Records: Panthers 20-7-4 (44) Hawks 14-13-5 (33)
Puck Drops: 7:00 Both Nights (Tue/Thur)
TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720
You Sure Do Got A Purdy Mouth, Boy: Litter Box Cats
Not much has changed for these two teams in the week that’s passed since they last met, other than the Panthers racking up 2 more points and the Hawks attempting to divide by zero. The Swamp Cats split with the Preds, and then lost a one shot against Tampa Bay on Sunday, giving up 3 goals in the 3rd when they’d had them on the ropes in the first two periods. The loss Sunday puts the Panthers 4 points behind the Bolts in the division, back with Carolina.
Sergi Bobrovsky was in net for both losses, as he continues his streak of uneven play. The win came on the shoulders of a 2-0 Chris Driedger shutout of Nashville, which while admittedly not a difficult thing to do, is still more than Bob has been able to accomplish of late. While the numbers between the two tenders continue to drift further apart, Coach Q still seems reluctant to turn the reigns over fully to Driedger, content to let Bob work things out on his own.
On the forward end of things, after I wrote about Aleksander Barkov last week, he proceeded to drop 9 points in 5 games, so at least for once it seems like I knew what I was talking about. 6 of those points came against the Hawks, who seemed completely unwilling or unable to do anything at all to slow him down in the slot, and he absolutely did not miss his chances.
The line centered by Barkov continues to be an unholy terror since Q added what apparently was the missing link in Carter Verhaeghe. The trio of Barkov, Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair has been carrying the play at even strength at over a 63% clip. Add in a total of 19 points over the last 5 starts and you can see why Q is a fan. The speed and creativity that Barkov possesses compliments the North/South games of Duclair and Verhaeghe. Once they’re in your zone, they’re extremely hard to remove, especially when they’re backed up by Mackenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad on the blue line.
As for the Hawks, they continue to get beat down by the March schedule, dropping both games in Tampa last week. They couldn’t solve Andrei Vasilevskiy, and much as they’ve done all season the Bolts capitalized on every mistake the Hawks D made. Both Kevin Lankinen and Malcom Subban were given the chance to right the ship, but neither were able to do so, both being aided and abetted by the D in front of them. That brings the March record to an unsightly 2-6-1, and into a standings tie with Columbus, who’s managed to take 2 in a row from Carolina in the last week.
The reason behind the points drought is more of the same, as the Hawks are unable to carry the play for any extended length of time at 5 on 5 (with the 1st two periods last Saturday being the exception, more on that in a bit). When the power play suddenly runs dry and the goaltending has regressed to the mean this is what you get. We’ve spoken at great lengths about where the deficiencies lie with this Hawks team, and with Kevin Lankinen no longer able to paper over the possession issues things become even more glaring in the light of day.
As grim as it seems now, the Hawks are almost out of this Hell Month, and critical games against the Jackets, Stars and Preds await on the other side. We’ve reached the spot in the season where pretty much every point is desperately needed by the Hawks. They’ve allowed their lead to slip to the point where there’s no more margin for error at all, and for a young team like this we will really get to see what they’re made of. There’s definitely a spark there that shows at times what this team could really be.
There was a period in the game against Tampa this past Saturday when the Hawks looked like the possession monsters of old. The advanced stats bear this out, as in the 1st period the Hawks topped the CORSI list with a 58% share, and then went hog wild in the 2nd with a 69.57%. Sadly, Vasilevskiy was up to the task, and the Hawks entered the 3rd down 3-0. It’s something we haven’t seen since the 2nd game in the 1st series against the Jackets where the Hawks ended up with almost a 59% share for the entire game.
There have been flashes this season of the Hawks being able to carry the play for extended periods of time against higher quality teams like Carolina and Tampa. They key here is doing it on the regular against all of them. If a majority of the beat writers are correct, and this young team truly is “buying in” to what Colliton is selling then they’re going to have to show it now. Florida is a solid team from the blue line out, but Bobrovsky has been mediocre at best. If the Hawks can keep the play in their end at all, he’s ripe for the picking. We know that the Hawks D is paper thin, so the forwards absolutely have to convert when they get the chances. Time is running out, show us what you got.
Let’s Go Hawks