Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHLN US, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Street Fight Radio: The Cannon
After basically the entire work week off in an unofficial early season bye, the Hawks venture to Ohio for the second and only road game of another thee-in-four-nights stretch that sees them facing down a Columbus team that still isn’t quite sure what the hell it actually is at this point.
At 4-2-0 to this point in the seaoson, the Jackets are at least making a fist of it while unholy terror Seth Jones remains absent from the blue line. To this point, they’ve beaten Detroit, Florida, Philadelphia, and Colorado, with only the latter of which actually playing well to start the season, as their other three victories have been over teams that are presently total messes. Their losses came to a speedy and spiky Hurricanes team, and the Bolts who dropped an 8-burger on them. So for right now, it’s fair to call them the middling team that they are with Jones out.
That’s not to say they’re bereft of any kind of punch. Erstwhile Style Boy Artemi Panarin has put up 9 points in 6 games so far to pace the Jackets, and is in full on “Fuck you, pay me” mode with his bridge deal coming to a close at the end of this year and lacking the mega-paper he’s seeking, which the Jackets seem slightly hesitant to give him. He flanks former first rounder P-L Dubois with Cam Atkinson on the other side, and this line has shown plenty of speed and creativity in the early going. The Jackets’ middle six has been getting plowed over on the possession ledger however, with the de facto second line of Duclair (remember him?), Wennberg, and SANDPAPER Captain Nick Foligno and the third line of Boone Jenner, Riley “Not A Purported Wiener Tucker” Nash, and Josh Anderson contributing intermittent offense, but certainly not enough to balance out the top line and force opposing coaches to pause when trying to get matchups. The fourth line of Sonny Milano (OHHHH!), Lukas Sedlak, and Dane Oliver Bjorkstrand has at least tilted the ice to spell the other three units.
With Jones out on the blue line, Zach Werenski has been partnered with David Savard, and they’ve been getting their skulls kicked it at a 41% clip, and if Werenski isn’t pushing the play on offense, he’s not a world beater in his own end, particularly when he is basically covering for Quebecois Wisniewski as a partner. Markus Nutivaara, a seventh round pick and a 24 year old and not a Finnish candy bar, however, has been the beneficiary of the top line taking a pounding, and flipped the ice at 60% clip with the will-he-ever-get-his-shit-together Ryan Murray. Adam Clendening (remember him too?) has landed here because he’s a right handed defenseman with the vague threat of offense in his game, and he and Scott Harrington have been turned into paste in the 20 even strength minutes they’ve played together on the third pairing.
Long the strength of this team, two time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky has had a slow start to the season, with only an .888 at evens and an .875 overall. Clearly those are not up to his high standards of play, and if that continues, that type of goaltending will torpedo just about any team, let alone one that’s been as reliant as the Jackets have been on Bob. But for as much as he’s slumped, he’s still fully capable of power-windmill breakdancing in the crease all night long on any opponent, as Bobrovsky remains one of the best combinations of size, athleticism, and positional soundness in the sport.
As for the Men Of Four Feathers, while their first regulation loss was probably overdue, they certainly didn’t play terribly against the Yotes on Thursday, or at least the names that are supposed to matter didn’t. The ones everyone expects to be terrible gift wrapped all three goals for Glendale, and Corey Crawford’s return to the cage didn’t have the storybook finish that was hoped for despite looking as solid as can be asked of a goalie after having not played in over 300 days. He’ll get the nod again tonight with a sterner test, particularly from the top line with Panarin’s ability to pick corners as a “bad shot maker”. In front of Crawford will be the same defensive configuration as the past few games, which means it’s duck and cover time with Manning and Rutta on the ice, particularly unsheltered on the road.
Among the forwards, because the Hawks actually lost, Quenneville predictably used it as an excuse to do what he’s presumably been dying to do since the start of camp, and that’s move Anisimov back to the #2 center slot between Schmaltz and Garbage Dick. Schmaltz has been scuffling a little bit, but having Alexandre “2009 Troy Brouwer Redux” Fortin continually biff chances tilts the scoring sheet a little bit, and Wide Dick Artie isn’t the best answer to sparking Schmaltz long term. Fortin was platooning with Martinsen at last report this morning, which results in the splitting up of the speedy Saad-Kruger-Kampf line that could use some more time in a true shutdown role to see if it really could end up being a thing. Instead, Chris Kunitz will play with Saad and Kampf, and Kruger will get some combination from the Fortin/Hayden/Martinsen turd grab bag.
While John Tortorella is assuredly A Moron, he’s not so entrenched that he doesn’t know that at home he’ll have some advantageous matchups that can be found for his top line. The key will be to minimize that damage and hope that Crawford makes some of the saves that Cam Ward wasn’t or couldn’t make, and that at the other end each save that Bobrovsky makes isn’t the one that snaps him out of the funk he’s in. Let’s go Hawks.
Game #7 Preview Suite