Predators lead 3-0
PUCK DROP: 7pm Central
TV: CSN, NBCSN, Sportsnet up Nort’
THOSE IN THE BLACK MASK: On The Forecheck
All right, if I’m going to carry this wrestling analogy out to its natural conclusion, let’s do that. Those were Undertaker’s final words to Roman Reigns before he was hit with one last spear to end his career. But then, I’ve called the Hawks Roman Reigns because everyone hates them and they usually find a way to hang around longer than anyone wants. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about this is extremely confusing, and you probably think I’m a total loser. And you’d be right! Just fucking go with it, ok?
The Hawks will aim to keep the guillotine from coming down for a couple more nights. And if you don’t get that reference, then I just can’t help you. Read a book. Anyway, we’re going to spend the intervening hours trying to figure out what the changes could be and what different method(s) the Hawks might try to combat what has been a swarming, juiced-up Preds outfit.
The lineup will see one change, or at least it should. Michal Kempny will come in for Johnny Oduya. I would say this change is at least one game too late. Others might say a few games too late. and yet others a month or more. While Kempny certainly made mistakes in his first season on his shores, weirdly highlighted by the Hawks media while simultaneously ignoring TVR’s consistent ability to add two and two and get “spork,” he is far more mobile than Oduya is now. And he has been all season. The Hawks best stretch of hockey came when Forsling was sent down, Campbell moved to his preferred side, and Kempny and Seabrook were paired. From about Oduya’s second game in town, it was clear the fastball just wasn’t there anymore.
This is the deep end for Kempny, and not having him play in two weeks and then throwing him against the hellacious speed of the Predators could lead to utter disaster. But can it get worse? This is where the Hawks have found themselves.
Being on the road, the Hawks really won’t get a say in what Kempny will face. It has been a long time since Q actively chased matchups on the road, changing right after faceoffs. And that’s hard to do when only Toews and Kruger are winning any draws. Me? I’d throw Kempny and Seabrook out for defensive draws, and try and keep Keith at the other end where his game is just more suited right now. That would probably help get him away from Forsberg and Johansen and Arvidsson. That’s asking a lot of Kempny and Seabrook, and probably too much. But really, what other choice is there now? We know where #2, #4, and #19 going up against the Preds’ top line lands us. And it’s a place that leaves us feeling very cold and alone.
In the same fashion, Marcus Kruger needs to be out for all the defensive draws he can handle. Whether Hossa is on his wing or not, Kruger has a better chance of keeping Johansen at bay in the offensive zone, where he has basically turned Toews into a human swirly. Personally, I’d put Hossa back on this line but if the idea is to have Kruger do the heavy defensive lifting, maybe it’s better to keep Hossa facing lighter opposition.
As far as methods… boy that’s tough. I’ve seen some suggest that the Hawks go to some form of trap, but they’re just not build to do that. They may be playing a game that the other team just plays faster, but there isn’t another way. Have you ever seen the Hawks do it? Do you really want to depend on the discipline of what is still a very neophyte crop of wingers? That’s just not playing to their strengths.
Fifth Feather told you all about how the Hawks have to manage the puck better, and make the Preds go 200 feet. He’s right, except there are a few problems. One, the Preds speed closes in on whatever puck carrier in the neutral zone so quickly that they’re basically trying to get the puck in through three guys. Second, the Hawks are absolutely terrified of having Rinne handle it, which means they’re just trying to softly lay it into the corner, but that makes it easier for the Preds d-men to swat it down right there at the line. To combat this, the Hawks probably should be going for more cross-corner dump-ins when they can’t carry in, but again the closing speed of the Preds forwards makes this a challenge. Lastly, while it would be harder on the Preds to go the full length of the ice to attack, Subban, Josi, and Ellis are more equipped to do that than any Hawk d-man right now. It is not a cure-all.
It’s going to be another fierce atmosphere facing the Hawks. Make no mistake, this would be the biggest scalp the Preds have ever claimed, even if they’ve made the second round three times before. This is the giant they’ve been waiting to topple, and the volume level will reflect that. Don’t expect any let-up from the Preds, who clearly are sensing blood. Another heroic first period from Crawford is almost certainly going to be required.
We know the problems, and we know not all of them have solutions. But this is the Hawks. When have they ever gone out anywhere but on their shields? You may say 2012, but they tossed 18 shots at Mike Smith in the 1st period that night. Since then, both exits have been in a Game 7, even when they were overmatched on the ice both times. Win tonight, and make the Predators close it out on the road. That’s no easy task. And should they fail… well, maybe then some gremlins start dancing around in their psyche. But you can’t get to that step without the first one tonight.