RECORDS: Hawks 28-28-8 Panthers 33-25-6
PUCK DROP: 5pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
60% OF THE TIME IT WORKS EVERY TIME: Litter Box Cats
The Hawks wrap up this funeral dirge/death rattle of a road trip in South Florida this evening, before returning home to either an indifferent but possibly more cantankerous home crowd next week. They’ll find a Panthers team right in the middle of the East playoff grinder, trying to chase down both a wildcard spot or an automatic spot in the Atlantic if it’s there. The former sees them having to leap three teams, the latter only the Leafs who seem intent on making that a possibility. Oh, and the Hawks former coach is still on the other bench.
The story with the Panthers has changed a little since just about a month ago when they were at the UC. They’re still one of the higher scoring teams in the league. And they still get mediocre-or-worse goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky (OH BOB! YOU CAME AND YOU TOOK OUR MONEY! AND NOW YOU CAN’T SWAT PUCKS AWAY! OH BOB!). This is not a metrically sound team either, as you would have expected out of a Quenneville-led outfit with this much talent on display. They outshoot their problems for their record, which they can do with Huberdeau having a career-year and Barkov his usual brilliant self, along with My Kaufmann a line lower.
So as he is wont to do, Dale Tallon made some changes at the deadline, and some changes that take some figuring out. Vincent Trocheck certainly had issues staying healthy, but he was a genuine #2 center. But Tallon moved him out at the deadline for useful, bottom six pieces in Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula. Some Panthers observers had said Trocheck’s defensive game wasn’t what it was, and Wallmark and Haula especially should bring more of that. The Cats probably need that if Bob isn’t going to bail them out regularly. And Eetu Luostarinen is considered something of a prospect, so maybe the numbers make it a better deal than it looks at first. Given Tallon’s recent history in Sunrise though…
You sort of wonder if Tallon shouldn’t have been looking for blue line help now instead of down the road. Ekblad and Weegar (I almost forgot my fellow babies…) have been effective on the top pairing, but pretty much everyone else has been going backwards. We know what Keith Yandle can’t do, and Anton Stralman is turning odd colors in the sun at this age. Mike Matheson is certainly rich, but anything beyond that is a mystery.
The race between the Panthers and Leafs for the third spot is certainly entertaining, as both teams attempt to stake their spot without really any goaltender they can count on between them. The wildcard chase is no less dense, though you’d have to figure the Rangers will eventually sink away and the pixie dust for the Jackets has to run out sometime. That leaves the Panthers tussling with the Canes, who also don’t have a goalie at the moment (almost literally). It would be a big disappointment for the Cats to miss the playoffs, given the investments in Bobrovsky and Quenneville and their recent history. Hoffman, Dadanov, and Haula are all free agents after the season, and the first two are in line for sizable raises. So will Weegar as an RFA. This might be as good as it gets for the Cats, which isn’t good enough.
As for the Hawks, not much to report. One would think that Crawford will finish out the road trip to build off his win in Tampa, and that Subban could possibly make his debut against the softer landing of the Ducks or with the back-to-back against EdMo and Detroit next week. Shouldn’t be too many, or any, other lineup changes with Strome back at center and Koekkoek back on the third pairing. Possibly Nick Seeler back in for Carlsson or Boqvist to waster all of our time.
Note: This seems to have fallen at a place on the calendar when all of us have schedule conflicts. So there might not be Twitter or a recap for this one, though we are currently efforting that. Sorry, just one of those things.