With all of the buzz the last couple of days being over the Olympic Team selections and of course the horrendous weather that’s put the entire nation in its frigid grip, it’s easy to forget that the Blackhawks were last seen on Sunday night blowing another third period lead and ultimately falling in the skills competition to the Sharks. They’ll get a chance to correct that tonight once again on United Center ice, this time against the visiting Rangers, who are basically a mess, and that’s being complimentary.
This will be the first time the Hawks have faced the Rangers since early March of 2012, where the Hawks won a clearly very memorable tilt 4-2. Prior to that the Hawks broke their 9-game losing streak on MSG ice by blitzing a hapless Marty Biron early on in the game. So for all of the Original Six blahbitty blah that the broadcast will entail tonight, hammering home this supposed “rivalry”, there really isn’t much of one.
The Blueshirts come into tonight having recently been sunk at home in the skills competition by the Jackets on Monday, which was preceded by a hilarious ass stomping of the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. Such has been the up and down nature of the Rangers’ season, their first under greaseball Alain Vignealt. For as slimy as AV was in his time in Vancouver, he actually did a lot of progressive things with player usage there, and he’s brought those traits to Broadway, where the Rangers are surprisingly in the Top 10 for Corsi share in the league. But examination in the columns to the right in shooting percentage and save percentage paint a more accurate picture.
Up front the Rangers are a bit of a finishless mess having now shipped seemingly half of their forward corps to Columbus, getting alleged wiener tucker Rick Nash in return, as well as a bunch of “guys”. There was much talk of Brad Richards being bought out during last summer’s amnesty period after an abominable lockout-shortened year, but Slats elected to bring him back in hopes that AV could rejuvenate what’s left of him. It’s kinda worked, with Richards sitting as the Rangers’ second leading scorer at 29 points. But considering the point-per-game standard he’d set for himself, it’s still somewhat disappointing. Magnifying that is that Mats Zuccarello, a player signed back away from his KHL club last year and is about 4’11” in skates, leads the team with 30 points. Nash has predictably underwhelmed when he hasn’t been hurt. Captain Ryan Callahan could potentially be the league’s most productive third line grinder, but he’s asked to contribute top line production when things aren’t falling off of him just simply due to the style of game he plays. Derick Brassard had a nice boost upon arrival last year, but has flattened out to be what he always was in Columbus, an offense-first floater without enough offense. Derek Stepan hasn’t lived up to the contract he was given after his point-a-game season last year, and the youngsters that the brass were hoping would take the next step, Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, haven’t. So yeah, it’s a mess.
Things aren’t much clearer on the Blueshirts’ blue line, other than Ryan McDonagh emerging as a clear cut #1 defensemen in one of the only smart moves Slather as ever made, trading Scott Gomez’s elephantine contract for McD. But frequent partner Dan Girardi slipped a little bit in a contract year, and trade talks are beginning to swirl. Marc Staal is seemingly just now regaining his stride after his horrific injury last year, and watching Michael Del Zotto is enough to give Scotty Hockey a grabber on a nightly basis. Imagine rookie Nick Leddy’s defensive positioning, 2011-2012 Hammer’s “patience” with the puck, and present day Seabrook’s propensity to jump in the play, and it might start to scratch the surface on why MDZ causes conniptions.
Of course, this multitude of sins was all supposed to be hidden by Henrik Lundqvist, he of the impossible good looks and a now equally silly contract. But rather than continuing to be a cartoonish combination of human attributes, his goaltending has become not only ordinary, but frequently bad. King Henrik currently sports a very, very human .908 save percentage and 2.78 GAA while facing a not-unholy 27.5 shots per appearance, coupled with the Rangers being on the plus side of the possession battle. Worse yet, is the eye test of the Rangers beyond disorganized defensively when the King is in the cage, as if they’re overly reliant on him. Rookie Cam Talbot, on the other hand, has given Lundqvist adequate rest while going 9-3-1 with a 1.66 GAA and .938 save percentage. While some of it might be due to cherry picked opponents, there is some truth to it, as the Rangers only have a 50.5 Corsi share in front of Henrik, and a 56.1 share in front of Talbot. But even with all of this working against him, The King Stay The King, and Lunqvist can on any given night take a game by himself.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, for all of the goofy ass combinations and matchups seen against the Sharks on Sunday, it appears that the forward corps will still be arranged in the same way it was to start that game. Whether that means Patrick Kane will be double shifted in favor of an immobile Bryan Bickell or that Brandon Bollig will sent out by Quennville to match up with Richards or Stepan as he was against Thornton and Pavelski remains to be seen. But another game in wherein the Hawks’ top six doesn’t dent the twine could, and should lead to some shakeups.
Michal Rozsival will get the call in the #6 defensemen spot tonight, going on two full days rest against one of his numerous former squads, and will do so in front of Corey Crawford. Crawford has been excellent since his return last week, and only has two overtime losses to show for his exceptional efforts. If this is what he can consistently bring the Hawks now that the backup situation has been resolved with Nikolai Harvey Birdman euthanized and he can get regular rest, things will begin to look even that much more optimistic for the Hawks.
Though the Rangers’ forwards are a small and quick bunch (Brian Boyle excluded), their defense lacks solid skaters who can actually take care of the defending part of their job descriptions, which again should give the Hawks some space to use their speed wide when entering the offensive zone. Once there, it’s best to begin throwing anything and everything at Henrik, because it’s a coin flip these days what actually has a shot of going in against him. Though even if The King is on his A-game, the aforementioned speed should give them enough opportunities to make at least a couple of them count. Let’s go Hawks.