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Some might bemoan the new balanced schedule in that it only sees the Canucks play the Chicago Blackhawks twice. I actually dig this, as the games take on a little more meaning. Absence makes the heart grow fonder or something like that. Bastards.
Someone told me the Canucks played last night, but I don't even remember seeing anything about it. So with that in mind *ahem*, let's focus on tonight, shall we? The Canucks head into Chicago to take on a team that has very much looked like defending champions. They've not even blinked having to roll with their 3rd string goalie in Antti Raanta (Seriously, you guys can't draft a goalie named Dave or Jim? Caman...), and the usual cast of Hawks stars have been full value. We spoke with Michael Devine of the Hawks blog 'Cheer The Anthem' about tonight's game (which is blogger speak for 'hey buddy, help me out by writing my post for me'), who's a great guy if you can overlook his crippling Irishness.
1) Be honest: you all thought you were boned when Crawford and Khabibulin went down. How much of a surprise has Raanta's play been?
Funnily enough, I was quite cool about it. Many around me were losing their minds, though. I saw suggestions ranging from trading for Ray Emery to signing Rick Di Fucking Pietro. Also lots of "DAT BOWSTINK SCREWD US BY NOT SINING RYNE MILLAR WEN HE COULD MY FRENTS". My view was (and is) that this team is good enough to ride out a short period without a top goalie. There will be some bumps for sure (ie, the Hawks would have lost the game in Vancouver with Raanta in net), but by and large it won't be a disaster. That's pretty much been the case. Raanta still has a lot of rough edges that need to be smoothed out (watching him trying to play the puck is a terrifying experience) and he's also got almost the exact opposite style to Crawford in that he relies on athleticism rather than size. But I'm pleased with how he's done and how he's bounced back from tough nights. Khabbi was and is a waste of space and I don't expect to se him back this year. He can work on his Vodka Tits on LTIR till next summer.
2) Other than goalies, you've managed to stay healthy and your best players have been your best. Who on the team has been the biggest surprise, and any disappointments thus far?
I wouldn't say the Hawks have been completely healthy. Obviously their luck in avoiding injury last year was freakish, but they've been without Hossa, Bickell and Handzus for various stretches this time out. I think the biggest surprise has been Offensive Juggernaut Niklas Hjalmarsson! Seriously. He's as defensive a defenseman as you can get and he's got more points than Jordan Staal, Scott Hartnell and Dustin Brown.
One of the big pleasures has been watching Brandon Saad build on last year. He's not actually scoring that much but he's also being deployed on the 3rd line. Basically, he's your genuine two-way power forward. We call him Hossa Jr. and that's about as high a compliment as we can give.
The disappointment has really been in the handling, rather than the play, of some of the exciting young guys who are meant to be breaking through this year. Brandon Pirri & Jeremy Morin found themselves playing fewer and fewer minutes and getting benched for no reason while Quenneville insisted on dressing Brandon Bollig and playing Sheldon Brookbank on the wing. Part of thriving in the Cap era is developing prospects to either be on your team or bring back a good return in trade. Q doesn't seem to have the patience to do that.
3) What the holy hell happened in Toronto the other night? Seriously...
That was just "One of those games". Funnily enough, right up till the point where Toronto went 7-3 ahead I fully expected the Hawks to come back. I guess we kind of got spoiled watching them pull it out of the fire whenever required last year. I think there was a little overconfidence coming off those three 6-goal games, too. Eyes were on LA rather than focused on the Leafs. But, having said that, the bounceback against the Kings was probably the best I've seen the Hawks play this year. that could have been another 6-goal rout if Scrivens hadn't stood on his head.
4) Patrick Kane looks as focused as we've ever seen him this season. What do you think is the reason he's having such a great year?
I think a lot of it is the fact that the boy has become a man. He's left the extra-curricular bullshit behind him and is letting his phenomenal talent do all the talking. It's no exaggeration to say he's probably the best American player of this generation. What's even more terrifying is the fact that he's producing like this when he spends most of his time being centred by the boat-anchor that is Michal Handzus.. what he'd do with, say, Ryan Kesler as his pivot is scary (be afraid Canada.. very, very afraid.. I'm all about Team Slovakia , BTW!) 100 Points is not out of the question for Kane this year. I'm one of a small but vocal group who would like him to be wearing an A, as he's becoming one of the leaders of this team. I'd also cite the influence of Marian Hossa in Kane's maturation and greater sense of responsibility. The guy's one hell of a role-model.
5) Who do you think drops out of the Central chase: Minnesota or Colorado?
I believe the Stats guys when they say that Colorado are due a serious regression. A lot of their numbers are unsustainable and hopefully their POS woman-beating goalie will be in a cell or on a plane back to Russia soon. But, having said that, they've banked a hell of a lot of points already this year due to that hot start and that will provide a bit of a cushion. The Wild are a decent team but still a little way off. They're also overly reliant on Josh Harding and, sadly, his condition is very, very unpredictable. If he misses time, they're in big trouble because Backstrom is terible and Kuemper is nowhere near NHL ready yet. So I fancy Minnesota to be duking it out with Dallas around the Wild card slot. but it wouldn't surprise me if both Wild Cards came from the Pacific.
It's looking like Eddie Lack will indeed get the start tonight, but with no pregame skate or media availability we won't know for sure til the team makes it official. With Luongo starting last night, this would have been his scheduled start, so it's not likely Tortorella will deviate from the routine. After tonight, the Canucks return home for a Sunday date of note: the first appearance in Vancouver by the Winnipeg Jets. No, really. So get ready for a ton of articles about that will go "something something Dustin Byfuglien" as though anyone even thinks he's a factor anymore. And finally, I also got asked some questions about tonight's matchup so you can check those out at Cheer The Anthem and The Committed Indian.
KICKASS METAL TUNE OF THE DAY
A doubleshot for you today: One Christmas tune, one not so much... Our Merry Metal Xmas banger is from Sweden's Amon Amarth, with Viking Christmas. Here's hoping it brings a big game from Dank & Hank!
The second one is a great Lich King track off their last one 'Born Of The Bomb' called 'We Came To Conquer'... Enjoy the game, everyone!
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