FACEOFF: 6pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio 720
THERE AIN’T NO MONORAIL AND THERE NEVER WAS: Die By The Blade
I’m not even sure this one needs much of a preview. It couldn’t be clearer that both teams, at least among their management, want the same thing tonight. That is a Hawks win. This seems such an oddly-scheduled game, as I would have thought for the last two weeks the NHL would have wanted to keep schedule intra-conference to really hop up playoff races. But then that would be logical, and we all know what we’re dealing with when it comes to his league.
There’s nothing I can write about the Sabres that you don’t already know. They’re wretched, and pretty much by design. I know that a lot of people are up in arms about the transparent ways the Sabres have gone about this season, and the optics of their own fans rooting against the team in their home arena are at best awkward. But everyone needs to hold their mud about greatly altering the lottery system or whatever.
The only reason this has become a thing is that Tim Murray, the Sabres GM (and Don Maloney in Arizona) are pretty dead-eyed about their job. There is nothing worse than wasting money and assets to scrape together a couple veterans to maybe take a desperate lunge at the last playoff spot. That’s a far worse spot than trying to strip it down in return for prospects and picks, to take as many spins at the wheel as you can to build your own core that you can control for a while and then add the piece not to just make the playoffs but to make some serious noise in them. In a cap world, that’s how you have to do it because it only takes one or two bad contracts to really gum up the whole team. I don’t need to tell you about that around here, do I?
As for Sabres fans rooting against their team, it does seem unethical I guess. But in all honesty the Sabres have been mediocre and boring for a while now. and getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (who really might just be as good) would give them something to watch for the next decade. You can understand their desires.
As for what’s on the ice now… well, it’s kind of historically bad. They’re by far the worst possession team in the league, carrying a season-long Corsi% of 37.7, which is basically unfathomable. They have the worst power play and the worst penalty kill, which is a neat trick. They’ve traded any goalie that looked like showing competence (which is a good idea because any team that is trading for a goalie is probably desperate). Anders Lindback is the starter now and has actually been pretty decent in his 10 games there with a .923 SV%.
As for what’s on this team that will be long term? Hoo boy. Rasmus Ristolainen for sure. The injured Evander Kane is another. Zemgus Girgensons is a nifty-two way center who will be. Zach Bogosian as well, who looked like he was going to finally fulfill his promise in Winnipeg this year until they cashed him in for Tyler Myers (Bogosian could just as easily have lost his fucking mind as Byfuglien has). Maybe Cody Hodgson? Zadorov? And that’s about it.
For the Hawks, they’ve admittedly played to their competition for most of 2015. I don’t think they can reach the Sabres’ level (if “reach” is the right verb), but then Buffalo isn’t 0-77 so they have been able to catch some teams napping (including the Leafs last out, but I mean, c’mon). Still, you’d have to think the Hawks would have to really, really try to biff this one, even if it is on the road on the second of a back-to-back. But the old saying, “Anyone with a bat in their hands in the box is dangerous.” The Sabres might actually come out with bats instead of sticks to assure their draft spot at this point.
The main story I’m guessing is that one or both of Michael Paliotta and Kyle Baun Baun Kyle Baun Baun will move up side and let the man go through on their NHL debuts tonight. There can hardly be a softer landing for them. Paliotta is the more intriguing one, as there are certainly going to be spots open on the blue line next year and considering the Hawks gave him all he would want out of college it leads you to believe they think he’s good enough compete for them. As for Baun, the Hawks don’t have a lot of sizable forwards in the pipeline, and he can certainly fill a gap that Jimmy Hayes never really could, especially if Bickell is tossed overboard this summer to lighten the load. However, the Hawks’ college signings at forward the past couple years haven’t exactly dazzled, and TVR still has an “INC.” on his report card.
All the Hawks have to do here is keep the rhythm they’ve established the last two games. It really shouldn’t take more than an early goal or two and making sure the water doesn’t boil over after that to get two more points and turn the Central into a Ladders N’ Tables match for the final four games. You certainly don’t have to be in top gear tonight but you do have to keep the car like, in motion. Do that.