Hockey

Game #7 – Knights vs. Hawks Preview: No One Beats Vitas Gerulaitis Seven Times In A Row

vs.

RECORDS: Knights 6-4-0   Hawks 2-3-1

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I NEEDED SOMETHING TO CUT THE LIMES: Sinbin.Vegas

We’re staying on the theme of the day, aren’t we?

Let’s get it out of the way at the top. The Hawks have never beaten the Knights. They’ve only gotten a point off of them once in six tries. They’ve been outscored 30-17 in those games. If there’s any team that has spent the last two years illustrating how far behind the Hawks have fallen in team speed and style, it’s the Knights. Most of these contests, the Hawks haven’t been anywhere near them. If the Hawks want to show that they can actually compete in this conference, or have figured out how the game is played now and how they can live in it, tonight would be something of an indicator.

And they might not get a better chance. They have the Knights at home, and on the second of a back-to-back. The Knights got walloped in Philadelphia last night, though some of that was having Oscar Dansk in net and not Marc-Andre Fleury, whom the Hawks will get tonight. So yeah, whole “ANGRY TEAM” thing, but also a tired one. Which means they’ll only be faster than the Hawks by a factor of six instead of eight, or thereabouts.

Let’s start with the Hawks. Robin Lehner will take his turn in net, and seeing as how he had to Atlas the Hawks to two points against the Jackets, he’s probably more in shape for what will almost certainly be a 35+ save effort if the Hawks are going to get something out of this. No word on what the Hawks will do lineup-wise, though they might want to reconfigure their top six again and get Kirby Dach on a wing for this one. Unless they want him dealing with any of William Karlsson, Paul Stastny, or Cody Eakin, Which they definitely do not.

So far, they appear to be sticking with Sunday’s lineup, but look for changes as this game rolls along.

Right, to the Knights. At times they’ve looked utterly unstoppable this season, such as when they pulverized the Sharks twice to open the season or gave the Flames a colonoscopy for fun. They’ve also been well-beaten by the Preds and Flyers, and tied the Senators, so it’s been a bit goofy–as hockey tends to be.

They haven’t been quite the possession monster of years past, at last in terms of attempts. They don’t generate or prevent that many, middling in both categories. When it comes to actual chances though, they’re one of the better teams around, generating far more than they give up. So they’ll let you have the outside, but nothing in the middle and as soon as they block a shot they’re off to the races.

At the moment, it’s their second line that’s the real danger. Mark Stone is a supernova at this point, and taking Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny along for the ride. Not that the Hawks have been able to do anything about Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, or Wild Bill in the past either.

Cody Glass and his eminently punchable, smirking rich kid face is the new hotness on the third line, and whenever Alex Tuch returns to flank Eakin on the other side this third line will be as dangerous as many top six units in the league. And that’s if they don’t move Glass to center, which is his natural spot.

At this point, the drill with the Knights is well-known. They have a profusion of speed at forward on all four lines, and their game is simply to get it up to them and up the ice as quickly as possible. One pass or one chip out into the neutral zone and they’re gone. When not doing that, they have no compunction about sending two forecheckers below the opposing goal line to free up the puck and get chances while the other team is scrambling.

The Hawks struggle, at least for one reason, against this team because they still try their intricate breakouts or exits, and it just won’t work. They also don’t have the foot-speed on defense to even give themselves enough time to inhale and bank one off the glass to get out of the zone. That’s the game against the Knights, is you have to get the puck past their forwards that constantly look like the Tasmanian Devil in that cloud he would create when really losing it. Once you do that you can get at this defense as the Flyers did last night. It’s not that good, but it’s well protected and not asked to do much more than clog the middle of their zone, and wing the puck in the general direction of their forwards.

The Hawks think they’re equipped to do this now. We’ll see.

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