With last night’s OT loss to the hapless Flames in Cow Town, the Hawks are officially in the midst of their longest losing streak since the 9-game debacle that nearly completely derailed the 2011-2012 season. And while things aren’t nearly that dire yet, the Blues have already tied the Hawks for first in the Central and have games in hand, and the road trip prior to the Olympics takes a much sharper turn toward icky starting tonight with their old friends the Canucks. Though given the state of things in Vancouver of late, just how icky can be debated.
When John Tortorella was hired this past offseason, the countdown clock began on when exactly he’d lose his shit in over-the-top and hilarious fashion. That countdown halted with a would-have-been-funny-if-not-so-goddamn-sad eruption against those very same Flames on Saturday the 18th, which is the reason why Torts is currently serving a suspension and not behind the Nuck bench. For as uncomfortable as things have been here, the Canucks are 4-6-2 since the start of 2014, which includes a 9-1 savaging by the Ducks, shutouts by the Kings and Yotes, and most recently, the Oilers marching into BC Place and and winning 4-2 on Monday.
For the last four games the Canucks have had to fare without captain and passy-twin Henrik Sedin for the first time in nearly 16 years, as he’s been out with a hand injury. Given the amount that the new regime still relies on him as well as his brother to provide offense, their struggles aren’t surprising. He’ll remain out tonight, along with the previously revelatory Mike Santorelli, forcing the offense to rely even more on Ryan Kesler and Daniel. For the most part they’re up to the task, but given Kesler’s propensity to disintegrate on the ice with the style he plays, it’s clearly not a sustainable solution in the hornet’s nest that is the Pacific Division. That the Canucks are asking for actual hockey contributions from well-documented turds like Tom Sestito and Zack Kassian is an indicator of just how dire things are.
Things are only marginally more stable on the blue line, with puck mover Chris Tanev set to miss tonight’s game as well. Former Hawk farmhand Ryan Stanton has jumped back into the fray with with Jason Garrisson, Dan Hamhuis (who’s got this), loudmouth Kevin Bieksa, and Alex Edler and his elbows. Edler in particular has had a ghastly season to this point when he’s been healthy, sporting a -16 so far in just 35 games, including a -3 Monday against the Oilers.
At press time there’s been no indication regarding who gets the Vancouver cage tonight, but it’s truthfully a toss up. Roberto Luongo has started the last five games, but Eddie Lack had the five previous. In either event, both sport nearly identical save percentages in .921 for Luongo and .922 for Lack. The Canucks don’t allow all that many shots, 29.2, which puts them in the top third of the league for that category, so it’s been the offense that’s failed them for much of the season. And should Luongo get the call tonight, it’d be the first goalie of any kind of pedigree the Hawks will have faced during this frustrating stretch.
As for Our Men of Four Feathers, though they didn’t get much help from Antti Raanta last night, who may very well be playing himself back to Rock Vegas, the offense was as disorganized as ever against a woeful Flames team. Even with the new line combinations, the unfortunate trend of using stretch passes to initiate an attack was still very much present, as was Bryan Bickell only getting 8 or so minutes. Also unfortunate was having to see Brandon Bollig on a power play in a game that counted. There are basic things such as not flying the defensive zone early that the Hawk forwards can get back to doing that it appears they’re just simply refusing to, and the results are on the ice for all to view.
On the blue line it appears that the clear western Canadian air hasn’t done anything to clear out whatever vertigo seems to be afflicting both Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya and it’s being exacerbated by their forwards leaving them on islands rather than providing outlets for 15-20 foot passes. Behind them will be Corey Crawford, who should have gotten a full rest last night but didn’t because Raanta pissed all over himself. If there’s one person who’s just looking to make it to the Olympic break alive, it’s Crawford.
The Canucks are a hobbled and jumbled bunch these days, and the animosity between these two teams isn’t what it used to be, but that won’t stop Vancouver from throwing everything they’ve got at the Hawks early with the crowd at their backs in hopes of getting a “here we go again” shrug. The Hawks have the means and the experience to deal with this team in their own barn, it’s just a matter of execution, something that has eluded them greatly over the last week and a half. Clean it up and the results will follow. Let’s go Hawks.