Game Time: 8:00 PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Make It Eight: Five For Howling
Moving gradually eastward, the Blackhawks head into their penultimate stop on the Ice Show road trip, Jobing.Com Arena to take on the Coyotes. Due to the unrelenting will of the schedule as a result of the oh-so-brilliant-and-productive lockout, after tonight the Hawks will have played as many games in the desert as they have on West Madison.
That aforementioned total will be two games, the first of which the Hawks took from the Coyotes during opening weekend in fairly entertaining fashion. Since then, the Desert Dogs have settled down a bit, and are riding a five game point streak into tonight’s tilt. The lack of training camp to begin the year clearly had an effect on the system-reliant Coyotes, who allowed 13 goals in their first 5 games, and have allowed 5 (not including a shootout against Dallas) during the recent streak. Emmy-nominee Mike Smith appears to have settled in as well, after missing a couple starts due to injury. Smith has only allowed one of the last 39 shots he’s faced against the offensive powerhouses of Dallas and Minnesota.
In front of Smith, the story is now much the same as it was when these two squared off last April. Radim Vrbata paces the Coyotes in scoring (a hilarious notion in and of itself) with 10 points in as many games, and will no doubt figure in an annoying goal tonight. Speedy overtime executioner Michael Boddeker is also having a nice start to his season, with 2G and 5A, and leading the Coyotes with a +4. Shane Doan will undoubtedly elbow someone and look positively incredulous when he’s whistled for any penalty (remember, the ‘C’ on the sweater stands for “CLASSY”), and Martin Hanzal will be big and ugly and take up a lot of space and make life difficult for Jonathan Toews. New ‘Yote 3rd liner and long-time Hawks killer David Moss also figures to inevitably and irritatingly pop up on the scoresheet.
On the blue line, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is carrying over the success he saw in a breakout post-season, giving the Yotes two defenseman capable of lugging the mail along with Keith Yandle. Derek Morris remains inexplicably productive, and Zybnek Michalek’s return to Phoenix has provided the stability for OEL to run wild. Knee-seeking missile Rusty Klesla is questionable.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, there’s no rest for the wicked coming off an emotionally charged come from behind victory over the Sharks in the Tank. The top line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Brandon Saad is becoming even more of a force with every passing game that Saad keeps figuring things out. It’s doubtful the Coyotes will allow Saad the space to become the one-man-breakout he was in San Jose, but he’s shown an aptitude for working in tight quarters along the walls as well. Dave Bolland’s line is still kind of a mess, having issues gaining or maintaining control of the puck, as Patrick Sharp’s frustration mounts and becomes more visible with every passing game. The mantra for the forwards will have to be the same as it was last spring now that it appears that the Coyotes have gained their footing within their system – short breakout passes without cheating out of the zone, nothing cute at the Coyote blue line, and put the puck in the opposite corner on the puck-handling Mike Smith whenever possible.
On the back end of things, the D-corps will remain the same as it has with Michal Rozsival still nursing a knee injury, though he has been practicing. One would assume Duncan Keith would be well rested after spending damn near a period in the naughty chair on Tuesday (LEADERSHIP!), so one would assume that Q would find it within his realm of responsibilities to lean on Keith and the still wobbly Seabrook should the game remain close late. Ray Emery gets his third start of the year. Spitting the difference between his shaky first outing in the desert and his acrobat routine in Cow Town shouldn’t be too much to ask, but with Razor’s hips being what they are it’s always a toss up.
Oh, and Raffi Torres is playing against the Hawks for the first time since “The Incident”.
This byzantine notion that Torres needs some kind of vigilante justice exacted on him is stupid, and hearing about it from everyone in the media is wearing my ass out. Though the Hawks have correctly downplayed this aspect of tonight’s game, and it appears Mayers is playing in place of Bollig, of course Mayers or someone else will likely go after Torres. I’d be surprised and impressed if they didn’t. Hits like the one Torres put on Hossa are still occurring and will still occur whether or not he and and some Hawk hug helmetless at center ice for 45 seconds tonight. Nothing that can be done tonight can retrieve the Hawks’ first round elimination last year. There is nothing to be accomplished from this.
The best revenge the Hawks can exact is to humiliate the Coyotes on the scoreboard, exacerbate their struggles in the standings thus killing what little interest there is from the residents of Glendale, making them a prime target for relocation once they’re finally bought by one Canadian tycoon or another and moved to Quebec City, forcing Torres and his teammates to uproot their families and make their stupid and ugly children have to learn French. Let’s go Hawks.