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Saturday Night Wrist – Hawks at Canucks Preview, Pregame Thread, Frost Warning

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Game Time: 9:00PM Central
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, NHLN (US), CBC (Hosers), WGN-AM 720
Blackfish: Nucks Misconduct

Now the circus trip moves to its most western destination in British Columbia, where where the Hawks and Canucks will renew acquaintances and rekindle what’s now left of one of the more volatile rivalries within the boundaries of Lockout 2.0 and Lockout 3.0.

Though many of the faces (and mouths) for the Canucks remain the same, a fair amount of them have changed, and this will be the Hawks’ first look at the twisted RiotStarters under the stewardship of John Tortorella. Torts’ brusk manner and zero tolerance for bullshit makes for great press, but it’s really only entertaining from a distance and being a fan of a team other than whatever one he might be helming. And with his Cup now getting on to a decade in the rearview and his current squad now aging into their Cup window closing, this is a make or break pairing in a lot of respects on both sides of the equation.

And that’s a factor that the Canucks are starting to realize, as they simply don’t play as fast as they used to. The Shooty Twin only has 20 goals in his last 71 games over the lockout year and this year, which Canucks boosters will lament is as a result of Duncan Keith’s top rope flying elbow late in the 2012 season, but it couldn’t possibly be due to the fact that Ryan Kesler can’t stay healthy and has been moved to the wing which allows top opposing pairs to key on the twins, or that David Booth who had been brought in for secondary scoring has eaten his weight in Ritter Sports. Nope, clearly it’s someone else’s fault.

This is not to say that either are ineffective, as Hank is still pacing the team at over a point a game (24P in 23GP), and Daniel isn’t far off at 20 points and 8 goals. But the focus of the team has shifted with Torts on board, as they’re now more of a counterpunching outfit, with the Twins required to do most of the heavy lifting, as this iteration of anarchists is only scoring 2.6 goals per thus far, even while outshooting opponents 32.5 to 27.6 per game.

For the most part, the Canuck blue line has done its job as they always have as a collection of #3 and #4 defensemen. Loudmouth Kevin Bieksa paces the unit and the entire team with a +10 rating, however Alex Edler and his leaping elbows have not fared quite as well at -8. Jason Harrison’s WMD of a shot consistently has to be accounted for, and as usual Dan Hamhuis has got this.

Where things in Canuckland really get turned on their ear is the special teams. Torts’ influence and demand for shot blocking have propeled the Orca to a league-best 88.9 penalty killing percentage, which doesn’t include three shorties. On the other side of the coint, the power play has struggled, scoring only 8 goals in 75 attempts. But, if there’s a PK for the Canucks to get right against, it’s this one.

And of course, old friend Roberto Luongo is in net for the Canucks. It’s a fascinating trick Borat has been able to pull these last couple years, from being the object of out and out derision from the entire rest of the league, to turning himself into a sympathetic and likeable figure while getting paid an amount of money so obscene that he cannot be traded. As for his performance on the ice, it’s been middling by his standards, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against, which while fine, aren’t up to some of the numbers he’s put up in the past.

As for our Men of Four Feathers, late word from the Hawks is that Marian Hossa is leaving the team on what is being called a family matter, and it’s not unreasonable to make the leap that it might have something to do with his newborn daughter. While that’s just speculation and we have no more information than anyone else, we’ll wish all the best to the Hossa family during this time.

So with that, and with Michal Handzus and his poo-filled breezers still not able to make a go of it, Sheldon Brookbank will once again get a look at forward and on the third line, with Kris Versteeg or Brandon Saad the likely candidates to join Sharp and Toews on the top line. Everything on the blue line will remain status quo, as in net, with Corey Crawford and his amazing rapidly shrinking save percentage taking the cage. The workload is clearly straining Crawford, and the hope is that he’ll at least be able to survive tonight before giving Antti Raanta a couple of looks in Alberta for Crow to get his wits back about him.

While the Canucks still dictate a fair amount of the possession, this doesn’t figure to be one of the wide open affairs of years past with Tortorella calling the shots. He’s just as matchy-uppy as Quenneville, and he’ll have last change at home. Things likely figure to come down to who wins the special teams battle, as each team’s strength is directly addressed, as well as their respective weaknesses. This has all the markings of the one game in Vancouver the Hawks bone annually, given the circumstances. But one thing these games never are is boring. Let’s go Hawks.

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