Hockey

Game #21 – Hurricanes vs. Hawks Preview: Throw A Molotov Cocktail And Have A Whole New Set Of Problems

vs.

RECORDS: Canes 12-7-1   Hawks 9-7-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

REMEMBER, NORTH CAROLINA GAVE US TRUBISKY: Canes Country

In the ashes of the Bears demise, some hope has risen about the Hawks. They’re playing well, or at least they’re getting results. They’ve taken some scalps off teams that either used to give them a ton of headaches (Knights, Preds) or have name recognition (Leafs). They’re scoring goals. However, this week is when we’ll see just how much the Hawks can handle opening up the throttle. The Canes start it off and are still one of the best possession teams in the league. The Lightning are scuffling but also have the biggest collection of scoring around and throat-fucked the Hawks twice last year. The Stars are the hottest team in the league. The past two weeks has seen the schedule cut the Hawks some favors, as all of the Knights, Leafs, Preds, and Sabres have been fighting it of late. Not so much here.

The Canes kick it off, rolling into town on the back of three straight wins, though two were in OT over the just-vanquished Sabres and the simply unfortunate Wild. Before that, the Canes had some ugly losses to the Senators, Rangers, Flyers, and Devils, which are not teams the Canes should be losing to. It’s a bad look. This will also be the end of a mini road trip for the Canes, so the Hawks might catch them already thinking about the flight home.

As always with the Canes, they are a dominant even-strength team. They rank first in team Corsi-percentage, third in expected-goals percentage. And this time around, they’re only having problems at one end of the ice turning all that into actual results. The Canes are 8th in the league at 3.45 goals per game, and have spread it around nicely with seven guys having four goals or more. Erik Haula on their third line has eight, to give you some idea. Their power play has actually been a threat too, ranking eighth in the league at the moment.

But as is the Canes’ way, they keep buying into illusions of a goaltender. They got a remarkable run from Petr Mrazek last season, doubled down, and now stand gobsmacked that he suddenly turned back into Petr Mrazek. He has an .886 in November. He’s not this bad, but he’s also probably not last year’s .914 either. He’s been all over the map in his career, so it’s hard to guess. James Reimer was brought in to at least stabilize the backup spot and provide something of a safety net if Mrazek went to the dogs again. That hasn’t really worked out yet and suddenly the fear that last year’s flop in  Florida portends to a career-downturn are real. The Canes aren’t really getting saves, but filling the net at the other end to make up for it while limiting attempts and chances against so their goalies can’t torpedo them completely.

Again, this feels like a real test for the Hawks’ rediscovered UP AND AT THEM ways. They’ve passed the other ones to be fair to them, with the help of some shoddy goaltending at the other end. They may get that tonight as well. But the Canes defense is probably the best in the league and among the most mobile. They won’t be fearing getting caught with forwards behind them, and can pinch more aggressively in the Hawks zone because they can recover. The speed the Canes have at forward as well should be an utter nightmare for the Hawks’ defense, who will have less escape routes.

But again, the Hawks don’t have to break even on attempts and chances. They have the better goalie who is playing better (Lehner), and they have higher quality finishers. Stay in the neighborhood, as the Hawks have been doing, and they can rack up some more points. On the flip side, the Canes have utterly destroyed the Hawks the last three times they’ve played, because they just play at a higher pace than the Hawks can manage.

We’ll see how far this new “style” goes tonight against a team that’s been doing it better and for years longer. Get the feeling this one will have some goals in it.

 

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