RECORDS: Hurricanes 6-7-2 Hawks 6-6-3
PUCK DROP: 7:30
TV: NBCSN Chicago
However you feel about Joel Quenneville‘s firing, tonight marks the most interest-laden regular season game in quite some time around these parts. Anyone with the slightest inkling of Hawks give-a-shit is going to want to tune in and see whatever changes might be visible (also, Eddie O’s pregame take should be must-see viewing, as well as the verbal wheel-poses and one-legged crows he and Foley will perform trying to air their grievances without directly indicting their bosses. I’m almost sorry I’ll be in the building. Almost).
As far as things you can identify on the ice tonight, they might be scarce. Jeremy Colliton himself has said there isn’t really time for a systematic overhaul, and that there will only be tweaks to start with. As we said yesterday, the big things to watch for, if any, are how the Hawks try to break out of the zone. Whether they’re still trying to make two or three passes to do so or if they just go with a GTFO-method. The other will be how they defend, as we’ve seen them try to be more pressure-based with very mixed results, to be kind. Colliton has made noise about being just as aggressive but doing so farther up the ice. We’ll see if that materializes and what they do in their own end. Right now we’re just asking for four guys not to end up on one side of the zone and all puck-watching. Baby steps to the elevator, people.
As far as lineup decisions, Colliton has told John Hayden, Brandon Manning, and SuckBag Johnson to do one tonight, and you certainly can’t fault him on the latter two. The difference between Hayden or Andreas Martinsen is somewhere around negligible, so we’re not going to hold our breath until we turn purple on that one. Sadly, it appears that Nick Schmaltz will remain on a wing tonight, with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, but again…baby steps to the elevator.
You might look at the Carolina Hurricanes’ record and conclude that this is a pretty nice landing for a first-time coach making his debut in front of what will be an at-best skeptical UC crowd. This would be a mistake. While the Canes’ record sucks, and for the usual reason in that they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow-shovel when it comes to scoring, their metrics suggest this is a dominant even-strength time. They’re running 60%+ in both Corsi and expected-goals, and lead the league in both. They give up the least amount of attempts per game, and are 4th in xGA/60 as well. If their shooting-percentage were to curve up in any way, this is a team poised to rocket up the standings. But it seems like we say that every year and the Canes still end up just south of a tropical depression.
One thing that might keep that from happening is the Canes just don’t have a premier scorer on the roster. Sebastien Aho might claim to be one on more days than not, and Andrei Svhechnikov was drafted to be that but is 18. And that’s about it. This team is never going to shoot the lights out, which might betray their possession-dominance. This is why they’re the front-runner to relieve the Leafs of their William Nylander conundrum. They desperately need someone of that quality and have the wealth of blue-liners to make that happen.
The other constant virus that brings the Canes down is goaltending, and that’s no different this year. Scott Darling started the year injured and in his two games back has been iffy. Neither Petr “Try Try Try To Understand He’s A” Mrazek Man or Curtis McElhinney, even with the statue of him going up in Toronto at the moment, have grabbed the job with two hands in Darling’s absence. They’ve kept an opponent under three goals just once in the past six, and that was to the Islanders who are similarly bull-ass-and-shovel disabled. And seeing as how they shoot, three goals is about the number they can’t overcome.
So yeah, on the surface this could really look bad if it goes sideways on Colliton tonight. But the Canes are the exact kind of team that Quenneville’s Hawks found to be a nightmare the past two years. They’re fast and play high-pressure, and there’s no give in that speed anywhere in the lineup. Q’s methods were undone by teams like this. It comes too early to find out if Colliton has better answers, but the Hawks won’t get anywhere if they can’t figure it out against teams like this. The good thing is the Canes lack the firepower to consistently punish you for mistakes or simply being on the receiving end of a possession-mauling, nor can they keep you out from the limited chances they surrender. How the Hawks surpass the Canes forecheck will give you an idea of where we’re headed with Colliton at the wheel.
That’s where the Hawks will likely get THE NEW ERA off to the right start tonight. Corey Crawford getting back to the first couple appearances of the year, and their superior scoring talent burying the fewer chances they get at a better rate than the Canes do with the higher amount they’re certain to have.
Whatever you thought the past was, it’s gone now. This is where the Hawks pivot, for better or worse. You can’t say you’re not curious.
Game #16 Preview Suite