Game Time: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: CSN, NBCSN (Yanks), TSN2 (Hosers), WGN-AM 72
Texan Book Of The Dead: Defending Big D
After what can be considered a successful stretch by all non-meatball, bloodlust accounts, the Blackhawks will return home after a 6-1 Circus Trip, with the only blemish coming in the opener away from home against the deplorable Avalanche. Tonight they’ll kick off a month wherein 9 of the next 14 games will be on home ice, starting tonight with the Stars. Who says you can’t ever really come home for the holidays?
For the visiting Stars, they hit West Madison a bit ouchy. Top goal getter and center Tyler Seguin was left at home to sit dizzily in his own filthy Dallas condo after sustaining a concussion on an as-yet undetermined play on Friday against the Hawks. Seguin has been nothing short of a revelation working with Jamie Benn on the top line for the Stars in Lindy Ruff’s chuck-and-duck system, and his absence will force the Ginger Ninja Cody Eakin into #1 center detail with Benn, and Alex Chaisson on the opposite side. Eakin has been solid as a #2 center since coming over in the trade for uberweasel Mike Ribeiro, with 6 goals and 8 assists so far this season, while winning a dead even 50% of his draws (184 won, 184 lost). Any line with the terror that is Benn on it will at least be competent, and though Eakin is solid, he lacks the flash and gamebreaking ability that Seguin provides.
But past that is where things get a little icky for the Stars, and that was even with Seguin in the lineup. Their de facto second line now consists of Shawn Horcoff in between what’s left or Erik Cole and the still raw Valeri Nichushkin. Pittsburgh castoff Dustin Jeffrey will get a look between Rich Peverley, who curiously isn’t manning a pivot despite prior success there, and the seemingly ageless Ray Whitney, whose feet can keep up with his hands even less so now at 42 than at 27. The ever yappy Vern Fiddler centers Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel, who are agitating bowling balls barely aware of a puck being on the ice, Garbutt’s two goals against the Oil notwithstanding.
Things are no better on defense, where the Black Knight Stephane Robidas will be out indefinitely after having his shin disintegrate on him making a harmless turn bodying up on Jonathan Toews on Friday. The long uttered descriptor of the Stars’ defensive corps has been “If Stephane Robidas is your #1, then your team sucks”, so now that they’re without him in all the situations he plays in, it’s not looking pretty. No one is really sure what Trevor Daley actually does, and Sergei Gonchar, while still effective 150 feet away from his own net, has always been an adventure even before the sands of time have started to catch up. Alex Goligoski is doing little to make Joe Niewendyk look any smarter for trading James Neal for him and has been relegated to the third pair many nights. Brendan Dillon has been the Stars best overall defenseman to this point, adding a physical presence to go along with a corps-leading 9 points and a +8. The other Benn and something called Kevin Connauton round out the third pair.
In net will be the only-underrated-because-he’s-always-hurt Kari Lehtonen, who threatened to do what he usually does once a year to the Hawks by doing cartwheels in the crease for 65 minutes and 11 shootout attempts. Lehtonen has been excellent for the Stars this year, with a .926 save percentage and a meager 2.18 goals against. He’s had to be, with the Stars allowing 32.1 shots a game while only putting up 29.4 themselves. And for a team that barely draws even in Corsi attempts, that’s a combination that will lead to being underwater in goal differential and in last place in the Central division (albeit with 28 points that any team out East would kill for), as the Stars are.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they really couldn’t ask for a better scenario under which to return home, having taken 12 of 14 points, 10 in regulation. There will no doubt be much prattling on the broadcast regarding the first home game being the toughest after a long road trip, but since the arrival of Daydream Nation, the Hawks are 4-1 in these games, outscoring the opposition 21-15, so there’s basically no truth to that old warhorse in this case.
Once again, Michal Handzus will be out, this time with a case of the goop or the consumption or something, and is at home having his humors drained while Sheldon Brookbank draws back in at forward, and Brandon Pirri is once again drawn back in between Kane and Saad. Given the last change at home and now having Hossa healthy against a depleted Stars team, this line will be given every opportunity to run wild.
Things will remain the status quo on the back end, with Duncan Keith and Nacho Libre likely seeing a lot of Jamie Benn tonight, forcing the Stars other lines to muster some manner of attack. Corey Crawford will reclaim the cage, having only made 2 starts in the last week, which is the equivalent of a six month furlough after the month straight of appearances he had to make. The results were certainly there Friday in Dallas, as Crow was quite sharp in outdueling Lehtnonen, save for one wandering boner as he is wont to do, allowing Rich Peverley to score early in the game.
While the Stars are hurting, they’re not punchless. Jamie Benn hasn’t needed Tyler Seguin prior this year to brutalize opponents either from the center or wing position, regardless of what jamokes he might be skating with. And though the Stars power play is dead last in the league, at only 10.3%, giving Sergei Gonchar time to pick his spots from the point isn’t a good idea against what’s been a bad (albeit improving) Hawks PK. And there’s always the chance that Lehtonen goes off and shuts the door from the opening whistle. But with the Blues losing in LA last night, the Hawks now have an opportunity to open up a miniscule gap even while not having games in hand. It’s best not to squander it while finally at home. Let’s go Hawks.