You Can't Fight What You Can't See - Coyotes vs Hawks Preview, Pregame Thread, Oscars Party
Game time: 6:00 PM
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
Raising Arizona: Five For Howling
It's getting to the point where off-night scoreboard watching is such a futile enterprise that it's really only going to drive fans nuts (Yarrr!) seeing the Hawks fluctuate in the standings as they sit idly by, unable to do much about it until the next game rolls around. Fortunately, they find themselves currently in a highly actionable situation, now in the second game of a four-game stretch against teams they're in direct competition with for playoff spots. Tonight's opponent on West Madison St. is the Phoenix Coyotes, who are coming off two straight losses at the hands of the 'Ning and the BJ's wherein their trademark defensive structure has failed them, allowing 13 goals in those 2 games after winning their previous 8 to vault them upward in the conference. This will also be the Hawks second straight opponent who has a defensemen as its leading scoring, this time in the person of Keith Yandle, who has announced himself on the national stage to the tune of 52 points and is a likely Norris candidate. The forwards are led by a conglomeration of the ageless Ray Whitney, franchise constant Shane Doan, and something called Radim Vrbata as they provide what masquerades as top-end scoring in the desert, though the Yotes do post a respectable 2.8 goals per, good for 11th on the circuit, and Whitney figures to miss tonight's game again with a "lower body" injury. There's also a fair amount of grit amongst the forwards, as Eric Belanger and Scottie Upshall will never be confused for wilting flowers, and Lauri Korpikoski has emerged as a solid defensive center in Glendale. Past Yandle on the blue line, there's old friend Adrian Aucoin who these last couple years when he's remained upright has started to encroach on Erat/Selanne levels of annoying, Derek Morris still acquitting himself as the homeless man's Rob Blake, and newcomer Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has impressed in his first year, however long-time drillrod and Matt Walker's punching bag Ed Jovonovski remains out of the lineup for Phoenix. It's all backstopped by Ilya Bryzgalov whose somewhat pedestrian numbers of 2.60 and .917 belie the fact that he has managed to keep the Yotes in games all year and make key saves, something which will come up during Bryz's pending contract negotiations this summer. The whole operation is kept running smoothly by Dave Tippett, who deserves every ounce of credit foisted upon him for getting this team to overachieve the last two seasons.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, things have been trending ever so slightly upward lately, both on and off the ice. On top of a three game winning streak, the Hawks were able to launch the dead weight of Nick Boynton via waivers, and "core" defenseman Brent Seabrook was officially locked up today for the next five years at 5.8 per (we'll have more discussion about that on one of the off days this week). During this stretch the Hawks' top line of Kane, Toews, and Sharp have been as lights-out as any line in the league, but it's the help from other lines that has led to victories, specifically in the form of the second line of Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, and Bryan Bickell, who have at least one goal a piece to their names over the last three. Further helping things is the ability to roll a full four lines and keep things fresh, as Ryan Johnson, Tomas Kopecky, and Viktor Stalberg have put in meaningful minutes and contributed on the scoresheet as well. On the blue line, the pairings that we've been so frequently questioning lately don't appear to be going anywhere, but if Duncan Keith is going to continue to play like he did on Thursday, it might not matter. If Keith can string games like that together at this point in the season, it will go a long way towards aiding the Hawks in their playoff push. Corey Crawford once again gets the nod this evening coming off a blanking of the Preds, and his numbers of 2.11 and .923 continue to posit themselves among the league leaders.
It's been the same mantra over the last two years - Dave Tippett's Yotes are not going to beat themselves, and outworking them for a full 60 minutes is imperative to victory. Even the slightest let down can seal the Hawks' fate, as we saw with Radim Vrbata's breakaway 2 weeks ago, or the two goals in less than a minute back in November-ish. Remember that four is better than three. Let's go Hawks.