FACEOFF: 9pm Central
TV/RADIO: WGN for both here in the 606, various Sportsnets for those in the Provinces
The Hawks continue their California swing tonight with the first half of a back-to-back in Orange County and then up to Silicon Valley, which is weird because you’d think you’d schedule the back-to-back like they did in November with the two Southern California teams but WHATEVER. At least the Hawks will catch the Ducks on the second half of their back-to-back in the same arenas. Have I said “back-to-back” enough? You want some more? No? Ok then.
The Hawks will catch a Ducks team that got completely hoodwinked and bamboozled by the Sharks last night in The Tank, by the tune of 6-3. And it wasn’t even that close, as the Sharks were simply better all over the ice from about midway through the 1st on and Ilya Bryzgalov was in no mood to bail the Ducks out. Sadly, that means the Hawks will get Frederik Andersen, not that they’ve been able to make Bryz look silly when they’ve had the chances in the past.
As is their wont, the Ducks sit atop the NHL in the regular season, all the while vowing that this will be the time a Boudreau-coached team doesn’t fill their shorts in a Game 7 at home when we all know it isn’t. You kind of have to admire how forcefully all of his teams stick to this script. Like watching a little kid playing with a rocking chair even after he’s pulled it too far and cracked himself in the forehead already. You just want to know when the lesson will get learned, if ever.
However, before their unschedule prostate exam last night they had thoroughly blanked the Canucks in Vancouver on Tuesday, and that was with Andersen in net. They only surrendered 17 shots on that night, which was the 7th straight start he’s won and eighth in the last nine. He’s given up 15 goals in that winning streak, but two of those were shutouts over the decidedly playing-pool-with-rope Leafs (at least these days) and Canucks. So those 15 goals against came in just five games, which makes you a little more optimisty, to quote Sammy Sosa.
As always, the Ducks are led by human molluscum Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, both hovering around a point per game, with Getzlaf actually playing as well as he ever has and earning talk that he could merit finishing second in the Hart Trophy race to Pekka Rinne. The addition of Ryan Kesler (and the shattering of my heart) has given the Ducks even more of a second line than they had before, as he’s second on the team in scoring. He’s helped Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey score at higher rates than they ever have, though Beleskey found himself a healthy scratch right before the break even though he’s the team’s leading goal-scorer. You sort that one out.
Oh, and Andrew Cogliano hasn’t scored against the Hawks yet this season so we all know what’s coming tonight, don’t we?
The forward depth on the Ducks isn’t in doubt. The blue line still very much is. This is still a team that sends out Ben Lovejoy on its top pair for fuck’s sake. Francois Beauchemin is about seven minutes away from turing gangrenous. Sami Vatanen is quite the power play weapon but hasn’t convinced at evens. It’s Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm and pray for rain, at least that’s how it looks from here.
The Ducks were something of a headache for the Hawks, but the Hawks have beaten them twice in a row in Anaheim and three of the last five meetings. They still provide something the Hawks have a hard time dealing with and that’s size up and down the lineup. There’s isn’t a shrimp to be found among the forwards. The only two under six feet are Cogliano who tears the Hawks apart anyway and Palmieri who does just about the same. If the Ducks want to turn this into a tables, ladders, and chairs match along the boards, they’ll be able to find the same success the Jets have had against the Hawks, as well as the Kings for portions on Wednesday.
When the Ducks get into trouble against the Hawks is when they fancy themselves a 4×400 relay team as well. It’s not that the Ducks are slow, certainly not at forward. But Beauchemin, Lovejoy, and sometimes Hampus and Vatanen struggle to deal with Hawk forwards IN SPACE. Then again, no one round these parts wants to see Oduya, Rozsival or Rundblad in a track meet either.
Coming off a thrashing you can expect a little pepper with the Ducks tonight, especially considering they were probably aiming for this one more as they started the backup last night. The Sharks aren’t going to catch the Ducks, there’s a sliver of a chance the Hawks still might and that would appear to be the Ducks’ main concern. And we know how much those regular season conference titles mean to Boudreau. Needs all the spins of the wheel to cock up a Game 7 at home as he can get, though he usually only needs one.
One would expect the Ducks to simplify, man, tonight. Pucks behind the Hawks’ D and try and calf-rope them on the wall before they can move the puck. If not presented, clog the neutral zone so the Hawks can’t carry in. Punish punish punish.
This becomes something of a must for the Hawks. Starting a trip 0-2 means you basically have to ace the rest to have a successful trip, and with trips to Winnipeg and St. Louis still on the docket that’ll be something of a trick (not to mention The Tank tomorrow). Right about the time I started to worry about last year’s Hawks, they thumped the Ducks in Anaheim which I believe was their first shutout of that season. Let’s do the same tonight.