PUCK DROP: 7:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
THEY’VE GOT A WALL INSIDE THEIR HEAD: Defending Big D
Here it comes.
The storylines are going to drip off this one, more so that most regular season games. First, you have the Hawks getting their first look at the West’s best so far, the Dallas Stars. They will certainly have had this one circled in the DFW area. Second, the first regular season reunion between the Hawks, Patrick Sharp, and Johnny Oduya. Third, you have two of the best lines in hockey, the one of Seguin-Benn-Guest Star (Get it?) and the SuperPAK line for the Hawks. It certainly has a lot going for it for a game still in the first half of the season.
(And none of it will keep me from going to see Star Wars tonight, but that’s not why you called).
Unlike the Hawks, and unlike most of the coverage, the Stars are not just the one-line team. While Seguin and Benn have become the deadliest combo in hockey right now, Jason Spezza has 24 points on the 2nd line. The Ginger Ninja, Cody Eakin (possibly this blog’s favorite non-Hawk) has 16 points from the third center spot. Amazing that he was able to deal with the loss of Ryan Garbutt on his wing, no? Valeri Nichushkin is shaking off missing all of last year through injury. Vern Fiddler has 14 points. Roussel has six goals. They can beat you from more places than just the top line.
The real star of the show, or the breakout star, has been John Klingberg. I started noticing this kid last year and the way his passes stick to his teammates’ sticks like velcro. There’s a snap to them, and he’s added so much more this season. This is right-handed Karlsson in training wheels, and yes it also comes with some defensive wonkiness as well. Klingberg has 31 points, 2nd in the league among d-men. When he’s on, he makes everything go.
One of the differences from previous Stars teams is that they actually have a top four. Klingberg and Goligoski are obviously much more solid than Goligoski and Daley were last year (I know, hard to imagine). The second pairing of Oduya and Jason Demers have been more than solid, mimicking the role Bangkok Dangerous played here where they take the toughest zone starts and competition so that Klingberg and Goligoski can scorch the lesser assignments. The third pairing has been the elder Benn and a rotating cast of kids, mostly Jyrki Jokipakka. Say it again, JYRKI JOKIPAKKA!
Ah, but you came to find out about The Sharp Shooter, didn’t you? That’s cool. Sharp has spent most of the year on the top line but has shifted around a bit at times. Sharp’s goal-rate at evens is up, but his points are down which is a bit weird. His SH% has rebounded from last year’s woeful 5% to his normal 9.7% this year. He’s still carrying the play as he always has. He’s what you remember, the occasional two-way domino we fell in love with and more often the still dangerous sniper who floats around and waits for now Seguin to hit his tape.
Obviously, the big question is in goal for the Stars. While they are the 4th best even-strength team in terms of possession, they surrender a lot more shots than the other dominant possession teams. Both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have been “meh” this season, with SV%’s of .912 and .910 respectively. Niemi has been decent enough at 5-on-5 with a .930 SV%, but the Stars may come unhinged due to their PK which hasn’t cracked 80% this year. Niemi would be likely to go again tonight as Lehtonen gave up two goals on four shots before being yanked last night in St. Paul. Niemi held the fort while the Start then scored six goals.
All of it leads you to believe it’s going to be an utter track meet tonight. Lindy Ruff doesn’t know any other way to play than Mach 5, and that’s what this Stars team has been constructed to do. And considering the Hawks’ defense and its struggles with speed from other teams, you worry what Seguin-Benn or even Spezza can do when they get looks at Statler and Waldorf or even Hammer and Seabrook. On the other end, the Hawks will get chances and get space and only Oduya and Demers are defensively plus you’d have to say. And Crow is more likely to stand on his head than Niemi, and he probably will have to tonight. Ruff has used Seguin and Benn against the toughest lines, and clearly they’re doing somewhat ok with that, so should be interesting if he chooses Anisimov’s line for them or Toews’s. Considering the way Anisimov and his cohorts have been pinned down recently, you know which way he should probably go.
Make sure you have your dramamine for this one.