FACEOFF: 7:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: WGN, NHL-N, WGN Radio
RABBIT SEASON: Anaheim Calling
The Hawks will try and break what constitutes a losing streak for them, all of two games, with their third straight home game against an automatic Western Conference playoff spot holder (there’s a title) in the Anaheim Ducks. Both the Sharks and Stars were able to walk out of the UC with regulation wins which is only the second time all season the Hawks have dropped consecutive home decisions (and the first both have been in regulation). In order to snap the streak, they’ll have to do it against an Anaheim team that is no longer the comedy outfit they were in the season’s first half.
The Ducks have gone 11-4-2 since the turn of the year, which really isn’t much of a surprise to those who look beneath the surface. The Ducks were victims of some terrible luck and terrible goaltending in the season’s opening throes, as Anton Khudobin was nothing short of a disaster and it took a while for Frederik Andersen to find it. But the Ducks have always been one of this season’s dominating possession teams, currently sitting 4th with a 53.1% score-adjusted share. They’ve been higher than that at times.
The Ducks also suffered from a case of “Couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow shovel”-itis. They still have the league’s lowest even-strength shooting percentage, and only just passed the Leafs in that category in all situations. Everyone was seemingly snakebit, including Corey “I Not Only Look Like A Rash But I Act Like One” Perry not scoring for the season’s first 12 games. Andrew Cogliano, Jakob Silfverberg, Humanist Ryan Kesler and others are all behind last year’s pace.
It’s not all luck though. Ryan Getzlaf only just recorded his first 5-on-5 goal last week, and you can’t attribute that kind of putridness to luck alone. Getzlaf embodies what has been a team-wide problem, and that’s the Ducks just don’t get down low or between the circles nearly as much as they did last year or their size at forward suggest they should. Getzlaf especially has been content to float around the outside and wait for things to come to him (like five donuts), but it has been a team-wide problem. Only recently have they gotten back to their more aggressive ways.
As we saw last year, Hampus! Hampus! is the one running things from the back end with the league’s second best Corsi rating. Sami Vatanen and Simon Despres make for a pretty nifty third pairing, and they have to because for some reason Kevin Bieksa is still trusted on the top one and he’s basically making Cam Fowler want to quit hockey altogether. Eventually you’d think Boudreau would wise up and shield Yappy McYapYap, but then again you’d think a lot of things.
Still, with things correcting more toward where they should be for the Ducks they’ve secured third in the Pacific and only sit one point behind the Sharks for 2nd. They’re in the middle of a 7-game trip that has seen them get laced by the Penguins, beat the Flyers, and drop a point to the Jackets in a shootout after taking a two-goal lead in the 3rd. This will be a focused bunch after that for sure.
As for the Hawks, apparently Joel Quenneville thought his defense was too mobile and hence Sven Vikberg…. or Viktor Svedberg (not sure it matters) was called up late last night and will replace Erik Gustafsson tonight. We can take that to mean a couple things. One, Q didn’t trust Goose to stand up to what should be some pretty intense forechecking pressure from the Ducks and 2) he basically has no use for Rob Scuderi (this is correct). Svedberg is going to pair with Seabrook apparently, but the Ducks are hardly slow so make sure you have the Maalox close when those two are on the ice. God help them if they’re out there against Cogliano and Silfverberg too much.
The rest of the lineup looks the same, and Corey Crawford will get a chance to atone for the 1st period against the Stars. He usually does.
You know the drill from the Ducks when they play the Hawks. While they’ve tired to vary their game most of the season, tonight will see a return to the straight lines aimed at pasting the Hawks’ D against the boards and benefitting from the resulting havoc. They won’t be trying anything pretty tonight you can be sure. The Hawks D, because only Keith can move, is going to need to move the puck quickly and they’re going to need help from all three forwards to present options for them to do so. This might hurt the Hawks transition game, but that’s better than watching turnover after turnover and pucks just flung out to the neutral zone to gasp for air. If the Hawks can break cleanly there are still questions over whether Hampus! Hampus!, Fowler, Manson, Despres, Vatanen can handle attacks with speed. We know Bieksa can’t.
If you’re going to tonight’s game, be sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program sold outside the United Center. If you’re not, you can get the digital version right here.