Game Time: 6:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, SportsNet Ontario, SportsNet West, WGN-AM 720
Florida Men: Litter Box Cats
Rare is the home-and-home in the NHL’s unbalanced divisional scheduling era, and rarer still is its interconference cousin. But that’s exactly what’s in store tonight as the Hawks take on the Panthers once again, this time in Sunrise as the first part of the Florida two-step.
There’s not much new that can be said about the Panthers that wasn’t already covered going into Tuesday’s game. They’re well coached, have some young talent, and are just above water in possession as they try to claw their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Willie Mitchell, Dave Bolland, and Brandon Pirri all do not figure to play tonight per the Panthers’ beat reporters, and Tomas Kopecky will also remain scratched and bad.
One thing that was apparent on Tuesday was that Aaron Ekblad is the truth. He might not have everything figured out in the defensive zone just yet, but having a partner in Brian Campbell that can still cover a lot of ground helps that, as does the fact that the two of them certainly know how to keep the majority of the proceedings in the opponent’s end. There isn’t a lot of jump-off-the-screen flash to Ekblad’s game, but a solid offensive presence and patience that belie his literally being a child having just turned 19 less than three weeks ago. A future pairing with Erik Gudbrandson’s ornery physicality should have Uncle Dale and all six Panthers fans feeling pretty good about at least a third of their defensive corps moving forward.
Roberto Luongo will once again get the start tonight, who was solid in stopping 36 of 38 on Tuesday before getting clowned in the shootout, though he did play Toews’ move correctly and just got beat by a hell of a shot. But because this is still Roberto Luongo against the Hawks, one solid outing usually portends to the next being a certifiable boner, or at least they did back in the the Rivalry Era. A good old-fashioned Borat meltdown would certainly lift spirits, but now that it’s even been uttered, he’ll probably flash a 45 save shutout tonight just because.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, life without Patrick Kane begins in earnest tonight. Teuvo Time is nigh once again, and the hope is that he’ll be put in a better place in the lineup where his creativity will be more appreciated. Having a breakout game or two in Florida tonight and tomorrow would certainly go a long way in keeping some slack on the leash Quenneville clearly has him on. In a fair and just world, Teuvo should see some time on either of the power play units QBing from the right half wall, as his work there drew rave reviews from Chief Pig Ted Dent during his time in Rock Vegas.
But Teuvo should not be expected to replace Kane’s league-leading point output in any way shape or form. There is enough offense on this team to at least get tread water during the regular season at the forward position. Truth be told, it should not be that difficult to reproduce what Kane drives in possession, if not even surpass it, which is what the Hawks could use at the moment. What is going to hurt is in the playoffs when the chips are down, as there literally is no one else in the sport a coach would rather have on his bench to tap on the shoulder to go out and get him one or three that they absolutely need to have. Kane has proven to be the sport’s ultimate killer post-Messier, and is already in the team photo all time for both the league and for sports in general at just 26. The resume doesn’t need to be fully rehashed here for the sake of inducing tears and/or vomit right now, but April is where his contributions will be sorely missed.
That isn’t to say that the Hawks are utterly offensively inept without Kane. Or at least they shouldn’t be, provided some of the percentages come back to where they should be. The Hawks are shooting 7.1% at evens this year, which is good for 26th in the league. Meanwhile they attempt more shots than any team other than the Islanders per 60 minutes of even strength play at 60.8, just behind the Isle’s 61.1. So there figures to be some kind of offensive regression to the mean, it’s just going to have to be a lot more north and south of a manner with Kane’s dark arts unavailable.
With the morning skate oddly cancelled today (likely due to weather and travel concerns), lineups are left open for speculation. The hew and cry from the meatballery will be for Gorilla Salad to somehow make amends on Petrovic for the hit has been loud, and it’s particularly stupid even aside from the usual reasons considering that Joakim Nordstrom played far and away his best game of the year on Tuesday being very active in the forecheck while providing the defensive stability Quenneville loves. Throwing Rozsival and Cumiskey out together on the road, even against the Panthers is just asking for at least a goal or two against.
The journey begins tonight, and with Kings GM Dean Lombardi stating in his conference call after acquiring Andrej Sekera yesterday that his team’s resurgence showed him that they had earned the best shot possible at another title. The Hawks handling their business in an efficient and bullshit-free manner tonight could drive the same message home to the braintrust who should know now that a move needs to be made to keep this team from being eliminated before Kane is able to get back, preferably with a defenseman. Nothing is over, in fact, it’s only just begun. Let’s go Hawks.