FACEOFF: 7:30 PM Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio 720
YEE HAW!: Defending Big D
Here we go. The curtain raiser on the sometimes confusing, sometimes frustrating, sometimes slog, 82-game story of the 2014-2015 season. And while the Hawks certainly have some new parts to show and some questions to answer, the excitement will mostly be contained on the other side of the ice.
Tonight the Stars get to start to at least try and announce themselves among the NHL’s aristocracy. A lot of people want to put them there after the acquisitions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, which forces Cody Eakin and others down the totem pole, giving the Stars far more depth at forward than they had last year. It’s up for debate what exactly Spezza will bring to the West, but for the first game he’s not hurt and should be raring to go. Considering the jumble the Hawks’ defensive pairings are right now, this could be an issue with Keith and Seabrook taking on Seguin and Benn. Erik Cole is a scratch for being late to practice this week, so Patrick Eaves (or someone disguised as Patrick Eaves, who can tell?) will skate with Spezza and Hemsky while Valeri Nichushkin is on the top line.
The questions are on the blue line for the Stars, where Alex Goligoski has to pretend to be a #1 d-man and that’s not where you want to be. Goligoski was very good last year when he stopped having to drag around a Sergei Gonchar-shaped boulder around with him, but he still seems like a second pairing guy. It’s not that encouraging that Jamie Oleksiak, a big hope for the future, is a healthy scratch tonight. So it’ll be Trevor Daley doing Trevor Daley things with Goligoski, the elder Benn and Brenden Dillon carrying on the Stars tradition of having a Brenden with two e’s, and kids Patrik Nemeth and Kevin Connauton on the third pairing. Um, attack?
Kari Lehtonen gets the start before his groin gets its usual February trip to the zoo, and he’s stolen games from the Hawks in the past. He’s also been turned into pulp by the Hawks in the past.
For the Hawks, the truth is out and the lies are old. Andrew Shaw will center Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, which isn’t really Q once again fucking with Stan’s free agent signing but isn’t totally not either. Versteeg and Rozsival are out, meaning He Who Shall Not Be Named will skate with Kruger and Morin on the 4th line with Agent Smith moving up to replace Versteeg with Bickell and Richards. That actually could be an interesting watch as Smith and Bickell could combine for a hellacious forecheck which Richards would enjoy. It’s doubtful that Q is going to use that 4th line as a checking line, so look for a fight fire with fire strategy of Toews and Seguin and Shaw against Spezza when he can.
On defense… well, it’s different? Ebenholtz och Elfenben have been split to babysit various kids in Rundblad and Van Riemsdyk. How that will go is anyone’s guess, but Jamie Benn coming down TVR’s side probably required Q to have some alka-seltzer nearby last night in the hotel.
Lindy Ruff teams don’t tend to slow things down, and with a home opener expect the Stars to come out flying. Ruff will give his top six a lot of leash to try shit at the blue line, so if the Hawks d-men including the kids can stand up and be sturdy there they can get things going the other way to house what is still an underwhelming Stars blue line.
You can also expect Roussel and He Who Shall Not Be Named to fight within the game’s first five minutes, and Roussel probably to win. If getting his ass kicked by a Frenchman isn’t enough to turn the meatballs off of HWSNBN, nothing will. Roussel will be up to all his antics tonight, you can be sure.
Dive in, the water’s warm.