Game Time: 7:00PM
The Only Canuck Fans Worth Talking To: Nucks Misconduct
The Blackhawks did themselves a massive favor last night by getting out on top of the BJs early and putting the game pretty much out of reach after the first 20. A three goal lead isn't a sure thing anymore but with teams of two vastly different talent levels, it's pretty close. I missed the game last night but from many accounts the second period was a bit of a snooze and the third really only had any excitment with the two power play goals. For all it really matters, the Hawks were able to coast for the last 40. With a game against a rival like Vancouver the next day, an easy game the night before is huge. It's the hockey equivalent to a starting pitcher going 8 innings the day after you've taxed out your bullpen.
Just look at the ice time numbers - Seabrook - 24:27, Hossa - 17:05, Kane - 16:40 and most shockingly Keith - 21:37. That's Keith's lowest TOI of the season (with the exception of a game he left early due to injury). The only other times he's come close recently were when he had 22:56 on Feb 18 and 22:04 on Dec 26th. Not too surprisingly, both of those games were also against Columbus. Oduya had more skating time than Flash last night and Q was able to roll 4 lines consistently. I'm too lazy to look it up but I wouldn't be surprised if just about everyone in the top 6 had season low TOI and everyone in the bottom had some of their most skating time. Hell, even Bollig had 7 minutes as opposed to his normal 5. He finally got to skate for longer than he was in the penalty box.
So while it's never preferable to be the team on the tail end of a back-to-back playing a team that's had a night off... the Blackhawks made it about as easy as they could. That's good news any time but particularly nice when we're facing a team as despised as the Canucks. It's been a long long time since we've seen the boys stealing the Whalers colors (along with whatever other tradition they can get their hands on). It was back on Jan 31st that the Hawks fell in OT in what was just kicking off their mini-collapse. The only bright spot of that 9-game skid was the only point the Hawks managed was against Vancouver... and that's a pretty big search for any silver lining in that debacle. Before that, we've seen the Canucks and Hawks trade two lopsided victories, surprisingly with both road teams coming up huge.
Tonight we're catching the Canucks in the midst of the kind of mediocre play that will drive a fan crazy going into the end of the season. They've pretty much got their division locked up, with Colorado being 9 points behind while having played 3 more games than the Canucks. That's no surprise.. we expected them to feast on that division. And given the joke that is the Pacific division, they're also pretty much assured of the #2 spot in the conference since they lead the Stars by the same amount of points as the Avs. At the moment though, they're 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and that includes a 7-game homestand. They kicked off the road trip Monday against the Wild and got blanked for the first time since October. So not exactly the start they were looking for to kick things into high gear.
So the Nucks probably aren't going to catch the Blues, no one is. They aren't going to lose their division and they aren't going to lose their spot in the conference. So are they taking the rest of the season off? Maybe. They've looked bored, disinterested and overall blah lately. Hardly the way they want to enter the post-season. Their stars have all checked out, whether intentional or not... who knows? Henrik Sedin hasn't scored since Feb. 16th. Daniel only has four since Feb. 21st but those came in just two games where he got two each (and one of those games was against Columbus.. and ask any Stalberg detractor, those games don't count). Mason Raymond went from playing on the top line with the twins to the press box in a matter of a game. Normally you'd think a cardboard cutout could produce points with those two but such is the struggle of the Nucks right now. Kesler is doing alright but he isn't someone who is going to carry the team in scoring. In net, Roberto Luongo has moved from unbeatable to the bench. Tonight will be his first start in two games after he was pulled against the Sabres. He's 0-3-0 in his last four games.. giving up 16 goals.
OK... so how many of you are already cursing me for calling out all these players? You're certain they're going to have huge games against one of their closest rivals, aren't you? Don't worry.. here's where I cover my ass. As bad as the they've played... there are few things like the chance of beating up a team you don't like in their hometown to get you moving your ass again. With the Nucks finally topping the Hawks in the playoffs last spring, many of us thought the rivalry was dead. Or at least it was passed over to Boston after a hard series for the cup. And that's possible. But think back to when they smoked us in the first game of the season. How happy do you think they were? How pissed were we? Then the next match up between these two... How good did it feel to turn the tables? The last game was another close one and left a bitter taste. Both teams want this victory. The Nucks want to snap out of their slump and there's no game that they'd want it more than tonight. The Hawks want to continue their streak and take down another of the league's top teams.
Seeing that I'm now over 1,000 words for the preview, I'll wrap it up. There wasn't a morning skate so there's no word yet on any line changes or substitutions. Based on the play the last few games I would be shocked to see anything drastic. Haven't seen a starting goalie yet either. Craw has been solid and had a relatively easy night yesterday so I wouldn't be shocked to see him out there again, even with the back-to-back. Thanks to the goalie juggling, he should be rested. Plus there's a longer break after tonight. With that... I'll leave it in your capable commenting hands (fingers?).
Let's Go Hawks!