Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN, WGN-AM 720
God Save The Queen: Arctic Ice Hockey
Fresh off a frustrating loss in Toronto last night, the Hawks are left with no time to feel sorry about themselves as their tour of Canadian opponents continues this evening against the Jets back on the west side.
The Jets come in to tonight fresh off a game of their own last night in New York against the Rangers, where Ondrej Pavalec outdueled Henrik Lundqvist for 65 minutes and a shootout for the Jets to emerge with a 1-0 win. That is not a misprint, Ondrej Pavalec did in fact backstop a 38 save shutout, besting The King. Pavalec has been the butt of jokes for years with how decidedly sub par he’s been while getting overpaid for the Jets and GM Kevin Chevyldayoff refuses to go in another direction, but he’s actually been serviceable to this point in the season with .921 save percentage and appearing in all 11 games to this point. Backup Michael Hutchinson figures to get only his second start of the season tonight, coinciding with the Jets’ second back to back of the year. Hutchinson was yanked in his only other start against the Kings all the way back on October 12th, giving up 3 goals on 13 shots in just over a period of play.
Up front in the Jets’ lineup is the same cast of characters that still has yet to make the playoffs in the last five years. Bryan Little is probably miscast as a top center, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t useful, and currently leads the Jets in scoring with 9 points. He’s most often flanked by Blake Wheeler and the ersatz Andrew Ladd, with 6 and 7 points respectively. Outside of that top unit however, the Jets aren’t getting much scoring anywhere else, with no other forward above 3 points in 11 games. Dustin Byfuglien is once again back at forward, and the recently returned Evander Kane is still without a point in 3 games. That doesn’t mean there isn’t talent here, however, it’s just kind of headed in all directions with almost no cohesion.
For its part, the Jets blue line has been decent enough, and again there are some nice parts there in Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian. Tobias Enstrom is second on the team with 8 points so far (which would lead the Hawks, for the record), all of them assists, and six of them at even strength. He and Bogosian form the top pair and get the bulk of the tough assignments and have kept things relatively afloat at evens with Enstrom sporting a 52% corsi share and Bogsian dead even at 50%. If all of this seems decidedly mediocre from top to bottom it’s because it is, and it’s reflected in the Jets’ 5-5-1 record. And in the meat grinder that is the Central, that’s not terrible, but considering this is the fifth or sixth year with this “core”, it’s probably time for a huge shakeup that Chevyldayoff probably won’t be employed long enough to make.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the great wailing and gnashing of teeth continues as the Hawks once again put up a gaudy shot number and got nothing to show for it either at even strength or in the standings. This isn’t about shot quality or Annette Fronpresence (as much as she gets blamed), this is simply a streak of bad luck, exacerbated by some curious lineup decisions. Andrew Shaw’s struggles have been well documented, but he’ll continue to get trotted out there in his very best #2 center costume, even if a cataract-stricken dog could see through it at this point. Kris Versteeg has been better than last year so far, but that still doesn’t mean he should be anywhere near the top six, especially with Toews and Hossa. Brad Richards probably feels like he got grifted in the off season with the cornicopia of linemates he’s been given. It’s all just really a mess right now.
The blue line has been a little more stable, but isn’t without its warts. Michal Rozsival has been flat out atrocious, to the point where Joel Quenneville needed to pair him with Duncan Keith regularly last night just to keep him from keeling over. Johnny Oduya vacillates between excellent and bafflingly terrible so regularly that he’s seeking comfort in the counsel of Rex Grossman and Jay Cutler. Keith and Hjalmarsson have been predictably excellent, and aside from a couple of boners here and there, Brent Seabrook has been better as well. David Rundblad will probably draw back in tonight for Rozsival as the Jets aren’t exactly known for their punishing forecheck, but with Dustin Byfuglien now skating as a forward once again, look for him to target Ken Doll whenever possible.
While there’s a possibility that Quenneville could come right back with Crawford tonight after getting six games off, it seems more likely that Antti Raanta will get the nod tonight, much to the joy of meatball nation. Raanta is much more solid at home than he is on the road where there can be matchups cherry picked for him, but that doesn’t make him any less of a high wire act. He also hasn’t played in over a week, and he hasn’t exactly shown to be the best at handling a spotty workload.
For all the frustration that the last few games have brought with the Hawks, they’re still tops in the league in Corsi share at evens, shots on goal per game, and shot differential. Pucks will start to go in, and there will likely be more alchemy needed from Dr. Weird to eventually get things right, perhaps even the rare and precious element of Teuvonium to make the mix truly explosive at long last. But as long as the ice times are relatively managed (they haven’t been), there should be little reason to worry. But two points would certainly be nice in the mean time. Let’s go Hawks.