Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Maurice Clarett’s Tattoo Shop: The Cannon
As this Wannstedt-esque death march of a season trudges onward, the Hawks turn right around from last night’s win against the Sharks and head to Columbus tonight, where Torts and the Jackets hang on to the last wild card spot in the east by the slimmest of margins.
At present, the Jackets have 65 points, same as the Islanders below them, having played one fewer game, and have two fewer ROW’s. While making up ground in the east isn’t nearly as difficult as it has been in the west, the Jackets would be wise to get their shit together if they’re looking for another post-season bid. Of course, none of this is the fault of Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been excellent as usual in net for the Jackets. While Bob’s overall save percentage has dipped to only .919 this season, that doesn’t tell the whole story, as he’s been absolutely excellent at even strength with a .932 mark. It’s on the PK where he’s slipped a bit, and where it can be tough to singularly assess blame, but he’s dropped to .832 this year, the lowest mark of his career, and after posting an .891 this year. That precipitous drop has caused the Jacket’s kill rate to drop from 82.3 last year to 76.2 this year, which is good for 27th in the league. And with the power play not going absolutely nuclear as it did last year, (19.9% down to a dead last 14.1%), that basically explains why this team is where it is as they didn’t have the talent to afford to have these margins erode.
Part of the issue with the power play taking a step back has been a bit of a sophomore slump from Zach Werenski, who was a Calder finalist a year ago. While Werenski’s underlying numbers are excellent, posting a 55 share, he’s doing so partnered the majority of the time with Seth Jones, leaving the Jackets’ pairings unbalanced. Werenski’s shooting percentage is up and he’ll pass his goal total of 11 from last year more than likely, but his assists are way down, once again as a result of the power play sucking eggs. But Jones of course is the true #1 here, and he’s once again putting up monster numbers playing in all situations. Behind this pairing, Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson make up the pairing behind them tonight, and as a unit the two have a glistening 42% share in about 42 minutes together. Johnson’s most frequent partner, David Savard, will be with Scott Harrington tonight, and those two suck even harder at 41.5%. So basically any and all drive the Jackets get is from their top pairing, but they do a damn good job of it.
Up front, erstwhile Style Boy Artemi Panarin is leading the Jackets in scoring from the wing with 49 points in 61 games. And while leading the team is good, that might not be the point-per pace they may have been expecting to get in that trade. Though it can be questioned just what exactly they were expecting moving him away from one of the greatest passers in league history to being centered by P-L Dubois and Alex Wennberg, no disrespect to either of those two. With Nick Foligno out, Panarin will be on Dubois’ left tonight on the top line, and opposite Cam Atkinson, who missed about a month of time already this season, and whose numbers are down anyway shooting a career worst 6.8%. Wennberg centers the second line between Olivier Bjorkstrand’s quick trigger and the two-way stylings of Boone Jenner (not Bone Loogan). Apple of Torts’ eye Brandon Dubinsky still plays way more than he should as a defacto checking center, but he and Matt Calvert form quite an irritating line together with road-grater Josh Anderson. Somehow Jussi Jokinen is on the fourth line here now. As is par for the course, with last change, look for Panarin to get heavily, heavily sheltered zone starts and matchups.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, whatever the hell that slog was last night at least had a pleasant result. The line of DeBrincat-Schmaltz-Duclair provided both even strength goals, which at least buys them more time to try to find a rhythm together, as this could very nicely work itself into the traditional puck-winner/playmaker/finisher template that everyone knows Joel Quenneville loves. With no morning skate the lineups look to be about the same, with Anton Forsberg getting the opportunity to stare down the ice at his former teammate from crease to crease.
Bobrovsky isn’t going to give up much, but this is an opportunity for both special teams units of the Hawks to get in step given how bad the Jackets are at either one of them. But there’s always the possibility that Bob just simply slams the door no matter what the Hawks throw at them, particularly since it seems like ever jamoke ass goalie they’ve faced this year has managed to do so. It’s another opportunity to play spoiler, and it’s always fun to turn Torts’ ass red even if it takes next to nothing to do so.
Game #62 Preview