RECORDS: Hawks 7-3-1 Stars 4-4-2
PUCK DROPS: 7pm Saturday, 6pm Sunday
TV: WGN Saturday, CSN Sunday
HONKY TONK HOCKEY: Defending Big D
SCORE-ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI: Hawks – 49.6% (16th) Stars – 49.9% (15th)
POWER PLAY: Hawks – 22.7% (11th) Stars – 14.3% (22nd)
PENALTY KILL: Hawks – Almost Respectable! Stars – 75.7% (25th)
TRENDS: Seguin had four assists against St. Louis on Thursday… Klingberg was paired with Lindell two games ago and in those two they have a 55 CF%
Another old-fashioned home-and-home with a division rival, though neither team is going to be too thrilled with having to fly from Dallas to Chicago overnight. At least no one has an advantage? Anyway, the streaking Hawks will see something of a MASH unit that’s still trying to play heavy metal hockey, and the results as you might expect have been somewhat wonky.
The main story with the Stars is the injuries. Ales Hemsky is done for the season. Mattias Janmark might be back in the spring, might not be. The Ginger Ninja Cody Eakin is out for a few more weeks. Patrick Sharp’s brain, however handsomely it may be encased, is bruised and they’re not sure when he’ll be back. So that’s two second line wingers, and two centers playing Candy Crush on the trainer’s table. That’s a lot to be without.
We spent the summer laughing that the Stars hadn’t done anything with their goaltending, and it’s been Stars goaltending. Both Niemi’s and Lehtonen’s SV% at evens haven’t been bad (.929 and .924), but Lehtonen has been a disaster on the penalty kill. While their save-percentages are fine at five-on-five, “fine” for the Stars is going to mean more goals against than it would for others because this is still the highest-event team in the league. They generate the fourth most attempts per 60 minutes, and they give up the fourth-most. There’s only so much good goaltending would get you in that scenario, and Niemi and Lehtonen would blush pretty heavily if they were labeled “good.” And Lindy Ruff isn’t going to slow them down anytime soon. He knows no other way.
Mostly due to the injuries, the Stars are not getting the goals they were accustomed to last year. Benn only has two goals, somewhat due to a drop of his shooting percentage a few points so far this season. Spezza and Seguin are the only ones with more than two goals on the season. That’s not enough. Look at it, Lauri Korpikoski is skating on the second line, which is something of a Code Blue. They’ve been waiting on Brett Ritchie for what seems like forever, but he’s not there yet. They need Sharp and Eakin back pretty desperately.
The defense also isn’t as go-go as it was last year when it had Goligoski. Klingberg is still one of the most exciting players in the league, and they’re hoping getting away from Hamhuis will unleash him more. But asking him and fellow pale-rider Lindell to take on the toughest competition every night is a big ask. They may shift that to Oduya and Johns, who have been good to very good all season. They’ll ask HamHock and Benn The Uglier to not fold in on themselves on the third pairing. It feels like it’s missing something, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s quite enough to prop up the unspectacular at best ‘tending.
No such worries for the Hawks, who will only make the one change to night that sees Vinnie Heinze move out for Hartman. Other than that everything is clicking. Crow will get the start tonight as Q always prefers to have Darling start at home, and Lehtonen will take the back half of this tomorrow night as well.
Last year, the Stars absolutely pummeled the Hawks four out of five games. It was stunning to see a team play so much faster than the Hawks. They couldn’t keep up. Thanks to the changes on the Hawks’ roster and the injuries and departures for the Stars, that shouldn’t be the case at all tonight. Every pairing for the Hawks can move, and can stand up to the Stars rush and puncture it to send them on odd-mans the other way both nights that neither Niemi and Lehtonen are going to be able to hold up against. These should be pretty fun. Certainly more fun than last year’s meetings were. It might look a lot like the game on Thursday vs. the Avs, where the Hawks can pick off the areas behind the pinching and pushing d-men because they turn the play around so quickly.