mistakes and streak out of their zone away from the Hawks to get into open space.
The Hawks won’t be allowed any excuses tonight, however. They’re four points behind the Yotes, who hold the last wildcard spot, but have two games in hand. Thanks to the Jets incompetence and the Preds not being a whole lot better (as well as having their own bye), the Hawks are still in this with only Nashville to leap to get to Arizona. And the Predators have a date with Vegas tonight, so the Hawks can jump over them tonight if results go their way.
They should be seeing an ornery team, as the Yotes returned from their bye earlier in the week and promptly only took one point out of four against hanging curveballs Anaheim and LA. They would have looked at this three in four as a spot to really cement their status as playoff contenders, but could be looking at truly biffing it if they lose to the Hawks. And this isn’t a team that should be overflowing with confidence, given their history of fading into the background consistently.
Injuries have been an issue, most notably with Darcy Kuemper missing weeks as he was the anchor to this team. He won’t return tonight but is due back very soon, probably their next game. Without him, the Yotes’ weaknesses are much more easily exposed, as Antti Raanta and Adin “Silent” Hill have been hardly worth writing songs about. Those weaknesses are pretty much they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They don’t score much, they don’t possess the puck much, and they’re barely a middling defensive team. If you dismiss Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” guy, there really isn’t a star anywhere on this team. Phil Kessel was brought in to be that, but much like the story he’s getting old now.
Taylor Hall was then brought in to be what Kessel might not be able to be anymore, and he’s put up 16 points in 18 games as a Yote. He gives them what should be something like two scoring lines, as Keller and Kessel are on the other one. But Keller has one point in nine, and Kessel is a few months away from doing ads for The General car insurance. They’re depending a lot on Hall, Dvorak, and Garland, though the top line of Keller-Stepan-Kessel has been possession-mutants.
Defensively, without OEL there isn’t really an advanced puck-mover here. Chychrun chips in goals with a booming shot but it’s not really what he does. Alex Goligoski is getting up there in age. Maybe Ilya Lubishkin, but he’s no guarantee for the lineup. OEL is a miss, whatever you consider him.
To the Hawks. Just about everyone other than the long-term casualties is reporting for duty, as it looks like Dylan Strome is going to make the post. That leaves the Hawks just one winger short of a pretty keen “3+1” model, with Dach at least getting limited looks between Kane and Saad and Top Cat reuniting with Strome. Kampf will continue to try and square-shape into that round hole as the other winger on that line for now. No word yet on which goalie will start but considering the way Crawford was playing and the way Lehner kind of had a hiccup that almost made him barf against Florida, the money is on Crow.
You can count on the Coyotes to try hard, because they have to, and because they’re coming off two disappointing results. You can probably expect a pretty scratchy first period from the Hawks, as they try and figure out how their legs and arms work again and get timing down. So really, just wading through the first 20-30 minutes is the order of the day, and then if things are still tied or in one goal the Hawks can begin to find their game. They’ll have to be tight with the puck in the offensive end, because this Arizona team will be looking to spring on them and away from them at the first sign of a turnover.
This is a big month, as February doesn’t tend to be. The schedule is very road-heavy, but that’s suited the Hawks better all season. Most games are against teams around them or below them. If you’re a part of this, then be a part of this. Otherwise, stop wasting our time.