FACEOFF: 7:30pm Cenral
TV/RADIO: CSN round here, NBCSN not round here, WGN 720
SOUL MATE DETECTOR: Five For Howling
It’s been 20 days since we put the word “Hawks” after the “at” in the title, and now we’re going to do it eight straight times over a span of 15 days. No one can seem to remember a stretch of homes games like this happening in these parts, so it’s a new experience for all. And it’s a real chance for the Hawks to still be counted in the race for the Central Division, or at least home ice in the first round. Eight points is a ton to make up, but then again you rarely get eight straight home games and 11 of 13, and 12 of 16 to do so.
Every time the Hawks, or really any team comes back from a long road trip, a tired theme is that the first home game after one of those is one of the hardest to play. Considering this is the second of a back-to-back, and also right after a pretty emotional and impressive win just yesterday, the obstacles are pretty clear. But then, you couldn’t handpick an opponent for such on occasion much better than the Arizona Coyotes. The same outfit that the Hawks put up a touchdown on before they went on the roadshow on either side of the break.
But anytime a struggling goalie shows up against the Hawks, our natural paranoia kicks in. In the same way whenever you face a team on a losing streak, figuring if nothing else than the law of averages could kick in for one night and also the amount of sterling performances the Hawks have forced other goalies into, including this one tonight.
Mike Smith is the biggest reason the Arizona is gangrenous. His numbers are just eye-popping bad, like his .894 SV% that isn’t even close to just bad. Or the 3.30 goals-against that is simply a bonanza. However, he’s started to even out a bit since he was last here and straining muscles in his neck looking behind him. He’s given up 13 goals in the subsequent six starts, and five of those were in one game against Ottawa. So he’s still capable of coughing up a hairball. But he’s also capable of the 40-save performance, which he did against Carolina two starts back. The Hawks are not the Canes, however.
As for the rest of the team, a lot of them are in the shop window and playing like it. Keith Yandle, who isn’t assured of being shipped but could fetch a nice return, has eight points in his last six games. Antoine Vermette is probably the prize of the deadline, at least at forward. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who they would be insane to deal but you can’t rule it out because of the return possible, has 16 goals. Did you know he had 16 goals? You probably didn’t. Yes, nine of them are on the power play but 16 from the back end only 55 games in or so is really impressive. That leads all d-men by three goals.
Still, the Yotes are a bad team when fully healthy, and they’ll be without two of their top forwards tonight as neither Mikkel Boedker or Martin Hanzal (Hanzal? Hanzal?) are going to play tonight. Hanzal in particular has been a nuisance to the Hawks in the past, given his size and hands around the net. When you’re throwing out Kyle Chipchura as your second best center… that’s… that’s not good.
If the Hawks aren’t paying attention, they could get bitten. Whatever the glaring problems with the Coyotes, you know they are going to play hard and can make things difficult. Take too many penalties and they do have one of the best power plays in the league with OEL and Yandle running things from the back (and actually all over, because the movement they get on their man-advantage is really something) can put up multiple goals. You don’t have to bring the A-game, but you do have to bring a game.
While chasing down the eight points the Preds have on the Hawks is a longshot, grabbing 13 of the 16 points on offer on this homestand should at least keep things interesting. And looking at the schedule, 13 points really should be the minimum of expectation here. Gobble up all the points you can, and see where you stand after. But in order to do that, you have to take the banker that opens this run. So do that.
If you’re heading to the UC tonight, make sure you pick up a copy of our gameday program outside. We’re at all four corners of the arena. If you’re not, you can get the digital copy right here, and it’s free tonight! Just have it! And subscriptions for the rest of the season and playoffs are now just $45!