FACEOFF: 8pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
SORRY, I AM A COYOTE: Five For Howling
The Hawks head into the Olympic break with one more game in the desert against a Coyotes squad that is being kept around the playoff picture thanks to the utter incompetence of the Canucks and Kings. They’ll have to do it a little more shorthanded than they’ve been all season.
Patrick Kane has left for the funeral of his grandfather, and Johnny Oduya also is likely to not make the post due to a lower body injury. Of course, someone should ask that if he can’t play in the last two games for the Hawks should he really be flying off to Russia to play for Team Sweden, but apparently it’s not serious enough. I’m sure some within the organization are asking themselves that, though.
What it means is that Peter Regin should slot right in (#12 in your programs, #1 in your hearts). He won’t even have a morning skate to get acclimated, but with Pirri demoted the only other option would be to have either Kostka or Brookbank play forward and we know where that goes. Kane’s spot on the 2nd line was occupied by a side-flipping Brandon Saad. Whether he’s flanking Handzus or Regin, I can’t really tell you. My guess is Handzus, with Regin centering Shaw and Bickell. Could be anything tonight.
The Coyotes have been puttering along recently, going 5-4-1 in their last 10. Last out they were pretty severely outplayed by the Stars at home, losing 3-1 (I really want to pick the Stars to sneak into the last playoff spot if the Canucks don’t get their act together). The Yotes sit one point adrift of the Canucks for the last spot, tied with the Stars and one point ahead of the Jets and only two ahead of the Predators, if you can believe it. The race for #8 could get really stupid after the break.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Mike Smith has been playing well of late and keeping the Coyotes somewhat relevant. He made 37 saves against the Stars, 36 against the Oilers three starts back, and held the Penguins to just one goal two starts ago. He’s not what he was two years ago, but the ability to steal a game is still there. Though he’s lost to the Hawks twice this year (one in a shootout), he had to make 31 saves in one and 48 in the other. Without Kane, he might not see the same amount of zipped rubber but then again he might (how’s that for analysis?).
Elsewhere for Phoenix, Keith Yandle has been a basket case since not making Team USA. In 17 games since the team was announced, Yandle hasn’t scored, has seven assists, and is a -11. Yandle has always been defensively questionable, but at the moment he’s basically a self-immolated monk. There’s still Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has dropped slightly from his early Norris form, but still the best d-man this team has to boast. Keep an eye on 2011 1st round pick Connor Murphy, who has cracked the lineup and has been opening some eyes.
Up front Antoine Vermette can’t stop scoring, with six in his past five games. They’re led in scoring by Mike Ribeiro and his varying levels of give-a-shit. He’s been an issue for the Hawks in the past when a Star, but if you’re seriously paying attention to him you can almost watch him become vapor.
The main thing for the Hawks tonight will be focus. It would be so easy to let the minds wander to Sochi for those who are going and to the beach and bar for those who are not. It’s already a good trip, with 8 of a possible ten points already in the bag. 8 of 12 would still be pretty good, but 10 of 12 would be better. If there’s one thing you know you’ll get from the Yotes is a solid level of effort, especially with the Canucks losing last night and having the chance to leapfrog them into the playoff picture. They might not score and they might not be as solid defensively as they get credit for, but you know they’ll try. If you don’t match that, you’ll find yourself looking up on the scoreboard.
There’s plenty of time to focus on other things than hockey. No reason to start doing so before another 60 minutes.