Game Times: 6:00PM (2/23, 2/25)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
The Horseshoe: The Cannon
As this abbreviated intra-divisional schedule lumbers towards its halfway point, the repetitive nature its structure is now starting to take its icy grip on things, even as Chicago itself finally thaws out only slightly, with the Hawks now playing their third series of the month against the Jackets, and their first in Columbus.
While the Torts And The Gang Variety Hour has seemingly calmed down a bit since these two teams last met on West Madison a week and a half ago, both remain in the muck and mire of the mediocrity of the Central division with nearly identical records and not really able to beat real teams. Fortunately for both of them, they still have four more games against one another, and every one of them is the proverbial FOUR POINT GAME. Since they last met, the Jackets got boat raced by Carolina, which apparently even happens to Tampa occasionally these days, and split a series with the Preds, and gave up over 70 shots in the process. Elvis Merzlikins returned to shut the Preds out in Game 1, and then promptly went back on the shelf, presumably re-aggrivating the lower body injury that kept him out prior. With the day off in between, that likely means two games of Joonas Korpisalo, who gave up 5 to the Canes before coming in in relief of Elvis in Game 2 against Nashville. He’ll be backed up by Matiss Kivlenieks (because the Jackets cannot have a goalie without a polysyllabic name), who saw limited action last year, and had a sub .900 overall save percentage in 6 appearances. For Korpisalo, his .902 5v5 and .889 overall aren’t going to cut it with the amount of shots and attempts the Jackets give up, but he still does have the potential to stand tall for a game and get himself right, as the Hawks saw in Game 2 of the last series.
Since those games, Cam Atkinson saw himself named the NHL’s first star of the week and earned a promotion to the Jackets’ top line with erstwhile Jets Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, and only had his 5 game goal scoring streak snapped on Saturday against Nashville. He’s still on a heater either even in spite of that, and it feels like he kills the Hawks in general, and has a 40 goal season not very far in the rear view. So if he’s feeling it, he’ll need to be accounted for. He’s swapped spots with Oliver Bjorkstrand, who now is on the second line with Kevin Stenlund and Mikhail Grigorenko. Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner provide the SANDPAPER that Torts just can’t fucking get enough of from the third line, and shit heel Max Domi has now found himself on the fourth line with Riley Nash and Eric Robinson. Maybe another change of scenery will be just what he needs.
The Jackets’ blue line remains a mess, however. David Savard missed the Nashville series and figures to be back tonight, but Michael Del Zotto and his OnlyFans subscriptions are now injured and out of the lineup, and Zach Werenski remains day to day, having not played since the second game of the most recent Hawks series. Assuming he remains out, it will be Seth Jones and Vlad Gavrikov as the “top” pair, with Scott Harrington and Andrew Peeke as the second ,and the aforementioned Savard and AHLer Gabriel Carlsson once again pressed into duty as he was for the first time this season on Saturday. This unit is patchwork at best right now, and given Torts’s very nature it would seem likely that they’d be taking the bare minimum of chances offensively, even from Jones.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, things are in flux due to injury as well, as Dylan Strome has entered the concussion protocol and Feather’s guy Lucas Carlsson is on injured reserve with a shoulder issue. It has been a very unproductive stretch for Strome, where he’s been without a point in 9 games and only has 2 even strength points all season. This was supposed to be an opportunity year for Strome to at least play himself into getting traded given that the Hawks had (and still have) very few other options to turn to for offense. This also leaves a hole on the first unit power play, and none of the options for replacing him are that appealing, so it will probably be Carl Soderberg because he accidentally scored in garbage time in front against Carolina, and also life is meaningless.
In more positive news however, Connor Murphy has been activated, however it is still not clear at press time if he will dress for this evening. Given Carlsson’s absence now, and Coach Alpo Colliton’s recent propensity to go with 7 defensemen, it would seem likely, however. Injecting him into the defensive pairings, particularly if the Hawks are going with 7, could mean that the units could look like literally anything during the game, and they often do considering that by design they are running all over the defensive zone.
These are two bad and hurt hockey teams, neither of whom seem particularly interested in playing with the puck for two long, as the Jackets and Hawks are the second and third worst even strength possession teams respectively, with Philly only marginally worse. But, given the landscape of the division, it seems that these two will be dizzily slamming into each other for the next two months in the standings to see who gets the privilege of getting swept by the Bolts or Canes. But for these two games it likely comes down to can Cam Atkinson get enough opportunities against Kevin Lankinen to make it hurt, or is Joonas Korpisalo so adrift that he can’t even prop up his team against one of the worst even strength offenses in the league who is also now without its #2 center and a power play option? INTRIGUE AWAITS. Let’s Go Hawks.