There are two things NBC is going to flog constantly during today’s broadcast. The first being Ed Olczyk’s work ethic for getting to the game after doing the Stadium Series in the Bay Area last night. Because if there’s one thing that Edzo loves more than the sound of his own voice and hit stats, it’s feigning humility at the compliments heaped upon him. The other will be a complete rehash of the 2013 Cup Final. And while these two teams are fundamentally the same, at the present juncture they’re both about as far away from June of 2013 as can be imagined. But just because this game should be watched on mute (like all Hawks games), doesn’t mean that this isn’t a big one for both sides.
For the visiting Bruins, they currently sit occupying the East’s last wild card spot by a point over Tuesday night’s guest, the Florida Panthers. And while the Bruins remain a top 10 possession team in the league, holding 52.2 of all even strength shot attempts, only a 1.5% dip from last year’s President’s Trophy caliber of a performance. But their shooting percentage as a team has dropped a full percentage point at evens from 8.5% to 7.5%, which has resulted in a bottom 5 offensive output at 2.6 goals per game as a team. Their current leading scorers are Patrice Bergeron and Dennis Soderberg at 39 and 33 points respectively. And while Bergeron still predictably does everything and plays some of the hardest minutes in the game and flips the ice in the B’s favor (to the tune of 58.3%), he simply should not be leading the team in scoring given the other options on the ice. Yes, David Krejci has missed about 20 games and Jarome Iginla is now in Colorado, but those two factors shouldn’t have led Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand to underperform as the have. Though admittedly hilarious, 31 points for each without either missing significant time is clearly not getting it done for the Bruins.
Having Zdeno Chara miss two months of the season didn’t help matters either, but with him turning 38 next month, it was high time the B’s started to for some manner of contingency plan anyway. Cue the emergence of one Douglas “Dougie” Hamilton, who has magically started to show signs of his game rounding into form nearing the 200 professional game mark from the blue line. It’s the damndest thing, it really is. Hamilton is basically Alex Pietrangelo East, similarly sized but not physically intimidating, positionally sound with offensive instincts. Hamilton takes the next toughest assignments behind Chara, and is tops on the B’s blue in his share of shot attempts at 54.8% along with contributing 32 points from the back end. However, past those two is where things get dicey, especially after the trade of Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders. Dennis Seidenberg has fallen off a cliff post ACL surgery, Torey Krug can really still only be trusted in one end of the ice, and Adam McQuaid has missed his customary third of the season so far.
Despite a fully respectable .919 save percentage from Tuuka Rask, the drop in his game to his lowest save percentage since taking over full time for Tinfoil Timmy, particularly coming off a Vezina campaign, has also made a difference for the B’s given their offensive struggles. Rask is also starting to feel the weight of the sheer number of starts, today being #50 in game 59 for the Bruins, with and his February to this point has seen him sport only a .904 in all situations. But with the Bruins taking on slightly more shots than last year (29.5 to 29.1) and the offense bordering on inept, Rask’s slip has had profound reverberative effects and put the B’s where they are now, barely holding on.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, with the division all but gone now sitting 10 points behind Nashville, there is still ground that can be made up on the racist dystopia 300 miles down I-55, with River Scum only five points ahead with 23 games to go. Pissing away an 8 game homestand at 2-1-3 75% of the way through it certainly isn’t a fantastic way to go about it, however.
There is no more damning indictment of the Hawks defensive indifference or ineptitude than the fact that Corey Crawford is still currently top 10 in save percentage in the league with a .921 after an awful December, and the Hawks still sit where they sit. But when half of the defensive corps at any given time is completely in over its head, it’s probably to be expected. The Hawks control more even strength attempts than anyone except LA and have a goalie doing an above average job at stopping what he needs to, the fingers start to point in the directions of the men trusted to not give up glorious scoring chances the other way if at all possible. It’s a task that’s proven more difficult than it should be. But Trevor Van Riemsdyk will fix all of it, just watch.
So will the return of Dan Carcillo, which is apparently imminent according to the beat contingent with lineups still yet to be officially released. Carcillo is sure to to really deter Lucic and Marchand from running around with impunity.
With last change at home Quenneville will in all likelihood throw Toews and Hossa against Marchand and Chara with the hopes of at least playing things to a draw. But as has been shown more frequently over the past couple of years, Chara is more susceptible with speed to the outside on zone entries, something that Old Man Saad’s boy has become pretty alright at. In the event that Hamilton and Chara are paired together, it looks to be ya-ha time for the rest of the Hawk forwards against the B’s blue line, especially if Julien has to keep Krug out for defensive zone draws. But just because Rask has struggled of late does not mean he’s incapable of throwing a sterling performance this afternoon just in spite of everyone. But the key is for the Hawks to put enough rubber on him to make even a gymnastic caliber effort immaterial. At home they should have every opportunity to. SHOULD.
Let’s go Hawks.