Game Time: 11:30AM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, SportsNet, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
You White, You Ben Affleck: Cup of Chowder
There really is zero excuse for an 11:30 start this morning, as the game isn’t necessarily running as counter programming to anything specific. But the NHL and marketing sensibility have never exactly gone together like bologna and Miracle Whip. So somehow what they’ll bill as in important game between two ORIGINAL SIX teams in its final pre-scheduled Sunday matchup still will start while the vast majority of the country is still sleeping. Great job again, everyone.
Entering into this morning, the Bruins are on the outside looking in once again in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, sitting one point back of both the Wings and Flyers. They’re more in direct competition with the Wings for the final guaranteed spot out of the Atlantic division, and this is their game in hand. What was once a firm playoff position in the middle of the East has once again dribbled down the B’s collective leg with a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games, with one of those wins being dropping 6 on the Blues Friday evening.
The Bruins are actually a higher octane offense than anyone would guess given their recent history, and are fourth in the league with 2.9 goals per, however they’re below water with a 49.0 share of 5v5 shot attempts, and that drops slightly on the road. They’re shooting 7.8 percent as a team which is not outlandish, it just means that the B’s are trading chances far more than they ever have in the Claude Julien era. This of course means nothing to Patrice Bergeron, who is still eating souls with a 55 share facing the toughest competition night in and night out, and is the Bruins’ leading scorer with 64 points. This possession dominance has allowed the pecker faced Brad Marchand to have a career year while not even spiking in shooting percentage, leaving a previous career high in the dust with 35 goals and counting, predictably in a contract year. Loui Eriksson has also been more than solid, but he’s playing for a new contract and GM Don Sweeney chose not to trade him at the deadline. David Krejci is still a quietly consistent scorer with 60 points in 68 games, and there are other solid future pieces here as well in David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, and the Bruins have not missed Milan Lucic’s bullshit in the least with regards to offensive output.
The real problem is on the blue line, where Zdeno Chara is showing his age at 38, and his successor in Dougie “Douglas” Hamilton was traded away last summer for reasons still inexplicable. Dennis Seidenberg hasn’t recovered from the 2013 final, and Adam McQuaid hasn’t stepped into Johnny Boychuk’s role the way the Bruins had hoped when trading him. Tory Krug is a nice luxury to have and is the only regular Bruins defenseman in the black in possession still mostly as a result of cush zone starts, but he’s a hood ornament on a car destined for Victory Auto Wreckers, as J-M Liles has not provided the two way game it was hoped he would on arrival from Carolina at the deadline. This is a blue line that can be attacked in a number of different ways, and it might just end up torpedoing the B’s playoff chances. What they thought they would accomplish by making the post season, however, is an entirely different discussion.
It hasn’t helped that Tuukka Rask is having his worst year as a professional at a .916 save percentage, with a .927 at evens, which are both wholly average. But given the way the Bruins no longer dominate the shot attempt ledger, a drop to that level from four straight years of .920 (three of which were damn near .930) will bear (GET IT) these types of results in the standings.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, with Dallas winning and Nashville losing in a shootout, their lock into the 3 seed in the Central becomes even more inevitable. The division is all but lost with the Stars needing but a single point to keep the Hawks out of the picture, and the Predators can now only max out at 98 points as the Hawks sit at 97 with no hope of catching them in the ROW column. All that effectively remains will be if the Hawks start the post season at home or on the road, which despite their best efforts, they still can exert a fair amount of control over with a matchup against the Blues coming on Thursday. But it all could be moot by then.
Given the travel day and this morning’s early start, lineups are left wholly to speculation, though Marian Hossa did skate on Saturday and Andrew Shaw did not. One way or the other the defensive pairings are not going to be at all pleasant. Scott Darling will once again start with Corey Crawford still on the shelf.
Jonathan Toews will likely get Bergeron and Marchand, and that means it’ll be Hjalmarsson and Teflon Van Riemsdyk behind him, so expect this line to get whatever they want in the offensive zone. But the Hawks’ forward depth should be able to expose whatever the hell that’s going on with the Bruins’ blue line, especially with last change at home. The Bruins need this game far more than the Hawks do, so expect them to make life hell for the Hawks’ bad defensemen right from Jump St. A win here keeps the conversation open for home ice in the first round. The Hawks are convinced they don’t need it, but they’re wrong, and they’d be well served to act in accordance.
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