For those taking solace in the fact that at least the Hawks were being jettisoned somewhere even colder as a reward for their performance in the third period on Sunday against the Jets, there’s bound to be a more than a little disappointment in the fact that it’s a full 40 degrees warmer in Calgary than in Chicago at press time. The line to put one’s head in a microwave forms to the left.
Tonight the Hawks will meet the Flames for the third and final time this season to kick off their longest road trip of the year, with seven straight away from Chicago spanning the next 5 and a half weeks, not to mention the game at Soldier Field upon their return. Fortunately, the Flames are in much the same shape as when the Hawks last saw them, which is toiling near the bottom of the West’s standings, however now in search of a GM with Ol’ Granpappy Truculence manning the helm. Which means his first major moves were demoting Sven Baertschi and signing Matt Stajan to a long term deal. So the rebuild is going swimmingly so far. Unlike their neighbors to the north within the province, this is a team that’s as barren as it gets talent wise, even if Sean Monahan could be a nice piece someday, which makes the re-upping of Stajan even more curious, as conventional wisdom would seem to dictate flipping him, Mike Cammalleri, and Curtis Glencross for a raft of picks. But this thing is being run by Brian Burke after all.
However, in contrast to the Oil, Bob Hartley at least has his squad playing as hard as possible despite being hopelessly outgunned, even if that means starting a brawl at the 1-second mark against the Canucks apparently. There’s just not a lot here, and there isn’t really any goaltending to speak of to make however few goals the Flames can muster stand up. Reto Berra, Kari Rammo, and Joe MacDonald all have save percentages hovering at or below .900. Even though the Flames allow a relatively modest and middle-of-the-pack 29.2 shots per game, that save percentage undoes them every time. Berra and Ramo have been in a strict platoon as of late, and it figures to be Ramo’s turn tonight, for whatever that’s worth.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Sunday’s unraveling has produced a bit of roster jumbling that’s probably a bit overdue. For all that’s been made of the goal droughts of first Kane and then Saad, basically the entirety of the offense has gone balls up for the month of January, the top line included. Despite possession dominance, the production from Sharp, Toews, and Hossa hasn’t been optimal, especially in light of the volume of looks they get night in night out. Regardless, their union has been preserved while the second and third lines now line up as Versteeg-Pirri-Kane and Saad-Shaw-Bickell. The combination of the 3rd line has yielded hellacious results in the past, especially on the forecheck, and it might be able to again assuming that Bickell’s slightly illogical benching on Sunday provides whatever kick in the ass that was deemed necessary. At first blush, the second line provides a bit more dipsy-doo among the three than anyone is accustomed to seeing Quenneville toss together. But Pirri is at least back in the fold and is slotted properly, set to take the “hammock” shifts of favorable zone starts and competition that the lineup is designed to provide. They’ll probably need every last one of them as the waters get far murkier when the trip heads to California. Kruger, Smith, and Bollig also remain united as the Human Sheild Line, basically taking every defensive zone draw they’re allowed to. Michal Hadzus is the odd man out reportedly for a rest day, but there are other ideas afloat.
On the blue line things remain unchanged with Michal Rozsival getting the platoon spot in the rotation tonight, and Antti Raanta in the cage, preserving Corey Crawford for a date in Riot City tomorrow night.
There’s no reason this game has to be any closer than the Hawks allow it to be. And based on the last week or so, they’ve been allowing things to be far closer than necessary. The lineup shuffle should provide a bit of a boost in theory, but the biggest boost should come from cranial-rectal extraction, namely in the form of closing the gap between forwards and D on breakouts and not relying on the long stretch pass. Get to work. Let’s go Hawks.