Game time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
California Burritos: Jewels From The Crown
As I scolded Sam for at the outset of the podcast (which you all should be listening to, dammit), I found it difficult to be worn out after only two and a half weeks of the season. But, now having thought about it a little more, the more realistic I think that was, with the Hawks playing an absurd 10 games in 17 days out of the gate, and had at least two games in hand on everyone when they stopped playing on Saturday. Combine that with a depleted blue line, and I think the three-day weekend of sorts that the team had was probably a welcome mini-breather and a chance to regroup. They'll have to hit the ground running tonight as they welcome in the Kings for the first time this year, who themselves are in the midst of a 5-game road trip.
L.A. enters tonight with a 6-2-0 mark sitting atop the Pacific Division, looking every bit the contender they've been billed to be coming into the year, despite missing out on the Ilya Kovalchuk derby. Myself included, so-called experts have looked at this team as the next in a wave of teams on the rise in the Penguins/Blackhawks mold, and there's every indication they're going to take the next step into the conference's elite. They've been doing it mostly with defense, as the Kings are currently 8th in goals allowed with 2.4 per, and a finger-cuffs tight PK at 89.2%, good for fourth in the league. That defense, however, will be without Norris finalist Drew Doughty for tonight, and the remainder of their roadtrip with a concussion suffered from a borderline hit at the hands/shoulder/elbow of Erik Cole. Even without Doughnuts, the Kings still have one of the sternest blue lines in the west. While we're talking about concussions, Willie Mitchell and his new Mark Kelso helmet will be making their first appearance in the U.C. since Mitchell decimated Jonathan Toews last October, sidelining Captain Marvel for about two weeks. Mitchell himself then missed a substantial portion of the regular season and playoffs with the Nucks, only to part ways and sign in L.A., where he currently leads the team with a +4. He's joined on the back end by the offensively inclined Jack Johnson, the brick-to-the-back subtlety of Matt Greene, and Rob Scuderi, who was Niklas Hjalmarsson before Niklas Hjalmarsson was Niklas Hjalmarsson. Anze Kopitar leads all Kings scorers, with 8 points on 4G and 4A, and Dustin Brown, who narrowly evaded a weenie-whack from Colin Campbel for his hit on Antti Mietinen the other night in Minny, leads their goal scorers with 5. To this point their power play has been under achieving, and that's likely a function of Doughty missing time, but this team still has weapons and it wouldn't be smart to wake a unit that caught fire against Borat in the first round last year. The Kings will go with Jonathan Bernier in net tonight, who's their answer to Corey Crawford as the perpetual goalie of the future. Bernier's allowed 5 goals on 61 shots in two starts thus far, as Jonathan Quick has been playing very well in the rest of their contests.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, it appears someone finally showed Quenneville this website, because with the extra days off, Q completely shook up the lines, which are now as follows:
Honestly, there's only really a few question marks here. The top line fits into a true Quennevillian puck-winner/playmaker/finisher mold, with Jack Skille now given the opportunity to run amok with Sharp and Toews. Tomas Kopecky as a #2 center is iffy, but if he can be respectable on draws, it should be fine, as he'll likely just be asked to get the puck to Hossa and get out of the way. The third line is where things get real interesting, though. Stalberg's earned top-9 PT, but it's those other two guys who are in need of a jump start. Dave Bolland has been merely a rumor to this point, and Patrick Kane's backchecking could most complimentary be described as "semi-conscious" while playing with Patrick Sharp. The hope is that Kane will elevate Bolland's offense, and that Bolls (alleged) 2-way game will encourage Kaner to get his ass on the hash mark for a breakout. The fourth line is now comprised of the guys who we don't really know what they do yet, and most of the time that's what a 4th line is. Back on the blue line, our pagan ritual dances were answered when we found out John Scott will be a healthy scratch for the first time tonight, with Jordan Hendry stepping in in the third pair. Hendry at least gives the Hawks another body who can skate back there, which is unfortunately a drastic upgrade from Scott. They'll certainly need it tonight with the high-motored Wayne Simmonds impaling Hawks d-men on a forecheck, which Marty Turco will also be asked to help diffuse tonight while backstopping the team.
Make no mistake, the Kings, possibly only rivaled by the Canucks, are going to be using their games against the Hawks as measuring sticks to determine their lot in the confrence, so expect a fairly high octane affair. And we give it until midway through the second until Q jumbles up the lines all over again. Let's go Hawks.