Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Cliché Guevara: Raw Charge
As this stretch of the schedule lurches ever forward like a herd of Fifth Feather John’s beloved zombies, the Hawks welcome a team that is basically walking dead to the United Center for the penultimate game before the All Star break in the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning.
While it’s difficult to pin the entirety of the Lightning’s current lot as the last place team in the East on Steven Stamkos’ absence, looking at the above lineup card and seeing Brian Boyle, who is like a normal size human inside a plushie mascot costume of a hockey player, as the number 2 center on the depth chart, and it’s apparent that his absence creates quite a void. Literally so it seems, as oily, horny weirdo coach Jon Cooper is only dressing 11 forwards tonight. While the famous Triplets of Palat, Johnson, and Kucherov are producing what they can, with all three in double digit goals and assists, Stamkos out means they face top defenders, and their share of possession has suffered as a result. Jonathan Drouin is producing nicely in spite of being on the wrong side of the attempts ledger as well, thanks in no small part to flanking the aforementioned Boyle and whatever is left of Valtteri Filppula. Cedric Pauquette anchors the third line and will no doubt be in the ear of whichever center he’s matched up against tonight despite not proving a goddamn thing in the league since Duncan Keith put him in the blender in Game 6. Sound financial decision Alex Killorn and solid possession player Vlad Namestnikov are an extraneous pair of wings that will probably get time with each of the three centers tonight.
The Lightning blue line looks very much the same as it did two springs ago, when it was extremely top heavy with a full forward corps in front of it and competent goal tending behind it. Viktor Hedman can literally do anything on the ice as the Ning’s top defender, but the problem is that he has to far too often during a game. And the only other competent puck mover is his partner in Anton Stralman, leaving something resembling Stonehenge as the pairings behind them. Andrej Sustr is extremely large and has the turning radius of the HMS Pinafore, Jason Garrison has a massive shot but is lead footed, and Braydon Coburn still buys aloe by the crate trying to salve the burns he sustained in 2010 and 2015 Cup Finals. Nikita Nesterov often fills in as a seventh defenseman who can move but only be trusted with offensive zone starts. And Jake Dotchin can apparently fog a mirror.
But where Tampa was able to keep all of this afloat in the past when Stamkos was inevitably out for a protracted amount of time was by getting representative goaltending, and they simply haven’t gotten that this year. Both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy are barely above .900 in overall save percentage, and that simply will not cut it in today’s NHL. Vas Defrens will apparently get the call tonight, and he is sporting a glistening .907 at even strength. And with the Ning barely sporting a better possession share than the Hawks, their current station should serve as a Scared Straight motivator regarding just how quickly a season can go balls up without solid goaltending.
As for The Men of Four Feathers, they get another popsicle on home ice tonight, after almost but not really pissing Sunday night down their leg against that Canucks bunch. With Marcus Kruger’s return imminent, tonight appears to be the last attempt for either Andrew Desjardin or Jordin Tootoo to state his respective case for not hitting the waiver wire, as Nick Schmaltz has shown a bit more in this stint in the show and it’s clear that Joel Quenneville is drawing cartoon hearts around Tanner Kero’s name and number when filling out his lineup card. There is a small chance that Kruger could be back tonight, but was not a part of any line rushes at the morning skate
There has been no clear indication about Michal Kempny’s status from this morning, so the hope is he has survived the Wrath of Q after his third period penance following two straight shifts that led directly and indirectly to goals. While this space has championed Kempny’s cause all year, that was the right circumstance to staple his ass to the bench even though his play has been mobile and solid the vast majority of the time. Him sitting tonight would seem overly punitive, but it’s certainly not out of the question.
Corey Crawford will once again man a crease that is rightfully his no matter how many times over how many years the general public will try to wrest it away from him. While he did allow two goals against a completely impotent Canucks attack, he could hardly be blamed for either. Tonight will be a sterner test with the Triplets.
Without Stamkos in the lineup, there isn’t a need for Quenneville to get overly matchy-uppy tonight, Keith and Hjalmarsson will probably get a good long look at the Triplets. And if Jon Cooper isn’t too busy on the bench daydreaming about his next installment of erotic Madam Secretary slash-fic he’s planning on posting to Reddit over the break, he’d be wise to get Hedman out against the Russian Spies. The Hawks have had a slight uptick in possession of late (first period in Boston notwithstanding), particularly at home, and they should be able to generate enough to get the requisite amount past him, but keeping the Triplets at bay is a bigger key. Let’s go Hawks.