FACEOFF: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: NBCSN, SPORTSNET UP THERE, WGN RADIO 720
After a satisfying win last night, the Hawks get about five minutes to enjoy it before they focus on the task at hand tonight. Because the New York Rangers on Broadway are going to require the A-game if the Hawks want to continue collecting points that they’re going to need.
You may remember the Rangers from such episodes as shutting out the Hawks 10 days ago, a contest Derick Brassard ended before you finished taking a piss into overtime. Yeah… they haven’t lost since either. Nor have they given up more than one goal in any of the four games they’ve played since. That’s not quite the whole story. Holding the Sabres and Panthers to one goal combined isn’t something you’d yodel about through the Alps, and the Rangers were comprehensively outplayed by the Panthers and only had their Cam and Magic Talbot to thank for the win (their Cam and Magic Talbot? Their Cam and Magic Talbot!)
Still, nothing would have swayed those who believe this is the East’s best (and lord knows, I’m one). The Rangers haven’t given up more than one goal in 60 minutes since the last day of February. They’re 6-0-1 in March. They’re five points ahead of the Islanders in the division with four games in hand. They’re tied for the league’s top point total with 95 but have two or three games in hand on all of Montreal, St. Louis, and Anaheim. Needless to say, it looks pretty safe where the Presidents’ Trophy is heading. You’ll remember the last time they did that was when hockey almost broke into the mainstream in 1994. So yeah, the clouds are ominous.
Dig a little deeper, and there are some warning signs for the Blueshirts. They’re hardly a dominant possession team, at just a tick over 50%. Even during this run they’ve only put up a couple plus possession games, and one of those was against Buffalo. They were thoroughly out-possessed at times, including somehow racking up a 32% against the Panthers on Sunday.
They ride the percentages a bit. They’re third in the league in even-strength shooting-percentage at 8.7. For comparison’s sake, if the Hawks shot that instead of their current 7.1 at evens they’d have scored 30 more goals this season just at five-on-five. That would mean the Hawks lead the league in scoring at 3.23 per game and they’d probably be blowing the doors off everyone in the Presidents’ Trophy race. But we don’t live in the world we want, we live in the one we have. The Rangers are tied with the Hawks in save-percentage at evens, as they’ve gotten excellent work from both Hank and Talbot (THEIR CAM AND MAGIC TALBOT!).
As for what you’ll see, the Hawks saw a pretty deep team last night. They’ll see an even deeper one tonight. Yes, the alleged wiener-tucker resides on the top line and they’ve recently switched up things with Stepan and Kreider now skating with him. While Martin St. Louis won’t play tonight, that still leaves Brassard, hobbit Zuccarello, Hagelin, Captain Stairwell behind the top line. It’s imposing, and it’s really, really fast. Look out below, Rozie Lomax.
The defense isn’t bad either. Ryan McDonagh spends most of his nights covering for Dan Girardi, but with Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle on different pairing below the top one they have puck movers on all three with solid support in the form of Staal and Klein (when healthy). Matt Hunwick has been at least able-bodied in replacing Klein. Boyle hasn’t put up the numbers you’re used to seeing from him but he’s the best possession driver on the Rangers and having one of his better seasons in that area in years.
The key for the Hawks is to get at Boyle, Girardi, and Yandle who are either not all that fleet of foot or are just a complete kindergarten recess in their own zone (Yandle). Even if you do that, you have to solve Talbot more than once, which no one seems to be able to do these days.
Further adding to the challenge, the Hawks have been pretty underwhelming in the 2nd of back-to-backs this year, and that used to be something they specialized in. They’re just 5-5-2 in this spot, and haven’t won any of the last four in regulation. So that ups the degree of difficulty.
The last game these two played, even though it featured one goal, was at a pretty ridiculous pace. As it should be, as there are very few teams packed with more speed than these two. Alain Vigneault isn’t going to be pulling any handbrakes at home, and after watching The Red Wedding Line put up four goals last night they can expect to see McDonagh at every turn. This feels like a game where Teuvo and Saad break out if they’re going to. Should be an entertaining one for sure. Let’s Go Hawks.