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Rubber And Glue – Blackhawks at Bruins Preview, Inauguration Ball

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN, NHLN (US), SportsNet (Canada), WGN-AM 720
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From one state with legal weed to another, tonight the Hawks find themselves in Boston to take on a B’s team that is once again teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs for a third straight year, and rumors of Claude Julien’s giant bald head being on the chopping block dominate any discussion about the Bruins.

Entering tonight, the Bruins hold a 2 point advantage over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who all the sharpest minds will agree have a bevy of talented young forwards, but have played five more games than the Leafs. Additionally, in this week alone the Bruins were shut out by the Isles as a parting gift to Cap’n Jack and his departing hair, and blew leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the first period to a Detroit team that’s begging to be put out of its misery. So it’s understandable why Julien could be jettisoned at any moment, regardless of his track record of success. But a quick glance at the peripheral numbers of this team contrasted against its actual roster, and it’s pretty clear to see that Julien is getting just about everything he can out of this group. And that’s brought into even sharper relief when considering that two of the major pieces that should be here right now in Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, have yielded only one player on the current roster.

The Bruins are currently tops in the league in shot attempt share at 5v5 at 55.34%, and boast the second worst shooting percentage at evens at 6.14. It’s a familiar place that has been seen around these parts a couple times in the past few years, but the roster construction on the Bruins lacks the explosiveness for them to bust out of it in any huge way without looking outside the organziation. Patrice Bergeron is still devouring planets in all situations attempts-wise even if his scoring numbers aren’t really there this year, with his personal shooting percentage plummeting from 11.0 to 6.0 from last year to now. Prick faced passenger Brad Marchand is still reaping the benefits of riding shotgun with Bergeron, but regardless of context the sheer output makes his contract a bargain. David Krejci has found a rapport with countryman David Pastrnak, who has already exceeded his goal and point totals from last year in 10 fewer games and while shooting a touch lower than last year (13.9 to 13.5) due to increased ice time with better linemates. David Backes is currently (and for the next four years) being paid $6.0 to be a 32 year old 3rd line winger.

The B’s defensemen are even more uneven, particularly as Zdeno Chara ages his way into complete immobility, but is still managing to pull nearly a 54% share even as he bears a closer resemblence to the 2001 monolith daily. He’s partnerned with Brandon Carlo, whom the B’s brain trust is high on, at least until they trade him for magic beans as well. Tory Krug’s all around game has gotten a little better since he had to be exclusively started in the offensive zone in the 2013 final, but at home tonight Julien can shelter him that much if he so chooses. One-time pipe dream J-M Liles looks right at home on the third pairing this year after a rough transition after his trade from Carolina last spring. And Joe Morrow, the only yield from the Seguin trade on the roster, holds down the fort as the Bruins #6 defenseman.

In net, this is the second straight year of fairly pedestrian numbers from Tuukka Rask, who is sporting a .919 overall and a .926 at evens, as criminal as that may sound. But even aside from how the league has shifted towards focusing on goaltending again, those are lower numbers even by the standards Rask had set for himself in years previous. And while he’s not specifically a problem, seeing the percentage of attempts against as he does bouncing back to his career averages would certainly get the B’s further away from missing the playoffs. But all of that said, he’s still more than capable of stealing a game if need be.

As for the Men of Four Feathers. because it barely worked on Tuesday against the league’s worst team in the standings and by the computers at NORAD, Joel Quenneville is sticking with the lineup from the game against the Avs. So with no real threats anywhere but the Russian Spies line, Julien should be easily able to toss Bergeron out there and nullify whatever the other 9 mismatched forwards can muster, which should hopefully put an end to whatever this nervous fidgeting in Marcus Kruger’s absence is.

Similarly the defensive pairings will remain the same, with Trevor van Riemsdyk just aching to get plastered onto the plexiglass by the Bruins’ blunt attack. But that attack will be a good barometer of what Michal Kempny’s ceiling could potentially be, as the target still has to be using him with Niklas Hjalmarsson against top competition to allow Keith and Seabrook to generate offense.

The lone change comes in net, with Scott Darling getting the start tonight on the road, where things can always get iffy, even if he has been everything you could ask for out of a backup to this point this year. And while Corey Crawford has had a flatly bad January, boasting an .886 since the calendar flipped, the Tribune trying to create a goalie controversy where there isn’t one is somehow irresponsible and boring in its manipulation of meatballs at the same time.

Furthermore if the Hawks are hoping to eat on the power play, the Bruins boast the league’s second best kill at 86.9%. Though they don’t lack the practice having been shorthanded 160 times so far this season, good for 7th most times in the league. Either way without Marcus Kruger and Jonathan Toews still not being Jonathan Toews (and unlikely to come out of it centering Richard Panik and Ryan Hartman), the table is set for just the type of inspirational victory that could allow Julien to hang onto his job just a little while longer, even if the roster construction is what will still likely do the Bruins in. Let’s go Hawks.

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