PUCK DROP: 7pm
TV/RADIO: WGN For both
When you’re a team that is still trying to settle at least half the roster, and you have two returning d-men who have been out at least a month, you’d probably prefer a softer landing than traipsing down across Big Muddy into the gaping maw of the hellscape that is West East St. Louis. But you don’t get to raise objections once the schedule comes out (unless you’re Detroit), so that’s the task ahead of the Hawks tonight.
As you probably know by now, the story with the Hawks tonight is the much needed return of Duncan Keith, and the much nee…. well, the return of Michal Rozsival. While the pairing of Rozsival and Daley is going to look akin to a 10-car pileup even with heavy sheltering and fitting, the push and calmness in the defensive zone Keith provides is vital. The Hawks have been trapped in their zone for far too long far too often while Svedberg and whoever else consult a roadmap to find their way out, and their transitions have been non-existent either due to the forwards caught too deep trying to bail water or simple inaccuracy from the d-men. Keith fixes both of those, or at least he will even if he needs a game or two to find anything remotely like top gear.
Rozsival is at least savvy, or savvier than Gustafsson and Svedberg. And I guess you can’t lose a step because your ankle turned into a Seussian drawing if you didn’t have it to begin with. But then again, when you’re paired with Daley, that could really matter. I can’t tell you who to sock it to.
Up front Q will hit the blender again for five minutes before switching. Marko Dano is getting his preseason look again with Hossa and Toews, and at this point anything is worth a shot. But if Toews continues to be underwhelming, it’s not going to matter much. And he’ll have CAPTAIN! Backes up his ass all night, so even a Toews on song would be in for a long night. Farther down Teuvo is now going to be on Kruger’s wing with Shaw opposite, and every time they try and give Kruger more offensive responsibility it generally never works out. I assume this line of ManShitter-Kero-Garbutt is just comedy relief.
The other side have no such problems. Even with a populated injury list that has names like Stastny and Schwartz on it, this team keeps rolling along, tied for the third most points in the league with the Caps and behind only the Habs and Stars. It obviously starts with the top line of Steen and Tarasenko centered by the true lottery winner Jori Lehtera. Steen scored twice against the Hawks last time, even though he didn’t know anything about either goal. When they get this line out against #6 and #32, there’s nothing I can say that will calm you down.
Even without Schwartz and Stastny this team is rolling dirty (in every sense). Robby Fabbri is sticking around and he’s a real weapon playing on the third line. Backes is around to belch and fart and ball-punch his way into goals. Somehow, Scott Gomez is averaging the most assists per 60 minutes in the league. Colton Parayko is chipping in from the blue line and now Kirk Shattenkirk is back. And last time they played the Hawks, they didn’t even dress Ryan Reaves, perhaps finally figuring out they don’t need him. There’s still Steve Ott around to fill out their slime quota.
And then there’s Jay Gallon who has the second-best SV% and GAA in the league. And that’s with getting pulled in his last start in New York after giving up three goals on five shots against the Rangers. Both goalies will be looking for a bounce back effort tonight.
As always with games in the DrinkScotch Center, it’s a matter of how the Hawks weather what is always an early storm. These are generally the biggest games to the Trailer Park Ho-Down, and the Blues come out flying in a raucous atmosphere. If the Hawks stay calm and do their thing, perhaps get an early goal, it’s usually a great game to watch and very tight. If they start chasing hits to match the Blues or start shrinking from it, they’ve often been run out of the building. They’ve lost the luxury of not caring about a regular season game tonight, as their coach is already snorting flames after the last loss. He’s not accepting a “Fuck this we don’t need this crap” effort tonight.