Hockey

I Am An Elastic Firecracker – Hawks at Stars Games 27 & 28 Preview

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Game Times: 7:30 PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN (3/9), SportsNet (3/9), NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Dammit Pantera, This Beer Is Warm: Defending Big D

 

As hard as it is to believe, this series in Dallas will mark the halfway point of this abbreviated campaign for the Hawks, as it’s both zipped right by and felt interminable somehow simultaneously. They’ll face a Stars team that itself is adrift and had better get things straightened out in a hurry given the onslaught of makeup games they now face after both covid and Texan disasters in the past two months.

The Stars enter tonight having played the fewest games in the league, at only 20, with a whopping 36 games they’ll need to play by the season finale on the West Side on May 10th. For those counting at home that’s 36 games in 62 days for a team that’s not wholly healthy to begin with. Neither Tyler Seguin or Ben Bishop have played yet this year, and what they’re able to contribute if and when they come back remains to be seen, if the Stars even have a prayer of the post season at that point. That’s the thing about Games In Hand – teams have to win them in order for them to end up mattering. Over the weekend they claimed 3 of 4 points from the debris of the Jackets and  Preds, and forced overtime on Sunday night against Nashville after being down two goals in the third, only lose in the 3v3 fire drill. Prior to shutting out the Jackets on Sunday, the Stars had lost four straight, though a set against the Bolts tends to do that to teams.

In net in Bishop’s absence, Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger have basically been splitting time since Khudobin’s team-enforced suspension the last time the Hawks were here. Both have been solid to excellent 5v5, with Oettinger sporting a .944 and Khudobin not far behind at .922. Khudobin will get the start in the first game, and likely figures to get Thursday as well, considering Oettinger took both games of the weekend’s back to back.

The Stars also figure to welcome back John Klingberg to the blue line, as he missed the weekend’s proceedings with the birth of his daughter, and should supplant Mark Pysyk alongside his usual partner of Esa Lindell, who as a pair barely break even on the shot attempt ledger, but don’t start in the offensive zone as much as one would think. Those starts have been going to Miro Heiskanen, who scored his first two goals of the season over the weekend, and partner Jamie Obelisk…er, Oleksiak. Pysyk should drop back down to the third pairing with veteran Andrej Sekera, and Joel Hanley likely finds himself in the press box.

Up front, Alex Radulov has resumed practicing with the team over the weekend, but still hasn’t played since early February. Roope Hintz also did not play on Sunday, and there’s no word at press time yet if he’ll draw back in. At least the Stars are still getting plenty from the soon to be 37 year old Joe Pavelski, who paces the team with 23 points in 20 games, and is damn near doubling up the next closest forwards (Klingberg and Heiskanen are predictably the team’s second and third leading scorers), with the aforementioned Hintz and Denis Gurianov at 12 points a piece. Pavelski has been centering Gurianov and Benn, so it makes sense that they’d have similar point totals, with Benn producing an underwhelming 4 goals and 7 assists to this point. Past that unit however, there’s not a lot of firepower to be found. Jason Dickinson centers the second line between Jason Robertson and Joel Kiviranta if Hintz is out, and Robertson has goals in two of his last three games at least. Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau are at least a couple of irritants on the third, both for the opposition and the officiating, as both are perpetually aggrieved at some unjust call being made. Feather’s guy Andrew Cogliano has been reduced to fourth line babysitting detail here with Ty Dellandrea and Joel “I’m Not French I’m From Boston” L’Esprance. For a team that was never going to light up the scoreboard when healthy, missing basically a full top 6 line isn’t helping things.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, they’re coming off their Moral Victory Cup win over the weekend going 1-1-1 against a Tampa team that basically toyed with them for three straight games, and the Hawks needed a shootout against the now old and bad even by backup standards Curtis McElhinney to claim their one win. But they kept it close-ish and only got destroyed on the scoresheet once, so clearly there’s growth here, except not really, but that’s not news around these parts.

Regarding the lineup, Malcolm Subban gets the start tonight, and he did will to not let Friday night’s game get away from him or the team after two bad goals to start things off. Connor Murphy wasn’t suspended for his reckless and excessive hit that he’d received a match penalty for on Sunday, so he will likely be back in the lineup even if the word out of the morning skate is that the lineup isn’t set yet. That’s more than likely code for Calvin de Haan being a gametime decision, and while he’s eaten plenty of much deserved shit for the first part of the season, his play of late when partnered with Adam Boqvist has been solid enough to give his taut preteen Swedish boy partner a platform to start doing noticeable things.

Neither of these teams can score aside from a couple of their top end guys, and Dallas is generally built for shot suppression when healthy, even if Rick Bowness opened things up just a little bit from the airtight scheme of closet party animal Jim Montgomery. But the fact of the matter is every game for the Stars is a four point game until they get anywhere close to catching up in games played, and the early part of this stretch for them is where they’re likely to have more energy even if they’re hobbled by injuries, so expect trying to set a physical tone early and hope to be able to sit on a narrow lead for as long of regulation as they can manage. Let’s go Hawks.

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