Game Time: 7:30PM
TV/Radio: CSN, NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Rocky Mountain Oysters: Mile High Hockey
While the Hawks’ schedule at first blush would indicate an opportunity to get right over the next couple weeks while facing teams behind them in the standings, things don’t always end up playing out that way. Especially against the Avalanche who visit tonight, who continually have given the Hawks problems over the better part of this decade.
The Avs come into the tonight having just won on the road Sunday in St. Louis the way they have always seemed to manage to win over the last three seasons. They scored a couple quick goals from their (diminishing) crop of skilled young forwards, and then hung on for dear life while being absolutely overwhelmed with shots and chances against. It’s been the signature of the Sakic/Roy front office era, and holds true right now with the Avs dead last in their share of 5v5 attempts, carrying only 43.4% of the play, and also giving up a league-worst 61 attempts per 60 minutes of even strength play. Those numbers get even worse on the road at 41.9% and 63.4 attempts against.
Yet still the Avs walked into both Nashville and St. Louis on back to back nights over the weekend and came away with four points, all in regulation. That’s largely come on the back of an absurdly high shooting percentage (8.8%), and it hasn’t even just been the Avs’ first round pedigree doing it. Nathan MacKinnon and Smirking Imp Matt Duchene only had a combined two assists on the Avs’ six goals, with known dynamos John Mitchell and old friend Jack Skille notching tallies in St. Louis. Duchene has been the subject of trade talks for much of the year as if the Patrick Roy needs to lose another skilled center after the defection of Paul Stastny and trading Ryan O’Reilly for basically nothing. While any deal the Avs could pull would end up being hilarious, the thought of Duchene actually playing for a team that could utilize his speed and skill is a terrifying one, particularly if he ended up in the West or worse yet the division. He currently leads the Avs with 27 points and 15 goals, with MacKinnon right behind with 10G and 16A. Jarome Iginla probably deserves better than this in his twilight years, but no one forced him to sign with this comedy troupe. Colorado doesn’t have a single forward in the black in possession, and only Duchene and MacKinnon are noticeably above the team rate among regulars. But their speed and skill apparently hide a multitude of sins, particularly against the Hawks.
Things aren’t much better on the blue line, where swapping out Jan Hejda for Francois Beauchemin didn’t magically fix things. Erik Johnson could still probably be solid on a second pairing of a team that actually gave a shit about defensive structure, but is completely out of his depth once again under Roy as a #1 and taking all of the toughest assignments. Tyson Barrie has oft been discussed here as an option to help solve the Hawks defensive depth issues, as he’s coming up on restricted free agency, but would, or rather should cost more than what the Hawks are clearly willing to pay.
Semyon Varlamov is still in net for the Avs and not in prison or deported which is where he should be after beating the shit out of his girlfriend a couple years ago, yet was welcomed with open arms by the Avalanche and the issue was never brought up again. Because the league would rather pay lip service with associating itself with You Can Play and offering ladies’ cut jerseys than actually sending any meaningful messages about being serious when taking on potential assault of marginalized citizens by famous athletes. Because this year isn’t a contract year, Varlamov’s numbers are totally pedestrian, if not outright bad with basically a .910 save percentage across the board in all situations. Which while excellent for a PK, is substandard for evens, and clearly is capable of standing on his head when necessary as he proved on Sunday and continually shows against the Hawks. And of course he’s coming into tonight with a .956 in December
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the blue line got an older, dumber, slower makeover last night bringing in Rob Scuderi for the erstwhile Trevor Daley in what appears to be a salary cap move, no matter how much Stan Bowman talks about “fit”. The fact is that the type of player Scuderi is doesn’t really fit in the league period anymore, especially at his advancing age, and that’s proved by being well below the team rate even on a possession juggernaut like LA for years. He’ll get third pairing duty with Rozsival tonight, proving that the move still does not accomplish the primary main of objective of any acquisition the Hawks make, and that’s moving Trevor Van Riemsdyk out of the top four, and hopefully out of the lineup entirely.
It stands to reason that there would be no changes in the forward lineups after two straight wins, the latter of which included a Manshitter goal which should cement his place in the lineup for the next month and a half. There have been flickering signs of from lines other than the second in bursts, but nothing consistent as of yet, as Dr. Rasmussen and Bryan Bickell have done a nice job of driving possession in spot duty from the third line to this point, with Bickell himself a +16 against Vancouver on Sunday. And now that Garbage Dick’s point streak has reached the point of being the longest in the NHL since the 92-93 season, things have escalated from merely the broadcasts and fans in attendance being insufferable seemingly caring more about that than an actual win; its longevity has now reached the point of the pieces regarding Kane “overcoming adversity” to succeed now hitting the wire seemingly daily, which is enough to make one’s skin crawl and stomach churn if he or she has any kind of soul whatsoever. There would be some disgusting level of symmetry were Varlamov to backstop this streak’s end, and he has shown to be more than capable of denying an inundation of shots from the Hawks.
In the other net Corey Crawford is playing about as well as he has so far this season, so naturally against the skilled Avalanche this game seems ripe for the proverbial drunk stumble down the House of Blues stairs. While Crawford’s technique down to his equipment is generally designed to kick rebounds out well past dangerous areas where attacking forwards lurk, given that the Hawks’ blue line is now even slower with Scuderi’s addition and the speed of the Avs’ forwards, he would be far better served to freeze any and all possible shots coming his way.
Because of that lack of speed or offensive instincts whatsoever, the Hawks forwards will need to make sure to come all the way back for breakouts, because flat footed stretch passes from this group are just aching to be picked off and head the other way from Duchene, MacKinnon, and Thrakkazog.
Games between these two teams invariably end up track meets with the Hawks coming away with nothing more often than they should for a team that is more than willing to just let the opposition fire away. Diligence in the neutral zone and persistence against the mobile athletic Varlamov will be of the utmost importance in order to accrue points at home during this stretch of schedule considering how difficult that’s been for the Hawks on the road.