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Game #59 – Blue Jackets vs. Hawks Preview, Aldermanic Debate – Medium In The Middle


Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
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With the NBA All-Star festivities taking place, the Hawks will get a rare premium Saturday night home game in the mid-winter. They’ll welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to West Madison, who are threatening to be wildly entertaining over the next few days, though not for on ice-reasons.

Much as they have been for the past however-many years, the Jackets are just acting as placeholders in the middle of the Eastern Conference and Metro Division. They’re certainly not bad, but they’re hurtling inexorably towards big first round cannon fodder (GET IT) for a team with actual top end talent and realistic Cup expectations. But this year two of the main components of their recent “success”, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and erstwhile Style Boy Artemi Panarin are both set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer and have made it pretty clear that not only will they not be taking any kind of discount to stay in Columbus, but will have to pay a premium to keep them considering that it’s well, Columbus, Ohio. Panarin in particular seems hell bent on playing somewhere where shirts and shoes are optional when he’s not at the rink, and last time anyone looked at a map, Columbus is pretty bereft of beaches. So in the upcoming days, GM Jarmo Kekkalainen has some serious decisions to make, and it could result in a full on White Sox ’97 White Flag.

As for matters on the ice, Bobrovsky certainly hasn’t increased either his trade or free market value with his play this season, as the years of a heavy and acrobatic workload might be finally taking their toll on him. While goaltending might be down across the board this year due to pad restrictions and in increase in speed and shot volume, a .906 overall and .903 at evens simply aren’t going to be good enough long term. And with Bobrovsky turning 31 before the start of next season, teams may start to double-clutch on forking over a raft of assets or a shitload of money (or both) if this is what he’s going to be going forward, not to mention his playoff performances have been unequivocally bad, though not getting adequate rest during the regular season certainly factors into that. However even with his year being uneven at best, Bobrovsky is still capable of slamming the door if he’s on just as he did earlier in the week against the Caps, albeit with a light workload of 20 shots.

In front of Bob the Jackets’ blue line remains one great pairing and then a lot of ehhhhhhhhhh, though that pairing has been split up recently. Seth Jones is still taking the top assignments with Ryan Murray now covering for him, and Zach Werenski gets a little bit of relief on the second paring with super beardo David Savard. Neither pairing are world-beaters territorially, but given the zone starts and quality of competition the fact that Jones and Murray basically play to a draw is a minor achievement and gives the jackets more push from multiple pairings. The third pairing of Scott Harrington and Markus Nutivaara isn’t helpless either, but they’re quite sheltered with the other two taking up the majority of ice time.

Among the forwards, Panarin is centered by de facto #1 P-L Dubois, who has actually turned into a solid NHLer in his 2nd full season, but playing that much with a bad shot maker like Panarin can inflate totals. John Tortorella has been occasionally giving Alex Wennberg time between Panarin and Cam Atkinson who has another 30 goal year to his credit no one’s going to notice, leaving Dubois between former lotto ticket Anthony Duclair and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who have fewer goals between them than Panarin has on his own. Boone Jenner, Nick Foglino and Josh Anderson make for a third line with a lot of ass to it, and the sparingly used fourth line centered by Riley Nash has got a decent amount of speed to it with the name-generated Lukas Sedlak and Marcus Hennakainen.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, the Cam Ward Showcase Showdown continues, as coach Jeremy Del Negro has decided to forgo the strict platoon with Collin Delia, as Ward is currently sporting a .943 in February and is coming off back to back 40 save effort wins (ed. note: not particularly a compliment). But Delia has been sliding since his initial hot call up, and has an .892 in February. It’s kind of a no-brainer to let Ward go if the Hawks are going to delude themselves they can get into the playoffs, particularly with Corey Crawford seemingly on the verge of playing again in some capacity. And again, at the very least, Ward is peaking at the right time for the Hawks to sell high on the veteran, even if it’s taken him this hot of a streak for him to get anywhere near a .900 save percentage.

Elsewhere in the lineup Brendan Perlini is sliding in for John Hayden, which probably won’t matter, but at least it means that the general viewing public won’t be subjected to John Hayden’s delusions of grandeur when setting up shop just in side the blue line and looking to stickhandle his way to making a super sweet pass. Slater Koekkoek had a big hit so he apparently gets to stay in the lineup over Gustav Forsling, who could very well be the softest player in the corners currently on an NHL roster.

If the Hawks decide they want to give up 40 shots yet again, there’s certainly enough on this Jackets roster in Panarin, Atkinson, Jones, and Werenski to send Cam Ward plummeting back to Earth. And with Torts being Torts, especially on the road, they are going to trap the shit out of the Hawks and try to pin them in their own zone during breakouts, which the Hawks have enough trouble trying to do on their own with 6 passes. But there’s a soft underbelly to their roster and matchups can be found with last change if Coach Cool Youth Pastor is willing to try to get them. Let’s go Hawks.


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