Game Time: 7:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN+, WGN-AM 720
Bring Back Craig Krenzel: The Cannon
Tonight on West Madison the 7 game homestand rounds the turn and kicks into the final stretch, with four games in the next seven days starting with the visiting Blue Jackets, who have won their last two games, and currently sit at 3-3-0.
With the season still not even 10% done, or even 5% in the Hawks’ case, it’s still fair to discuss right away what isn’t in Columbus anymore than what is. Famously last year GM Jarmo Kekaleinen went all in to try to get something out of what was inevitably the last go-around with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovski in the fold. He brought in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in seperate trades with the putrid Senators, along Adam McQuaid and Keith Kincaid to help bolster the back end of things. In the end it got them into the playoffs where they managed one of the more shocking upsets in league history by sweeping a bewildered Lightning team, only to be promptly pecker-slapped and outclassed by the Bruins in the second round. None of those acquisitions hung around, and all signed where everyone thought they were going to – Bob in Florida, Panarin in New York, Dutch in Trashville, McQuaid out of the leaugue – and the Jackets did almost nothing to restock the roster. Gustav Nyqvist is still a useful player, but he’s not dragging this team by its dick to the promised land. And so the countdown has begun for the inevitable John Tortotrella (who is sporting a massive head wound currently) meltdown and or firing. And the results thus far have been….fine?
Pierre-Luc Dubois was drafted in the hopes of being a true #1 center four years ago, and he’s certainly ascended to that spot for the Jackets if only due to a lack of any other options. He’s inbetween the aforementioned Nyqvist and the somehow 30 Cam Atkinson, who will still probably give the Jackets 30 goals whether they need them or not. It’s a balanced line that’s been driving possesion at a 55% rate in the early goings of the season, which is saying something considering they will obviously be the opponent’s top assignment on a nightly basis. The goal totals haven’t been overwhelming to this point (Nyqvist with 1, PLD and Atkinson with 2 each), but this unit certainly isn’t letting anyone down. Skating in front of Jones and Werenski certainly helps, but more on that in a minute. Behind them is Alex Wennberg’s line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and the every so gritty captain Nick Foligno. Wennberg and Bjorkstrand both have as-yet not fully realized scoring upside, and Foligno isn’t going to help matters much at this stage in his career where things are going to start falling off of him after a decade of bashing into shit just because. The bottom six is where things get kind of hinky, though it’s probably for the best that Brandon Dubinsky is hurt for the eleven millionth time as Torts and Jarmo can see if they have anything in any of these kids while the defensively responsible and hillrod-named Boone Jenner babysits on the third line. Fourth liner and Satriale’s patron Sonny Milano has shown flashes, including an insane (and probably gratuitous) between the legs breakaway goal on Wednesday night, and Riley Nash is still making people double take in Columbus seeing that last name wearing #20.
Any discussion about the Jackets’ defensemen starts and ends with their top pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, both of whom can flip the ice both with their legs and passing, though Jones is significantly stronger in his own end even if Werenski isn’t helpless. Jones should and will be a finalist for the Norris in short order, if not win it. And even if it feels like this has been the chorus for five years now (and it has), Jones only just turned 25 two weeks ago. However, the problem becomes balance among the the defensive pairings, and while these two take the top assignments and are relied on to drive the play, things get awfully thin behind them. Thus far Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray have been able to push the play a little bit out from under any real opposition, but not enough to light up the scoreboard. David Savard and Vlad Gavrikov had done nicely territorially to this point in a limited role from the third pairing but anything from that deep on the roster is a bonus as it is.
In net, Joonas Korpisalo is at least getting a crack at the starter’s job in the wake of Bob’s departure, and so far the results have been alright if not world beating. In five games so far, Korpisalo is sporting a .903 overall and a .932 at evens which is solid enough for anyone, but the penalty kill has been an issue allowing 4 goals on 15 shots and has brought down the total numbers. He’ll be given every chance to keep the net, as the Latvian King of Rock and Roll Elvis Merzlikins has one NHL start to his name, which came two weeks ago and he gave up a touchdown and extra point to the Penguins and Torts let him wear it. From the reports of things, Elvis appears to be getting the chance to prove he’s more than a hound dog tonight in the crease for the Jackets.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they finally earned their first win of the season earlier in the week by pretty effectively stifling Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who promptly freaked the fuck off at home against the Flyers, with McDavid able to notch a five point night while not wearing David Kampf as a fanny pack for 20+ minutes. That’s been the story in the early going this season, Kampf along with Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik forming a pretty formidable checking/sometimes attacking unit, particularly now with a suddenly synergistic pairing of Duncan Keith and Our Big Irish Lad Connor Murphy behind them. They’ll more than likely draw the Dubois assignment tonight if Coach Kelvin Gemstone decides he wants to chase them (he should), and while that line doesn’t boast the the raw voltage as McJesus and The Ladies’ Man, they certainly have plenty of amperage on the blue line pushing things that the Oilers didn’t in Jones and Werenski. The two ostensible scoring lines remain unchanged and oddly matched, and the wait is officially on for Jonathan Toews to finally crack the scoresheet in one way or another now at game 5 of the season. On the power play however, Kubalik has swapped spots with Dylan Strome in hopes of jump starting either unit, or even making look one of them competent. The other two pairings on the blue line also remain unchanged, which means that Calvin de Haan will keep masking how bad Erik Gustafsson has been. Robin Lehner gets the cage tonight for his second start of the year, and he’ll likely get more run in the upcoming week with games every other night.
Tonight’s game is certainly winnable, particularly with the new toy the Hawks seemingly have to directly neutralize top heavy teams. And while the Jackets are that, they’re certainly more balanced than the Oilers, and the Hawks were operating on some very narrow margins even then. It’d be a fine time for either line on the top 6 to have a breakout performance and lighten the workload David Kampf is doing, but we’re going on 4 seasons and counting here of not getting literally anything we’ve asked for. Let’s go Hawks.