Game Time: 9:30PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
The Ol’ Diamondback Sturgeon: Fear The Fin
Now that the All Star wank-fest weekend has concluded in L.A., the NHL resumes what can be construed as the beginning of the end of the 82 game road to nowhere- the month between the the break and the trade deadline. And the Hawks will begin this stretch in San Jose at the start of a six game road trip while looking to correct some mistakes made to some of the also-rans of the league last week.
They’ll find no sympathy from the Sharks, who still lurk among the top three in a Pacific Division that no one seems fully interested in winning just yet. At 64 points and 50 games played, the Sharks are currently tied with Edmonton having played fewer games, and a point ahead of whatever the hell it is that’s going on in Anaheim, almost atop the division by default. That’s not to say that they don’t deserve to be there, they most certainly do. While no one among their excellent Top 6 forwards is producing as they had in the past (or even last year, thanks finally to a short summer after a Cup Final trip), Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Patrick Marleau are all solidly in the black on the possession ledger, and are still smart with the puck even if three of those four are well past 30. Marleau in particular heated up just before the break, with 5 goals in two games, including a whip-his-cock-out worthy four goal outburst against the Avs. They also got Tomas Hertl back from injury just prior to the break, and he’ll join The Joes on the top line, where he freaked off in his rookie year prior to getting hurt (a recurring theme). The Sharks’ bottom six has a bunch of guys on it, however LOCAL GUY Tommy Wingels is no longer one of them, who was traded for magic beans just before the break to make cap room for Hertl’s return. Joel Ward may be aging along with most of the rest of the Sharks’ forwards, but he tends to play his best against the Hawks, or at least it feels that way after 2010 when he was with Nashville.
The Sharks’ blue line is likely the most solid one-through-six in the West, with unshaven toothless man child Brent Burns making a serious case for his first Norris Trophy this season. Burns has license to jump into the play from any spot, and is the Sharks’ leading scorer in both goals and assists with 21 and 30 respectively. Burns is a fantastic talent to watch on the ice, but the caveman goofball ass persona seems completely contrived, and it’s unfortunate that it’s very rare that even for all his wanderings that he gets caught completely out of position. Of course, it helps to have Paul Martin as a partner, whose game is perfectly suited to cover for Burns’ freelancing. Golden Retriever aficionado Marc-Eduoard Vlasic is one of the more unheralded shutdown defensemen in the league, and takes all of the top assignments for the Sharks and manages to flip the ice just barely over half the time, which is solid considering the competition and zone starts he sees. He’s partnered with Justin Braun as usual, who doesn’t do anything exceptional aside from being right handed, but also won’t ever get himself killed out there. Blog favorite David SCHLEMKO as found a home in San Jose on the third pairing just as it was suspected he would, and drives play to a 53.2% share of possession while slaying bums. Schlemko has resurrected partner Brendon Dillon’s career, after circus bear Roman Polak damn near torpedoed it in the final two rounds last spring.
Martin Jones, despite his all-star appearance (mostly due to a lack of options in the Pacific), has seen his play dip slightly from last season to now. While his overall save percentage is only down slightly (.918 to .916), his work at even strength has taken a bigger drop, from .925 to .917. And again, in this Goaltending Renaissance period, those numbers are completely pedestrian. Fortunately for him, the Sharks tend to try to keep things to the outside per Peter DeBoer’s system even if the Sharks don’t tilt the ice every shift like they used to.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they’ll be looking to wash their asses as after two consecutive diaper fillings at home wherein their beloved streak of EIGHTY THREE straight games of taking a lead into the third period and coming away with at least a point came crashing down twice in a row. They won’t get any help tonight with Marcus Kruger back out of the lineup, meaning if Peter Deboer is so inclined, either Working Class Kero or Dr. Rasmussen is going to be overwhelmed taking on Joe Thornon in less than advantageous ice position.
During the break Michal Rozsival was sent back to the cryo-chamber after getting hurt in practice, resulting in Gustav Forsling’s recall. And with the mantra from coaching and management all season that if Forsling is here, he is going to play, that more than likely leaves Michal Kempny once again in the press box, because it sure as fuck isn’t going to be Passenger 57. And though he’s closer to 40 than 30 right now, Joe Thornton will absolutely exploit TVR’s complete inability to recognize or defend literally any play that originates from behind his own goal line. Tonight’s over under on slack-jawed head-rolls post opposition goals for TVR is 2.5, place your bets now.
In net Corey Crawford will get his cage rightfully back after Scott Darling didn’t exactly wow anyone after Joel Quenneville went out of his way last week to basically say Crawford was benched against the Jets. For perspective, Corey Crawford’s even strength save percentage is still .936, nearly 20 points higher than Martin Jones’, and fourth in the league among full time starters behind Dubnyk, Price, and Holtby- all three of whom have won or at least been a finalist for a Vezina very, very recently. But Crawford gave up a bunch of goals during clown hockey this weekend so he very clearly sucks and needs to be traded. Maybe he’s a guy that needs to be disrespected to be focused and motivated and that’s why his team continually airs him out, but there is no debate that Corey Crawford is among the league’s elite netminders, and he will continue to be valued as such here.
The last time these two teams played at the UC the Sharks were less than interested at the end of a long road trip, and the time previous in the Shark Tank, the Hawks spent the better part of the game without Toews. With both teams basically at full strength and rested, Kruger aside, this should be as solid a matchup as the West has to offer these days. The hope is the Hawks don’t piss themselves in the third period again. Let’s go Hawks.