And so it begins: the Hawks head out on the annual Western swing, a road trip that is overblown in importance (points are points) but nonetheless throws up enough quality of opponent to keep the players interested (until they get bored and inevitably lose to the Jets). It’s a shorter trip this time, only playing the Californians with no jaunts to Arizona or Western Canada before heading back to Central opponents in Minnesota, Winnipeg and St Louis. Last time out the Hawks clocked the Kings and Ducks yet barfed one up to the Yotes before heading to Sochi. The year before saw the first dropped points of the season to the Wild and the Nucks and, of course, a sweep thereafter. 2012? Let’s not go there.

 

Their first opponents, the Kings, are in an unusual place. Everyone is used to LA being lacklustre at this time of the year, lurking down the rankings before going insane in the Post Season (three straight years of making the WC final and two Cups in that time period). This season, however, there are some nerves starting to show as they sit outside the Wild Card places and are currently on a four game losing streak, going 0-2-2.  They’re struggling for goals and wretched on the PK. That said, Dallas are the only team below them that they should be even slightly worried about and above them the numbers suggest that Calgary are due to fall (hasn’t happened yet, though) and the Nucks are starting to stutter. Provided they turn into beasts in the post-season (not a certainty, either) that’s a hell of a first-round landmine for someone to step on.

The big news out of LA has been the bitter end of Mike Richards’ decline as he cleared waivers and headed to the AHL last night. Dean Lombardi is a smart man, but you feel he missed out by not using a compliance buyout on Richards when he had the chance. California to New Hampshire in January? That’s cold, in the figurative and very literal sense.

Elsewhere, Jon Quick is fighting it, down at 27th in Sv% with .912, (alleged) woman-beating shithead Slaya Voynov is suspended, Tyler Toffoli is hurt and last-years Deadline Game-Changer Marian Gaborik, has gone back to being Sicknote Marian Gaborik and has missed 12 games through sickness and injury this year. The Cap may limit Lombardi’s options at the deadline this year, as the new CBA has drastically reduced the amount of Cap relief the Kings get on Richards’ $5.75M hit.

As for the Hawks, I’ve a feeling we may see insurance forward Denis Rasmussen, who was called up from the Piggies to replace Kris Versteeg, against the physical Kings. Just a hunch, so bound to be wrong. Gorilla Salad is still suspended so if Rasmussen does draw in, it’ll be Teuvo or Nordstrom who takes a seat. Other than that, the Hawks are rolling along nicely right now, and a continuation of that would do nicely. It’s not yet time to start fretting about standings and seedings, but keeping the Rinne-less Nashville (who won an SO against the Avs last night) within touching distance would be desirable.

 

Puck drop is at way too fucken’ late.