RECORDS: Hawks 2-0-1 Wild 0-1-1
PUCK DROP: 7pm Central
SO THEY PHONED IT IN, END OF STORY: Hockey Wilderness
The current Circus Of The Western Conference rolls into St. Paul, Minnesota tonight, as the Hawks seek to continue their “points streak” against the Wild. That’s what it is, right? I mean, technically the Hawks have lost. But it was in the carnival game that the NHL calls overtime. So that doesn’t really count. Whatever. The Hawks have been fun, and they have an excellent chance of keeping it rolling tonight. And they’ll find the same thing they’ve found at the X for just about four seasons running.
Let’s start with the Westside Hockey Club. A couple changes look likely tonight. One, Alexandre Fortin, whom the Hawks have been trying to promote for about two seasons now, will make his NHL debut tonight. This is definitely in the can’t-hurt-could-help category. He’ll slot in next to Artem Anisimov and on the opposite side of Chris Kunitz, which has actually been a pretty effective line in highly-sheltered use.
That will slot David Kampf to the fourth line, which it probably could use. Marcus Kruger moves back into the middle, in yet another victory for logic. Either SuckBag Johnson or John Hayden will sit, and I would guess the former. The fourth line could certainly use the injection of speed that Kampf has and certainly Kruger’s brain in the middle. Sure, SuckBag was fast but it doesn’t really matter if you’re fast if you have no idea where you’re going. You just get nowhere faster.
Still appears that Cam Ward will play, and Brandon Davidson will continue to enjoy the popcorn. They’re going to make this Brandon Manning thing work if it kills them. Or the Jan Rutta thing. And either or both could.
Things aren’t nearly as rosy in the Land Of 10,000 Lakes, where the Wild have basically gotten pummeled in two games so far. They were able to scratch out a point against the Knights Who Say Golden thanks to Devan Dubnyk making 41 saves. They didn’t even crack a 40% share of attempts in either game, nor have they been above that mark in expected-goals percentage for those two games. It’s a whole lot of not pretty so far.
The Wild have a few problems causing that. One, Ryan Suter is not Ryan Suter. The ankle injury he suffered that ended his last season early have not cleared up yet, or at least are hampering him. And Matt Dumba just hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. A 33% CF% against the Knights would be the opposite of picking up the slack. That would be taking the slack and trying to fashion a belt-tie combo while you’re climbing partner plummets to death or serious injury.
Normally, Jared Spurgeon does some heavy lifting from the second-pairing, but that hasn’t happened either. Compounding that is the fact the Wild haven’t really upgraded their forwards in any way in like four seasons. They brought Eric Staal back, but he was there last year. They re-signed Jason Zucker, who will assuredly score tonight against the Hawks because that’s a thing that he does, but he’s not someone you build a team around. He’s also not going to shoot 15% again, or at least likely isn’t to.
Mikko Koivu is old. Joel Eriksson Ek, while sounding like a rare disease, isn’t going to pull any Atlas act. Mikael Granlund is just enough to break your heart. Nino Neiderreiter is marauding on the third line for some reason. Jordan Greenway is still figuring out how to fit his gangly frame into an NHL game. It’s not that they lack firepower at all. It’s just that they don’t have advanced weaponry.
You could get away with these forwards if you had a stellar blue line. You could carry that blue line if you had a crew of fast, skilled forwards on lines one through four. The Wild don’t have the two things that need to made up for, not either of the things that do the making up.
So basically, once again, they’re good enough to let Devan Dubnyk carry them into the playoffs if he has another .920 season. He’s more than capable of that of course, but the Wild won’t go anywhere if he doesn’t. That’s not really enough in this division which is The Unblinking Eye.
For tonight, the Hawks just need to keep running n’ gunning. The Wild can’t really do it with them, and then you’re just up to the whims of Dubnyk. You can past this blue line. You can catch back up to these forwards. Let’s have some fun.
Game #4 Preview Suite