Game Time: 6:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
The Producers: Blueshirt Banter
For the first time since the trade deadline, the Hawks will get a lot at their new acquisitions against a non-garbage opponent, the New York Rangers. Though NBC surely didn’t plan on having neither Patrick Kane or Henrik Lundqvist available for the proceedings, this is still a solid matchup based on the standings. And considering how the Hawks looked on Friday night against the abject trash on ice that the Edmonton Oilers have been, the national TV audience had better brace itself.
While common wisdom dictates that the Rangers’ success begins and ends with Lundqvist, they have been able to keep pace in the god-forsaken Metropolitan division, going 10-2-3 since Cam Talbot has taken over full time duty in the crease. Talbot had a fantastic year last season backing up The King, sporting an unholy .941 in 18 decisions, with the Rangers going 12-6, which is the absolute ideal outcome for any backup. This year he already has 23 starts with two relief appearances and holds a decidedly average .921 save percentage at evens with a .917 overall. While those numbers are a steep decline, they’re certainly more than acceptable for a backup, particularly to the generation’s best goaltender, one who had proven quite durable up until this current prolonged absence. Talbot is a bigger guy himself at 6’3″ and 200lbs, so he’s not overly athletic, just positionally sound and can cover a lot of territory without having to come out very far to challenge shooters.
Helping matters for Talbot is arguably the deepest blue line in the east, which was augmented at the deadline. Ryan McDonagh is as true a #1 defenseman as there is in the league, and while he’ll never put up the offensive numbers to garner Norris attention, his smart yet physical play while taking on the toughest assignments on a nightly basis and basically holding his own at a 49.3% share of shot attempts should be quite comforting for Rangers fans. Faith No More fan Dan Boyle has feasted on finally getting sheltered third pairing minutes, and leads all Rangers defensemen with a 55.9% share of shot attempts at evens. At the deadline, the Rangers paid a hefty price to acquire Keith Yandle to make the unit more dynamic and give themselves someone who can skate out of trouble since Boyle’s legs aren’t what they used to be. Yandle is a high wire act, but with the stable presences of McDonagh and Marc Staal, it was apparently a risk Slats was willing to take.
Up front, the Rangers have managed to be one of the top teams in the league in scoring (4th at 3.1 goals per game) despite a curious lack of center depth. Derek Stepan is a very nice player, but is suited more to play the role of a #2 center. Derick Brassard is having a breakout year with 50 points in 61 games, but most of that is as a result of alleged wiener tucker Rick Nash returning to form, with 38 goals and 22 assists in 62 games this year. As a team the Rangers attempt 55.9 shots per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 play, which is dead in the middle of the pack league wide. So for them to be scoring at the rate they do would indicate a fairly high shooting percentage at 8.9%, behind only Tampa in that category. Having an elite goal scorer will skew that mark somewhat, but the Rangers could be in for a harsh reality check come spring if the luck dries up considering that they only are barely above water overall in their share of shot attempts at 50.7%.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, giving up 47 shots against this iteration of the Edmonton Oilers is simply unacceptable, even if Corey Crawford made it all look alright in the end. Contrast that to the Kings giving up only 14 shots to the Penguins in a loss last night, and it’s little wonder why the silver and black attack still gives the rest of the league pause despite being under .500 overall.
Ordinarily it’d be just one to chalk up as a statistical anomaly, but the Hawks have given up far too many shot attempts against since the end of December, and it’s not a way to continue to do business. Clearly no matter the configuration of the forwards, the attempts the other way will be there, the key is now limiting chances against. And more than ever the Hawk defensemen are conceding their own blue line rather than knifing the puck away from any potentiall carrier. It used to be that getting the puck deep and hoping to grind it out against the Hawk defensemen was the only tactic available for an opponent to have success against this very balanced group, but age and willful ignorance of eroding skill sets (in the case of Michal Rozsival, both) have made this team easier to attack. And when it’s most active skater in Duncan Keith is asked to cover for its least in Rozsival, that’s when things start to get icky, as they have for the last month and a half Keith has been on baby sitting duty. And when Keith has an off night as he did on Friday, that’s when it results in 47 shots against at the hands of a perennial lottery entrant. Giving Keith an ambulatory partner would go a long way in helping rectify this. But until both Johnny Oduya and Trevor Van Riemsdyk are healthy, Michal Rozsival is going to continue to play and continue to need to be covered for.
With only an optional skate today it’s unclear what the lineup will look like but the hope is that Teuvo gets back into it at the expense of Andrew Desjardins who offered nothing on Friday. Corey Crawford will get the start once again, especially with the Hawks being off until Thursday.
Die Hard villain Alain Vigneault is just as matchy-uppy as Joel Quenneville is, so in a game that both teams need to have, expect him to try to get Nash away from Toews at any time possible, as well as have McDonagh looking at him as much as possible. Having a couple games in hand on the Islanders hasn’t put the Metro completely out of reach for the Rangers yet, and with Nashville coming back to earth rapidly in the Central, the Hawks can really make some headway in a race that their coach had already conceded. Either way, this figures to be a well paced affair worthy of the national spotlight. Let’s go Hawks.