Game Time: 11:30AM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness
Late season, weekend matinee games suck out loud regardless of the two teams involved. The thought process behind having them is clear, with both college and pro football shuttered for their respective seasons, and baseball yet to move north from Arizona and Florida, there is a void that can be filled by the Winter Tenants for viewership when there’s really only Law & Order: SVU reruns on elsewhere. But the vast majority of hockey games are played at night, and professional hockey players, like all athletes, enjoy their ya-ha time after a game and generally keep later hours. There is always at least a 24 hour break going into them so it’s not totally cutting into physical recuperation the way Thursday Night Football does, but circadian rhythms are still fucked with, and now past the deadline there are many teams who are just playing out the string. Couple that with the overall quality of the league due to a flat salary cap, and it’s left an absolute dogshit product on the ice on par with Thursday Night Football by any absolute or relative measure. And on top of that Daylight Savings just kicked in, so now two teams who at least on paper who are still jockeying for the top spot in the Central and the West, are effectively facing off at 10:30AM local time, all for the sake of courting viewers that the NHL is never going to grab. Nice work everyone.
For the visiting Wild, since they last played the Hawks, they have yet to open up a large gap in the division despite somehow once again having a game in hand after the Hawks took another four day hiatus. That’s mostly due to the Hawks’ now-ended streak, going 4-3-0 in that timeframe, their most recent victory being Friday night in Sunrise to a Panthers team that has run out of time to get its shit together this season. Zach Parise and Jason Pominville have since returned from having the mumps, which is an actual fucking sentence from 2017, and both had a goal and an assist against the Panthers on Friday. Since these two teams last met the Wild also made their GOING FOR IT move in acquiring Martin Hanzal with Ryan White as a throw in, during which time Hanzal has had four assists in seven games, and White with two goals and a helper in the same timeframe. To this point Hanzal has been a positive possession player at a 51.16% share, now taking slightly easier assignments than he has for years in the desert. Again, it might not be the best use for him particularly for a first round pick, but he hasn’t been totally useless. The Wild’s primary scoring threat still remains Mikael Granlund’s line, where he has turned into a near point-per-game player on the wing with 62 points in 66 games, and Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter have also passed the 20 goal mark from the “first” line.
The Minnesota blue line still begins and ends with Ryan Suter, who is averaging his lowest ice time since joining the Wild and is still playing 27 minutes a game. He’s mostly played the free safety role for Jared Spurgeon this year who has a standing invitation to jump into the play under Bruce Boudreau’s “system” (more on that later, emphasis “moron”), as Jonas Brodin has been in and out of the lineup and slightly regressed. Brodin will play with Nate Prosser, who is a 30 year old platoon defenseman with no goals and 4 assists on the season. And Matt Dumba provides bum slaying puck moving ability from the third pairing and is partnered with Marco Scandella who also needs to scratch the itch on getting below the rings probably more often than he should when partnered with Dumba.
And of course, the entire operation still hinges on Devan Dubnyk turning in an MVP performance in net. Duber had to be brought in in relief of Darcy Keumper on Friday night during a scheduled night off, and there have been some blips lately while still maintaining his criminal save percentage (.932 overall, .938 at evens), allowing 4 goals to the Kings and 3 to the ‘Ning on Thursday. And as is the case with any goalie, particularly a tall one, is to get him moving laterally to try to find daylight within his abnormally large 5-hole. But Dubnyk is rangey enough to still get to many pucks that a “normal” sized goalie can’t, and the way his season has gone, he still might just slam the door shut on this one.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, suddenly they’re looking to halt a two game slide tacked onto the end of a 7-game winning streak. While Thursday night was more or less a case of getting goalied by Jonathan Bernier, Friday night at the Joe was certainly a less than exemplary performance. Getting clowned by a team that was just aching to be put out of its misery in the Wings reeked of the Hawks not giving a shit with the assumption that they were looking towards this morning’s affair. With no practice yesterday coming off a back to back and the game itself serving as the morning skate, the lineup among the forwards figures to remain the same.
On defense, it stands to reason that both Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson will return after being held out of the game in Detroit in yet another signifier that the team itself was simply checked out for the proceedings. This should once again put the Mike Czech pairing in street clothes, because fuck knows that Teflon van Riemsdyk will not sit despite taking a couple brutal and costly angles because he fought and scored a goal. Corey Crawford gets the start again because Jeff Glass sure as fuck isn’t.
In the last game in St. Paul, Bruce “I Probably Have A Chicken Wing On My Face” Boudreau did not deploy Mikko Koivu against Jonathan Toews despite having the last change, and Toews, Nick Schmaltz, and Dick Bossy Jr. proceeded to dong whip Erik Haula, Parise, and Pominville up and down the ice. Now with Hanzal in the fold, who Boudreau remarked took him literally three minutes to learn his “system” (because there isn’t one), it will be slightly tougher to get Toews a favorable matchup, but he can still be gotten away from Koivu, and on the other side of things look for Hammer and Oduya to get a good look at the Granlund line all game long.
Because Boudreau’s coaching strategy is basically “GRAB YOUR SOCKS, LET’S FUCKING GO BOYS”, the Wild play frantic and at a zillion miles an hour in all three zones, with no consistent manner of zone entry, regroup, breakout, or cycle, the unpredictability of which can make it hard to defend. And in their own zone, the only mandate is the vague attempt at collapsing on Dubnyk, which also includes conceding their own blue line on most back checks. Dubnyk has been able to make it stand up more times than not, but the Wild get inundated with attempts against, and given their frenetic pace, a structured team can get make one man over-pursue and can then rip a hole in the fabric of time for quality chances against, which again Dubnyk has mostly denied. But it’s a dangerous way to live, and is certain to be exposed in a seven game series.
This is the regular season series finale between these two teams, and therefore the last time for the Hawks to gain direct ground on the Wild if they are still at all aspiring towards the divisional title and its commensurate home ice. The Wild only play 5 playoff teams in their remaining 16 games, so a win here basically seals the fate of these two teams, but 2 points in regulation for the Hawks keeps things at least interesting. Let’s go Hawks.