Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Send David Poile To Gitmo: On The Forecheck
In a less-dystopian universe, one where each team played to what their roster says they should be, tonight’s matchup on West Madison would be one filled with Western Conference playoff intrigue. The Predators jockeying for home ice in the first round and the Hawks clinging to hold on to one of the last wild card spots. But instead, it’s the Preds still trying to figure themselves out as they keep running out of road in the regular season, and the Hawks actively imploding.
First to the Predators, who currently sit three points out from the final wild card spot, and have at least two games in hand on all three of the Yotes, Flames, and Jets ahead of them, with an absurd FIVE games in hand on their closest competitor in Arizona. They’ve gone 7-5 since the All-Star break and their bye, which has certainly been more than enough for them to pass their opponent tonight. They’ve gone 10-8 since firing the irascible Peter Laviolette shortly after the first of the year in favor of Anthropomorphic Cup of Sleepytime Tea John Hynes, so it’s still a team spinning its tires even if both Kyle Turris and Mikael Granlund are clearly glad Lavvy’s gone. Both have had a serious spike in production since the change, with eight goals for Granlund and 11 points for Turris.
Having them contribute has taken some of the pressure off of the Preds’ traditional top line of Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Treat Boy, who have all seen their scoring drastically drop this year in spite of still generally being on the right side of the possession ledger. Though their 51.5% together is a dip from what they’re capable of putting up. Granlund has been putting up his numbers recently opposite Calle Jarnkrok with smirking imp Matt Duchene in between them, while Turris has been centering Hockey Tebow Rocco Grimaldi and Craig Smith on the third line. Given Turris’ recent streak and Craig Smith’s propensity to kill the Hawks, it wouldn’t be surprising for them to combine for nine goals this evening. Colton Sissons and Colin Blackwell provide a nice bit of speed from the fourth line, but their linemate Austin Watson should drop fucking dead.
On the blue line, which was previously considered a strength of the team, should get a fairly big boost tonight with the return of Ryan Ellis after getting decapitated in the Winter Classic by Corey Perry, though that’s a small price to pay for giving the hockey world one of its greatest highlights ever in Perry’s walk of shame. He’ll jump right in on the top pairing with Roman Josi, who is the Preds’ leading scorer by a mile, which should be an indication as to why the team finds itself where it is. Ellis has always flattered to deceive and any time he’s been giving anything other than bum slaying duties he’s eventually exposed, but together this year the two have a sparkling 54.77 share in attempts. Behind them is Mattias Ekholm and Brachiosaurus on skates Jarred Tinordi, who generally get their skulls caved in together. The aged Dan Hamhuis (who’s still got this) and Dante Fabbro fare only mildly better from the third pairing in relatively limited time together.
In net it figures to be Ol’ Shit Hip, as Jusse Saros had the net on Tuesday when the Preds got beaten by the Hurricanes and their moms on the tail end of a back-to-back. Rinne has been respectable this year with a .921 at evens, but an .898 overall, as he’s been absolutely brutal on the PK, allowing 29 power play goals against in a 129 shots, which is good for a robust .775 save percentage. This slow down has led to nearly an equal workload between he and Saros, and the Predators may have to make some serious decisions regarding Rinne in the future. His glove hand most definitely still works, however.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, their season effectively ended on Wednesday with an embarrassing third period against the transparently rebuilding Rangers who are decidedly better than them in the standings of the stronger conference. To add further insult to what should have been another shameful defeat in a game they had to have in a storied history of them since last November, both their coach and their goalie decided to point fingers after the game.
First, with Alpo Colliton saying that the team wasn’t prepared enough for the game, and the results were unacceptable. Well, it might be because they have no interest in playing for a moron with no cache in the game who trots out fourth liners and then all-left-handed shots on the power play, erodes the center depth by skating players out of position on their wing, and implements a defensive “structure” that is so ill suited for the roster he has that this team has now been historically bad for going on three straight years in terms of shot allowance. And he’s also decreed that his morning skates are OPTIONAL, but INTENSE. And now to top it all off, after showing his ass over two seasons and making it quite apparent that he is the coach doing the absolute least with the most in terms of roster, he has the gall to point to his players, where his two franchise centerpieces with full trophy shelves are still the team’s top two leading scorers into their 30s. This overmactched imbecile should have been fired months ago.
But that’s not all, as Robin Lehner, asshole extraordinaire, had the balls to air out his teammate’s effort after allowing five goals he should have stopped, with Panarin’s really the only one that neither he nor anyone else would have had a chance at stopping, because Panarin will just do that sometimes. It’s been a recurring theme with Lehner that it’s never his fault, and he always finds a way to fill his diaper after getting lit up, whether it’s jaking an “injury,” mouthing off, or today declining to speak to the press. There’s a reason this asshole is going to be on his 5th and 6th teams in the league very shortly despite being solid to good for his entire career, and it’s because his teammates fucking hate him, and it was on display with how many times he got run in the Islanders game back in December, where former coworkers couldn’t wait for a piece of him. This is exactly why no one is willing to pay him any amount of money at any kind of term, no matter how much he soils himself in the press about not taking a discount. Pro labor as this blog is, you can’t maximize your earnings if you’re a fucking dick in your workplace. And if this fucking petulant baby doesn’t make this fanbase appreciate just what they’ve had in Corey Crawford for nearly a decade now, then nothing will (they won’t).
This team has had its share of dressing room dysfunction over the years, some of it confirmed, some of it not. But they have always refrained from pointing fingers at one another in the press, which is truly something given how red-assed Duncan Keith is, and truly speaks to the force of Jonathan Toews’ personality and what it demands from that room. So when two newcomers who have accomplished exactly fuck all in the league, especially compared to the pedigree that is still here, it doesn’t and shouldn’t sit right. Coach Kelvin Gemstone and Robin Lehner are not a part of any long term solution here, and they’re showing everyone exactly why.
Now the only question left for the Hawks is who is going to be traded, and really the most entertaining scenario would be for Lehner to get dealt while he’s sitting on the bench, as Crawford is starting tonight. The fucking tantrum will surely be the stuff of legends. But either way, another pecker slap of a loss is the best current thing for this franchise, even if the man helming the ship is drunk on his own geniusness. Let’s go Hawks?