It's there for the taking, let them self-destruct

It’s there for the taking, let them self-destruct

It’s been covered ad nauseum by beat writers and bloggers alike so I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on the topic du jour, Raffi Torres. He’s a fourth line player and comparatively we don’t spend a whole lot of our thoughts on Jamal Mayers anymore. Matt McClure wrote a thoughtful piece at The Committed Indian on retaliation and I’d encourage reading that if you’re so inclined. Otherwise, this will be the last I mention of #37 in burgundy and white.

Onto the actual hockey game being played in Glendale tonight.

The Blackhawks have been in the Big Job Board once this season and came away with two points after rowing Mike Smith down the stream of regression in late January. They outshot and outscored the Coyotes, even converting one powerplay chance out of five against Phoenix en route to a 6-4 victory. We were also treated (read: force fed) to a staged Brandon Bollig and Paul Bissonnette fight. That game was Ray Emery’s first start of the year and he looked shaky at best, unlike his last outing in Calgary. It’s likely that we’ll see Corey Crawford between the pipes tonight and we’ll update this should that change. Much like the previous game, if the Blackhawks can use their speed to the outside against the plodding defensive corps of the Coyotes, then they should live in the offensive zone for 60-70% of this game.

Phoenix comes in off a win against Minnesota and it’s been rather surprising how offensively capable the Coyotes have been this year. Nearly a third of their goals have come on the man advantage this year though, so as is the case in nearly every game, staying out of the penalty box will do the Hawks a great deal of benefit in this matchup. The Coyotes are hitting the magic numbers on their special teams with their PK% and PP% adding up to a clean 103.8%. It’s actually been at even strength where Phoenix has struggled to play, well, evenly with their competition. The top line of Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker have been the most effective for Phoenix in terms of scoring which means they’ll likely the draw the much criticized Sharp-Bolland-Kane line from the Hawks (more on this in a later post).

After that, Dave Tippett has struggled to find a home for Antoine Vermette this year juggling him between a staggering 14 (!!) different combinations of wingers. He’s most often appeared between Shane Doan and Steve Sullivan with that threesome being on the ice for a whopping 36% of the total even strength goals the Coyotes have allowed. Putting the doomsday squad of Saad-Toews-Hossa out there against those three would be a matchup that Joel Quenneville will likely look to take advantage of, however, with last change going to Tippett, it may not be one that he is able to do so often.

In San Jose, we saw Chicago’s 3rd and 4th lines get them back into the game after what looked to be a game getting a out of hand early on. The Coyotes don’t have the top six the Sharks do, nor do they have the depth. The Blackhawks top six should be able to kick some skulls in tonight and frankly, I’d be expecting them to do so. Tippett is struggling to hide Michael Stone on the blue line as he’s been paired with Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle mostly at even strength, thus breaking up the strongest pairing the Coyotes have in Yandle and Morris. When Stone sees the ice, as he does for about 19 shifts a night, the Blackhawks need to pounce on him. He’s far and away the leader for Phoenix in GA/60 while facing just the 5th best quality of competition among defencemen for them. His ineffectiveness has bled into both Yandle and Ekman-Larsson’s numbers.

We’ll go ahead and sandwich this one by restated what was said at the outset and within your recommended reading. Forget what happened last season, make the Coyotes pay in the goal column and don’t seek retribution for retribution’s sake. The Blackhawks have been the best team in hockey this season because of a fundamental change in approach from both players and coach. Derailing that train, even just for one night, is counterproductive and irresponsible.

Six was the benchmark for satisfaction on the road trip. Eight is good. Let’s go to Nashville seeking to be great.

UPDATE: According to Tracey Myers it looks like Ray Emery will once again get the nod in Glendale tonight. A curious decision with the Hawks having a day off in between their last game and tonight’s, but not totally unheard of. It shouldn’t change the strategy for tonight.