Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Oilers 36-23-8   Hawks 30-28-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SO VERY COLD: Oilers Nation

I suppose this is something of the pivot game for the Hawks. You would assume, though that could be a very silly thing to do, that they’ll get the win in Detroit tomorrow night that’s on offer for everyone. Another embarrassing effort against the Blues waits on Sunday (there’s been three already). But the Hawks can turn that into something of a free hit with a win over the Oilers tonight. That would also be four wins in row, with a chance of five in Michigan, which would allow the Hawks to say they’re “charging.” That’s if you buy into all this.

Also, the Oilers aren’t a flu-ridden Ducks team missing its top three d-men (who then went on to beat the Avs in Denver last night, because hockey is here to prove your rules are for shit).

That doesn’t mean we can tell you what the Oilers are. We have no idea. We were sure they would have collapsed by now. We thought Mike Smith would sink them. Or McDavid’s injury. Or a complete lack of forwards. Or just being the Oilers. And yet here they are, not only entrenched in the playoff race but only two points behind the Knights for the Pacific lead with a game in hand. Perhaps it’s just the Pacific Division that makes you question the rules you followed.

So what are they doing here. Special teams, special teams, and special teams again. The Oilers power play is clicking at 30%. They have the second-best penalty kill in the league. They have 56 power play goals, and 30 power play goals against. When you win the special teams battle pretty much every night, you don’t have to be that good at even-strength. And don’t you worry, the Oilers aren’t really.

Then again, it also helps to have two MVP-worthy players centering your top two lines.

The Oilers finally separated Draisaitl and McDavid this year, and have watched Draisaitl carry the team in McDavid’s absence and become the front-runner for the Hart himself. He leads the league in scoring by 13 points…over McDavid. He’s on pace to blow by Kucherov’s 128 last year, which we thought was a number that came from the moon then. And McDavid is McDavid. Seeing as how they’re going to the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opposing blue line that would be looking forward to this challenge.

The Oilers sought to shore up their pretty sad forward situation at the deadline by bringing in Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, who apparently that guy who plays for all teams at pickup games in any sport. Raise your hand if you knew Ennis was still in the league. He wasn’t, he was in Ottawa. Anyway, he’s currently getting the sweetheart spot of playing alongside McDavid.

Which puts McDavid in the strange spot of being the line you don’t worry about as much. Since RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have been put together they’ve kicked a hole it he world. Athanasiou is currently being used to give the bottom six anything resembling a pulse, so it’s a stronger outfit than the Hawks couldn’t overcome last time they met. And that one didn’t have McDavid, which kicked off that horror show Western Canada swing.

No changes for the Hawks tonight, and nor should there be. CCYP is making noise about starting Crawford in both halves of this back-to-back, but you’d think there couldn’t possibly be a softer landing for Malcolm Subban to make his Hawks debut than against former-Scum.

The Hawks couldn’t deal with the Oilers power play last time, so it will be imperative to stay out of the box as much as possible tonight. No one can deal with this power play. But hey, the Preds stayed out of the box pretty much against this team on Monday, and they gave up seven even-strength goals. So yeah.

But if the Hawks want to claim they have one last charge in them, and they’re on it now, they have to get this one.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Canes 12-7-1   Hawks 9-7-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

REMEMBER, NORTH CAROLINA GAVE US TRUBISKY: Canes Country

In the ashes of the Bears demise, some hope has risen about the Hawks. They’re playing well, or at least they’re getting results. They’ve taken some scalps off teams that either used to give them a ton of headaches (Knights, Preds) or have name recognition (Leafs). They’re scoring goals. However, this week is when we’ll see just how much the Hawks can handle opening up the throttle. The Canes start it off and are still one of the best possession teams in the league. The Lightning are scuffling but also have the biggest collection of scoring around and throat-fucked the Hawks twice last year. The Stars are the hottest team in the league. The past two weeks has seen the schedule cut the Hawks some favors, as all of the Knights, Leafs, Preds, and Sabres have been fighting it of late. Not so much here.

The Canes kick it off, rolling into town on the back of three straight wins, though two were in OT over the just-vanquished Sabres and the simply unfortunate Wild. Before that, the Canes had some ugly losses to the Senators, Rangers, Flyers, and Devils, which are not teams the Canes should be losing to. It’s a bad look. This will also be the end of a mini road trip for the Canes, so the Hawks might catch them already thinking about the flight home.

As always with the Canes, they are a dominant even-strength team. They rank first in team Corsi-percentage, third in expected-goals percentage. And this time around, they’re only having problems at one end of the ice turning all that into actual results. The Canes are 8th in the league at 3.45 goals per game, and have spread it around nicely with seven guys having four goals or more. Erik Haula on their third line has eight, to give you some idea. Their power play has actually been a threat too, ranking eighth in the league at the moment.

But as is the Canes’ way, they keep buying into illusions of a goaltender. They got a remarkable run from Petr Mrazek last season, doubled down, and now stand gobsmacked that he suddenly turned back into Petr Mrazek. He has an .886 in November. He’s not this bad, but he’s also probably not last year’s .914 either. He’s been all over the map in his career, so it’s hard to guess. James Reimer was brought in to at least stabilize the backup spot and provide something of a safety net if Mrazek went to the dogs again. That hasn’t really worked out yet and suddenly the fear that last year’s flop in  Florida portends to a career-downturn are real. The Canes aren’t really getting saves, but filling the net at the other end to make up for it while limiting attempts and chances against so their goalies can’t torpedo them completely.

Again, this feels like a real test for the Hawks’ rediscovered UP AND AT THEM ways. They’ve passed the other ones to be fair to them, with the help of some shoddy goaltending at the other end. They may get that tonight as well. But the Canes defense is probably the best in the league and among the most mobile. They won’t be fearing getting caught with forwards behind them, and can pinch more aggressively in the Hawks zone because they can recover. The speed the Canes have at forward as well should be an utter nightmare for the Hawks’ defense, who will have less escape routes.

But again, the Hawks don’t have to break even on attempts and chances. They have the better goalie who is playing better (Lehner), and they have higher quality finishers. Stay in the neighborhood, as the Hawks have been doing, and they can rack up some more points. On the flip side, the Canes have utterly destroyed the Hawks the last three times they’ve played, because they just play at a higher pace than the Hawks can manage.

We’ll see how far this new “style” goes tonight against a team that’s been doing it better and for years longer. Get the feeling this one will have some goals in it.

 

Everything Else

Hawk Wrestler vs. stardust

RECORDS: Hawks 7-3-1  Stars 4-4-2

PUCK DROPS: 7pm Saturday, 6pm Sunday

TV: WGN Saturday, CSN Sunday

HONKY TONK HOCKEY: Defending Big D

PROJECTED LINEUPS

blackhawks-lineup-card

stars-lineup-card

SCORE-ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI: Hawks – 49.6% (16th)  Stars – 49.9% (15th)

POWER PLAY: Hawks – 22.7% (11th)  Stars – 14.3% (22nd)

PENALTY KILL: Hawks – Almost Respectable!  Stars – 75.7% (25th)

TRENDS: Seguin had four assists against St. Louis on Thursday… Klingberg was paired with Lindell two games ago and in those two they have a 55 CF%

Another old-fashioned home-and-home with a division rival, though neither team is going to be too thrilled with having to fly from Dallas to Chicago overnight. At least no one has an advantage? Anyway, the streaking Hawks will see something of a MASH unit that’s still trying to play heavy metal hockey, and the results as you might expect have been somewhat wonky.