It's never easy, is it? After watching the series nearly completely fart through Corey Crawford in games 3 and 4 on West Madison, the Hawks managed to keep their season alive in yet another affair that needed overtime in the desert. Game 5 saw some changes made on the Hawks' part, which yielded a positive result, and we will now see if the Yotes can adjust. On Saturday night, the Hawks untethethered their defensemen and allowed them to jump into the play, which helped in some cases and backfired in others. Either way, the Hawks decisively held sway in the puck possession game, with the Corsi numbers requiring SPF 50 to be viewed. Coyotes goalie Mike Smith once again allowed late goals, which is becoming a bit of a trend in the series. But it's the men in front of him who are also starting to show a bit of wilting with the added pressure coming in from the blue line. The Yotes ran around in Game 5 and lost more than their share of board battles they had been accustomed to winning, including one on the decider from the Captain. Perhaps as the series extends and the sample size grows larger, it's becoming more and more difficult for them to sustain that level while surrendering that many shots and attempts, even when their primary objective is to prevent those. As a result, look for the Coyotes to amp up their forecheck in an effort to spend less time in their own zone, especially when 2 and 7 in red are not on the ice.
Once again reinforcements may come in the form of Martin Hanzal, who is a game time decision, though he did skate this morning. Should Hanzal return, even at partial strength, his size and two way game poses puts yet another obstacle in the way of the Hawks' uphill climb. Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata have not shown the same chemistry with their myriad different linemates as they had to close out the season flanking Hanzal. If he returns to the lineup tonight, it could very well be the death knell for the Hawks' season if he's able to resume where his game was at previously.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they'll be receiving reinforcements in the form of Andrew Shaw, returning from his three game exile for collding with Smith in Game 2. Shaw figures to slot in either alongside Bolland and Frolik, who are by far and away the Hawks best forwards right now, or down to the fourth line, where his "exuberance" can be put to good use. His presence punts Brandon Saad into the press box, with Jimmy Hayes thankfully staying in the lineup in favor of Brandon Bollig. But while these players being effective does lighten the burden of minutes on the top six, the responsibility to rise to the occasion still ultimately falls on the top lines of the Hawks, especially if your name is Patrick. Messrs Kane and Sharp have been relatively quiet through five games, and the Hawks cannot survive to a seventh with their continued silence. Though Patrick Sharp has been active, he's yet to find the space he needs to sneak into without the puck, and Patrick Kane has been doing too much WITH the puck, particularly at the Yotes' blue line. Simplified, focused efforts from these two should lead to success. And taking advantage of power plays given would make things a lot less stressful too.
On the back end of things, Sami Lepisto remains in the lineup, though he'll likely be used sparingly in the latter half of the game, creating all different types of permutations of defensive pairings. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya need to quicken up their decision making with the puck, especially if the Coyotes crank up the forecheck to combat the Hawks' added pressure. The leash is off Nick Leddy, and we'll just have to live with the defensive boners if he's green lit to create away from the puck, which yielded some very timely results on Saturday. Marlboro 72 is asked now to only stay the course. Behind them is Corey Crawford, who had a solid if unspectacular outing on Saturday after two nearly season-killing goals last week. Crow didn't have a lot to do, and the one goal he allowed probably could have been had, but he did what has always been asked of him - make the saves you have to, make one big save a period, and control rebounds. The story from the crease does not change tonight.
The position the Hawks find themselves in has changed little from Saturday night as well, as all of the margin for error has been used up in the first 4 games. Patience and station-to-station passes are still paramount, as is waiting out Smith for opportunties to send the puck high.
The Doomsday Clock still reads 11:59.
Let's go Hawks.