Game Time: 5:00PM Central
TV/Radio: WGN, WGN-AM 720
Larry Hagman’s Liver: Defending Big D
With even a slight dip in production since the calendar turned to 2015, the Hawks now find themselves situated in third place in the mongoose fight that is Conference III. Fortunately, thanks to nearly a week off, the Hawks now have a game in hand on the second place Blues. That games played ledger will get evened tonight against the visiting Dallas Stars.
Dallas comes in for their second Sunday tilt of the the last three at the United Center having once again just played last night at home, a 5-4 win over the Captials. The last time this happened Lindy Ruff trotted out Kari Lehtonen for a second time in 24 hours, and the results were less than ideal from his netminder. It’s not like he’s got a really solid option behind Lehtonen in Anders Lindback, who himself sports a scintillating .875 save percentage to back up Lehtonen’s .903. Those numbers are the primary culprit for the Stars giving up 3.3 goals a game, good for 27th in the league.
Though in the goaltenders’ defense, it’s not exactly like Lindy Ruff has his team selling out to limit shot attempts against. Ruff preaches a go-go-go-go style that while entertaining, certainly hangs defenders and goaltenders out to dry. The Stars surrender nearly 31 shots per game, which is the seventh worst in the league. Combined with an aggregate .894 save percentage as a team, and it’s pretty easy to see where the ass of their season is falling out from under them. There are hopes that some of the youngsters such as Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka can develop into legitimate top pairing guys, but for now having to rely on Alex Goligoski to take the top matchups isn’t exactly stopping the bleeding.
That isn’t to say the Stars don’t have the weaponry up front to make things interesting. Tyler Seguin, who is still two weeks shy of 23 by the way, is second in the league in both goals and points with 27 and 50 respectively after a goal and an assist last night. Running mate Jamie Benn has 37 points himself, and second line center Jason Spezza 32, with only 8 of them goals. There’s also the fantastically irritating third line of Garbutt, Eakin, and Roussell, all of whom make life miserable with their physicality and tenacity. All of them have at least 16 points as well, with Roussel leading the way with 22, so they can certainly contribute offensively when they’re not putting someone in a headlock.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, it appears that when Teuvo scores he’s allowed to play center once again. Reports out of practice from yesterday had Sharp and Smith on his wings which fits the Quenvilleian template of giving a playmaker a puck winner and a finisher. With Dan Carcillo deservedly awaiting a hearing for his completely malicious and reckless crosscheck on Mathieu Perrault Friday night, Joakim Nordstrom is likely to get fourth line duty. He’ll do so with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, and the people did rejoice at the idea of Andrew Shaw being on a fourth line wing. Giving Shaw the number of defensive zone draws he’s likely to see along side Kruger probably isn’t the smartest idea in the world, and it won’t be the least bit surprising to see he an Smith flip flop before the game is even 10 minutes old.
As they did two Sundays ago, expect the five man unit of Saad, Toews, Hossa, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya to get looks at Seguin and Benn all evening long given the benefit of last change. Benn had the opener two weeks ago, but overall the two lines played one another to a standstill in terms of possession.
Corey Crawford will once again get the cage tonight with a start for Antti Raanta likely looming on Tuesday with the Yotes in town. Crawford has been erratic since his return from injury, and he’ll need to be sharp tonight because the Hawks haven’t exactly been limiting opportunities lately, and the Stars clearly know how to finish.
Regardless of who ends up in net for the Stars there are going to be copious opportunities for Hawk shooters. Unless Kari Lehtonen does backflips in the crease, the focus should be on limiting opportunities for Dallas, because they are most certainly going to give the Hawks looks. Even coming off of a game and travel last night don’t expect Lindy Ruff to trap tonight as the Stars aren’t built for it and it’s not in Ruff’s DNA. The Stars can keep up with the Hawks in a track meet, but it’s a tall order for them to stop things coming back the other way. Either way, strap in. Let’s go Hawks.