RECORDS: Hawks 23-10-5 Canes 15-12-7
PUCK DROP: 6:30 pm
HE HIT THE FUCKIN’ BULL, DIDN’T HE?: Canes Country
ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Hawks – 49.5 (16th) Canes – 52.8 (5th)
ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Hawks – 47.0 (26th) Canes – 53.6 (6th)
POWER PLAY %: Hawks -19.2 (14th) Canes – 20.4 (10th)
PENALTY KILL %: Hawks – 74.8 (29th) Canes – 90.6 (1st)
TRENDS: Teuvo and Aho combined for 11 shots against the Penguins on Wednesday… The Canes rang up a 67% Corsi in Pittsburgh last out
The title is something my friend who wrestles in Chikara told me once. I think it applies to most things.
The last game of 2016 and the last of the two-game swing through NASCAR country comes up for the Hawks tonight. They arrested their small skid last night, averting something a little more definitive, and will attempt to head into West East St. Louis with a little momentum (assuming this Winter Classic actually ever gets played, which it might not).
The first thing to learn about the Hurricanes is simply they’re in the wrong damn division. They’re behind the Flyers, Capitals, Rangers, Penguins, and Jackets, and three of those teams have put up winning streaks of seven or more this season already. So while the Canes aren’t a bad team at all, they’re going to have to flag down someone in that group just for a wild card spot and they already trail the Flyers by seven points.
Because most everything else with the Canes is where you’d want it and where you’d expect it. They have a really good coach in Bill Peters who preaches playing with the puck, which has made the Canes one of the better possession teams in the league both this year and last. While they might lack star power, this a forward group that is useful 1-12. There are plenty of teams that would love Stalberg and Nordstrom on their fourth line, which should make some Hawks fans smirk.
Another problem for the Canes at the moment is that they’re missing their most important piece in Justin Faulk. He’s out week-to-week, which is never a phrase you want to hear. It could be a while. The evidence of what they’re missing couldn’t have come into clearer relief than their last game against the Pens, where they basically smacked around the defending champs for three periods but were undone by Matt Tennyson channeling Patsy Cline and went out walkin’ to let the Pens have a 3-on-1 that Hagelin buried.
Another bugaboo for the Canes is what we all would have guesses, which is Cam Ward isn’t all that good. He’s been better than predicted, but that’s not saying much. .919 at evens is just below average. As is .917 overall. Eddie Lack has been an utter disaster for the second straight season, which is how you end up with Michael Leighton making NHL starts for your team.
Everything else with this team is trending right. Since moving to the middle, Teuvo and Sebastian Aho have been utterly dominant. They rock a 58.0% Corsi together. Jordan Staal since returning from injury has also been ridiculously good, at least possession-wise, being the original Sean Couturier. Jeff Skinner has rediscovered his scoring touch after it went missing a couple seasons ago. Brett Pesce has continued his development, and Slavin is coming with him. Hanafin is having Year Two growing pains but looks for all the world a future character in Rampage. There’s a lot to like here.
For the Hawks, we won’t know until they get to the building but one would imagine (hope?) that Brian Campbell’s exile doesn’t last more than one game. You wouldn’t choose to play Rozsival in both halves of a back-to-back, but then again I don’t have a mustache and drink a bathtub of red wine. Also, considering how the Hawks barely had the puck at all last night, you’d think Campbell might help with that. Scott Darling will get the start, and this might be when we start to see the Hawks split these starts a little more evenly than they have before.
The Hawks went to the usual formula last night against a far better possession team than they are last night. Crow makes big saves to keep them in it, they get a power play goal or two, they wait for the other goalie to make a mistake. Take two points. That will have to be the plan again tonight, as Anisimov can expect Staal to be up his ass from the word go, and the Canes just possess the puck better than the Hawks. Luckily for the Hawks, there shouldn’t be much of a dropoff in net, and Darling will have to look a lot like Crow did last night.