RECORDS: Avalanche 25-24-11 Hawks 26-26-9
PUCK DROP: 6:30 (for some reason?)
TV: NBCSN Chicago
COULDN’T GET MUCH HIGHER: Mile High Hockey
It’s at the top that I’m supposed to tell you this is an awfully big weekend at the United Center. The Hawks will have two games with four points on offer against direct rivals for the wild card spots. Win both, and you’re entrenched in the race. Lose both and you may have lost touch before March even hits. Split them in some fashion and nothing is solved and the current feeling continues. In that context, yes, this shapes up as a pretty exciting and important weekend.
But this being hockey, and this being us, and this being these Hawks, it’s hard to remain in just that context. Because though this is a playoff race, it is only so because the competitors are standardbreds and not thoroughbreds. They are the fan chosen to be inhaled by The Freeze in the middle of the 5th. It’s the JV. And you can choose to enjoy the silliness of it, which we are, but even that intrude on the heaviness you want to project onto these two games. It’s hard to treat something as important when you know that at the base it’s kind of absurd (says the wrestling fan?).
Either way, the Hawks and Avs are tied with Arizona, one point behind the Wild, who last night couldn’t get the Rangers to accept the two points they were desperately trying to foist upon them in their quest to make the biggest splat at the end of the season. Whoever wins tonight vaults back into the wildcard spots (depending on what the Wild do in Detroit tonight). So whatever we may feel on the outside, those inside the ropes will ignore the absurdity and treat this as a four-pointer.
For the Hawks, the only change appears to be that Brent Seabrook is still a no-go, and thanks to Carl Dahlstrom being sick, Henri Jokiharju has been recalled. No word on whether he’ll play, but fuck, he’s here, and how much worse can he be than the plastic vomit you’ve been tossing out there anyway? The Hawks did give up 10 combined goals to the decidedly waddling Senators and Red Wings. The Hawks should paw at any dangling straw or piece of Laffy Taffy when it comes to their defense. Collin Delia appears to be getting the start, perhaps in the thought that he’s beaten the Avs twice before and maybe seeing their silly logo will trigger something within him. Or you don’t want to keep sending Ward out there for fear he’ll turn back into Cam Ward with more and more rolls of the dice. Or you don’t want Delia’s last NHL experience of the year to be getting pulled against the Senators. Whatever. The normal 4th line rotation will continue, and it doesn’t really matter how it shakes out.
The Avs have sunk to these depths and unlike the atmosphere around here, they are not pleased that they are still merely “in it.” On December 19th, the Avs were 19-10-6, and at least running into the penthouse of the Central to steal the appetizers from the Jets and Predators. Then they lost to the Hawks, and look what that did to them: they are 6-14-5 since, watching the Stars and Blues wave as they fall by, and for a brief moment, were marooned at the bottom of the Central.
The reasons aren’t hard to identify. While the top line of Mikko Rantanen–Nathan MacKinnon-Gabriel SapsuckerFrog didn’t exactly go “cold,” they weren’t being intergalactic warriors as they were before. They were just “very good.” But “very good” ain’t gonna cut the mustard when there’s almost nothing else on this team to back it up. On a given night, Carl Soderberg, or J.T. Compher, or Alex Kerfoot might hint at being legitimate secondary scoring. And on the next three you wouldn’t be able to find them with body-heat cameras. When the top unit isn’t doing magic tricks, the show is closed. That’s why you’ll see that troika split up tonight, as they’ve been put on three different lines the past two games. Which the Avs have won by a combined score of 10-1, so they roll in here with some confidence.
Combine that with both goalies going into the shitter for a bit. Semyon Varlamov tanked in December and January, and when given the chance to usurp the top job, Phillip Grubauer fluffed his lines. Varlamov has recovered in February with a .919, and even just that might steady the ship enough for the Avs to recover and hold on loosely for the last spot in the West. Assuming their three big guns continue to BIG GUN.
The task in written form is easy for the Hawks tonight. Find a way to keep the Avs’ top three players down. It’s not easy when they’re now on three different lines, but also their collective dangers is watered down. Start with Mac K and work out from there. You can try to that through the Fight Fire With Fire method and use Toews’s line to do it. Or you use Marcus Kruger to do it, though if he’s centering the fourth line it’s clear that Coach Cool Youth Pastor has already made his choice. Colorado still does ok metrically when those three aren’t on the ice, but they have a hard time converting it into tangible results. Keep the MacRaLog from going for two or three or more, and you’ve basically got it.
It may not be heavy or important, but it is fun. Here we go.
Game #62 Preview Suite