Game Times: 7:00PM (1/13) & 6:00PM (1/15)
TV/Radio: NBCSN (1/15), NBC Sports Chicago (1/15), WGN-AM 720
Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%: Raw Charge
Despite every indication that this shouldn’t be happening from both the world at large given that pestilence still ravaging this country, and the fact that the league itself has said that they’d probably be better off simply NOT playing, the NHL regular season (such as it is) begins tonight. And the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their championship banner in front of no one while an already decimated Hawks team looks on at a vague reminder of what once was and now seems so desperately far away.
First, for the hosting Bolts, they’ll be bringing back the vast majority of the contributing core of the roster that laid waste to the league the past two regular seasons and finally took home silver in the bubble this past fall once things resumed. Kevin Shattenkirk is now elsewhere after making good on a one-year prove-it deal last season, and shitheels Cedric Pauquette and Zach Bogosian have been cut loose, while the charred remains of Braydon Coburn were finally shipped up to Ottawa for much needed cap relief. The biggest missing piece for Tampa this year will be former Ross and Hart trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, who required hip surgery well after the super-spreader boat parade in Tampa, but nonetheless his LTIR status at least has made the Lightning cap compliant for the time being. He’ll be sorely missed for sure, but when taking into account that they basically got one shift and one goal from Captain and former Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos and still won the cup, the fall off might not be as precipitous as anticipated not that Stamkos is presumably healthy. He’ll play the left wing on the top line centered by Brayden Point with Ondrej Palat (coming of a fantastic post season) to start things off for BlueChew pitchman Jon Cooper which makes them a bit more top heavy than they’ve been, but considering the realignment for Covid protocol purposes, this forward corps is still the class of the DISCOVER CARD CENTRAL DIVISION. Anthony Cirelli will now center the second line between Alex Killorn and Mathieu Joseph, and whatever speed Killorn has lost from the little he had in the first place should be mitigated by Cirelli and Joseph, both of whom can fly, and Cirelli had a bit of a breakout season as a two-way forward who can actually, you know, score. Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow should pick right up in Paquette’s absence in the annoying department, and whatever Pat Maroon does is relegated to the fourth line with kids Alex Volkov and Mitchell Stevens.
On the blue line, defending Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman retains his rightful spot as the Bolts’ true #1 defenseman, and likely punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame last year in capturing that trophy. He’ll be paired with Hawk Legend Jan Rutta, who is only really asked to not completely shit his pants when out there with Hedman, and even then it’s still sometimes an issue. Ryan McDonagh is paired with Cal Foote, and YES he is Adam’s kid for anyone out there who wants to feel a zillion years old. While not the raging asshole his old man was, Foote The Younger is a big kid at 6’3″ 210 lbs, and has a bit more of an offensive upside than his pappy ever did, and McDonagh is as good of a safety net as one could ask for. Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev are somehow the third pairing among this grouping, and should have no problem pushing the play against cherry matchups, especially at home against the dog barf they’re going to be facing in this first series.
In net Andrei Vasilevskiy is coming off another Vezina finalist campaign, but more importantly he held it together in the post season which was a definite concern after going completely balls up two springs ago in the fluke sweep at the hands of the Jackets. Vas is as big and as athletic as they come, and his team always has the puck so of course he figures to be among the top netminders in the league yet again. He’ll be backed up at least to begin the season by 37 year old journeyman backup Curtis McElhenney, and given the abbreviated season but also odd scheduling, it will be yet another erotic and forbidden dance for Jon Cooper to learn, just as he has mastered the Lambada, in balancing their workload in order to keep Vas fresh for what they are clearly hoping will be another deep run. Vasilevskiy goes tonight given the pomp and circumstance surrounding it, but it stands to reason McElhenney will get the cage on Friday.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the inexorable march towards the lottery begins tonight. Coach Beto O’Colliton has fresh paper and a license to fail over and over and over again this season, which is exactly what is going to happen without Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, and that’s probably what was going to happen even if they were here. While having Jeremy Prinze Jr. extended for another two years given how fucked this season is before it even begins and letting him just eat shit wouldn’t be the end of the world, the fact that he isn’t respected at all, his man-to-man defensive zone “system” is completely counterintuitive to everything any player is taught at any level of hockey, and he has a complete inability to even process player deployment in-game with regard to zone starts and situation all while they’re trying to figure out what they have with a handful of these kids is completely counterproductive. While the modern era Hawks haven’t really developed anyone per-se, there are plenty of young players on this roster who have actively gotten worse under Jeremy Trestman’s tutelage, most notably Adam Boqvist, who has played scared to make a mistake when that’s the exact thing he can’t do given what he was scouted to be. At least Boqvist will be paired with the newly acquired Nikita Zadorov, whose propensity to chase hits that aren’t there is likely to leave Boqvist exposed yet again, as opposed to Duncan Keith shotgunning up the ice last year. Keith and Connor Murphy are the defacto top pair here, and it’s always worked quite well when both have been upright, which has only been for 10 minutes at a time. Calvin de Haan draws babysitting duty on the third pairing for the touted and smooth skating Ian Mitchell, but given the aforementioned deployment issues, don’t expect this group to the get the sheltered starts it needs to truly see what Mitchell is capable of.
With Toews and Dach’s absence, and Brandon Saad being moved for Zadorov in now the THIRD trade the Hawks have lost involving Saad, the scare-quotes “top” line is now the unit of Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, and Garbage Dick. It’s a line that made sense in the past for sure when there was a fair amount of sheltering around them, and again, operating under the assumption that the himbo coach could figure out that they needed to start as many shifts in the offensive zone against bottom lines and pairings as possible, but they have no such protection now. They’ll be facing top checking units and defensemen, like say Cirelli and Hedman over the next couple of days, and that’s going to be a problem. And with the rest of the forward unit just simply not having the goals there, even with Kubalik coming off a Calder finalist season, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience at all. European import, Pius Suter gets first crack at line center between Kubalik and the returning Brandon Pirri, while the brain damaged Andrew Shaw hops right back into the top six with Mattias Janmark and Linus Wallmark. Highmore, Kampf, and Carpenter are the Hawks third 4th line.
Malcolm Subban will get first crack at the net for the Hawks tonight, with Colin Delia on the bench and Kevin Lankinen on the taxi squad to start. None of the three of these goalies has done anything to distinguish himself at any level to this point, so it’s truly an open competition and they’re getting thrown in the deep end right away. Figure Delia to get the game Friday night just because.
There can be no mincing of words here, the Hawks are going to be extremely bad this year, and are likely to get absolutely dong whipped by the defending champions tonight and on Friday. But there are things to look for as far as individual development is concerned (Boqvist, Mitchell), assuming that Vinny Del Colliton’s coaching “decisions” don’t give anyone daring to pay attention a stroke. Let’s go Hawks?