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N-V-T-S Nuts – Blackhawks at Senators Preview, Pregame Thread, Mid Term Election

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Game Time: 6:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
House of Representin’: Silver Seven Sens

With no time whatsoever to dwell on last night’s steaming turd squeezed out on the shores of the Charles River (debatable whether or not that’d be an improvement), the Hawks stay within the Flortheast division with a trip up to Canada’s capital. No, not Toronto, Rand McNally. They’ll be in Ottawa to face off against the Senators, whose issues this season made whatever difficulties the Hawks had with the Bruins last night seem meager by comparison.

Even with longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson’s ignominious departure this past offseason, there was reason for the Senators and their fans to be excited. They’d performed past expectations in the regular season and even upset the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out to the Penguins. But they acquired Bobby Ryan to replace Alfie, Jason Spezza was assumed to be starting the season healthy, and they had an offensive force of a defenseman driving things from the blue line. Most importantly perhaps, they had a coach in the mustachioed Paul MacLean who was progressive in his approach and came from from the Detroit school of puck possession.

For the most part, the offense has held up its end of the bargain. The Sens are 11th in scoring even with Bobby Ryan only producing 23 goals to this point of the season, where he’s been shut down with sports hernia surgery, so it’s anyone’s guess how long he’s been battling that. But Erik Karlsson is once again at nearly a point per game with 20 goals and 49 assists from the blue line. Both Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris, who has found a home in MacLean’s system, are north of 50 points, and Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, arguably one of the better values in hockey are right there with 48 and 49 points respectively. As a group the Senators put 32 shots on goal a game. But the problem has been that the Senators allow 34  a game.

Aside from Karlsson, the blue line is manned by the likes of Marc Methot, Jared Cowen, Eric Gryba, Cody Ceci (arguably the worst name in hockey), and Chris Philips, who re-upped again in Ottawa rather than have his already limited and rapidly deteriorating skill set traded to a contender. So basically everyone who isn’t Karlsson is either slow or lost or both, and it’s obvious that no one is able to outscore those deficiencies, as even at a point per Karlsson isn’t. The Senators are actually 8th in Corsi share league wide at 51.8%, but they give up so many shots that having goalies between Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner posting matching mediocre save percentages of .908 just isn’t enough. As a matter of fact, the Hawks and Senators have identical even strength save percentages at 91.7% (with the Hawks numbers still skewed by Khabibulin and Raanta), but the Senators are in the position they are because they allow so many shots against.

Sens GM Bryan Murray traded away Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher last year when the Senators had a logjam in the crease (hey-O), and Bishop was deemed the odd man out. It was understandable, considering the numbers that Lehner and Anderson had put up before. But now Bishop has backstopped the division rival ‘Ning to playoff contention, and the Senators waived Conacher to get nothing in return, and their two goalies have drowned in a sea of attempts against, leaving the Senators on the outside looking in and Murray with nothing but a handful of himself to show for the transactions.

As for our Men of Four Feathers, with a game and travel last night there was no morning skate today the lineup will remain a mystery until the time nears puck drop. Conventional wisdom would dictate that Antti Raanta would get the cage tonight to give Crawford one of the few off-days he can afford to have from here on out. But with Colorado winning last night and getting to within a point of the Hawks, Quenneville could very well get points chasey and put Crawford back out there. It’s not the worst idea in the world, with Raanta rarely flirting with mediocrity since Thanksgiving and considering the volume of shots the Senators put on net, albeit without Bobby Ryan tonight.  David Rundblad might get another go with the track meet the Senators like to play, but that show was a dadaist re-enactment of the Haymarket Riots on Tuesday against the go-go Stars at home with the benefit of the last change.

By all rights both Brandon Bollig and Kris Versteeg should both sit facing the corners on a stool in the press box wearing dunce caps for at the very least tonight’s game, in favor of having both Morin and Regin in the lineup at once. But for reasons that are still a mystery, Bollig is absolutely unscratchable, and Bryan Bickell’s questionable availability can limit those options. Patrick Sharp only took one less draw than Michal Handzus last night, which also begs the questions of exactly what purpose he’s now serving at even strength, and is the penalty kill’s resurgence because of or in spite of him, and can it survive if he takes a seat. It seems that Sharp or Regin could ably fill in on a PK, but it hasn’t happened yet, so there’s no reason to count on it happening now.

This game will likely be the antithesis of last night and become a total track meet, which means the Hawks might actually have a decent chance of scoring. But despite their defending troubles, Lehner does have the capability to steal a game and make some acrobatic saves. Either way, the Hawks will undoubtedly get enough chances via stretch passes to positively reinforce that which has been undermining their offense for going on the better part of the season. Just get the two points and the playoff berth for now, even if it has to be in that manner. Let’s go Hawks.

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