Game Times: 6:30PM (3/30), 7:00 (4/1)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Applewood Smoked Pork Shoulder: Canes Country
As March comes to a close, the West Side Hockey club now finds itself, if only via tiebreakers, on the outside of the playoff picture now as the results of their games has finally started to match their process. And that task does not get any easier with the Canes coming to town, who now have the best points-percentage in the league thanks to a March where they’ve only lost once in regulation, and to the Red Wings of all fucking teams.
What’s been even more impressive is that the Canes have been doing it with out two of their top six forwards, with our beloved baby boy Teuvo not playing since the 4th due to a concussion, and Vincent Trochek missing the last eight games, though he is listed as a game time decision for this evening. They’ve been doing it largely on the back of Alex Nedeljkovic in net, who has had a spectacular month with a .938 save percentage in 7 games, wherein the Canes have collected 13 of a possible 14 points. On the season as a whole, Nedeljkovic has been spectacular at evens with a .948, and has a .929 overall. James Reimer’s .922 at evens and .907 overall are about in line with what he should only ever be asked to give, which is be a serviceable backup, and in Petr Mrazek’s continued absence and Nedeljkovic’s emergence, that’s allowed Opimus Reim to slide back into his better suited role. It will be Nedeljkovic tonight to start the two-gamer, and he could very well get Thursday as well with another off day following before the Canes head to Dallas.
On top of solid play out of the crease, Martin Necas has gone off with an increased role due to injuries as well, playing largely with Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter, which is certainly a nice safety net to have. Necas went of for 2 goals and 5 assists in four games earning himself a Third Star of the Week honor from the league, and currently has 28 points in 30 games, trailing only Aho’s point-per clip at 33. Jordan Staal has cooled considerably since the Hawks last saw the Whalers 7 weeks ago in Carolina, with his shooting percentage dropping all the way back down to a 16.4% from the 79 or whatever percent it was at at the time. But Staal is still a responsible and large center, and has Andrei Svechnikov on his wing regularly which certainly adds a little flash to the line. With Teuvo and Trochek out, the Canes have become a bit more top heavy in their forward group, with names like Morgan Geekie taking regular shifts alongside the usual suspect of fast little irritants like Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, and Cedric Pauquette. But if Trocheck can go tonight or even on Thursday, the Hurricanes become even that much more balanced once again.
Fortunately for Carolina, their always capable defensive corps has not been as beset by injuries to key contributors, and Dougie Hamilton is once again having a Norris caliber season with 27 points, which includes a current 14 game point streak coming into tonight on top of his usual territorial dominance (54.1%) while taking the toughest assignments with Jaccob Slavin. With Jake Gardiner launched into the Quantum Realm, Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce have been entrusted to deliver some push from the back with more advantageous zone starts, and Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean clean up whatever’s left. As has been the case for years, from top to bottom there likely isn’t a more dynamic or mobile blue line in the league, to the point where they have been able to afford to deal Justin Faulk and bench Gardiner and not miss a beat.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they get no reprieve in the Bad Matchup Department after doing what they always do in games where a real team would have scraped out a point or even adapted to what was being presented to them, as the suddenly shit-hot Preds leapfrogged the Hawks in the standings. The Canes are just as fast as the Predators, but have a ton more finish, at least this year, as they are still volume shooters, but more are going in and from a wider array of forwards. The Hawks kept trying to make a single breakout pass with a forechecker already on top of the defenseman, rather than having someone like Boqvist or Keith use their feet even for a few steps to evade that pressure and find the space behind it, rather than just getting choked off in their own zone for two games straight. Only by virtue of Alex Debrincat putting together a couple of highlight reel goals was Sunday’s game even close.
Dylan Strome will be back in the lineup tonight after the birth of his child, though the degree to which that is an improvement over Matthew Highmore at even strength is certainly up for debate at this point. It also appears that Wyatt Kalinuk will get another shot in the lineup in favor of Nic Beaudin, and Calvin de Haan is sure to be thrilled to be babysitting yet again. This will also mark the very first time the Hawks will have their Tombstone lineup on the ice- with Wyatt and Dach both suiting up (GET IT?!).
After inarguably their most complete victory a week ago against a real (albeit incomplete without Barkov) Panthers team, the Hawks have proceeded to reverse course in every conceivable way both qualitatively and quantitatively and have only 2 points to show out of the last 6 available and have lost their inside track for an undeserved playoff position. Seriously, the Hawks have fewer regulation wins than the fucking Red Wings, and now they’re staring down a harsh reality tonight and Thursday night. Let’s go Hawks.