PUCK DROP: 6pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
WE MEANIES ONLY TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER: Jackets Cannon
The Hawks continue this exercise in perspective tonight in Ohio, facing a pretty spiky Blue Jackets team that is scrapping for either a wild-card spot or even taking the last automatic one in the Metrosexual. They also played last night and did their cause a world of good by shutting out the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Last night’s win for Columbus saw them crawl within two points of the Flyers for 3rd in the East (and I think most of us would like to see a Jackets-Rangers first round, because that wouldn’t be fraught with storylines or anything) and stay one point ahead of the Leafs for the final wild card spot, with the Jackets having two games in hand. They’re also only one point behind Detroit for the 1st wild card spot, or as it’s known in the East: “The team that doesn’t have to get absolutely tack-hammered by the Bruins.”
Sergei Bobrovsky made 37 saves against his old team to keep them at bay last night, and if this were February the Hawks might get a look at Curtis McElhinney. However, with the Jackets desperate for any points they can grab I would have to imagine Bob (OH BOB! YOU REPAID MY ABUSE WITH RAW HATRED! BUT I NEED YOU TODAY OH BOB!!!) is wheeled right back out there tonight.
But the Jackets aren’t just Bobrovsky and hoping to hell to scratch out a goal. It’s hard to believe, but there are six guys on this team with over 15 goals (and Boone Jenner might get there as well) led by Ryan Johansen’s 30. They don’t have any stars (though Johansen very well could be soon) but they come at you in waves of proletariat skaters who never stop moving and are pretty excited to take a piece of you. You can imagine that will be the plan tonight in front of what’s becoming a pretty raucous Nationwide Arena. So the Hawks better have their heads up.
Columbus will also get a boost in that young stud d-man Ryan Murray returns tonight, and he really shakes out the whole lineup. Suddenly James Wisniewski has someone to cover for his charges into darkness and Jack Johnson doesn’t have to do all the heavy-lifting (which usually ends badly). So it’s a challenge.
For the Hawks, haven’t seen yet but I have to imagine Antti Raanta will get the start, and possibly his last one of the year unless that final weekend has nothing riding on it. Johnny Oduya will miss out again, but Michal Rozsival could be available which I would imagine sees Rundblad scratched. Whether that means Rozie pairs with Hjalmarsson or Leddy, I can’t tell you.
Expect to see some shuffle in the forwards too. I would imagine Teuvo gets back in at the cost of Jeremy Morin or Peter Regin. Nice job on being the best possession forwards kids, now have a seat. Maybe Michal Handzus comes back in as well, but what purpose that would serve I don’t know. I actually liked the way the Hawks played last night, and the speed at which they did it. Clearly, Zus doesn’t help that in any way.
The Hawks will be seeing a far more desperate team tonight than last night. With the Avs finding yet another miracle win last night, the chase for 2nd is getting really close to futile, whereas Columbus has it all to play for. The Jackets are a very big team, so expect them to come out flying and trying to impose that on the Hawks early by chipping pucks deep and then trying to use the Hawks’ as water colors along the glass. Most everyone last night was very disciplined in coming back deep, using the middle of the ice to get out, and not leaking out. There were still blips, but if the Hawks can continue that tonight and hit the line with five this Jackets blue line outside of Murray cannot hold up. You’ve seen the Wiz movie, you didn’t like it then. Jack Johnson was abused here in Chicago the last meeting, and you can tell me about Fedor Tyutin and Nick Schultz all you want but I’m not listening.
You can easily see a scenario where the Hawks just can’t be bothered to match the effort level of the Jackets and just try and get through it. But getting the right structure in place takes effort no matter what, and that’s what the Hawks have to work on the rest of the year.