RECORDS: Hawks 23-19-7 Predators 29-11-7
PUCK DROP: 7pm
TV: NBCSN Nationally, NBSCN Chicago locally
MANY MORE OF THEM LIVE NEXT DOOR: On The Forecheck
When you biff what should be the easier part of your schedule, that means you have to get it done against the harder part of the schedule. But hey, why not go for degree of difficulty when you’ve got nothing else to lose? The Hawks begin a pretty tricky stretch of the campaign tonight, with their post-All Star break slate taking them to the West’s best team (yes they are, fuck off Vegas) before heading back out West which didn’t go so well last time. And if the Hawks have any designs on making something of this season, they don’t get any mulligans anymore.
And this is probably not the time to be catching the Predators, even if this comes one game early for Filip Forsberg’s return (not that he regularly torches the Hawks or anything). They’ve won seven of the last eight, and the only loss in that time was losing a game of pitch and toss to the Lightning. So yeah, they haven’t been beaten in regulation since January 2nd. They just got done thwacking the Devils in New Jersey before the break when they barely cared. If you’re looking for a silver lining, and you’ll have to dig, these wins haven’t exactly come against world beaters. The Yotes twice, the Kings, the Oilers, and the Panthers are the trophies on the wall for the month of January. Fuck, even the Hawks beat the Oilers twice.
While the Preds only sit one point back of the Jets and have three games in hand on them and are thus poised to show them a clean pair of heels right quick, there are cracks in the foundation underneath this team. While usually a staple of Peter Laviolette team, this team metrically is not very impressive. They’re exactly a dead-even possession team at 50 CF%, and they actually give up way better chances than they create with a pretty paltry 47.7 xGF% as a team. If you go by scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance percentages, they’re in the bottom third of the league in those as well.
Some of this can be attributed to Ryan Ellis only having played the last couple weeks, but that can’t explain it all. As good as Ellis is in both ends of the ice, one player is not making this up or at fault. The Preds don’t create as many chances per game as you’d assume they do given their speed and depth. Pekka Rinne has had to pull their ass out of a sling pretty often, and when he hasn’t Juuse Saros mostly has. That’s who the Hawks will get tonight as Rinne is preserved for a couple more days after the break.
The Preds lack of punch could be a matter of just pacing until the spring. It could be that Ryan Johansen has looked like the over-fed pile of earlobes that he did at times in Ohio and not the dynamo who’d eat your heart last spring. Totally not a coincidence that he signed a new contract that pays him $8 mildo until the sun swallows us all this summer, then.
The Preds have been picked up by their depth though, with Fiala, Smith, and Jarnkrok all scoring more than 10 goals off the top line. And as they do, they pour goals and points in from the back end, with PK Subban leading them in scoring and Josi and Ekholm both having more than 20 points as well. The return of Ellis only exacerbates this, and though Josi and Ellis are playing together at the moment Lavvy always has the option of splitting them up and having scoring threats on all three pairings. They’re about the only team in the league that can threaten that.
For the Hawks, there don’t appear to be any changes from last Thursday’s demolition of the Red Wings, and nor should there be. We want to see Top Cat get more chances to play with actual talent, and if anyone is going to wake up Brandon Saad it’s Patrick Kane. The third line is still something of a jumble but the 4th line is definitely more interesting as a speedy Pollock painting than whatever it was Wingels and Bouma did (though Wingels is still ahead of Sharp on the third line, which is fine). Anton Forsberg gets the start after being solid enough against Detroit.
This month is filled with games against teams either right around the Hawks or ahead of them, aside from Vancouver on Thursday and they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory last time they were there. They see the Flames twice, Ducks, Stars, Wild, Kings and Sharks. This ain’t do disco, this ain’t no time for foolin’ around.
Game #50 Preview