The Kings and Blackhawks have one of the modern NHL’s true great rivalries, with the two teams alternating Stanley Cup titles over the last four years. But their competitiveness with one another extends to off the ice issues.
While last year’s Hawks team was clouded by rumors and innuendo of off-ice misdoings, the Kings came right out in the open with it by having both the now departed Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards arrested separately for drug possession. And that’s on top of Slava Voynov being essentially convicted and deported for beating the shit out of his wife. However, in a seemingly unending game of one-upsmanship, the Hawks’ highest profile player made himself the subject of a sexual assault investigation, something the Kings were familiar with three years ago with Drew Doughty. But where the case against Doughty was largely forgotten and evaporated through strongarming the victim, Kane was removed from a video game cover and is still under investigation.
It wasn’t just limited to the players, either. After Dean Lombardi allowed Slava Voynov to skate with the team while suspended because he felt like he needed it, John McDonough basically undid a career of evil public relations genius with a single ass-showing press conference at the haven of progressive sexual politics and scandal-free placidity that is Notre Dame. But these are competitive men who have helmed these teams to near dynastic levels of on ice success, and Dean Lombardi was not going to go quietly into the night. Upon reaching an even more dubious settlement after his evil outright termination of Mike Richards’ contract, Lombardi literally shed tears over how he was duped and how wronged he felt by Mike Richards’ addictive spiral with pain killers, as if the bullshit tough guy culture of the sport didn’t basically strong arm him into using them to keep himself on the ice. Lombardi did not feel wronged or duped by Slava Voynov’s violence towards women however, and still holds’ Voynov’s rights should he ever be allowed in the US again, at the very least preventing him from playing for another team.
Even the fans get into the act as well. Whereas Kings fans initially just spouted typical victim-blaming vomit (serious trigger warning), or in the case of most fan-run outlets just forget in the face of Stanley Cups and Norris finalist campaigns about Drew Doughty’s misdoings, Hawks fans took things to another level. Staging rallies, organizing Twitter hashtags, threatening sports radio anchors to the point of calling out of work, or demanding apologies (that are never, ever, EVER fucking coming), they’ve taken the empty-souled fanboy routine to dizzying new heights.
And now with the first meeting of these two teams happening tonight at the United Center, everyone on both sides is surely breathless with anticipation with what the next step in this rivalry will be.
On the ice, the Kings are trying something new for a change in the wake of their dubious honor of missing the playoffs after winning the Cup in 2014, and that’s actually getting off to a productive start early in the season. After losing the first three games of the season scoring a combined 3 goals at even strength, the Kings have now ripped off seven straight wins, none of which have come in a shootout variety. Those wins have come in large part thanks to Tyler Toffoli, who has nine goals already and is tied for the league lead. He and linemate Jeff Carter both lead the team with 10 points, as Toffoli has a single, lonely assist. Behind those two the drop-off in forward scoring is pretty severe. Noted piece of shit Milan Lucic has 7 points in nine games so far, Anze Kopitar follows with only three points, all goals. Of course, basically every King forward is well above 50% in their share of shot attempts at evens, so despite the positive start, not all that much has changed for them. They still get pucks in deep, grind teams down, and don’t have much east-west as a group at all or a Plan B after “shoot”.
The blue line is still heavily reliant on accused rapist Drew Doughty, though like Ryan Suter of the Wild, he’s down over two minutes of ice time per game to only 26 minutes and change. That’s been helped by a healthy Alec Martinez and the addition of Christian Ehrhoff, who has carried over 60% of the play this year so far while being able to slay bums. There is a soft, slow, and stupid underbelly to this grouping however, and it’s the aging but still ornery Matt Greene and whatever he’s been paired with. However, both are hurt, and whatever Brayden McNabb is will be getting serious minutes.
Netminder Jonathan Quick has been excellent so far while not being asked to do much, stopping .938 of shots at evens and .925 overall while facing about 28 shots per start, which is actually an uptick from Kings teams in the past.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the news today is that Bryan Bickell has been demoted to Rockford in spite of the fact that only $950K of is $4 million dollar cap hit can be buried. It’s unfortunate that he’s been banished to Beef A Roo County for basically being himself and signing a contract that was essentially back pay for his three years playing below league-minimum, but such is the cruel world of SPORPS. In his stead Marko Dano will make his Hawk debut tonight being centered by Tanner Kero, with whom he had some success in Rockford. This move is also indicative of Marian Hossa missing at least a little bit of time after leaving the Minnesota game with a lower body injury.
The Hawks’ makeshift blue line will have all it can handle tonight with the rabid hordes of King forwards looking to plaster them into the endboards. And though Erik Gustafsson showed nice vision and touch on his long breakaway pass to Artem Anisimov on Friday, without Keith the Hawks don’t really have any options to sidestep this caliber of Kings forecheck and get the attack going the other way with their forwards caught. And Corey Crawford figures to be a busy man tonight as a result.
While anything can happen on a given night, and the Hawks are at home where they have been much better (which should come to the shock of no one given their youth at forward and lack of depth on defense), this Kings team is currently playing the exact way they want to, and the Hawks have trouble with them when they’ve got a full accompaniment of weapons at their disposal. This could get ugly in a hurry tonight.
If you’re going to tonight’s game, pick up a copy of our gameday program outside the UC. If you’re not, you can get the PDF version right here.