On That Dirty Boulevard: Hawks at Rangers Preview/Stitch Removal

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks – 18-8-4  Rangers – 20-9-1

PUCK DROP: 6pm Central

TV: CSN Locally, NBCSN elsewhere

NEW YORK DOLLS: Blue Shirt Banter

PROJECTED LINEUPS

ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Hawks – 50.1 (15th)  Rangers – 47.8 (23rd)

ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Hawks – 47.8 (21st)  Rangers – 51.9 (14th)

POWER PLAY: Hawks – 16.7 (18th)  Rangers – 22.6 (5th)

PENALTY KILL: Hawks – 72.7 (30th)  Rangers – 85.9 (4th)

Once more, with feeling. Two of the top teams in the NHL will have a passionate discussion for the second time in five days, this time upstairs from the teeming, gross, and poor masses of Penn Station. This time however, the Hawks are a little better armed than they were last Friday when they dropped an overtime decision to the Blueshirts.

That’s the main storyline tonight, as Jonathan “Check Ya Later” Toews and Brent Seabrook are both returning to the lineup tonight. The Hawks have been able to stay afloat without both of them, thanks to their spectacular goaltending and a somewhat soft schedule (though any NHL schedule is basically soft these days, especially if you’re in the West). We’ll find out over the next few games if Toews’s struggles to start the season were due to this nagging back injury, or if this injury is actually finally in the past. As for Seabrook, he’s passed his concussion test and should be able to pick up where he left off, looking after Gustav Forsling. Seabrook’s return sees Rozsival head back into cryo freeze, though THE HILL is still keeping Michal Kempny out of the lineup in not frustrating at all fashion.

On the other bench, Rangers fans for the first time are watching Henrik Lundqvist take a backseat for a while, though on the bench everyone can get a better look at his worldly and impressive visage. Antti Raanta has simply played out of his mind of late, stealing two points for the Rangers on Madison St. before shutting out the Devils two days later at home. While Hank remains very much the #1, Alain Vigneault simply can’t ignore how good Raanta has been and is going to ride the hot hand. This is Chuck Daly feeding the ball to Vinnie Johnson on every possession, if you need a totally dated basketball reference AND YOU KNOW YOU DO. In the long run, this could be a good thing for Hank, who can conserve his energies for the spring when things really matter (and when Sid is going to rock the Rangers ass to sleep anyway).

You’d have to think the Raanta bubble is going to burst at some point, and a now fully-loaded Hawks team is capable of bringing that about. Raanta isn’t as swimmy and floppy as he was here, but he still can get lost in his crease. Toews’s return should give the Hawks a little more flair to move the puck side-to-side and get Raanta moving as well. Seabrook’s return is also another boon to that, as he likes to get involved and is the Hawks best passer from the back.

Still, the Hawks got kind of horsed possession-wise by the Rangers last Friday, and the Rangers are not a good possession team. Their defense has no zone-buster outside of maybe Brady Skjei on the third pairing. They need their forwards to break out of the zone every time. You don’t need to back up, though if you get caught flat-footed there is speed 1-12 on the forwards and they will have odd-man rushes all night. The way to beat the Rangers is the way to get crushed by them, having your d-men stand tall at the offensive blue line and trying to cause turnovers in their zone. Back up, and you give their forwards the space to create through the neutral zone and you can’t catch them from behind.

If the Hawks are as clean out of their zone as they were against Dallas, admittedly a much easier task, they’ll really limit the chances the Rangers get. If they’re not, it’s going to be big trouble.

Should be a fun one.

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