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Gather Up The Chaps – Stars vs Hawks Preview, Plea Hearing

StarsHumCover vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:30PM
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Underneath These Shitty Stars: Defending Big D

Another day, another repugnant Blackhawks sex scandal, another STATEMENT GAME with a Central Division opponent.

While the Hawks have been flicking boogers at one another for the last month, the Stars themselves have failed to gain firm grasp of the Central division, though they have been a bit beset by injuries. John Klingberg returned on Saturday, but Tyler Seguin will be out for the remainder of the regular season after a 15% avulsion of his Achilles tendon from a skate blade. The Stars held an optional skate this morning, so it’s really anyone’s guess with what Lindy Ruff will toss out as his line combinations tonight. While Seguin is the Stars’ most dynamic offensive threat, they’re certainly not hurting for speed or creativity elsewhere in the lineup. It would stand to reason that Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn would be split up on the road, leaving one of the two of them not facing down Keith and/or Toews, but again, there’s no clear indication on what the Lindy’s blender will yield.

With Klingberg back, that’s now allowed Ruff to split up he and Alex Goligoski, with the latter taking shifts with the newly acquired Kris Russell. Russell and Goligoski have been taking on the top assignments in Klingberg’s absence, with Russell playing the role of free safety to Goligoski’s heretofore restrained walkabout tendencies with Klingberg. Predictably, Russell is the only Stars defenseman below water in shot attempts against. However, in defense of Russell, since his arrival in Dallas, the Stars are still only a 49.81 share when Russell isn’t off the ice. So he’s not a complete boat anchor. On the flip side of the coin however, Stephen Johns has been solid when paired with Johnny Oduya with a 52.94 share in the most sheltered starts all season on the roster.

Kari Lehtonen will get the cage tonight having won his last two starts against the Hawks, holding them to two goals in each contest, stopping 65 of 69 shots against. Either the Hawks are just shooting right into the crest of his jersey or he’s just able to get up for these games, because he’s still below .900 for the month of March, and a .904 for the season. And that’s what constitutes a #1 goaltender in Dallas, as he’s been taking the bulk of the starts from Antti Niemi.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, things worked out so great on Sunday against a team with no obvious strong suit that Joel Quenneville is sticking with his forward lineups in their traditional formations. It’s becoming abundantly clear that neither Hossa nor Ladd can get out of fourth gear anymore, and that’s a problem when the Hawks only have one defensemen that can push the play. Quenneville might as well switch sets of wingers between the Toews and Anismov lines when Kruger returns, creating two legit scoring lines and two legit checking lines, because right now he doesn’t have one of either.

On the blue line there do not appear to be any changes as well, so one can only hope that this plan to force Trevor Van Riemsdyk into everyone’s life is a long con meant to preserve yet another Duncan Keith ice-time devouring post-season, because Teflon has no discernable skills that warrant such attention. And no, “versatility” is not a skill. Speaking of devouring, Brent Sbarro is going to get a workout tonight, as even at home there is no line that is not going leave burn marks his sans-a-belt breezers.

The “Scott Darling At Home” theory gets put to a real test tonight playing an actual team, rather than a cherry picked garbage opponent. On paper Scott Darling’s slightly skewed .946 at home certainly bests any contextual Lehtonen stat, but there is still pedigree involved in that Stars crease with Lehtonen being a former second overall pick, and far more agile against a team that will try to make him move than Darling has ever shown to be.

The Stars play faster than the Hawks can deal with, particularly with their defensive lineup as presently constituted, and that should hold true even with Tyler Seguin out of the lineup. If Lindy Ruff splits up Benn and Spezza, then the Hawks are probably screwed, as Toews will certainly draw the responsibility of the current 2nd leading scorer in the league and defending Art Ross winner, leaving the still effortlessly smooth skating Spezza to run wild on any number of the Hawks four #6 defensemen. Two points in 8 games is a lot easier to make up than any of the alternatives, so if the Hawks have any designs on the division and the abundantly necessary home ice it brings, they had better find a way to limit chances against an immobile Scott Darling. And spotting the Stars at least four goals before pressing hasn’t worked the last two times, so maybe try something new tonight.