Having played 10 of their last 12 games on the road, the Hawks will now close out December and 2014 with 5 of their next 7 at Club 1901. That stretch begins tonight against the visiting Flames to close out the inter-divisional season series.
Now nearly halfway into the season, the book on the Flames is pretty widely known. They’re overachieving beyond their wildest dreams thanks to a preposterously high shooting percentage while Jonas Hiller has performed just slightly above his career averages while staying healthy. That combination, along with Bob Hartley grunting to get his team to at least be prepared to work on a shift to shift basis has the Flames as a surprise entrant in the Pacific Division playoff derby. But a team can only outrun math for so long, as the Leafs, Avalanche, Wild, and many other early season surprises have found out in recent years.
At present, the Flames are 28th in the league in Corsi share ahead of only the Avs and Sabres, and even then it doesn’t really count as Buffalo is obviously tanking and the Avs are run by a confederacy of dunces. Calgary only holds a 45.2% share of all even strength attempts, yet has the third best even strength shooting percentage at 8.8%. And while there are certainly some decent components on the Flames’ roster, on a long enough timeline they simply don’t have enough to not drown in shot attempts against. Frankly, almost no team does.
Among those components are the oftmentioned top pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, who are doing their part while facing the toughest assignments the opposition can toss at them. However, below them is an absolute garbage fire, with no other defenseman above even a 45% share. And when the Flames go on the road and the matchups are dictated by the other coach, that’s when things start to get dicey, and it’s a big reason why the Flames are barely above .500 on the road. But Giordano’s unholy 30 points from the blue line certainly help matters.
With the Flames last playing on Friday night in Pittsburgh where they fell 3-1, Jonas Hiller will likely once again start for the Flames, hoping to recreate the 49 save performance he put on display back in October. Hiller only had to face 22 shots against the Crosby-less Pens and allowed 3, so it could be him being used to having a heavier workload. He’ll no doubt get one tonight.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, both the 8 game winning streak and the Jeremy Morin drama are now history. While the Hawks had been winning, they have allowed 30 or more shots in five of their last six games, and 40+ in three of those. As was stated above, that’s certainly not a recipe for long term success. And while there are some extenuating circumstances for a couple of those crooked shot totals such as inflated power play time (Blues) or score effects (Bruins), this cannot be something that the coaching staff is happy about.
In return for Morin, the Hawks receive Tim Erixon, who is basically lefty David Rundblad in his player profile and the number of teams he’s been through in his young career, if not nearly as handsome. Erixon was drafted by Calgary and had his rights traded to the Rangers when it was believed that Jay Feaster would not be able to sign him. He then came over to Columbus in one of the several thousand trades those two teams have made namely the deal for rumored wiener tucker Rick Nash, and is now yet another puck moving defenseman within the Hawks system. He’ll immediately join the active roster with Klas Dahlbeck getting reassigned to Rock Vegas, and late word is that he’ll be paired with Michal Rozsival, who apparently can’t do enough to play himself out of the lineup even on the back end of a back to back with travel, and Erixon and David Rundblad apparently are best bros. It’s Michal Handzus: Defenseman Edition.
With Scott Darling going last night on the Island, it appears once again to be Antti Raanta’s turn with Corey Crawford presumably still on the shelf. Raanta tends to fare much better at home, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be an adventure, because he always is.
Based on some of the comments from the post-game last night, the Hawks did not seem too pleased with their execution or the result last night, and they’ll get a chance to atone for it tonight. Calgary is going to give up a lot of attempts, this much is a given. Keep firing at Hiller and more than one just has to go in, right? Let’s go Hawks.