Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
BROHIO!: The Cannon
Now that the Great Trade Deadline of Aught-14 has come and gone, it appears that as usual, Stan Bowman and the Hawks like their people and will move forward for the most part with what brought them here, despite a pretty obviously glaring need for some kind of center capable of pivoting a scoring line other than Jonathan Toews. But it’s never been a concern they’ve seriously addressed in five years, so why start now. The final iteration of the 2013-2014 Hawks will take the ice for the first time this year against former division opponent Columbus for their only trip to the UC this season.
Of the two teams that migrated east in the summer’s realignment, a serious argument could be made that the Jackets have received a greater benefit than Scum has, who long lobbied for the change. The biggest cause of that is the fact that their new division, the Metropolitan, is an absolute pile of vomit other than the Penguins, who aren’t without their faults themselves. The Jackets come into tonight holding down the last wild card spot in the East by a point, and they’ve done it through sheer mediocrity of structure. Looking at the team stat lines, there’s not a lot the Jackets do exceptionally well, whether it’s possession numbers, special teams, or goal scoring. Even reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky is only boasting a pedestrian .917 save percentage and 2.52 goals against in his first full season as a true #1 goaltender.
What the Jackets do have, however, is a shit ton of forwards that are committed to Todd Richards’ structure and don’t cash any nights in. And it appears that that’s all it takes in the East to be in the thick of a playoff chase. While top center Ryan Johansen has finally lived up to some of his 4th overall pick pedigree by leading the Jackets in scoring (24G, 24A), they’re actually getting a balanced, if not explosive attack from Brandon Dubinsky, RJ Umberger, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, and Artem Anisimov, all of whom are currently flirting with the 20 goal mark and figure to surpass that by season’s end. Just for comparison’s sake, the Hawks themselves figure to potentially have 6 20-goal men by season’s end, and if that’s only if Andrew Shaw’s shooting percentage skyrockets.
The Jackets’ blue line is a little bit more of a mixed bag, which isn’t much of a surprise when James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson are the top two minute men, however deployed in drastically different situations. Johnson and partner Fedor Tyutin are consistently tossed out against the toughest competition with the least favorable zone starts, and their possession numbers show it. Meanwhile Wiz and rookie Ryan Murray get the benefit of starting the majority of their shifts at the other end of the ice, with Richards predictably sheltering the youngster and Wiz’s windy-uppy tendencies. Wisniewski does have an impressive 20 points (2G, 18A) on the power play however, so pressuring him and his shot will be key tonight when the Hawks are shorthanded.
(EDIT: Apparently neither Ryan Murray nor Fedor Tyutin traveled with the team, so new acquisition Nick Schultz might be dressed tonight)
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Marian Hossa’s absence has caused the first major line shuffling in months. Andrew Shaw will join Toews and Saad on the top unit, one which figures to be throwing anything and everything at the net and then making a dash for rebounds and garbage. Michal Handzus gets a Patrick on either side of him, which seems to be a bone thrown in Kane’s direction to help get him jump-started. The concern there lies with Sharp, because he’s shown in the past to get awfully floaty when on a line with Kane, and with their Slovakian boat anchor in the middle it could lead to some fairly abstract defensive positioning. Versteeg, Bickell, and Regin comprise the third line after Regin and Bickell put some pretty decent work in on Tuesday, though Regin did miss the morning skate. Predictably, the Human Sheild line remains unchanged.
Sheldon Brookbank will get the #6 defenseman slot tonight alongside Nick Leddy after three straight games of Michal Rozsival. Newcomer and Swedish Dreamboat David Rundblad will apparently have to wait to make his debut until Sunday in Buffalo. And once again Corey Crawford will make the start in net, as he will the vast majority of the time in this remaining 19 game stretch.
This Jackets team is not the pushover crew they’ve been in the past. On the contrary, they’re actually quite deep at forward, and they make the opposition earn every inch. But if the Hawks stick to the station-to-station passing attack they put on display on Tuesday instead of reverting back to the home run passes that they were so in love with, they should find enough space to get enough looks at Bob. And they’ll need them because despite the numbers thus far, he’s obviously still quite capable of standing on his head and has the hardware to prove it. Take nothing for granted. Let’s go Hawks.