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Good Ontario Boys: Hawks at Leafs Preview/Pregame Thread/Guacamole Party

Hawk Wrestler vs. Canadian_maple_leaf_2-1

FACEOFF: 6pm Central

TV/RADIO: CSN for those in the 606, NHL-N for those not, HNIC for those in the hinterlands, WGN Radio


The Hawks take on the second half of the Ontario double tonight, sliding into the ACC for Hockey Night In Canada and a tussle with the constant narrative that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

One would assume that this is where Corey Crawford returns to the lineup. He was the backup on Thursday so he’s clearly just about ready. He could be saved for tomorrow night at home against the Jets, but you feel like tonight’s the night.

Elsewhere, there’s a couple lineup tweaks that don’t make any sense. Kris Versteeg gets to skate with Toews and Hossa after looking all right there post-Bickell-benching on Thursday. Bickell slides down to the Pariah Line with Richards and Morin, and Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane will continue to look on blankly while Andrew Shaw loses faceoffs and ends up nowhere near where he’s supposed to be on both sides of the ice. At least have Sharp take his draws, Q. They’re both right-handed at least! Would imagine on the road Rozsival will get another chance to huff and wheeze all over the place before Rundblad replaces him tomorrow night at home again, just like last week.

The Hawks will see a Leafs team that played and won last night in Columbus, a pretty straightforward 4-1 romp over whatever is currently masquerading around as the Jackets. The Leafs are without Joffrey Lupul, as he broke his hand earlier in the week and is out indefinitely. Jonathan Bernier got the start last night, so one would imagine James Reimer is the choice tonight.

Toronto comes in at 5-4-1, and while they’re still not a fully functioning hockey team, they’re not the complete crude oil spill they were last year that their goalies were able to make up for part of the time. While a lot has been made of their “Analytics Summer” and the somewhat clever signings they’ve made, there has been a change in style to help make up for their possession gaps. No longer do the Leafs attempt to smother team on the boards in their own zone with however many players it took, leaving them with no outlet options and maybe two guys covering the entire zone not on the boards. They actually play somewhat standard now, which helps them get up the ice and to their speedy forwards.

Which is what you should want to do, because the Leafs are not without talent. Kessel is once again off to a flyer with six goals in 10 games, and bringing glorified cabana boy Tyler Bozak along for the ride. Nazem Kadri and JVR are behind that, and there’ll be a whole lot of talk of JVR and TVR being on the same ice tonight. Hopefully we’ll be spared the boring interview with the parents, though I doubt those of you watching HNIC’s coverage will be.

Even professional albatross David Clarkson has shown signs of life this year, as well as import Leo Komarov with six assists.

The blue line is still wonky, mostly because the hilariously overrated Dion Phaneuf is still called the top d-man here. I’ve spent so long laughing at how good some people think Phaneuf is that he’s probably better than he is in my mind, but he’s still not that good. Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner spend most of their time being undervalued, and Morgan Reilly could be a real thing one day if he can ever get Randy Carlyle’s handcuffs off. Circus Bear Roman Polak and the completely finished Stephane Robidas round out this crew, and boy doesn’t that scream something the Hawks should attack ruthlessly?

The last time the Hawks visited T.O on a Saturday night, they gave up seven last December, in what was the first hint that Antti Raanta might not be up for this sort of thing. Neither was Kent Simpson. I’m sure that will be mentioned at some point in the Hawks dressing room. While the Leafs have a lot of quick forwards I can’t see Carlyle trying to go up and down with the Hawks as the Senators did on Thursday, especially on the second of a back-to-back. At least early, look for the Leafs to try and feel this one out, keep the third forward high and guard against too many odd-man rushes against. Still, you feel like the Hawks should be able to get at this blue line and the lesser of the Leafs’ two goalies (though Reimer is hardly a slouch).

Other than that belch&vomit last December, the Hawks have generally carved up the Leafs (chico). That would fit the bill tonight. Do that.

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