Cleaning Up The Last Few Questions
Before I return later this afternoon to provide our first playoff game preview, there are a couple questions surrounding our Men of Four Feathers that have been running around this clean shaven scalp of mine. And they're beneath the obvious ones, such as the goaltending or special teams or Jonathan Toews's health. To wit:
What Are The Hawks Going To Get Out Of Marian Hossa?
This was the first regular season that Hawks fans got full attendance out of Hossbollah, and obviously the results were pretty glorious. Before the season there were more than a few whispers from the mouth-breathers in the fandom about Hossa, about his health and desire. The first was a legitimate worry, the second just ridiculous. Hossa answered all that by being one of the handful of point per game players in the West, and had a lot of nights where the opposition couldn't touch him.
But as the season wore on, "those" games started to happen a little more often. You know the ones. The games where Hossa wasn't noticeable, or looked a half step slower, or that dogged backchecking wasn't quite as dogged, or the turnovers started to pile up. Generally, they were followed by another Hossa tour de force the very next game, but they did pop up in the last couple months a little more than we'd like to see.
Which brings us to now. In two years, the Hawks haven't gotten much out of Hossa in the playoffs. Five goals in 29 games, and I only remember two or three of them actually mattering. Was it health? Was it age not allowing the legs to pump the extra gear needed in the playoffs? Whether the rest of his game was there or not, Hossa's paid to score first and foremost.
And this time, the Hawks cannot afford Hossa to be a passenger again. With Toews's contributions hardly set in stone and any possible hit sending him back into the dark abyss of the concussion closet, probably this time for good, Hossa has to dominate. Will he? Was he just saving himself for the playoffs those last few weeks? Are the miles catching up? We'd better hope not. Because if Toews isn't as effective as we're used to or isn't around, and Hossa once again is just there, suddenly the scoring doesn't look nearly as deep as it did.
Can Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy Withstand This Forecheck?
We all love what O.D. Gangsta has brought to the team since being acquired, first and foremost calming down Nick Leddy. Driver 8 was a -14 before Oduya's arrival, and a +2 after.
But the only two times this pairing has looked bewildered was when facing the furious work ethic and drive of the Predators, and the Coyotes' forecheck isn't much different. You'd like to believe that Oduya's feet could get him and Leddy out of enough trouble, but you don't know that.
Oduya doesn't have a bevy of playoff experience either, with only three trips to the first round with New Jersey. There's a particularly unsightly -5 in five games when the Devils were tolchocked by the Rangers a few years ago, and now Oduya is being asked to skate a lot more minutes than he was. I'm fairly confident he'll hold up, but I don't know that.
Can Sharpie And The Swedes Keep Rocking?
It's odd when a team restructures a top line to keep a second line together, but it's easy to understand why Quenneville didn't want to mess with the trio of Sharp-Kruger-Stalberg. They've been utterly ridiculous the past couple weeks. But it's one thing to score in the last throws of the regular season, when some teams have nothing to play for and others have everything locked up. It's quite another when every shift is played with the desperation of betting your daughter's college fund on a full house.
This series, this unit will probably get a fair few looks at Adrian Aucoin and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They should be able to give Aucoin windburn and blurred vision, and Larsson will have to deal with Stalberg chasing him down every chance he gets. And Kruger's "I'm going to the net even though I'm probably going to get killed doing this one day because I'm a smurf" attitude is vital in the playoffs. But this is still Kruger's and Stalberg's first year of being true top six threats. Can they carry it over? They'd better.