Game Time: 6:00PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
Brass Bonanza: Canes Country
Despite largely avoiding covid-induced difficulties, it was only a matter of time before the cascading effects of the league (and world) being ravaged by the plague hit the West Side Hockey club, and as a result the back half of the straight doubleheader with the Hurricanes has been banged so that they and the Bolts can make up a previously postponed game. It’s more schedule making geniusness from the NHL brain trust, but there’s a fairly good chance that this was the least impactful way to make the games up. But this is another reason to look at winning percentages in the standings and NOT the point totals. Hint hint, the rest of the hockey observing universe. But at least everyone gets to see the Hawks against the Canes in their Reverse Retro Whalers threads this evening.
In any event, the Hurricanes are locked in the same time loop they always have been, which is being territorially dominant in any possession metric imaginable, but once again are being undermined by their goaltending. Petr Mrazek has been on the shelf since the end of last month, and still isn’t quite ready to return, and in his stead James Reimer has been what James Reimer has been for years now, which is a serviceable backup, but will eventually get exposed with starter’s minutes. To this point, Reimer has a .908 at evens and an .895 overall, which simply isn’t good enough over a long term, but he’s won every start except one – that’s right, his only loss is giving up five to the popgun Hawks offense. And in general the Canes give him plenty of proverbial “run support”, having scored at least 3 goals in every one of his appearances, which clearly is enough for Reimer to make stand up with the Canes being in the top 10 in shots against even with an .895.
In front of Reimer will be the Canes top pairing of Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin , who boast a robust 55.28% share in nearly 140 minutes of 5v5 play together, so clearly this isn’t a sample size issue. Dougie didn’t have his best game in the aforementioned loss at the beginning of the month, but statistically everything is right in line with his career of territorial dominance. Slavin, for his part, is one of the more under-appreciated players in the league, and is the next step in the evolution of “defensive defensemen” in a game that is getting faster and faster every year. His game is positionally sound and efficient, but he still has quite a bit of speed for his size. Behind them, Jake Gardiner and Brett Pesce aren’t a far drop off at 52%, and both of them can get up and go and push the play with their feet from the back end. And as evidence of how deep this blue line is, Brady Skjei is holding down the third pairing with Jake “Smol” Bean (whom has replaced the scratched Haydn Fleury), where he has free reign to go all cowboy against bums. Bean and Skjei haven’t been as effective as Skjei and Gardiner were when partnered together prior to Fleury going on the covid list, but clearly Bean isn’t getting them killed in the four games since with a dead even 50 share from the third pairing.
Up front, the Canes are scoring 3.57 goals a game, good for third in the league, and are doing it by committee with some of the most balanced output they’ve had even in spite of never having a TRUE NUMBER ONE GUY, they clearly have a ton of guys just below that level that are making it work. It’s working so well that even Brock McGinn of the Garbage McGinn Sons is getting time on the top line with Sebastian Aho and our dear, sweet Finnish Baby Jesus Teuvo, and has 7 goals to his name as a result. Shooting 26.9% so far tends to do that for a career bottom sixer, but he’s making the hot hand work for him. Possession monsters Nino Niederreiter and Vince Trochek are on the second line with Martin Necas on the other side, and Jordan Staal (of the Garbage Staal Sons) is leading this team in scoring from his 3rd center spot with 7 goals and 15 points, though 4 of those goals are on the power play, and Staal is currently shooting 38.9%, which is only a slight aberration from his decade’s worth of 11.5% shooting. Of course, he’s got Andrei Svenchnikov on his left, which definitely has helped in his assist total. Self-styled pest Cedric Pauquette has found his way here from Tampa via Ottawa, and though he talks a lot of shit he can’t back up, he certainly has the wheels to keep up with how the Canes play. The Canes scoring is so balanced, they have 5 forwards with at least 10 points and they have a player with at least a point a game on each of the top three lines, so there are not a lot of matchups to be had here, particularly in Carolina, even if the opposing coach were so inclined.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, with the change in the schedule and now avoiding a back to back, Kevin Lankinen will get the start tonight, and he’ll need to pick up where he left off after facing 75 combined shots in the previous split with the Hurricanes at the UC. As usual, for the Hawks to have any shot in this, Lankinen will need to continue his excellent play to start his young career, but based on the sheer volume of attempts the Canes figure to have, he could very realistically have a .930 game and still give up 3 or 4, as he did in the first meeting of the year.
Reports out of the morning skate today were that the lineup in front of Lankinen will be the same, which means Adam Boqvist stays back in after his bout with covid. Of particular interest was Boqvist’s use on the power play in his return, where he joined the first unit as a rover, similar in usage to the old Ducks setup with Scott Niedermayer, where both were allowed to float to any soft spot in the zone they could find because their skating ability would allow them to get back on defense if necessary, while the other four ran a pretty basic overload off the half-wall. That could very well have been them trying shit for its own sake against an opponent like Detroit and may shift gears this evening against a real team that doesn’t suck to high heaven, but it was a bit of creativity from Jeremy Trestman and company, so credit for that at least.
For all the talk of FUN and being AHEAD OF SCHEDULE and other suck bullshit that this team has garnered over the past couple of weeks, this is still a team that only has 5 regulation wins in 18 games (3 against the Wings), is getting its skull caved in in possession (even against the Wings) and has one of the worst shooting percentages at even strength in the league, which indicates a lack of finish from pretty much everyone but Garbage Dick and DeBrincat. And going up against a team as well coached and balanced and high octane as the Hurricanes, the distance between what a real “up and coming” team is and whatever this Hawks outfit is should be pretty apparent. The only way the Hawks can win pretty much any game, let alone a game they’re this overmatched in, is if Lankinen does parkour in the crease and the power play goes off, or as in the case of the Hawks lone win against a real team, the opposing goalie shits himself. Obviously that’s possible with Reimer, but counting on that to happen isn’t a recipe for FUN or success. Let’s go Hawks.