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COLDER THAN A WELL DIGGER’S ASS: Arctic Ice Hockey
COMMITTED INDIAN ROADWATCH TONIGHT AT BOTTOM LOUNGE
(1375 W. Lake St)
Seems strange but this is the first visit the Hawks have into Manitoba this season. I believe Arizona is the only other Western Conference city the Hawks have yet to travel to, and they’re out of the division. And this shapes up as a pretty big one for a variety of reasons: how the Hawks’ trip and specifically the last game have gone, the Jets current spiral, and the utter goofiness that’s taking place up there.
It’s strange to say that this might be a good time to catch a team that’s beaten you four straight times on your own ice. But that’s kind of the situation we find ourselves in tonight. The Jets have dropped five in a row, and in four of those they’ve gotten pretty well clocked. They were outscored 20-9 in the first four games, losses to Pittsburgh, Philly, Dallas (at home), and Calgary. They somewhat rebounded to grab a point last out in Vancouver, but losing in overtime.
Jets’ fans greatest fear may be coming to life, and that’s the awakening of that savage beast from the depths known as “Market Correction.” Specifically, their goaltending is starting to plummet. Well, that’s not entirely true. Ondrej Pavelec is just going back to being Ondrej Pavelec. He gave up four to the Penguins on just 29 shots and three to the Canucks on 33 shots in his last two starts.
However, the real worrying thing for Jets fans has been the crash/thud/splat of supposed savior Michael Hutchinson, certainly for him here come the world with the look in its eye. His last three starts have seen him surrender 13 goals on just 86 shots, for a Vegas-lights save-percentage of .848. Now, those three starts came after shutting out the Jackets and beating the Hawks for the third time, so whether it’s just a rookie hitting a wall in his first season or an unearthing of what he actually is going to be, we can’t say for sure. Needless to say, he’s not in a good way right now, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Pavelec get this one. Which also kind of puts a smile on my face.
If that weren’t bad enough, the Jets are having some off-ice problems as well which doesn’t help a team already in a losing streak. By now you’ve heard about the shenanigans with Evander Kane, who went on IR last night and obviously won’t play tonight. How much this kind of bullshit affects a team on the ice is open to debate, but clearly it doesn’t help. You figure if the Hawks can get a lead tonight it’s going to become awfully restless in the MTS Centre awfully quickly.
Of course, all of this could mean the Jets come out lightning bolts shooting out of their collective arse and turn the Hawks into paste along the walls for the first 20 minutes and the Hawks could decide they just can’t be bothered. I’m not expecting that, as being shutout two straight should have the Men of Four Feather just as rightly pissed as the Jets.
Whatever mood, the Jets provide problems for the Hawks as we’ve seen. They’re so much bigger, that when they slow the game down the Hawks simply can’t outmuscle or outwork them on the boards. Their forwards aren’t slow either, and no team has better exposed the geared-down nature of the Hawks’ blue line this season than the Jets, who are quick enough to pressure and force and big enough to erase out of the play. While the Jets have enough speed to run and gun with most teams, and frequently do, Paul Maurice hits the hand-brakes against the Hawks and just gums things up in the neutral zone where they can exert that size advantage.
The Hawks have struggled to figure out how to overcome their lack of swiftness in the back for a while now, and the answer is not easy to pull off. It’s precision passing out of the zone, and lately we’ve seen a second forward staying around to help more than we have in the past, where two forwards would streak. It’s quick reversed behind the net and quick pop outs to a forward waiting in the middle, either from the corner or from along the half-board. The Hawks cannot have the puck staying along the wall for long, or the frost giants in blue are going to get on them and then it’s a whole thing.
Tonight basically begins the Hawks last lunge at relevance in the Central. They’re eight points behind both Nashville and St. Louis, and the Jets are only three behind (though the Hawks have two games in hand). With a game against the Blues Sunday and then eight straight at home–and not exactly a murderers’ row coming to visit–the Hawks have a chance to both keep the Jets at arm’s length at worst and at best produce the kind of nuclear streak that both the Blues and Preds have put up recently. It will still involve hoping for a cold streak from both, but there’s plenty of time for that. 15 out of the next 20 points really should be the minimum expectation, and we’ll just see where that puts the Hawks with six weeks left to go. Otherwise, it’s basically playing out the string from there. And no one wants to watch the Hawks look at their watch and tap their foot for six weeks. Let’s do this right. See you tonight.