RECORDS: Lightning 31-12-3 Hawks 22-18-6
PUCK DROP: 7:30pm
TV: WGN Locally, NBCSN Nationally
KILLING TIME AT XQUISITE: Raw Charge
You know what you probably don’t need when your team is currently a mess and lost and feeling cold and alone? A visit from the league’s best team (fuck off, Vegas. Not buying your bullshit). But you don’t get to pick your schedule, so after the Hawks coughed up odd-colored hairballs against the decidedly not impressive Red Wings and Islanders, they’ll get a face-full of the Lightning tonight. Mama said there’d be days like this.
If there’s any consolation, and there likely isn’t, it’s that it’s a slightly beat up Lightning team. Both Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat will miss this one and are likely out a little while. That’s caused a shuffle in both the forwards and defense, but this doesn’t really matter to Tampa. A little blip here of late has seen the Bruins pull within three points and the Caps in the other division within four for top spot, but it’s hard to see either team overtaking the Lightning unless it really goes wrong for them.
Still, they’ve lost their last three, including to the Knights Who Say Golden and the Wild, but that probably is only a bad thing for the Hawks because one of their hopes is they might catch a slightly disinterested opponent and now that’s probably not the case. And really, in this little doldrum section there’s nothing too structurally wrong. Yes, Hedman is a big miss as he’s almost all the drive from the back and was having a Norris-calibre season. But with Sergachev’s development and the still beating heart of Anton Stralman they haven’t lost as much of that as you think. Yes, Girard and Coburn are still here to provide a something’s-gone-off-in-the-fridge smell, but they’ve been able to cover that up for the most part.
They’re also just not getting the bounces at the moment. Stamkos has five goals in his last 17, which is well below his usual rate. Kucherov has gone cold a little bit as well, with one goal in his last seven games and three in his last 11. These are not things that are going to continue forever.
This is still a team that can pretty much hurt you from anywhere, with Brayden Point on the second line moving Tyler Johnson to a wing, but also a third center if they so choose. Yanni Gourde has been extremely effective on the third line, even if Alex Killorn is heading for Code Blue in a hurry. There’s just too much depth here.
And whatever the Hawks do tonight they have to stay out of the box. Given how their kill is going, given it’s going to be Glass Jeff in net, and given it’s Kucherov and Stamkos getting looks that’s going to end badly for everyone involved if it were to happen too much.
Right, to the Hawks then. Once again Q is going to hit the blender, and only in a few ways that make any sense. Patrick Sharp’s rotting corpse will join Schmaltz and Kane on the top line. Duclair will get to stick with Toews and Saad, and they flashed a couple times against the Islanders. Both Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma, who were the heroes of the broadcast not so long ago, look to be scratched as Tomas Jurco is going to be aired out alongside David Kampf and Vinnie Smalls. Kampf slots down to accomodate the return of Artem Anisimov, who’ll slot between Hartman and DeBrincat. Whether Top Cat and Hartman are enough speed and control to counter the fact that Arty can’t move, we’ll just have to see. But Schmaltz has played too well at center to move out of there just yet, so it’s worth a shot.
Defensively, Forsling has been farmed out and you’d have to believe that Rutta is going to sit because he was awful against the Islanders. Then again, so was Seabrook but we’ve seen the once scratch we’re going to get, I feel. Gustafsson’s two points will keep him in the lineup even though his defensive GPS was up his own ass against the Isles as well. As a third pairing though, you’ll live with it. Kempny and Murphy will return together, though no one would blame them if they just spent the whole game spitting water on Q. I would.
This Hawks team has been so weird that it really wouldn’t be much of a shock if they beat Tampa. Or if they get their nuts punted through their skull. Glass against this kind of firepower, even without Palat and Hedman, is a scary thought and the Bolts will know all about the rebounds he leaves everywhere. Whatever happens, it should be interesting. It just might not be enriching.
Game #47 Preview