Game Time: 3:00PM Central
TV/Radio: WGN, SportsNet (Canada), NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Josh Costine Is The Antichrist: Fear The Fin
With the riveting thrill ride that is the Big Ten college basketball tournament taking over the United Center for the remainder of this weekend, the Hawks now find themselves subjected to the extremely rare California matinee. And unlike Thursday in the desert, these two points are actually critical for both teams to obtain.
The Sharks just cannot seem to get out of their own way. They’re in the middle of a current stretch of winning four games out of five against exclusively playoff teams as they fight for their post-season lives in the Pacific division. Their most recent victory game Thursday against the sliding Predators in the form of a 2-0 shutout. It would appear that their play was trending upward at the right time of the season for once.
Then yesterday, news hit that the now orange-as-Ditka general manager Doug Wilson openly discussed the thought process of the stripping of Joe Thornton’s captaincy this past summer at a season ticket holder function. Wilson stated that Jumbo was basically TOO competitive, and that resulted sometimes in abrasiveness that alienated people. When asked about Wilson’s remarks, Thornton essentially proved him 100% correct and quickly retorted back “Doug needs to shut his mouth”. MEEE-OW. Saucer of milk, table two.
On one hand, that level of transparency is refreshing coming from the hockey community, which is known for being overly insular from the public and the press. On the other, it’s quite another to continue to try to railroad the team’s best player out of town for completely fabricated reasons of “clutch” and “leadership”, and it’s very easy to empathize with Thornton whom this is happening to a second time. But hey, if it leads to turmoil on the ice today as a result, there will be no empathy in these parts.
For their part, the Sharks have not been the possession juggernaut they have in years past, carrying just a hair over half the chances at evens at 50.3%. This is mostly due to a bottom six that has the likes of John Scott, Mike Brown, and completely made up names like Barclay Goodrow. Having Brent Burns move back to defense has also hurt the Sharks two fold, removing a power forward presence for Joe Thornton’s line, as well as creating a a defensive liability on the back end.
Burns has always been a skilled scorer even from the blue line with a mammoth shot to compliment his caveman appearance. And even though his possession numbers are quite solid (52.7% on, 48.9% off), fast teams can give him trouble even with his range. With last change the pairing of Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Justin Braun figure to take the assignment of Toews and Hossa, but on a team that has four lines that can skate, isolating Burns as well as the aging Scott Hannan shouldn’t be all that difficult even on the road.
Antti Niemi will get the start in the Shark cage (GET IT), fresh off a 35 save shutout of the Predators. Niemi has leveled off from his last two seasons peaking at being a Vezina finalist in 2013 and getting lit up by the Kings in the first round last year. He’s got a perfectly respectable .916 save percentage overall and .923 at evens, but the book on him is still the same. So look for his glove to be targeted frequently.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they’ll be without Joakim Nordstrom this afternoon and Tuesday after being suspended for his completely needless and reckless hit on Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the closing minutes of the game Thursday. That gives Quenneville a fourth line spot to fill, so that means a choice between Andrew Desjardins and Dan Carcillo. Joy. Given the opponent, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Desjardins get some more burn against his former mates, this time on the fourth line where he belongs.
With no skate today the assumption is that the back end will stay configured the same, and that includes Corey Crawford in net. The man to watch is still Johnny Oduya, who after easing back into thing against the garbage scavenging dogs in Glendale gets a bit of a step up in competition today. If he’s still paired with Hjalmarsson as is assumed, he’ll certainly be seeing some form of top six assignment, and the Sharks can still skate at the top end of their lineup. Time to really find out whether the rest actually did Oduya some good.
One key thing will be for the Hawks to stay out of the box, as the Sharks power play is just as potent as it usually is, though it truly is a joy to watch the movement on it when the Hawks aren’t involved. Points are too precious to be participating in a parade to the penalty box today, even with a PK as solid as the Hawks’. It will be the responsibility of the bottom six today to pick up the scoring slack, as that’s where the opportunities will be. Let’s go Hawks.