Game Time: 6:30 CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN (Versus), TSN2, WGN-AM 720
After warring for countless centuries across various points in the galaxy, it appears that a new threat has emerged to both the Scum and Blackhawks, with the St. Louis Blues led by the Unicron-sized Ken Hitchcock now sitting atop the central division. The Blues have been devouring every planet in their path since Hitch took over, leaving the Hawks and Wings struggling of late. Scum comes into tonight's game fresh off a loss to the Leafs in Toronto last night, where they spotted the Boys of Truculence a 3-0 lead and had to fight their way back, only to be vanquished by Joffrey Lupul. Scum layed siege to the Leafs, outshooting them 40-18, only to be turned away by Jonas Gustavsson. But perhaps most importantly, is that the Leafs showed once again where the Wings can be had, and that's with speed to the outside, which the Leafs have a horde of energon's worth. It's the same blueprint the Hawks used last week when the two met, and it's one that's exposing an aging Scum squad, despite their immaculate positioning. Even Nicklas Lidstrom, for all his greatness, is on the decline, and it's beginning to show.
That's not to say that this team is to be taken lightly, particularly with all the offensive weapons they have they're still 4th overall in goals scored at 3.3 a game, and can combine to form a Devestator of a power play, operating at 19.8% good for 5th in the league. Even with Johan Franzen still sitting on the same 9 power play goals he had last Friday, he still possesses all the tools that have been giving Hawk d-men fits all season long on the kill, which is a wide ass, a nose for the net, a mean streak, and a fusion cannon of a shot. Facilitating all of this is still the emotionless efficiency of Pavel Datsyuk, who leads all Detroit scorers with 42 points, and has a seemingly bottomless arsenal of tricks and tools at his disposal to make teammates better. And since last the Hawks saw them, Jimmy Howard's play hasn't dipped much, providing a solid backstop to the whole operation, and covering much of the blue line's fuck ups.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the once impenetrable fortress of Autobot City on west Madison has been blitzed and really had them taking a pounding of late, getting shut out at home twice in the last 4 games there. It hasn't helped things that the body count has risen even among the role players, with Steve Montador, Marcus Kruger, and Dan Carcillo all missing time lately, being replaced in some cases by guys no one had ever heard of before, such as the Blurr of Andrew Shaw. Even amidst the Hawks struggles, both offensively and in their own end, Coach Quenneville saw it fit to put Shaw, a totally unproven commodity between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on Friday, when the solution is clearly putting Sharp at center until Kruger comes back. That seems unlikely to happen, as it would actually make sense. At this point there's no purpose in even speculating what the lines will be, as they're likely to get jumbled up 3 shifts into the game.
More disturbing, however, are the trends on defense, particularly on the second pair. Nick Leddy looks like he's getting mauled in a pool of sharkticons under the slightest notion of a forecheck, and Nicklas Hjalmarsson seems content to just allow the opposition to stand where ever they'd like to take an infinite amount of whacks at Corey Crawford while getting himself boxed out. At least with Leddy, there is a bit of an offensive upside to mitigate if not completely balance out some of his defensive cock ups. If Hammer isn't interested in covering for Leddy in the Hawk zone, he might not be wearing an indian head much longer. With Montador out the last couple games, the third pairing has been a planet of junk, with various ill-fitting parts getting slapped together and fairing about as well as that sounds. Montador appears to be back in the lineup tonight and paired with Sean O'Donnell, who will play his 1200th career game tonight, dating all the way back to the Alpha Trion era.
The game plan for the Hawks these games is always the same, which is deny entry at the blue line, use their speed wide along the wall against Scum's blue line, and stay the hell out of the box. Correcting some of the tendencies on the second defensive pairing would also be a fine start. Time to transform and roll out. Let's go Hawks.