Hawks fans and writers have not hesitated, at least before Patrick Sharp's injury, to call the Toews-Kane-Sharp line the best in hockey. Hopefully, they'll be paying close attention tonight to the crew in white, because the true holders of that belt show up for a playdate at the United Center.
If Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan were displaying their interpretation of Megadeth's "Killing's My Business And Business Is Good On Ice" in New York, or Toronto, or anywhere in the East, we'd never hear the end of it. In just the last five games this crew has combined for 20 points. Perry is second in the league in goals and quickly hauling down leader Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay. He's also being mentioned as an MVP candidate. What makes his season more impressive is that his pivot-man Getzlaf has been hurt for a large swath of it. He's had to find his goals on his own a lot. All three of these guys are quick, large, and play with a chip or six on their shoulders. They're an absolute nightmare, and no one's been able to stop them in the past month. It's more daunting when you're best checking center, Dave Bolland, has a constant cartoon loop going on in his head right now.
But the Ducks are more than a one-line team, though they're close. Aging legend and pain in the ass Teemu Selanne has 70 points and the age of 40. The guy just gets it done year after year. They have the leader in points among defensemen in Lubomir Visnovsky, who should be a candidate for the Norris as well. There's promising rookie Cam Fowler back there as well, though the -24 he's carrying would speak to a level of defensive...naivety, let's call it.
The captivating story about the Ducks is in goal. For the first half of the year, Jonas Hiller was a one-man Alamo, as he faced on average five more shots than the Ducks took. He would bail them out of every jam they had, and kept them in every game he didn't win on his own. But then he went down with vertigo, the Ducks went out and acquired Dan Ellis and Ray Emery -- who are both just north of being "guys" -- and the Ducks game changed. They severely cut down on the number of shots they face, as they can no longer count on their goalie to stop them. But both Ellis and especially Emery, who the Hawks look likely to see tonight, have been excellent when the puck does get to them. And there are questions about Hiller, who returned to the lineup on Thursday and was total clown shoes.
The Ducks have been blocking more shots than a riot shield these days, so the Hawks are going to have to really work to open up and get into shooting lanes. They're going to have to figure out how to combat the top unit of the Ducks. One could argue that fighting fire with fire and throwing Toews and Kane out there against them could keep them playing defense and thus limit their scoring chances. But Kane and Stalberg battling with Perry and Ryan along the boards won't work out. Look for Coach Q to get Hossa-Frolik-Kopecky out there against the Getzlaf trio as much as he can, as Hossa and Kop have the size to deal with them. Also, the Hawks cannot be checking out the view from the box too often tonight, as this power play with the three mutants and Selanne, and Visnovsky is lethal, especially against a Hawks penalty kill that's been a prat fall all season.
Both teams need this one in regulation, and badly. Should make for a tense, passionate, torture of an evening. And that's why we love this game.