Gear Shift – Jackets vs Hawks Preview, Pregame Thread, Eye Flushing

Chief_Blue_Meanie vs oldschool

Game Time: 7:30 Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
At Least It Isn’t Indiana: The Cannon

Despite the fact that the Hawks have pissed their pants a little bit over the last week and a half blowing games to non-playoff teams in Dallas and Philadelphia, there is still an outside shot at home ice in the first round given their games in hand. But with Nashville once again beating top teams and the Blues getting Kevin Shattenkirk back, the schedule makes the ascent steeper starting tonight with the Blue Jackets, who while well out of the playoff picture have won four straight and eight of 10.

Beset by injuries early in the year, there was really no way that the Jackets were going to climb out of the hole they dug themselves. But they’ve adhered to Todd Richards’s revamped system with whatever interchangable fast, physical forwards they’ve had on hand. Their possession game has suffered after a surge last year as a result, controlling only 46.8% of even strength attempts, or just barely more than the Leafs and Flames do. And they do have a Vezina trophy winner backstopping the proceedings in Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob has had an up and down year himself and has also been bitten by the injury bug, but when he’s been on, obviously the Jackets have surged. Thus far in March, Bobrovsky has a .925 save percentage, and it’s not a coincidence that the Jackets are 7-2 to far. Granted, he’s faced an average of 34.5 shots against in those decisions, so he’s not hurting for work. In their 12 games in March the Jackets have only been above water in the possession battle four times, and they were against Colorado, Edmonton, Carolina, and Washington. Not exactly tall timber.

The Jackets are middle of the pack in scoring, thanks mostly to a top heavy forward corps led by Ryan Johansen yet again, with his second straight 60 point season, showing his worth after his protracted hold out in the offseason. Nick Foglino has conveniently parlayed his spot next to Johansen in a contract year to a team-leading 64 points, an All-Star Game captain’s spot, and a 30 million dollar contract. On the opposite side is the aging but still tremendously effective Scott Hartnell, who despite having no feet now has his 8th 20+ goal season in his career, and 4th 25+ goal season. The three take on the toughest competition nightly and for the most part break even, with Foglino and Hartnell on ice for about 53% of shot attempts, and Johansen at 47% as a function of being the only Jacket center who can win a draw and therefore getting sent out in a more defensive zone situations. Past that, however, there isn’t much going on. The Jackets have some nice players in the diminutive Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson, and have gotten more than anyone could have expected out of the miniscule Mark Dano, who has 15 points in 27 games and 9 points this month. But the depth has been eroded by Brandon Dubinsky being predictably hurt, leading to Jarmo actually trading for Rene Bourque and David Clarkson, who are both now hurt themselves.

The Jackets’ defense is still a mess even despite jettisoning James Wisniewski and his stupid contract (who was hilariously a healthy scratch for Anaheim last night). They’re still far too reliant of Jack Johnson, which is a problem the Kings solved when they traded him to Columbus. David Savard is now taking the tough shifts with Johnson, and they’re both getting buried. The Jackets like Savard’s all around game, and his 11 goals (8 even strength) can’t be sneezed at. But Ryan Murray is hurt once again, so the Jackets aren’t getting legitimate drive out of any of their pairings, because Fedor Tyutin sure as shit isn’t providing it.

As for our Men of Four Feathers, they’re certainly not ones for ever making things easy on themselves. The past week’s worth of games has been structureless torture to watch, and against mostly garbage competition. To put things in perspective, after shutting out the Hawks, Kari Lehtonen gave up three goals to the Sabres. That’s how difficult the Hawks are making this.

In the wake of dressing a completely idiotic lineup against the Flyers, Joel Quenneville has had his hand forced a little bit by injuries to Joakim Nordstrom and Gorilla Salad. Nordstrom has been noticeable on the fourth line since his most recent call up, but realistically the unit shouldn’t lose much with Andrew Desjardins now with Shaw and Kruger. Kris Versteeg continues to manage to fail upward, going from healthy scratch to the most choice spot in the lineup with Toews and Hossa in the span of a week. The two middle lines might actually be onto something however, as Brad Richards finally gets released from the hoosegow to center Saad and Sharp, and Teuvo gets back into the lineup on Vermette’s right where they had some chemistry before Q blew the whole thing up.

On defense, the Stone of Triumph that is Michal Rozsival has been removed from Duncan Keith at least for the night and been replaced with David Rundblad, whose play had been steadily improving prior to Timonen’s arrival leading to his benching. Rundblad had one of his better games in a Hawk uniform against the incredibly fast Rangers while paired with Keith, and the two have a 58.1% together in just under 200 minutes of even strength time. Ideally, Rundblad would be paired with the ramping-up Timonen in sheltered minutes on the third pairing while the traditional top four do their thing, but if this ends up being the configuration tonight it’s certainly better than the smelly old Czech alternative. Corey Crawford gets the cage once again in hopes of not having to bail his team’s dumb asses out.

On paper this looks like a favorable matchup for the Hawks, considering the attempts that the Jackets give up and their lack of forward depth. But their recent play hasn’t lent any confidence to that notion, and the Hawks have a habit of making average goaltenders look spectacular this season. Bobrovski is tall, gangly, and athletic and the goals won’t come easy but there should be enough chances against him. Toews will draw the Johansen assignment undoubtedly given Teuvo’s spot with Vermette, the only other viable alternative to do so. But with last change the Hawks second and third lines should be able to find favorable matchups. SHOULD BE. This is a game the Hawks have to have not only because of who the opponent it, but also because of what the schedule holds in store. If there is going to be any chance of either catching Nashville or St. Louis, or keeping Minnesota at bay, 2 points however they come are necessary. Let’s go Hawks.

If you’re heading to the game tonight make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program sold outside the UC. We’re at Damen and Monroe, Wood and Monroe, and outside Gates 2 and 3 on Madison. If you’re not going, you can pick up the digital version right here.

  • rhodes

    Can someone explain if this will require roster moves and what those might likely be? I assume “hit the ice” means game time, maybe not….

    Paliotta is here and Baun will be here later today. Q said the two could hit the ice with the #Blackhawks on Wednesday.— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) March 27, 2015

    • Oldfarthawkfan

      As long as the salaries fit within the cap, they can be added to the roster without having to move someone off. After the trading deadline, there is no roster limit, just the cap.

      • rhodes

        “After the trading deadline, there is no roster limit”

        Ah, that’s the missing piece for me. Didn’t realize that. thx.

      • Sopel the catfish

        No roster limit, but I believe they are limited to 5 call ups (I don’t think they qualify as call ups since there were just signed though)

        • rhodes

          Should be interesting to see what they do against Winnipeg, assuming they play (don’t blink or you might miss it). Going from college to the NHL in a week has got to make your head spin.

          Read somewhere else that Paliotta is playoff eligible, whereas Baun is not—which seems academic since it would be a Festivus miracle if either showed that level of play between now and then.

          • Sopel the catfish

            Yup, any free agent signed after the trade deadline (Baun) cannot play in the playoffs, since Paliotta wasn’t a free agent he would be eligible, though like you stated highly unlikely that he actually plays.

  • Bob Lanz

    I am absolutely stumped by the fact Stan has let Q do this shit year after year. At one point you think awesome he is Q proofing the roster trading away Bollig but then resigning some of the fossils is mind boggling. Trading away prospects instead of making Q coach and play them. Clearly he has some power in the org to be able to do this shit without consequences. Here’s to winning in spite of the roster, I just can’t help wondering how good we could of been with a little patience with youth and proper pairings. Leddy is a great example, but sadly not the only one. Thanks for

  • BestPredsForward

    Is it just me or has Kyle Long’s Twitter game sunk to Bollig’s level of bad?

  • CoolTalk

    1. Given the last 4 games what about playing with #19 and #81 is “most choice”? #23 has been bouncing from line to line every game (sometimes in game) and still put up a better game than #19 or #81 against the Flyers. Not saying he hasn’t struggled, but you trying playing in a frigging blender.

    2. Why is playing with #10 going to be a “release from hoosegow” for Richards? How is playing with #10 good for anyone other than #29.

    3. “No loss” with Desjardins replacing Nordstrom on what was probably our most consistent line the last 4 games, really?

    4. You think maybe TT’s “chemistry” with Vermette was due just a little bit to paying with Saad – an idyllic skills match for TT – as opposed to say #29 tonight. Nahhhhhh

    Oh yea, I forgot…good old McClure BIAS…maybe we can analyze what actually happens on the ice and not what you want to happen.

    • Cool talk. Thanks for the pageviews.

    • Andrew Cieslak

      So you’re saying you want a fact based preview with no opinion whatsoever. Sounds interesting.

    • rhodes

      Cooltalk, I am convinced, is the 60MinutesBaby60 Antichrist.

      BTW, where has that guy been lately? We could use his unabashed enthusiasm around here about now.

      • CoolTalk

        Antichrist? Really?

        I’m actually the lone positive voice on a lot of thing – Versteeg gets shit on way more than he deserves.

        And a lone dissenter on others – the biggest roster mistake the team made was not dumping Sharp BEFORE this season (which basically cost us Pirri and Leddy) followed closely by the decision to keep and pay Bickell over Frolik after the cup. I honestly think Sharp is done as a top 6 player and really should play minimally in 5 on 5 situations.

        Sometimes I even follow the crowd – Q is a buffoon as a roster/line manager

        Also, I cherish the opinions of everybody whether I agree or not.

        The only things I really harp on are 1) The group think mentality that tends to rage toward the negative and 2) the analysis that seems to me to be based solely on emotion or historical performance and not current play.

        Sam is a bit more delicate and often admits ahead of time where his bias lay. I get on McClure a bit because he doesn’t seem to recognize when he’s writing from a slanted perspective. That said, I still think he does a great job overall.

        • CoolTalk

          Before someone tells me Pirri was traded (if you can call it that) at the deadline last year…he was traded because his contract wouldn’t allow for him to be sent down to the AHL THIS YEAR without going through waivers (where he would have quickly been swallowed up for nothing). So, their position is they traded him for way below market value instead of nothing.

          In other words, he was traded because StanBo and Q didn’t think we’d need him this year, which is very much related to how they viewed #10.

        • seabsrat

          I have to say I agree that Versteeg takes more flak than he deserves here. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had some awful games of late, but I think he has been a difference maker at times this season and adds some offensive spark when he’s playing well and not being shuffled through every line on every shift. I just wish he shot the puck more.

        • rhodes

          Well, antichrist is kind of strong, admittedly. How about 60MB60 evil twin? I mean you are like a whirling dervish of criticism. But, hey, just an observation! Not trying to silence your voice–I love it all (and certainly don’t take any of it seriously). Carry on…..

          • rhodes

            …and yes I acknowledge your support of VSteeg. I too am a fan (at least at 2mildo/year). Although his blue-line turnovers kill me.

        • T.M.

          Wait until Stan sees what he can get for Sharp now, as opposed to last year. The sticker shock should be priceless

    • TitanTransistor

      Disagreed. I think Versteeg has been the worst player on the team for the last several games, going back well before his scratch.

      • T.M.

        Has Rosie blinded you with his talent?

    • Korab22

      Saad’s nickname should be bacon because whatever line he’s on, he makes it better.

  • mightymikeD

    Stone of Victory….