FACEOFF: 7:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
SO COLD, SO COLD: Arctic Ice Hockey
Nothing like a rare four-day break to illustrate how empty our lives are without Hawks hockey. So I’m pretty primed for this one, if only to have purpose again. I doubt I’m alone. And the Hawks return from this mini-sabbatical to what is something of a big game, at least in trying to set things right from earlier in the year and maintain the heat on the now understaffed Preds. A lot going on in one night, no?
The Hawks will try and scratch out their first win over the Jets this season, and first in four tries dating back to last year. The Jets have taken 1-0 and 5-1 decisions so far this year at the United Center, and I would imagine the Hawks don’t want Winnipeg to come out unscathed from every trip they make here this season.
There are repeatable, tangible reasons that the Jets have gone 2-0 so far against the Hawks, and some extenuating ones. The first saw the Hawks on the second of a back-to-back (though the Jets were too) after the Hawks had spent a 3rd period in Toronto pulling all the muscles in shoulders and arms firing a tsunami of shots at James Reimer. The second a complete no-show, the game before the Christmas break and only a couple days after the death of Clint Reif where it was pretty obvious that the Hawks were emotionally spent.
But to pin those losses solely on those reasons doesn’t give the Jets nearly enough credit, as they present some real problems for the Hawks. They’ve taken advantages of those expertly. In both games the Jets jumped out to an early lead, which meant they could easily sink back into the neutral zone and keep the Hawks either to the outside or dumping pucks in. Either way, that means the game is mostly played along the wall and Winnipeg has a huge size advantage that makes it very difficult when the game is that way. They could be satisfied with just getting pucks behind the Hawks’ defense and leaning on them because they already had a lead. And once this team can get it’s paws on you and get a forecheck and cycle going it can be a real problem because of how big they are and surprisingly mobile as well.
The Jets come in having played last night in Dallas (does every opponent the Hawks face at home play in Dallas the night before? It seems that way) and escaping with a 2-1 win even though they were outplayed by the Stars by a gargantuan measure. They gave up 47 shots, which Ondrej Pavelec turned away 46 of. That means Michael Hutchinson will shine like he does tonight, and the Hawks haven’t exactly figured him out yet.
The Jets have cooled off a little since their December surge, losing five of nine though they’ve won the last two. And they’re getting healthy now, with Zach Bogosian and Toby Enstrom returning to the blue line, along with Mark Stuart (though whether that’s a good thing or not I leave to you). That hasn’t displaced Dustin Byfuglien from defense, and his play there has had most of Canada losing their mud. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see Buff has been something of a bum-slayer, beating up on shitty teams while getting housed by better ones. Hell, just last night Buff managed a 38% Corsi, though the Stars did trail for most of the game.
What the Stars did and I would expect the Hawks to do when Buff is on the ice is firing instant stretch passes as soon as they get possession behind Buff who generally isn’t anywhere near his own blue line. The Stars got a lot of odd-man rushes out of the ploy. You can’t wait for the Jets to set up to try it, but if you can produce a turnover from Buff (and you can) and have a player fly the zone, there’s space there.
The rest of the time, the Hawks are going to have to attack in packs up the ice. While the Jets are fast and skilled, coach Paul Maurice hasn’t shown an inclination to run with the Hawks. And nor should he considering the success he’s had. The Hawks aren’t going to beat three guys one-on-one through the neutral zone, nor are they going to be able to try one pass through all those sticks and bodies. The forwards need to provide a release valve for their d-men who are going to have hulking masses hunting them down constantly. If you can get out, only Enstrom really has plus-mobility on their defense.
Lineup remains the same for the Hawks, Corey Crawford in net. Big test for Teuvo tonight considering the Jets’ size. Big test for everyone. But fatigue certainly isn’t going to be an issue tonight.
If you’re going to tonight’s game, please pick up a copy of The Committed Indian, our gameday program we sell outside. If you’re not going, you can pick up the PDF version right here.