FACEOFF: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN Here, NHLN Everywhere Else, WGN Radio 720
I’M GOING CRAZY OUT BY DA LAKE DERE: Hockey Wilderness
The Hawks and Wild begin what would be a traditional, divisional home-and-home with the Wild here on Sunday, the kind that used to turn into a Saturday night on a payday weekend in Muskogee (JR FOREVER!) when it was the Hawks and North Stars, except for the small matter of a ridiculous trip to Edmonton and Friday night separating the contests. Either way, you’ll get a lot of Wild in your life this weekend, if that’s something you wanted (it wasn’t).
The Hawks arrive at the X tonight to find basically a complete mess. Enough of a mess to actually score the first goal tonight? Well, let’s not go nuts. But everything is most certainly not right in the world of the Wild.
Since the Wild dropped a 5-3 decision at the UC back in December, they’ve lost eight of 10. Their coach went a little goofy yesterday as you might have seen, and with good cause. Because Mike Yeo has done everything just about right, as the underlying numbers on the Wild are all positive and speak to a team that should be among the Hawks and Blues and Preds and now Jets. But he also knows he’s been knee-capped by his GM failing to provide him with an NHL-quality goalie, and there’s not much he can do to overcome that. They hoped and prayed Darcy Kuemper could be decent, which is all he was in 26 games last year, but that was a lot of faith to put in someone with only a handful of games as a pro in the past two years (69 games in the AHL and NHL before this year). It hasn’t gone well, and to top it off Kumper has been put on IR today and so the Hawks will get the even-worse and way-old Niklas Backstrom tonight.
The Hawks also won’t see Zach Parise after his father passed away today. At least I haven’t seen anything that would indicate he will play.
The Wild would love to claim injuries and mumps-fest have handicapped them as well, but that’s a stretch. While a bunch of players have missed a couple games, only Jonas Brodin is a core player who has missed really significant time. I guess you could argue Parise’s six games missed and Spurgeon’s six games missed also count, but barely.
For the Hawks, there really shouldn’t be any changes, although it looks like Bickell might be skating with Kane and Richards, putting Teuvo with Sharp and Shaw? Whatever, we know we’re going to see everything as Q is either trying to figure out all the things Teuvo can do or he’s simply fucking with everyone because he can. We’d probably all like to see Rundblad, who has gotten better and better every game, get to skate with an actual mobile partner but let’s not hop on one foot waiting for that to happen.
The X has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Hawks. They lost two of three there in last regular season, including blowing a three-goal 3rd period lead. They also were wildly (COMEDY!) outplayed in all three playoff games there last year, eking out a Game 6 win thanks to Crawford and Kane. In 2013 the X also saw their first loss of any kind in a shootout. So we know the Wild come out pumped when the red and black show up.
What the Hawks will see tonight is anyone’s guess. The Wild could come out firing after Yeo’s tirade. Or they could be a very fragile outfit and the first goal will see them fall apart and really put them in trouble. Or this is just a team in freefall and nothing is going to stop it.
I doubt it’s the latter. Quite simply, the Wild have been let down by goaltending, because for the most part in this streak they’ve been good enough to win. Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks was a perfect microcosm, as they were more than good enough to beat the Sharks but two very soft goals from Kuemper and they only got a point. Maybe it’s all become too much and the despair slips into other parts of their game now, but I wouldn’t count on it.
But still, at the end of the day the Hawks will be shooting at Backstrom. And while he’s stolen games from them in the past, those pages are starting to get pretty dusty. The Hawks need to get back on track a little bit. They’ve lost two of three, and losing three of four and suddenly you’re on something of a streak (not to mention the Preds are never going to lose and you might lose them in the distance). The Hawks haven’t lost three of four games since November 2nd, which is kind of sick. Look for some extra spice to their game tonight.