Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Who Shot J.R.?: Defending Big D
As is going to be the case with a single exception for the next two-plus weeks, the Hawks are once again striking out on that ol’ dusty trail, this time deep into the heart of Texas to take on Joe Niewendyk’s somewhat revamped Stars.
This past off season, the Stars’ GM decided that youth movements are overrated bullshit, and signed two of his contemporaries in Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. A reasonable case could be made for the Wizard, coming off a career year with the Coyotes, with 77 points and a +26 rating. The two-year, $4.5 mildo deal he received is not even particularly outlandish should his production remain at that level. It’s the Jagr signing that’s the real curiosity. While Jags flourished in the early months of the season with the Flyers, he fell right off the table at the end of the year, showing signs of his age. The one-year deal Jagr received is certainly low-risk, but this is his first venture into the Western Conference in his long career, and the travel that brings along with his lack of a brain-to-mouth filter seem destined to collide in spectacular fashion right around mid-March. But for now, all is well, as Jags sits atop the Stars scoring leaderboard, all of which he accumulated opening night against the Yotes.
Even after all of that, GM Joe wasn’t quite done, sending shit-stirrer extraordinaire Steve Ott to Buffalo in exchange for Derek Roy, ostensibly to replace departed weasel Mike Ribeiro as their #2 center behind the young and forceful Jamie Benn. Except that Niewendyk kinda forgot that whole “sign Jamie Benn” thing, as he’s currently out of the lineup and without a contract. Yes the thought has crossed our minds that Benn would solve nearly all the Hawks’ problems up front, but after getting pantsed on the James Neal for Alex Goligoski deal, common sense would dictate that it would take a phalanx of roster players, picks, and prospects to pry Benn away. Elsewhere at forward the Stars trot out an odd mix of grit and finesse, with the so-vocally-underrated-he’s-getting-overrated Loui Eriksson, badass-but-brittle Brenden Morrow, and the cement footed Michael Ryder chipping in.
The Stars’ back end is also kind of a hodge-podge, with Trevor Daley and The Black Knight Stephane Robidas carrying the bulk of the defensive burden until the very large Jamie Oleksiak assumes his place in the show. The aforementioned Alex Goligoski is thus far pointless from the blue line as Penguin fans in “18 Neal” jerseys cackle maniacally. Behind all of this should be Kari Lehtonen, who is finally starting to shake the injury bug, and as a result delivering on his first round pedigree, with a 2.55GAA and .922sv% last year, and a 2.0 and .950% so far this year against the Coyotes and Scum, who haven’t exactly been firing on all cylinders to start. Lehtonen always has the capability to steal a game, and tends to do so against the Hawks, so Hawks shooters waiting him out to give themselves openings and traffic in front are a must.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the Kool Aid is flowing like wine with the Hawks in the midst of their best start since the early 70s. While it’s probably a good idea to pump the breaks just a bit even with this 48-game intraconfrence sprint schedule, there has been a lot to like so far. The names have been scoring, the ice time has been balanced, and the special teams far crisper than last season. While the Hawks’ raw skill likely took advantage of three system-defenses on minimal practice, they unequivocally looked like the superior team in each case, the goaltending in Phoenix not withstanding.
One turd in the punchbowl has been allowing each team to get back into the game after grabbing three goal leads, which would drive any coach crazy, even if they’ll take the three goal lead every time. Part of this has to do with Q once again trying to show what a throbbing brain he has by having the Hawks trap once they gain the lead, barely sending a single forechecker south of the tops of the rings. This team was simply not built to sit on leads and stay back on their heels. The Kings showed last spring that a voracious forecheck can be just as effective at choking the life out of the opposition’s offense. And even if the Hawks aren’t built to administer the bludgeoning the Kings were and are, they certainly have the speed and will in players like Stalberg, Shaw, Sharp, and Bickell to keep the puck 200 feet away. But they have to get a lead first to even try that don’t they?
There’s not much that needs to be changed here, and the day off should have helped prevent the hated flat start. Stay the course boys, stay the course. Let’s go Hawks.