The future isn't set. Even with nearly half the games of the 2011-2012 season played, the remainder of the season still holds six games with the relentless Red Wings, who currently only sit 3 points behind the Hawks in the standings, but with more regulation wins and games in hand. It's safe to say that Scum have been a hijacked Mack truck bearing down on the Hawks this season, who have always remained just a slight step ahead of them. This season, they've been led by the mimetic poly-alloy (liquid metal) crease acrobatics of Jimmy Howard, who leads the league in wins, but also remains at the top of the league in goals against as well as save percentage with 1.95 and .927 respectively, all while facing a modest 26.7 shots a game. As a whole, Scum put 33.4 shots per game on the opposition, indicating they still continue to be on the offensive despite the fact that many of their key contributors are old enough to be displaced through time. However, they can't just become a bomb and blow opponents up anymore, as the depth on the lower lines has faded, and they're more reliant on their top end scoring, coming mostly in the form of Pavel Datsyuk who seems to be coming on strong after a slow start and now paces Scum with 38 points, and Johan Franzen has remained healthy enough to impale people in the eye on the power play to the tune of 9 goals, good for 2nd in the league. Needless to say, despite their age, Scum still has plenty of knives and stabbing weapons offensively.
The blue line is another story, however. Nick Lidstrom has clearly lost a step that no one else had in the first place, but has remained solid despite once again threatening to have this be his last season. Ostensible Brian Rafalski replacement Ian White's number show a solid season with a league-best +25, but the scouting report on him is quite similar to Rafalski, that he can be outmuscled and preyed upon in his own end. Niklas Kronwall remains perennially overrated and under suspended even if usual partner Brad Stuart has been decent. A third pairing of Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson has been masked by the performance of Jimmy Howard to this point in the season, but there's only so many shotgun blasts he can absorb before plummeting into the molten steel himself. Either way, since this team became self-aware back in 1997, they haven't stopped in their relentless pursuit in the domination of all organic life forms, and that hasn't come to a halt this season, despite other setbacks. They just simply never stop.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, tonight poses yet another test in the mid part of the season that despite the point totals has been relatively up and down, and these encounters with Scum will undoubtedly dictate the future of the season and the Hawks' place in it. After a shutout at the hands of Jonathan Quick and the Kings on Wednesday, the Hawks find themselves returning to the ice with new line combinations, complete with Dan Carcillo's escape from Pescadero State Hospital, immediately placing himself on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp will comprise the second line, with the usual configuration of 29-36-67 on the third, and the mini-gun sized Jimmy Hayes joining Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers on the fourth. From the blue line back will remain the same, with Corey Crawford earning his fourth start in a row. Joel Quenneville's neural net processor appears to have been flipped off from read-only with sitting John Scott, as he would have been even more of a liability against Scum's unflinching attack.
Staying out of the box will be key tonight, as will be denying Scum entry at the Hawk line. Traditional methods of scoring, even liquid nitrogen have not worked against Jimmy Howard to this point in the season, so patience, presence, and persistence around the net will be key. Come with me if you want to live. Let's go Hawks.