Hockey

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Game Times: 6:00PM CST (1/17 & 1/19)
TV/Radio: NBCSN Chicago, WGN-AM 720 (1/17 & 1/19), NHLN, TVAS, SportsNet (1/17)
Polo’d Down To The Socks To The Nutsack: Litter Box Cats

After a predictable opening series in Tampa, the Hawks stay in Florida while it snows here at home to take on the Panthers in Sunrise tonight and on Tuesday. Because the Cats were slated to start the season against the infected and infested Dallas Stars, those games got moved (the first of likely many across the NHL slate this year), and tonight will be their opener, the last NHL team to do so.

Hockey

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Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Sunrise Mustaches: Litter Box Cats

Ordinarily two teams meeting one another while both riding five game winning streaks, with each heading into their bye week after the matchup would be enough of a stage-setter for a pretty decent game, especially one between teams with some of the scoring prowess that each possess. But all of that takes a back seat tonight on West Madison.

Hockey

Well there are a couple of quite familiar faces, aren’t they? The departed namesake and an instant hall of fame coach will try to bring a level of sustained competitive hockey to south Florida that they haven’t seen since…well…ever. As batshit as it sounds, Uncle Dale and Joel Quenneville never even spent a full season together here in Chicago, but they’re going to try to make this thing work in Sunrise even if it kills them both. And it just might, but at least now they’ll leave behind nice bronzed and pickled corpses.

2018-2019

36-32-14 86 Pts, 5th in the Atlantic
3.22 GF/G (9th), 3.33 GA/G (28th), -13 GD
49.42% CF (16th), 48.45% xGF (20th)
PP 26.8% (2nd), PK 81.3% (10th)

Goaltending: In a full 180 from a trick they had been pulling for the couple seasons previous wherein the Cats got solid netminding from an aging Roberto Luongo and James Reimer filling in whenever something fell off of him, last season the Panthers got absolutely no goaltending to help out what was a pretty spiky offense. Luongo started 40 games last year and arguably posted the worst numbers of his era-spanning career with an .899 overall and only a .906 at evens. Reimer was only a hair better at .900 and .909 respectively. Luongo decided that was enough to call it a career, and did so officially which hilariously dicked over the Canucks in having to eat the recapture penalty for the contraband contract they signed him to. Reimer took whatever he’s got left in the tank up the coast to Carolina, leaving Uncle Dale to have to revamp his entire goaltending infrastructure. Fortunately for him, there was an aging veteran in Sergei Bobrovsky who couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of Columbus and take the bags and bags of money everyone knew Dale was going to throw at him. Bob got a max seven-year term from the Panthers at $10 million per, which should take him until he’s 37. Even with the goaltending career curve being far more protracted than other positions, there’s always a risk of Bobrovsky’s crotch detaching given the high wire style he plays, and Joel Quenneville isn’t exactly known for his judicious management of goaltending workloads.  Still, the Panthers were looking for an infusion of excitement both by landing a name and by potentially making some noise in the post-season. Bobrovsky certainly should get him there even if a) his overall save percentage numbers have been in decline for three years while staying healthy, and b) only last season did he have even a representative playoff run, having absolutely shat himself with the Jackets two trips previous. As of right now, 22-year-old Sam Montrembleaut will get first crack at the backup role, but it could be a rotating cast of thousands if Bob doesn’t play 70 games. Which he just might.

Defense: Once again Joel Quenneville will have an honsest-to-god #1 defenseman to work with, in this case it’s Aaron Eklbad, who somehow is still only 23-years-old. Q likes his top pairing guys to be able to do everything, and Ekblad is certainly capable. Over the past few seasons his overall possession rate isn’t necessarily one that’d be associated with a do-it-all blue liner, but when taking into consideration that he’s had the toughest starts out of necessity and has been paired with Keith Yandle for two years, the picture starts to get a little clearer. And the fact that Quenneville hasn’t personally drowned Yandle with his barehands in some secluded corner of the Everglades and then chopped up his body on a fanboat is truly an upset. Anton Stralman moved a little east from Tampa to Sunrise in the offseason, and while he’s always been a textbook 2nd pairing puck mover, last year he finally started to show some signs of wearing down. No one is quite sure what it is Mike Matheson does or who he is, but Dale is paying him a fairly hefty salary at $4.75 mildo to do it until the entire state is submerged. Mark Pysyk is a hold over from the Computer Boys era, so Quenneville will hate him and put him at forward. At the very least he’ll call him Mike Kostka if only out of spite.

Forwards: Sasha Barkov is probably the best kept secret in the league, and if Q and Bob have any kind of positive impact on this team, that probably won’t be the case for much longer. Barkov is probably the second best two-way player in the league behind Patrice Bergeron now that both Toews and Kopitar have aged out of that level of effectiveness. Barkov absolutely erupted for 96 points nobody saw last year when he finally had two competent full time linemates in a healthy Jonathan Huberdeau and the very shoosty Mike Hoffman, who had 92 and 70 points themselves respectively. Evgeni Dadonov was a nice surprise (albeit at 30) with 70 points of his own despite the fact that a hurt Vincent Trochek only played 55 games last year, and was hindered when he did play. If he bounces back to his formerly reliable 50+ point output, particularly with Brett Connolly here to now provide a bit more scoring depth, the Cats could have a little bit more bite (GET IT?) to an offense that was already top-10.

Outlook: Barring injuries, or Sasha Barkov turning to dust under the workload Quenneville is certain to give him, the Panthers have made enough improvements to interject themselves into the playoff picture in the east, more than likely as a wild card, as the top three spots in the Atlantic seem fairly secure in Tampa, Boston, and Toronto. There are enough “ifs” here to not make it a completely foregone conclusion, but if Bobrovsky is even slightly above league average as he declines, Quenneville’s system is one of the few in the league that produces actual, tangible results almost immediately, and the Panthers weren’t that far off the playoff pace last year. And January 21st at Club 1901 is sure to be a highly emotional reunion, count on that.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Everything Else

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Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Urban Meyer Is A Sociopath: The Cannon

With the NBA All-Star festivities taking place, the Hawks will get a rare premium Saturday night home game in the mid-winter. They’ll welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to West Madison, who are threatening to be wildly entertaining over the next few days, though not for on ice-reasons.

Everything Else

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RECORDS: Jackets 49-19-8   Hawks 49-21-7

PUCK DROP: 7:30 at The Westside BoogeyDown

TV: CSN

LOVE ROLLER COASTER: Jackets Cannon

PROJECTED LINEUPS

 

ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Jackets – 50.8 (12th)  Hawks – 50.9 (11th)

ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Jackets – 50.4 (14th)  Hawks – 49.5 (16th)

POWER PLAY %: Jackets – 20.5 (9th)  Hawks – 18.3 (17th)

PENALTY KILL %: Jackets – 82.9 (8th)  Hawks – 77.7 (25th)

It’s been a while since the Hawks saw this third of the Triumvirate of Doom that resides in the Metro Division. When the Hawks saw the Jackets in the opening throes of the season, the Hawks couldn’t kill any penalty and the Jackets hadn’t quite caught fire yet. That was their first win of the season, and they’ve gone on to collect 48 more. They have the second least amount of regulation losses, and now look poised to host the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, the first time they’ve ever had home-ice in a playoff series.

But of course, hockey fans and especially bloggers being curmudgeons, we have to wonder if this is real.

Everything Else

AltLogo vs. Chief_Blue_Meanie

PUCK DROP: 6pm Central

TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio

WE MEANIES ONLY TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER: Jackets Cannon

The Hawks continue this exercise in perspective tonight in Ohio, facing a pretty spiky Blue Jackets team that is scrapping for either a wild-card spot or even taking the last automatic one in the Metrosexual. They also played last night and did their cause a world of good by shutting out the Flyers in Philadelphia.