Since the last time these two teams met, both teams have managed to go a combined 1-5 with Anaheim carrying a four game losing streak into the United Center. The Ducks lost both back-to-back sets with the Red Wings and Sharks, respectively, looking pretty awful in the process.
The Hawks, meanwhile, managed to dong-whip a completely disinterested Flames team while dropping a game to the Kings.
So what’s changed in the last week and a half since the last time these two met?
For one, the Ducks signed Radek Dvorak, which would’ve been comically bad six years ago. Today, it’s just a sad tragedy. Dvorak played last year for the Dallas Stars putting an impressive stat line of 4 goals, 17 assists and -16 in 73 games played. The last time Dvorak was relevant, Bob Murray was busy tearing apart the Hawks and sending their rebuilding process back to the stone age. So I guess that would be called irony. I’m not sure; I’m one of those people who never uses irony properly. Sorry.
Dvorak will likely slide into Anaheim’s bottom 6. Their top 6, as we have all said for sometime, is about as talented as you’ll find. One of the bigger reasons for that is Andrew Cogliano, who I’ve been inexplicably in love with since he torched a Denis Savard-coached Hawks at the UC in late ’07-08, has finally discovered how to be successful in the league on a consistent basis. Unlike the game in Anaheim, the Ducks will be at full strength with Corey Perry back from suspension.
Oh, and in case you forgot, he is still a gigantic piece of garbage.
Anaheim’s defense is where they can be exploited. Toni Lydman is a turnstile. Sheldon Souray is still Sheldon Souray. Ben Lovejoy is a second pairing defensemen on this team for crying out loud. We all saw how well that worked out for Pittsburgh. While Francois Beauchemein is more than serviceable, he’s best served shutting down secondary scorers, not top lines. While they are still near the top of the West and threatening the Hawks top seed (if that’s really important to you), I believe things have started to even out and we’ll see the Kings start to inch closer. And Anaheim’s defense regressing to the mean will be a big reason for that.
Of course, all of that is moot if they continue to get stellar goaltending from Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. With Coach Haagen-Dazs alternating starts recently, it seems like Fasth would get the nod tonight but we shall see.
As for the Hawks, they come into the game with something to prove after their last meeting (I don’t know if that’s true but it’s something sportswriters and commentators say after a tough loss so it must be). The big news since the last time the Hawks played was that Jarome Iginla didn’t want to play here and subsequently wasn’t traded here. After a whole lot of hoopla and pomp, Iginla’s dirty, dark secret was that he wanted to play in Pittsburgh all along. So poor old Jay Feaster had to pretend Iginla sent him this secret list of teams, try to pretend to get a real offer, and then had Ray Shero bend him over the table anyways. Seems like Calgary could have saved a whole lot on phone bills if they just made the deal with Pittsburgh right away. But that wouldn’t be their style.
Side rant, over.
Even though Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have begun practicing with the team, they are still out tonight, per the beaters and Joel Quenneville. So that means the same line combinations we’ve grown accustomed to. Saad, Toews, and Frolik will continue to drive puck possession. Dave Bolland will continue to lose faceoffs and look semi-interested while Jimmy Hayes continues to huff and puff. The Hawks bottom two lines will remain the same with some of demented four headed monster of Bollig, Carcillo, Kruger and Mayers composing the fourth line.
Defensively, the Hawks will remain the same with Rozsival or Brookbank getting the go-ahead as the sixth defensemen. I would be slightly surprised if Joel Quenneville didn’t give Seabrook and Keith the top assignment tonight. One of the more under-reported story lines of this season has been Quenneville giving Hjalmarsson and Oduya top assignment for a good majority of the season. Seabrook and Keith have been able to play against lesser competition while simultaneously not burning themselves out. While it has worked out thus far, it’s not what’s going to happen when the playoffs roll around and he should start getting 2 and 7 prepared. Tonight seems like the perfect opportunity.
Essentially, Quenneville has been playing with house money for some time and it’s something he really hasn’t had the luxury of doing in a few seasons. If Seabrook and Keith have a tremendous finish to this season, that will be a big reason why.
In net, GOALIE CONTROVERSY! Just kidding, but if Ray Emery doesn’t get the start tonight, I would be stunned.
It’s a pretty simple equation for the Hawks to come out ahead of two points tonight. Stay out of the box (Anaheim is deadly on the power play), don’t give Teemu Selanne an inch (no explanation necessary) and capitalize on the copious amount of chances Anaheim’s defense will allow.