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Game #35 – Hawks vs. Devils Preview, Egg Nog Bender – There’s A Demon In My Belly And A Gremlin In My Brain

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720
Bullying The Jukebox: All About The Jersey

One of the odd offshoots of there being no more Circus Trip for the Hawks (because there is no more circus for anyone) is the Hawks are now taking one of their longest road trips of the year over the Christmas and New Year holidays, depriving all of us of the traditional Boxing Day (or thereabouts) game at the UC. Stop two of said trip brings them to Newark tonight after Dallas to face a surprisingly competent Devils team that’s still managing fight for the lead of the Metro.

The Devils enter tonight a point behind the surging Capitals, but with two games in hand having accumulated 45 points in 34 games, something everyone totally predicted would happen this year. As was stated prior to the clownshoes matchups these two teams engaged in last month at the United Center, these aren’t your pappy’s Devils, as they give up plenty of chances trying to play an uptempo game under coach John Hynes. The Devils are fifth worst in the league in attempts against per 60 of 5 on 5 play, something Lou would have never allowed, but with a bevy of fun-ish young forwards and Cory Schneider making it all stand up, they’re happy to surf the PDO wave until it crashes. At this point in the season barring something catastrophic happening to Schneider, the Devils aren’t likely to be a lottery team again, so they might as well win while they’re at it.

After a down year last year, Schneider is once again exemplary in net with a .919 overall and .926 at evens, which while not on par with the heights of his career, certainly makes him more than solid, and fully capable of stealing a game on his own. The lone concern ever with Schneider is his workload, as backup Keith Kinkaid hasn’t been as solid this year as he was last year, and given the current percentages, Schneider is on pace to play 62 games this year at age 31. This might not matter much for a Devils team with relatively modest goals in the near term, but if they plan on having Schneider around when they plan on actually mattering again, they might be better served in keeping some tread on the tires.

In front of Schneider is as nondescript a blue line as can be found in the league, with Captain Andy Greene as the teams kinda-sorta-defacto #1 defenseman, and sporting a robust 43% share of shot attempts. However Damon Severson continues to develop having crossed the 200 game threshold at age 23, and currently sports the best possession numbers of any regular among the defensive corps. LOCAL GUY John Moore infuriates Devils fans but is still above the team rate despite being underwater, and Ben Lovejoy is just kind of “there” as always. Will Butcher has been given bum slaying 3rd pairing responsibilities and has done fairly well with them, but has been a real weapon on the power play, where 12 of his 19 assists have come. Since coming over in the trade for Adam Henrique, Sami Vatanen has recorded a single assist and has a 48 share in 10 games.

Up front, the Devils are finally getting a little healthier, with Travis Zajac, Marcus Johanssen, and Montvale Native Kyle Palmeri all seemingly finally playing at the same time, along with leading scorer Taylor Hall, who missed a couple of games last week. Hall remains one of the most dynamic left wings in the game, and is one of the few who can simply take a game over on his proper side with his speed alone. In full flight there are few players who can make the plays that Hall does, or reach the gear he does when in stride. Top overall pick Nico Hischier has been solid so far with 21 points in 34 games, but the more important thing is that he’s doing so against top competition as a rookie and going through the growing pains while the team continues to win. The biggest surprise remains Jesper Bratt, the 19 year old 6th rounder who is second on the team in scoring behind Hall with 23 points. Bratt missed Thursday’s game, but is back in the lineup tonight on Zajac’s right wing, opposite Johanssen. Miles Wood, he of the porn name and hat trick in November will be on the third line with Pavel Zacha, and Brian Boyle will lean on people in the faceoff dot as the Devils’ 4th center.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, while Thursday night in Dallas mostly sucked, those games just kind of happen sometimes, particularly against a Hitchcock coached team. A couple of posts early allowed the Stars to get the lead, and it was basically done-zo after that. At least the Hawks did pour on the attempts against a team that doesn’t give up much, but that likely can be chalked up to score effects. But the Hawks lost, so of course the Quenneville move of completely blowing up his lines has to happen, with Patrick Sharp finally receiving the signature treatment after all these years of healthy scratch to on the top line the next game. Sharp will supplant Alex DeBrincat from Toews’ left, and in all honesty, DeBrincat didn’t do enough to warrant staying there scoring wise to be too upset about it. He’ll be on Hartman’s left opposite Panik, with Vinny taking a seat.

The loss also means that Michal Kempny will be blamed for something, so it’s presumed that he’ll be out tonight based on the reports out of the morning skate, with Jan Rutta jumping back in likely in his usual slot next to Gustav Forsling. This at least gets Connor Murphy back paired with Brent Seabrook where he had excelled for a month straight. Corey Crawford will get his cage again tonight after arguably his worst outing of the season in Dallas, at least by the numbers. In looking at the goals, there wasn’t much he was going to be able to do about any of them, but he at least deserves to atone for it.

When these two teams last faced each other, the Hawks were absolutely hemorrhaging attempts against, and that led to an unlikely barnburner that they ended up losing. Since then, the Hawks have incrementally and seemingly quietly been cutting the attempts against while still keeping the ice tilted in their favor. The squandered an opportunity of throwing 5 goals against Kinkaid at home and came away with no points in the standings, so even if the Hawks have turned the corner, this is still a healthier Devils team throwing their franchise goalie out there at home. The Hawks need these two points more than the Devils do for sure, and no one should be caught off guard at the pace of this one tonight. Let’s go Hawks.

 

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