Game Time: 7:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Ghost With A Boner: On The Forecheck
It never seems to fail, whether it’s a front-loaded or back-loaded schedule, but the Hawks always seem to face the Predators in rapid fire bursts. This year is no exception, with the two teams meeting up tonight at the United Center for the first time this season, followed by another here next weekend before both wrap up the regular season in Nash Vegas on April 12th. But obviously tonight is of more pressing concern.
There’s no way to mince words, things this season have not gone as either David Poile or Barry Trotz had planned, especially after Poile’s spending spree last off season on a battery of second and third tier guys, giving them all multi-year contracts. One of those in Matt Hendricks has already been shipped off to the frozen wasteland of Edmonton, so at least he admitted a mistake early on. But the likes of Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, and Viktor Stalberg have not borne the fruits of scoring depth as they would have hoped, to the surprise of exactly no one outside the Preds organization. Their futility led them to finally deal longtime first ever draft pick and franchise face (and what an unfortunate face it is) in David Legwand to Detroit as a rental, but at least he convinced Ken Holland to drastically overpay for a #3C on a decent team at best. That defenseman Shea Weber is their leading scorer from the blue line is yet another symptom of the Preds’ continued futility at forward, and it’s resulted in people both locally and nationally to ask if it’s finally time for a change in regime in Music City.
Of course, however, they’ll be given an out due to Pekka Rinne’s prolonged absence due to a gross hip infection. The Preds were far too reliant on him even prior to his injury, and the likes of Carter Hutton, Devan Dubnyk, and Marek Mezanec were shockingly not up to par. Dubnyk has already been sent to the Montreal system, and the ever-cool Trotz minced no words when verbally fileting Hutton’s play earlier in the year. And when the goals aren’t coming at the other end at even a drip of a pace, the Preds were one team that could ill-afford any drop in net play. But Rinne is back now, and has allowed 9 goals on 114 shots in 4 games, which is good for a .921 save percentage, so it hasn’t taken him long to get back up to speed.
Obviously Shea Weber and his doomsday device of a shot anchor the blue line, guiding along the likes of Roman Josi and Seth Jones, who is an unsurprising -21 in his rookie year on a team that can’t score. But Jones is actually only barely underwater in attempts against with a -1.83 Corsi/60, and he actually flips the ice more often than not, starting 48.2% of his shifts in the d-zone and finishing 49.3% 200 feet away. This should reinforce the belief that the Preds got a ridiculous steal when he fell to them in the draft, and given his size, he figures to be a holy terror within the division once he finally hits the all-important 200 pro game threshold for a defenseman. Michael Del Zotto is now here in place of Kevin Klein, another lengthy contract that Poile was able to kick in an effort to get more offense from the blue line. And if Del Zotto can’t learn defensive structure from Barry Trotz, then he probably isn’t learning it ever.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, tonight begins a stretch of four games that the basically need every one of in regulation if they have any hopes of even sniffing the Central’s top seed, after Joel Quenneville’s strategic tanking of the game the game in Denver. The Blues are now a full 7 points clear of the Hawks having now played an equal number of games, and the Avs are sitting in between them with no signs of dislodging the horseshoe that’s been up their collective ass all year. Games against the Preds tonight, Scum on Sunday morning, and the Flyers on Tuesday are all eminently winnable, particularly with Marian Hossa slated to return in either of the latter two games. While the division crown isn’t a must, any home-ice the Hawks can get for themselves helps, as they are 2-3 in series without home ice under Quenneville, but 8-0 with it.
The lineup tonight will shift around a little bit again, with Kris Versteeg somehow getting the prime spot of the wing opposite Toews and Saad, with the Patricks again flanking Zus, and Peter Regin getting back into the lineup but at wing alongside Shaw who is better suited at wing himself, because GENIUS. And Corey Crawford will get the start in net tonight, because him sitting against Colorado didn’t give their scouts a chance to get more on tape from him even though he was on national television every other night for a month and a half last spring.
Tonight is a game that the Hawks should have and need to have, but even in their weakened state, the Preds were able to drop 7 on the Hawks behind Marek Mezanec, even if the Khabibulin factor is taken into account. The home run passes simply will not be an option tonight, and neither should be giving the Preds a look on the power play where Weber can put it through just about anyone, and having someone dive to stop it could seriously alter playoff trajectories. Take care of business. Let’s go Hawks.