There probably are few Hawks fans who aren’t a little pissy that the Hawks do the Florida swing in October instead of January or February when we could really use it. Thankfully (not thankfully), the temps here have dropped quickly and thoroughly enough to make us all want to go to Florida now. Well, not actually. Nothing makes me want to go to Florida. That place is batshit crazy. This is why you should follow the twitter feed @FloridaMan. Then you’ll know.
The Hawks begin the Florida swing with a tilt against the garage sale that is, or was, the Florida Panthers. While two years ago, when the Panthers somehow goofed their way to the Southwest Division title, they were a hodge-podge of free agent signings and trades and Brian Campbell. They still kind of are, however some of the kids they want to build around are starting to bleed through, which is why those veterans they roped in a massive cattle call are rumored to be on the trading block.
The two leading names you’ll hear are reigning Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov, this year’s first round pick. Both are off to good starts this year, with Barkov at six points in nine games. That might not sound like a lot, but it is on a team that simply can’t score like the Cats. In their 3-6-0 start, the Panthers are barely averaging two goals per game, while they surrender over 3.50 per.
That goals-against can be somewhat attributed to the signing of Tin Foil Hat Captain Tim Thomas, who’s been bad. He came in to once again keep Jakob Markstrom from taking the starting job, even though he’s been broadcast as a real goalie prospect for years now. But after all this time, he probably isn’t. He hasn’t been much better this year either.
But along with those kids and shaky goaltending are the just above journeymen and those force-fed into top six and top four minutes where they might not belong. Tomas Fleischman leads them in points, and Tomas Fleischman is kind of another word for Radim Vrbata. And this isn’t Phoenix. Scott Gomez, Marcel Goc, Shawn Matthias… you get it. Steeger is still here, doing all his Steeger things good and bad.
On the blue line, Kulikov and Gudbranson are supposed to be the building blocks. But Gudbranson has been getting benched lately for some awful decision making. 51 Phantom is still playing great two-way hockey, which won’t stop Eddie and Pat from making jokes about him that are just plain wrong. It’s going to kill me when Campbell is traded to Detroit later this year. Mike Weaver, Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, and Matt Gilroy kind of fill out the rest for a unit waiting for Ed Jovanovski to get a new cane to play again, which tells you just about everything you need to know.
The Panthers could still have something of a future, but it’s going to need work. Barkov and Huberdeau are certainly keepers, and after spending a lot of the lockout watching Nick Bjugstad ragdoll everyone at the U. of Minnesota, I think he’s going to be a big player too. Vincent Trochek is also waiting in the wings, along with one or two others. But they’ve got to sort out their blue line and goaltending, and that’s probably where the returns on their sell-off will be targeted.
But that won’t help them much tonight. This is a team the Hawks really should toss aside with the building almost certainly more than half-full of Hawks fans. Only Campbell is equipped to handle what the Hawks will throw at them, and when Weaver, Gilroy/Campbell, and Whitney are out there it’s going to be ya-ha time. The Panthers probably won’t try to skate with the Hawks, but I don’t think they have the discipline to gum it up all that well. But if the sleepwalk out there, there’s just enough here to make it tricky.
Oh, it’s the mom’s trip too, whatever that means. Maybe Mrs. Pirri can ask Q why her son is playing as much as Mrs. Bollig’s. No word on whether Mrs. Brookbank’s boy is actually going to play forward tonight, but I doubt it. I’ll settle for Mrs. Pirri’s boy getting more power play time tonight.