Game Time: 8:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Summit County Mountain Retreats: Mile High Hockey
Now that the league and all of its fans are done treating a 6’8″, 265 lb., 33 year old man with a mechanical engineering degree that he can’t wait to remind everyone he has and has punched people in the face for a living for going on the last decade (and has conservatively made $4.25 million dollars doing so) as they would a Make-A-Wish Foundation child, the games that matter can now resume. But because of more fun with the NHL rule book the Hawks are now without Jonathan Toews tonight because he had the good fortune to be sick and not have to show up for the farce in Nashville.
The unofficial second half of the season starts tonight in Denver, even though the Hawks have played more games than anyone in the league to this point at 53, with some teams having as many as six games-in-hand. This will be their last trip to Denver in the regular season, though the possibility exists that they could meet the Avs again in the playoffs, as Colorado currently sits in the top Wild Card slot after going 9-5 (8 ROW) in January while Minnesota and Nashville dealt with their own issues.
Of course they’ve done it the way they’ve always done it when they’ve surfed the percentages to success, by getting excellent goaltending (a .933 at evens between the deportation candidate and Calvin Pickard), and timely goal scoring. In fact they went a stretch of 7 games allowing one or fewer goals before hell coming to breakfast in the form of the Sharks dropping 6 on them. And though the team hasn’t been particularly on fire offensively shooting only 5.5% for the month, getting a two week stretch of goaltending like that is generally enough to keep teams with as much top-end speed and skill as the Avs hanging around. But of course, Varlamov is in court for a civil case related to charges of him viciously beating the shit out of his girlfriend, so it will apparently be Pickard tonight. Pickard has been decent in spot duty, who has a .910 overall, but has not allowed a goal in two appearances at home while facing 42 shots.
That speed and skill comes in its usual form of Nathan MacKinnon and the demonically toothy Matt Duchene, who can both fly and have incredibly quick releases. Carl Soderberg might not be worth the $4.75 cap hit he’s being paid in Colorado (especially when Ryan O’Reilly was the alternative), but he’s proved to be a solid, sizeable depth center with some smarts and finish. Cody McLeod will run around like an asshole and Jarome Iginla still deserves better than this.
From the blue line the story with the Avs continues to be whether or not they will pay Tyson Barrie, who is below the already putrid team rate in possession for the first time in his brief career, but is always a threat to make something happen with his feet. Zach Redmond is the only Avs defenseman who is even close to the Mendoza Line at 5v5 at 49.14, and they just placed “veteran presence” Brad Stuart on LTIR.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, don’t be surprised if they treat this game much like they did last Tuesday in Carolina. After the long layoff, likely travel trouble getting into snowbound Denver, their recent history with the Avs, and now their captain being held out due to bureaucratic bullshit, it’s not going to be shocking to see them take the foot off the pedal should the Avs score first, which they tend to against the Hawks.
But Toews’ absence does promote Cieslak’s Special Boy Teuvo to the pivot between Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa, and if nothing else he will get more than a few shifts with an honest to god right wing. Or what’s left of one anyway. Jiri Sekac is slated to get Teuvo’s right wing spot next to Philip Danault.
Toews’ absence also for some reason necessitated a call up of Viktor Svedberg, who is in tonight, but at whose expense remains to be seen. Svedberg has shown in his previous stints in the show that he has the turning radius of the Exxon-Valdez, so throwing him out on the road, at altitude, against one of the faster forward groups who excel at counter attacking should bode well. But hey, keep plugging Viktor, they may make your Ent-ish ass an All Star as a joke one day too.
Corey Crawford will get his crease back after having no one on his team being particularly interested in helping him out in Raleigh last week. And there are few players in the league for whom getting a week off and missing out on the All Star game was more of a benefit.
Hawks and Avs games are rarely boring, and are never a slog. But given the circumstances the Hawks might play a bit more conservatively than they do in general, hoping to wring a single point out from between the rock and hard place the league has put them in (even if the Hawks should have known the convoluted rules better). This has all the markings of a typical stonewalling, except this time not by a complete woman beating piece of shit. And if the Hawks get down early, they’ll likely start making plans to hit the dispensary before getting on the plane to Sky Harbor.