A secret confession: Most of my regular readers will tell you that I have a pretty unhealthy distaste for the Anaheim Ducks. It stems from my 18 months living in Los Angeles and the insufferable experience that is seeing a game as an opposing fan at the Honda Center, or whatever it's called these days.
For the most part, the Ducks have an uneducated, entitled, obnoxious fan base (though there are some very clued-in Ducks fans I know), and the games I saw out there were when the Hawks weren't very good.
The afternoon when my entire section (mostly made up of parents and kids) chanted "Blackhawks suck!" at me while turning it into a four-syllable chant ("suck" was altered to "su-uck" ... they couldn't even get that right) was one of the worst moments of my life.
Ducks fans are still convinced they won the Cup four seasons ago because they led the league in fights, a theory so ridiculous I am exasperated to find a basis for argument. So these games mean more to me than they should.
Anyway, the Ducks come in with one more point than the Hawks, but having played two more games. In fact, the Ducks are the only team the Hawks have games in hand on, so now we get to feel what every one else does when they play us.
The big story is that top center Ryan Getzlaf won't play tonight, and that is a huge scratch because the Ducks weren't loaded with scoring depth. Though winger Corey Perry is one of the league's leading scorers, a lot of that is benefitting from the work of his center Getzlaf. Without him, Perry isn't quite the force.
That doesn't mean the Ducks are bereft of forwards who can hurt you. Teemu "Methusala" Selanne has 10 goals, though six of those are on the power play. At even-strength, Selanne just isn't the player he used to be or anything close.
Young stud Bobby Ryan is always a handful with his size and speed when he's interested, but that's not always a given. Selanne's life-partner Saku Koivu also can be effective when he wants to be, but that's even less of a given than it is with Ryan.
Where the Ducks really struggle is behind that. This defensive corps is straight-up bad. Lubomir Visnovsky is a wonderful powerplay QB and offensive weapon, but get him in his zone and he has all the passion of a sloth with a fever. Rookie Cam Fowler is going to be a very good player one day, but right now he's still a liability defensively. After that it is simply a collection of guys and more guys, and I don't care what Toni Lydman's inflated +21 would suggest.
But they can be bailed out a lot of times by Jonas Hiller, a quietly-kept secret to most of the hockey world. Hiller and his dark abyss of a mask can win games by himself, this while seeing 35 shots a night, a league-worst. But if Hiller isn't at the top of his game, the Ducks are easily handled.
The Hawks simply have to stay out of the box tonight and skate with the simple game they employed at even-strength against San Jose.
If they get the puck deep in the offensive zone consistently, this clown car of a defensive unit will turn the puck over and make mistakes the Hawks can capitalize on when they are pressed. As for when the Ducks are attacking, they are big and will try and push the Hawks around. They can't get rattled as they did in St. Louis and take dumb penalties.
Because when things are even, the Ducks are short on weapons.