Hockey

Game #23 and #24 – Hawks vs. Stars Preview: Visiting The Family For The Holiday

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 9-9-4   Stars 13-8-2

PUCK DROP(S): Tonight and Tuesday at 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago Saturday, NBCSN Tuesday

TEXAS FLOOD: Defending Big D

It’s a bit strange that almost two months into the season, the Hawks have only played three divisional games. They haven’t seen St. Louis, or Colorado, or Minnesota, or Dallas yet. That will change over the Thanksgiving holiday, as the next five are within the Central and four of them will be amongst home-and-homes. It kicks off tonight with the first saunter of the campaign down to Texas, where the Hawks will start two against the hottest team in the league.

It’s been a miniature version of last season for the Stars, who won one of their first nine and now have ripped off 12 of their last 14. But whereas last year Jim Montgomery switched gears midseason to go all Trotz/Lemaire to shoot the Victory Green up the standings and into the playoffs, this year he’s loosened the reins a bit to give his team a little more freedom. But basically what both seasons boiled down to is either Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are scoring or they’re not.

Montgomery even pulled the same switch as the owner last year, calling out his two stars in the press. He walked that back immediately, because he knows they’re the reason this team will be good or not, especially with John Klingberg out injured (again). Not that it didn’t work, as Seguin has piled up eight points in six games since and Benn seven. These two were playing well before of course, just weren’t getting the bounces.

It also helps that THE BISHOP has started flashing Vezina form again, which is the real strength of the team. Whatever the Stars do he is the backbone, and a .942 in November will backstop just about any system or teammates Montgomery would choose. The Hawks will duck Bishop tonight by the looks of it, but will probably see him on Tuesday in the return. Not that Anton Khudobin is some easy task either, as he also has a .942 in four November starts.

The Stars are a bit beat up, as Klingberg is a big miss and Roope Hintz being out erodes some of their depth as well (both returned on Saturday and both scored last night, so it’s pretty much the full strength Stars now). Miro Heiskanen has made up for a lot of what Klingberg would do, and has even inspired Jamie Oleksiak into some form of competence, which is a true upset.

That doesn’t mean the Stars are without depth. Joe Pavelski has gotten used to being in green and not teal of late, and is dovetailing with Alex Radulov on the second line. Even shit-demon Corey Perry has chipped in on the bottom six, and you know what Andrew Cogliano (NBA Jam voice: COGLIANO!) can do to the Hawks (and Fifth Feather’s little cartoon hearts).

Perhaps the main feature of the Stars forwards is they can adapt to a variety of styles given their IQ and speed. Montgomery certainly hasn’t shied from trying just about everything.

To the Hawks, who shouldn’t see too many changes from Thursday aside from putting the seven d-men plan into the freezer for good. As we’ve said, in a vacuum it makes sense and would make more with Adam Boqvist around. But this isn’t a vacuum, the players clearly hate it, and we likely won’t see it again for a while unless Colliton has a point to prove tonight. Certainly Dominik Kubalik has no business being scratched other than he’s the lowest hanging fruit to do so being a rookie. Enough of that shit.

The Stars are almost already out of touch for the Hawks, six points ahead though having played a game more. Still, the Hawks aren’t going to climb the standings if they can’t get wins within the division, and if they fall on their face in the next five they could be season-boned as it is. The Stars aren’t quite as stout as they insisted on being last year, but their goalies are so the Hawks will need a big performance from Lehner tonight you would think. And probably Crawford again on Tuesday. Montgomery might sense that without a puck-moving d-man, the best route for the Stars is to back up for these two and just trench the neutral zone and see what the Hawks can do about it.

The most familiar rivals for Thanksgiving. Isn’t it that way for everyone?

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