Game Time: 6:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Oh Man, Sportswriters Sure Do Love Springsteen: In Lou We Trust
After two weeks on the west coast ended briefly with a layover for two home games, the Hawks now take their traveling carnival out east to visit Uncle Lou’s struggling Devils.
The Devils are a weird, weird team, and that all starts at the top of the food chain with one of hockey’s most enduring characters, team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. Lamoriello has been hawkish during work stoppages and then proceeded to sign Ilya Kovalchuk (twice) to ludicrously expensive deals, one of which was vetoed, the other penalized. Then Kovalchuk “retired” at the exact right point in the deal where the salary cap recapture penalties were basically non-existent, conveniently enough. He has fired coaches with single-digits remaining on the regular season schedule and had it result in a Cup parade one of those times. He forbids players to wear any number above 40 (MY GUY), but Alex Mogilny and Jaromir Jagr have been allowed to wear their traditional high numbers for political reasons. However, Mike Cammalleri is not allowed to wear his standard #13. No Devil under Lou has worn it because Lou, and this cannot be stressed enough, is a fucking weirdo.
So it is fitting that Lou has given coach Peter DeBoer, who by all rights is a smart enough hockey mind, a weird ass roster to try to be competitive with even in arguably the league’s weakest division in the Metropolitan. With 26 points they’re currently 5 back of a wild card spot even in a watered down east. And looking at the forward roster, it’s little wonder why they can’t seem to buy a goal. Top center in name only Travis Zajac has been out for the last week and a half, and even to that point he had only collected 4G and 4A in 23 games. The Devils are led in scoring by a 43 year old Jaromir Jagr with 17 points, it it’s forever up for debate just how much of a shit he’s giving. Mike Cammalleri leads the Devils in goal scoring with a respectable 11 even in spite of the jersey number change. But because these are the Devils, five of Cammalleri’s eleven goals have come on the power play, where the Devils convert at a very competent 21.4%, good for ninth in the league, in spite of the fact that they only score 2.3 per game on the whole.
Their blue line is similarly weird, with an odd assortment of kids and veterans. Andy Green, a perfectly capable depth defenseman on any other team, logs #1 minutes and assignments while shepherding young Damon Severson. The pair is managing about a 52% share at evens while taking far and away the toughest assigments DeBoer can find for them. And because the Devils are at home, DeBoer will likely find softer zone starts for Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas, the former of whom is old and has never given a shit about his own zone; the latter young enough with offensive instincts that need to be guarded against. But again, because these are the Devils and absolutely everything has to be counter-intuitive, even though as a team they draw about dead even in Corsi share with the opposition and don’t have any true “stay at home types”, they are managing this year, as they always have under DeBoer, to be one of the league’s elite shot-supression teams. At 47.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even strength play, that’s second only to Scum in the league and it’s largely due to DeBoer. However even with a defense that stingy, the Devils are second to last in penalty kill percentage at 75.2%, allowing the most power play goals in the league at 26.
Cory Schneider will start in net for the Devils tonight because Corey Schneider starts for the Devils every night. Literally. Backup Scott Clemmensen has only started once so far this season. So having played last night on the road in Carolina should not affect the decision making process one iota and Schneider will be trotted back out at The Rock tonight. He’s been the most part solid to exceptional, with a .934 save percentage at evens, but his rate while shorthanded is an unsightly .848, and that’s with the Devils again allowing a middle-of-the-pack number of attempts while on the kill. In Schneider’s favor tonight is a distinct lack of Michael Frolik on the other bench, so he shouldn’t risk a panic attack and/or crotch explosion.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Patrick Sharp makes his handsome return tonight after recovering from a knee injury he sustained on November 4th versus the Habs in Montreal. His reinstatement into the lineup has had a ripple effect on the roster, resulting in both Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom being sent to Rockford. Nordstrom’s demotion was a straight reassigment, however Morin’s was done without him needing to clear waivers by claiming it was a conditioning assignment, which also means he only has two weeks in Rockford. This appears to be the first time this CBA provision has been used for conditioning from basically rust, but the NHL is not investigating further, so this precedent is now set. While the Hawks could have afforded to keep Morin around as an extra forward under the cap with Nordstrom down, the recent rumblings of his requests for a trade indicate that this is one manner of showcasing him for whatever can be salvaged from this situation. In the mean time, the Hawks are left without a spare forward, so it’s only a matter of time before David Rundblad gets thrown out there in that role.
Regarding the actual players on the ice tonight, Sharp returns not only on the “third line” with Shaw and Bickell, but also on his right side. Given the way the top two units have been playing, particularly Brandon Saad’s performance on Saturday after being the prime candidate for such a demotion, Quenneville is predictably reluctant to jumble those units up, hence Sharp’s relegation here. Factor in Bickell’s inability to play on his off side consistently well enough, and you have the Sharp Shooter doing so from across his body on his proper wing rather than squared up on his off side. It’s not a permanent solution, but having an automatic 30 goal man now relegated to depth duty because the top 6 fared so well without him falls squarely in the category of “good problems”.
While there’s been no official word from the morning skate, it stands to reason that Klas Dahlbeck will get another look along side Michal Rozsival on the third pairing based on Quenneville’s relatively effusive praise postgame in Nashville. LOCAL KID Scott Darling gets his second straight start while Corey Crawford remains on the shelf.
Obviously on paper there is a clear talent gap between the Hawks and Devils. But at home and with last change, Peter DeBoer isn’t going to make life easy for the Hawks, particularly in the neutral zone. The Toews line figures to see a lot of Andy Greene tonight, so having Sharp back to take advantage of their third pairing will help. They’ll need also to capitalize on the power play, something the Devils seem more than willing to acquiesce to, because this team isn’t going to give the Hawks much at evens, and if Schneider sees it he’s more than likely going to be able to stop it. Seven is better than six. Let’s go Hawks.