Forty-one down, forty-one to go. Tonight on the West Side the Hawks will return home to face the shockingly Pacific-Division-leading Dallas Stars for the first of four straight at the UC. Dallas enters play tonight having lost four of their last six, though they did beat the Blues on Sunday 4-2, the last time they played. Would-be trade bait Brad Richards still leads the Stars in goals, assists, and points with a line of 18G-27A-45P, though linemate Loui Eriksson (still one of the best kept secrets in the league) is not far off with 16G-26A-42P. As we told you the first time the teams met, after the first line, the rest of the forward corps is littered with players that would be well suited for a gang constructed by Headley Lamarr. And while that would seem to be a recipe for disaster, the vast majority of them can actually, you know, play. Captain Brenden Morrow has long been a source of agitation for opponents of Big D and has a penchant for scoring clutch goals. Steve Ott and Adam Burish take being called a turd as a compliment, and then spend the rest of the game in their opponents' ears. Burgeoning power forward James Neal plays with an edge and already has 30 points and is a +12 this year after 55 and a -4 last year. And to top it all off, Mike Ribeiro is on this team. A largely nondescript blue line is led by Stephane Robidas, who makes up in heart in effort what he lacks in...well pretty much everything else. Trevor Daley recently got rewarded for his career offensive year in progress with a nice contract extension, and Nicklas Grossman provides solid physicality from the back end. In net, it appears that Kari Lehtonen will get the start tonight, who's finally put up a solid season while being able to stay healthy for the first time in years. Lehtonen comes in to tonight's game with a 2.66 GAA and .912 save percentage facing 30 shots a night - hardly Vezina numbers, but it's been just enough to keep the Stars' middling offense in games. Much like their division rival the Kings, we won't see anything overly complicated from the Stars, but that suits their personnel just fine.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, it seems that just because everyone's healthy, that doesn't mean that Coach Q can't make lineup choices that can best be described as "baffling". John Scott will dress tonight in favor of Jack Skille and Jake Dowell, for reasons that we can only speculate are either a) punitive for Dowell's play in Anaheim or Skille's giveaway at Staples, or b) the false notion that Scott will deter the likes of Ott and Burish from taking runs at the Hawks' now barely healthy skill players. Mercifully, Jordan Hendry remains paired with Jassen Cullimore on the blue line as Nick Boynton gets to lean over and wave to his highly respected media-type girlfriend from within the press box. And, once again, Marty Turco is denied the chance of facing his former mates with Corey Crawford starting tonight in net. Even with everyone now healthy, look for Q to match Toews against the Richards line as he did in the first meeting, especially if Kane is going to continue to flank Dave Bolland. Staying composed and not being goaded into retaliatory penalties by Dallas' phalanx of antagonists will also be key, and will give the Hawks' power play a chance to convert, as it has been doing frequently of late. An effort like the final 40 minutes of Monday's game should yeild a positive result, regardless of if the 80-inch tall anchor in the 32 sweater is in the lineup or not. The trick is replicating it, this time for the 60 minutes. It's getting late, and the points are only going to get harder to come by. Start by taking two tonight. Let's go Hawks.