And so we've come to yet another milepost on the season, the last game prior to the two-week long Olympic break. There are obviously a lot of Hawks that need the break, and unfortunately not all of those players are going to get it (cough Keith, Seabrook cough), as they will be in Vancouver representing their countries. But first and foremost, today's game has to be played, after which everyone can hop in their limos, drink their Kokanee, and take their shirts off, and do so to their heart's content until March 2nd.
The Hawks visit the Columbus Blue Jackets for today's matinee, and since the two last did battle on January 16th, the Jackets have fired coach/barge Ken Hitchcock, and in doing so jettisoned his torturous brand of hockey. Since Claude Noel has taken over, the Jackets won three straight before being downed most recently by the Canucks. The latter two wins were Steve Mason shutouts, and the first, Mason only allowed one goal. It stands to reason that Hitch's departure has given the sophomore netminder a bit of a spark. This could just be a blip on the radar, as most times a coaching change leads to a bit of a surge, but should the Jackets claw their way back to respectability in the Western Conference, it could lead to a permanent gig for Noel. Leading the way offensively is still captain Rick Nash with 27G-29A-56P, giving him one of his most balanced outputs ever. Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius are also having respectable years, but their abhorrent +/-'s (-5 and -12 respectively) exhibit just how difficult things have been in Columbus. While this team has been bad basically from top to bottom of the roster, they still gave the Hawks a game in the last tilt, and cannot be taken lightly.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they come into this afternoon's game after a shoot out win over Atlanta at the UC last night. Marian Hossa took a hard check from Colby Armstrong, and will not play, Jake Dowell has been recalled from Rockford to take his roster spot. Cristobal Huet should start this afternoon as well, after three straight starts and three straight wins from Antti Niemi, who was only impressive in the first of the three (in spite of his shoot out performances in the latter two). Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith continue to be an adventure the caliber of King's Quest V in their own zone, and it seems unlikely that they'll have rectified that in the last 18 hours. Here's hoping they get their collective shit together over the Olympics, but again, the likelihood of that is debatable. All is not storm clouds in Blackhawk Nation, however. Since being reunitied, the top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp has been absolutely sick- I think I've counted on one hand in three games where the opposition has separated them from the puck. Newly acquired defensman Kim Johnsson also seems to be a good fit with the Hawks style, already getting some power play time last night. One last 60 minute effort before SPRING BREAK is all we're looking for here boys. Send it off on a good note. Let's Go Hawks.