RECORDS: Islanders 23-20-4 Hawks 22-17-6
PUCK DROP: 7:30pm
NO ONE ESCAPES THE ISLAND: Lighthouse Hockey
Not that the Hawks are allowed the luxury of excuses anymore, but another one has fallen out of the way as the bye week is over. The Hawks can’t claim fatigue, they can’t claim they’re already on a break, they can’t claim… well, shit. It’s time to call for battle stations, as the Hawks are simply out of time to reach a level that simply might not be there if they’re going to play beyond the already scheduled slate.
They couldn’t ask for a much better dance partner coming out of the break than the Islanders. While they’re not terrible, the Isles are an open team that gives up a ton of shots and chances and don’t have a goalie that can stop waving at pucks and turning around the wrong way. Then again, the Wings gave up a ton of chances and had a terrible goalie heading in the UC and the Hawks had all their organs fall into their legs.
The Isles also happen to be in a bad way, coming into this one off a 5-2 tonking at the hands of the Bruins on Thursday at home when the Bs were on the second of a back-to-back. That was their fifth loss in the last eight and seventh in the last 10, and they are simply bleeding goals profusely. They’ve given up 30 in their last eight games, and the Rangers are the only ones they’ve held under four in that time.
It’s not just the goalies, of course, and the other thing bending the Hawks way is the Isles are somewhat beat up. On the blue line, both Calvin de Haan and Johnny Boychuk are out, and what remains has basically been Wendell Kim (sky point) at their own line. Nick Leddy put up a -15 in December and a -9 in January and while +/- is basically a bullshit stat, it gives you some idea of how everything has quaked for them recently. Leddy shouldn’t ever be taking on a top pairing assignment, and now he’s doing that while playing babysitter to Scott Mayfield. The Isles have a couple other kids back there in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, and the growing pains are there for all to see.
But this is burying the lede somewhat, as the Isles do boast one of the more exciting players to come in the league in Mathew Barzal and his missing “T.” Barzal is the runaway leader in the Calder race and with good cause. He even exhumed Andrew Ladd before Ladd got hurt, and he and Eberle have torn defenses apart all season. There are going to be some shifts tonight where they simply dance around whatever goof the Hawks have out there on defense, and you should prepare so you don’t pass out.
Their threat has loosened up the top line of Anders Lee-John Tavares-Josh Bailey. Bailey missed a couple weeks and returned on Thursday and the other two were something of a mess without him. Both Tavares and Bailey are in a contract drive this year, which doesn’t have Isles fans chewing on towels, drywall, their own skin at all. The top six here is one of the more threatening around, and has kept the Isles in touching distance of the Eastern playoffs. Good thing the Hawks will try and counter that with their best d-men, huh?
Oh right, that. The Hawks return from the break but Joel Quenneville’s brain is still out in Colorado or wherever he spent the bye. The Hawks best d-man this year, Murphy, and the mobile one they need, Kempny, are being scratched. In their place comes in Erik Gustafsson for…oh jesus I don’t fucking know, because he’s there? He’ll play his first game this year with Brent Seabrook who for sure won’t be turned into paste by either of the Isles top lines. Or they could look to shield them and have Rutta and Forsling deal with the Isles top six, which will go… well you know how that will fucking go. This is the good stuff here, people.
As far as the forwards, Anthony Duclair will move up with Toews and Saad, though he’ll be playing the right side where he, y’know, has barely ever played in his career. Vinnie Smalls slots down to the third line with Kampf and Top Cat, which is at least worth a look. The other two lines remain the same. Does anybody remember laughter?
Whatever the lineup, whatever their coach’s delusions, whatever their starting goalie’s condition, this is kind of it now. The Hawks blew the easier portion of this homestand, and now they’ll get the at least explosive Isles, the unholy force of the Lightning, and the malfunctioning Death Star that the Leafs are right now. Whatever the degree of difficulty, if the Hawks are going to be anything it has to start now. Otherwise, there should be some really tough questions asked.
Game #46 Preview