As we as fans get nearer and nearer to descending completely into an uncontrollable spiral of insanity and despair, let's take a step back and take a deep breath over last night's contest. As Sam pointed out, raise your hand if two weeks ago you had that game penciled in as a "W"? Right. I thought so. The Hawks ran into one of the hottest and most solid teams in the league last night, playing some of their best hockey of the year, and on top of it they were gunning for an all-time record for the bedrock of the franchise. It was never in the cards.
That being said, yes, the Hawks are playing some pretty maddening hockey at the moment. The penalty kill, while it held the Devils to an 0-fer by the hair on my balls last night, has been in shambles, and defensively, Walker and Campbell have been flat out bad. Even the usually steadfast Duncan Keith has been making some pretty poor decisions of late, causing him to be a -4 over his last 5 games. On the bright side, however, Seabrook has been very solid recently stepping up his physical game, and Hjarmalsson has shown some progress recently with a willingness to mix it up, despite the fact that he himself might get knocked over if a stiff breeze rolled through a given rink. It was clear last night that there were communication issues with the new pairings, it will be interesting to see if Coach Q sticks with them tonight, or if it reverts back to the usual pairs. It will also be interesting to see if Quenneville found the pictures that Matt Walker clearly has of him stashed away somewhere, and Aaron Johnson gets another crack at the lineup in hopes of possibly generating even marginally more offense from the blueline corps.
The guys up front are in a similar funk, and it seems like many are squeezing the stick these days. With the games mattering more down the stretch, teams are tightening up and denying the Hawks clean entry into the attacking zone, and the Hawks have yet to show a willingness to play a chip-and-chase game, opting more for the cutesy plays at the blueline that are leading to there being not a lot of sustained pressure, or worse, to turnovers. Even more baffling is that Byfuglien can pull a game like he had last night out of his ass, and then have the potential to revert right back to his comfortable position as a passenger on whatever line has the misfortune of dragging him around that night. Here's hoping he puts a couple more like last night together in a row.
The major storyline tonight, though, is the debut of Sami Pahlsson at center. It will be his first action as a Blackhawk, and perhaps more importantly, his first action since January 31st after being out with mono. He's going to be expected to hit the ice in stride, as Antoine Vermette and Rick Nash have been playing extremely well since Vermette's arrival from Ottawa. Pahlsson and his linemates (likely Ladd and Versteeg) will be expected to keep them in check as the rest of the Hawk forwards attempt to rediscover their games. Good luck doing it against Ken Hitchcock's trademark root-canal brand of hockey, though. It will be interesting to see how much time Pahlsson gets, particularly on the PK, but one would think that after having been cleared to play some time ago, he'd be expected to contribute in his full capacity now that he's back. Either way, expect a grind tonight.