So this is what the midseason doldrums look like. Ironically, with the Hawks’ high octane offense sputtering, and not with the previously questionable defense pulling its best matador act. Since the calendar flipped to 2014 (and even counting December 30th), the Hawks have scored more than two goals exactly once. It’s not a shock then that the Hawks have gone 2-1-3 in that stretch. Fortunately for them, the Oilers are once again in town.
To say the Oilers have goaltending issues is like saying that Ozzie Guillen might have a bit of a foul mouth. Of the four goalies that have suited up for the Oil so far this year, November call up Richard Bachman still has the BEST goals against average at 3.03. While Ilya Bryzgalov has been able to crack the humongous big threshold of having a save percentage above .900 (.905), he’s still allowed 38 goals in 13 appearances and 11 decisions. It appears thet Bryz will get the call tonight after backstopping a come from behind victory on Friday at home against the Penguins.
The myriad problems in front of him still loom large, that victory notwithstanding. The Oilers’ blue line continues to be about as stable as a tilt-a-whirl, allowing 31.5 shots per game. The big off season acquisition of Andrew Ference has proven the Peter Principle in vivid fashion, rising to the level of exposing his own incompetence, showing just how much he benefited from being on the Bruins second and third pairs. Justin Schultz is a fun player to have if his partner and/or the rest of the defense knows their ass from a hole in the ground in their own zone. But unfortunately none of them seem to, and Schultz’s risk taking seems gratuitous given what the Oil have at forward.
That forward corps, which consists of three #1 overall picks, still hasn’t quite figured out how to use their speed heading back the other direction. Sure, there’s a world of talent between Hall, RNH, and Yakupov, but it’s just kind of all over the place, and in Yaks’ case, often times in the press box because RUSSIAN ENIGMA.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the turnaround is once again quick after falling in OT to the Habs, who themselves seemed to be falling down at even the slightest breeze. The Hawks are looking extremely top heavy these days with the lines below Hossa, Toews, and Sharp struggling to enter the zone let alone put any pucks in the back of the net. Opposing teams have caught onto the stretch pass, so it’s time for the Hawk forwards to close the gap between themselves and the defensemen and try to gain speed entering the zone by carrying it, not being hit with a pass in stride at the far blue line.
Despite going winless since returning from injury, Corey Crawford has been fantastic, but he’ll likely get a rest tonight coming off of a road game less than 24 hours ago. Antti Raanta’s challenging style could lead to a crooked number on the scoreboard should the Hawk defensemen allow the Oiler forwards time and space to make an extra pass with Raanta already committed. Because if there’s one thing the Oiler forwards excel at, it’s making an extra pass.
The story doesn’t change in this the final meeting of the season between these two clubs, even as the Oilers continually give the Hawks fits. Limiting time and space for the Oiler forwards will be key, as will be staying out of the penalty box, as this power play certainly doesn’t lack for firepower. But the Oilers will trade chances with seemingly every team, and their goalies more often than not get hung out to dry in the process. Anything and everything should go toward Bryz and the net, and the Hawks’ defensive structure should hopefully be enough to break out of this funk a little. At least it seems that way. Let’s go Hawks.