Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Buggin Out: Blueshirt Banter
While this is supposed to a premiere matchup on the league’s calendar as far as regular season games in December go, and on paper it still is with one conference leader hosting the 2nd best of the other on a weekend night, the actual composition of the rosters on both sides still lacks the punch that it should have, no matter how many times the words “potential matchup in June” are uttered during the broadcast.
For the visiting Rangers, they will have gotten in very late last night after a 2-1 win in Winnipeg after Kevin Hayes’ power play tally with under two minutes to play proved to be the difference. In that game, they also mustered only 18 shots against the Jets, but then again, their hosts tonight have scored all of 1 goal in 120 minutes of play against them, so glass houses and all of that. As noted above, the Rangers will be missing a host of forwards tonight, including Mika Zibanejad whose shin exploded a few weeks ago, as well as rumored wiener tucker Rick Nash, and the villainous Jimmy Vesey, whom Hawks fans will just have to wait to boo and mispronounce his name for spurning the organization this past summer. But even without those three, the Blueshirts still boast an impressive array of very fast skaters, including one guy even named Fast. Derek Stepan acts as the defacto #1 center by virtue of the fact that he’s kind of the only natural center the Rangers have, and he’s now flanked by scud missle Chris Kreider, and the Norse dwarf with a name out of a Mario Puzo novel Mats Zuccarello. Leading scorer JT Miller centers Michael Grabner and his 14 goals with Captain Stairwell on the other side. The Rangers currently have 9 forwards with more than 15 points, but among those in the lineup tonight, only Kreider is on the positive side of the shot attempt ledger. The bottom six is filled with quick skaters as well, including Blackhawks Legend Brandon Pirri, he of the “Too Many Brandons” Era of 2013-2014.
On the blue line, things are just as puzzling. The top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi has been one of the most consistent in the league over the last five years, at least in its continuity. Once Girardi got paid, his entire game fell off a cliff and McDonagh has been dragging his ass around ever since. McDonagh and Girardi together are a staggering 43% of shot attempts by taking on the top competition nightly, but when McDonagh is partnered with anyone else, his share jumps to 56%. Marc Staal is partnered with Nick Holden who wasn’t good enough for the Colorado Avalanche blueline, and Kevin Klein (not that one) acts as a free safety for young go hard Brady Skjei (pronounced “Shea”), who is second on the team with 13 assists. The only Rangers defenseman with a share of shot attempts in the black is Adam Clendening, who has played in all of 7 games this season. McDonagh leads the unit with a 47.57 share, so this grouping will take on a lot of water.
In net, once again there will not be any star power to speak of, except for the few dead-enders who believed that Antti Raanta was the question to anything anyone was asking around here. But he’s played better than Henrik Lundqvist of late, and Alain Vigneault, who always has made the right decision when pressed into managing goalies, has decided to go with Raanta both nights of a back to back. In fairness to Raanta, he has been excellent so far, with a .932 overall save percentage in 9 appearances (to Hank’s .912), and a .931 at evens compared to Lunqvist’s .916. The short gains might be there, but over the long haul, the resumes of a spot-starting backup and a surefire Hall of Famer don’t really need to be compared. Either way, the broadcast got more handsome with countless shots of an unmasked Lundqvist on the bench throughout the night.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they will also be missing marquee names, with Brent Seabrook now admitted to sick bay along side Toews and Crawford. Bottomless Pete has played better this year, but does have a history of playing through some brown brain incidents, so it’s better to take precaution for games in December. In his stead, Michal Rozsival draws back into the lineup, and Teflon van Riemsdyk will stay there instead of Michal Kempny, whom Quenneville bus tossed over his defensive zone coverage in the post morning skate Q&A. While it’s fine if the staff is seeing something they’re not liking about his game, that’s completely undone by the use of Passenger 57, who was assuredly caught awkward and flat-footed between his stall and the locker room door with his mouth agape even as Quennville said this to the press.
The forward groupings will remain the same in facing one of the only teams in the league who boasts more speed as a whole than the Hawks, and Scott Darling gets the cage tonight because who the hell else is it going to be?
With like two-and-a-quarter total centers between these two teams and all the injuries and lineup choices on either side of the bench, this game figures to be all over the place but very, very fast. And no matter the result tonight, it will mean nothing as far as statements to the other conference one way or the other simply due to the number of principles who will not be participating. But two points now are as good as two points in April, so might as well get out there and take them. Let’s go Hawks.