FACEOFF: 6pm Central
TV/RADIO: WGN for the locals, NHLN-US for the non-locals below the 49th, CBC Hockey Night In Canada for non-locals above the 49th (PATRICK SHARP GOOD ONTARIO BOY!!!), WGN Radio
RIBBIT, RIBBIT: Habs Eyes On The Prize
It’s been something of a wonky January for the Hawks so far. They’ve been collared by the Blues in the division, and there hasn’t been a performance that you’d want to frame. Off their game in New York and New Jersey, not allowed to get into their game by San Jose, and off again versus the Rangers. Hey, the weren’t going to be excellent all year and this is the part of the year where things just begin to tighten up. But after tonight the Hawks will have four home games to try and straighten out what slight quirks have developed. But first tonight in the home of hockey (at least that’s what the residents would tell you).
I’m only doing this from memory, and correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, but I believe the Centre de
Molson Bell is only one of three arenas that the Kane and Toews Era Hawks have never won. The other two are Nassau Coliseum and the Verizon Center in DC I believe. Someone should mention this to Toews before the game so he comes out foaming and his pupils red.
For most of the season, I’ve wanted to say the Canadiens are a dark horse to come out of the East. They have a goalie who you can ride a long way when he’s on in Carey Price, who’s put down the Marlboros and Johnny Walkers long enough to be excellent this season. They have a genuine, top-echelon top pairing in P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, who shockingly has been upright for more than seven consecutive minutes this year. There is some depth in scoring up front, at least two lines of it. There’s certainly enough sandpaper. In fact there may be too much.
But watching the Habs, you just get the feeling they’re just going to hang and hang, to use a horse racing term (means they’ll be poised to win and just kind of not put forth the last bit of closing to get there and get beat out at the wire). That’s if they don’t have another playoff meltdown a la last spring. In fact, I’d probably bet on the latter because I happen to think Michel Therrien is a moron.
Yes, this was a coach who guided the Penguins to a Stanley Cup Final, after one Eddie Olcyzk couldn’t get them near the playoffs. But he’s also the guy that the Penguins were so happy to see the back of the following year that they went from out of the playoffs to winning the whole damn thing, seemingly out of glee to not have to play for Therrien any more.
When Therrien isn’t busy yelling at P.K. Subban, he’s shackling him and hurting the team in the process. When he’s not telling all his players to hit and fight, he’s not coming up with ways they can generate offense. The Habs sit in the bottom third in goals per game, and this is a team with the best puck-moving defenseman in the league and some very exciting forwards. Should that be?
Hey, it works kinda. The Habs are jockeying with the Lightning to finish second to the Bruins in the Flortheast, with a good cushion on Former Scum in 4th. Thanks to Price, they have one of the better goals-against marks around, even though they give up over 30 shots per game. Subban still leads them in scoring, and they have five forwards with over 10 goals. The Canadiens’ attack is very proletariat Lollipop Guild, as outside of Max Pacioretty all of these guys are pint-sized, yappy, in constant motion, annoying, and carry some finish.
But both front and back the Habs are top-heavy. After Patches, Plekanec (Patrice Bergeron-lite, basically), Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Eller, there’s a thud in the bottom six. Brandon Prust fights a lot which people mistake for action. Rene Bourque is never healthy. Travis Moen is a shell of himself. It’s the same on the blue line. After Subban and Markov, Douglas Murray still gets minutes. Douglas Murray. Think about that. Josh Gorges has shown flashes and shouldn’t be tossed into the muck with the others, but that’s about it. Unless Alexei Emelin or Raphael Diaz really do anything for you.
For the Hawks, Michael Kostka will take his turn on the bottom pairing, which still seems odd to us as his game doesn’t line up with Leddy’s but this is the way he wants it. Corey Crawford will start in his hometown.
The biggest obstacle is always Carey Price with the Habs. When he’s on his game, it almost looks like he’s not trying. His movement is so smooth and so controlled, he just looks to be at a different speed than everyone else. It can be beautiful to watch. It can also be horrid when it’s not working. And in the last three starts before his last win against Florida, he’d give up 13 goals. He can lose it.
Other than that, the Montreal forwards love to buzz d-men into turnovers with pressure down low and with speed. Their special teams are very effective. There’s no way that Therrien is going to let the Hawks stretch pass their way to happiness, so stop trying. Controlled breakouts, expose the slowish d-men below the top two. Then it’s Poutine Time!