Time: 6:00 PM CT
TV / Radio: WGN / WGN 720
The Enemy: Light the Lamp
You know when I volunteered to take on the preview for tonight's game I had visions of having all the time in the world to sit back and relax, take these two days off to come up with a well-thought-out, well-researched post. Or something. At the very least, I expected it ready by Sunday morning.
Alas, I should have known. Instead I've been distracted by family, feasts, naps, late nights, you name it, it's gotten in the way of a quiet time in a corner of the house with a strong internet connection and a ready laptop. So here I am, Sunday morning, rushing through a preview like the last Hawks' game happened just last night.
Games the day after Christmas are a bitch.
Players come back after two days of stuffing themselves with god knows what, without really any time to practice except for a morning skate, and with a team like the Hawks that ended their pre-Christmas run on a good note, naturally you'll wonder whether they're going to be ready or not.
That's the bad news, but the good news is they're not the only team that took two days off. Tonight at the UC they face the Blue Jackets, who followed a strong November with a so-so December, going 3-6-3 in the month including a 7-3 loss against the Canucks-- just before Christmas break-- when their coach described them as a peewee team playing against pros.
Not the most flattering of descriptions, but the problems that have plagued the Blue Jackets in the last few years are still problems they face today: no first line center for Nash, no real defense, not even a lot of scoring to depend on. And what was supposed to be their savior in Mason still hasn't quite rounded into form despite passing the sophomore slump.
Their special teams may also need a bit of work-- their power play is only converting at 11.8%, good for nearly dead last (29th) in the league. Their penalty kill is slightly better at 80.3% but that still just places them in the bottom third of the NHL. They don't score as much as they should per game and so far, their identity remains Central Division cellar-dwellers.
For all that I ragged on them, however, it's important to note one thing: they may be bottom of the division now, but with 37 points on 34 games, they're not too far below Chicago, who has 41 points on 36. If Columbus gets two wins-- and if one of them is against us tonight-- they'll pretty much be able to leapfrog over us in the standings. The Western Conference is THAT close.
That also speaks to the crap couple of months we've had. First it was a matter of finding our skating legs again. Then it was a matter of just plain bad luck (check out how many one-goal games we lost early in the season.) Then it was our best players not playing their best, and then our best players getting Boynton'ed, but now finally, it looks like we're rounding into form.
Our penalty kill still sucks (why? WHY?) but for some reason or another we happen to lead the league in the power play (how? HOW?) and we're actually scoring at a clip higher than we were last season. This without Versteeg, Ladd, Byfuglien, etc etc. The funny thing is, the difference between last year and this year is that we're letting in MORE goals against... so really, we're missing Versteeg, Ladd, Byfuglien, etc for their... defensive play?
I'll look at the numbers later but something tells me the secret is in the penalty kill. Fix it and then we'll really have our defense back to Cup-winning form. Oh my god, we're talking about the Cup again.
Question is-- is that what we see tonight?
Let's go Hawks!
Edit: With Crawford sick, Turco will be in goal tonight. So that answers the question of when we'll see Turks in net again. Might as well be when everybody else is feeling sluggish too. Or something.