Running The Gauntlet - Hawks at Predators Preview, Pregame Thread, Mountain Climb
So ludicrous are the standings in the west that the Hawks actually jumped two places into the 9th spot while remaining idle the past two nights. Such logjammin' (no, not this kind) makes the next four games for the Hawks their most important to date this season, facing teams that are all currently ahead of them in the standings-Nashville, Phoenix, Minnesota, and Calgary- in that order. First up will be a visit to Smashville and a tilt with the painfully familiar Preds, who have won 3 of the first 4 meetings with the Hawks so far this season, but are coming off a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the Jackets where all four markers came in the 3rd period. The Preds have hit a bit of a rough patch, going 4-7-1 in their last 12, and have just found out today that center Marcel Goc will be done for the year, which makes their acquisition of Mr. Carrie Underwood, Mike Fisher, even that much more important. Since coming to Nashville, Fisher has played 5 games to the tune of a goal and two helpers and an even rating. Not exactly earth shattering stuff offensively, but that's not what the Preds do well. They're second in the league in goals against at 2.3 per, and 3rd in the league on the PK at 85.9 percent, so their first task is denying the opposition, and they do it well. That's of course led by the monster blue line pairing of captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, who will be playing tonight. Also reportedly returning to the lineup will be the greasy Sergei Kostitsyn, and Steve Sullivan will be playing with a full fishbowl sheild after taking a puck in the grill last week. Pekka Rinne figures to start again tonight as he has the previous 8, and he still boasts top-3 marks in both goals against and save percentage (2.14 and .928 respectively) despite the team's recent skid. Everyone watching and the Hawks know what the Preds are going to do as we've seen it enough times in the last couple years to be all to familiar with it which is hem pucks in at the Hawk line, forecheck aggressively, and use that filthy "T" word in the neutral zone, so Nick Leddy had best have his head on a swivel when retrieving pucks.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, tonight they'll be welcoming Joel Quenneville back behind the bench after missing the last week or so with an ulcer whose causes are still left open for discussion. Q shockingly does not appear to be making any lineup changes even though Fernando Pisani has been cleared to play after the hit he suffered at the shoulder/elbow of Mark Fistric. That means Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews will be charged with keeping up the pace they've been on, putting up a total of 15 points together in the last three games. That road will get significantly tougher, as Barry Trotz will be able to match them with Weber and Suter all night long, so secondary offense will need to step forward. This means you Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland. We've seen some flashes over the last few games, particularly Hossa on Monday, who was as active as he's been since the first month of the season, but tonight it'll have to be more than just a flash. The lines staying the same will also mean more of Ryan Johnson and Tomas Kopecky on the fourth line, which has looked as good as it has all season likely due to Kop being properly slotted and RJ's ability to win a draw - a real novelty around here past Jonathan Toews. On the blueline, the cockamamie pairs still remain in tact, but if they've stayed together this long I suppose we should get used to them as long as no one seriously fills their diaper (though I don't know how two breakaways in 3 games against Keith/Leddy wouldn't be considered doing so). Corey Crawford will get the nod in net tonight, which is something we should get used to from here on out, and deservedly so.
A win tonight in regulation coupled with a Kings regulation win would vault the Hawks all the way to 6th in the conference by virtue of tiebreakers, but turning this mini-roll into a genuine one will eliminate the need for external assistance. These four games are here for the Hawks to take back control of their season, and it has to start tonight. Let's go Hawks.