Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
The Big Short: Canes Country
For the vast majority of this season, the Hurrcanes were tops in the league in their share of even strength attempts, and have only recently, barely been unseated by the Boston Bruins, and with the this local group consistently running a close third. And much like the Hawks, the Canes have been undone by shit terrible goaltending in the form of old friend Scott Darling. While Darling was excellent last season in a backup role, and got the Hawks’ asses out of a collective sling in the first round in 2015, in his first crack at a real starter’s workload with a real starter’s paycheck, things haven’t gone so well. Darling is currently sporting a putrid .889 with an .898 at even strength in 35 appearances. And as has always been the case, Scott Darling on the road is Scott Darling On The Road, with an even worse .884 in 20 road games. Now, there could be a lot of factors playing into this, and it’s not unfair to say that a guy who has been open about his issues in the past may have put a lot of pressure on himself given his first real shot at the net all to himself with even a middling contract at 4 years and $4.15 mildo, but that doesn’t mean that giving him the contract was a bad bet at all. Despite this space’s relentless cynicism and skepticism, the original LOCAL GUY still deserves this shot, and is capable of playing to expectations, and we actually hope he does. In his 1B role, Cam Ward has been only marginally better, but that’s what he’s been for a long time and why Darling was brought in in the first place, with a .907 overall and .916 at evens. And given the Canes’ talent that has been amassed in front of them, it’s not unfair to pin the fact that they’re on the outside looking in on the playoff picture once again on their continued goaltending isses.
In front of Darling has been a playoff caliber defensive corps, if not arguably the best grouping in the conference prior to McDonagh’s arrival in Tampa. Justin Faulk may have plateaued a little bit as far as point production is concerned, but he is still both tilting the ice and carrying a workload worthy of being an annual Norris finalist. He’s been primarily paired this year with Hayden Fleury as they’ve taken on middle six forwards while Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have gotten the far tougher assignments and turn the ice over at right around the team rate, but Faulk has been with Noah Hanafin of late as his minute load has decreased. That’s left Fleury with old pal Passenger 57, who’s still just occupying space on the third pairing.
Up front, this is a quick fun group that still lacks a #1 center, and is the most logical destination for John Tavares should he hit the open market this summer. They have so many #2 centers on the roster that Our Special Boy AKA Finnish Baby Jesus Teuvo Teravainen is back to playing wing with Elias Lindholm centering, opposite Sebastian Aho, and the two of them are really fun when they get going. They’re currently centered by former lottery pick Elias Lindholm, as usual center Jordan Staal slotted back in on the third line after missing time due to his family tragedy. Victor Rask is the #2 center actually centering the second line, and does so flanked by Jeff Skinner and Phil “Karen’s Ziti” Di Giuseppe. Justin Williams and his always interesting hair join Staal on the third line and would make a great checking unit if this team actually had a real #1 center. Apparently Lee Stempniak is still in the league and is on the fourth line here.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, a week of throwing good money after bad continued this morning with the announcement of Jan Rutta “earning” a 1 year, $2.25 million dollar extension hot on the heels of Erik Gustafsson’s two year deal at $1.2. If one were to squint real hard, there’s a certain logic to be found in giving Gustafsson that paper, given his “offensve upside” and that he’s only 25 and it’s an RFA deal, but Rutta is simply A GUY, 27, and was going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer anyhow. Six goals coming from this defensively clueless clod seems like a complete accident, and the prospect of this entire defensive group being back again next year is not exactly encouraging with regard to keeping the window open and writing this off as any kind of fluke season.
If nothing else, this game should be pretty fast paced, and given the goaltending woes, it might still take 4 hours to get through end end up being a 13-11 affair. Anything to break up the monotony at this point.
Game #68 Preview