In 38 career games against the Hawks, the 6-foot-4 inch, 220-pound winger has 20 goals and 20 assists. The Hawks have shut down the oversized Joe Thornton twice this season and now they have another test in Nash. Defensive guru John Madden and his linemates will see plenty of him.
“It’s going to be a great test again tonight,” Madden said after the morning practice on Tuesday. “It takes positioning, quickness [and], you know, things that I do well. You still have to be physical with them [big players]. Even if you’re smaller you can still rub them out and do all the things you have to do. Take away his time and space, that’s the biggest thing.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has seen plenty of Nash during his time as a Western Conference coach and acknowledges what a special player he is. Nash has 15 goals and 13 assists this season, and always seems to get a break away or more whenever he plays the Hawks.
“He’s dangerous,” Quenneville said. “There’s an awareness for him when he’s on the ice, particularly that off-side defenseman. Shorthanded, he likes to go. Even on power plays, he manages to get breakaways. Try to keep (the puck) and make him play defense is something we are looking to do.”
Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith will have the assignment of keeping Nash in check. It could take away from their offensive contributions as they keep an eye on him, sneaking behind them for those breakaways. It also means shots from the point need to get through, because blocks turn into goals the other way. It was the formula that worked for the Hawks in San Jose and now they have to be careful of it with Nash.
The Blue Jackets broke a five-game losing streak Monday night against St. Louis, so the Hawks should have the edge in fatigue but one thing working against the Hawks is playing the first game back from a long road trip. It always seems to haunt the home team despite being acutely aware of it.
“I think teams take a deep breath instead of bearing down,” Madden said. “I think its one of the more mentally tough games we’ll face all year, believe it or not.”
Quenneville called these games “tricky,” but indicated there is no secret formula to solving it. This first game back from the road also marks Marian Hossa’s home debut. The understated Hossa is looking forward to it but knows not to get out of his game to impress the home fans.
“You always want to do well, especially with the first one, but you don’t want to put too much pressure,” Hossa said. “You want to enjoy the crowd and keep things simple.”
Hossa has come down a bit from the “high” of his season debut when he scored two goals. His legs are caching up to the rest of him.
“Oh yeah, definitely. You skate however much you want after practices or ride the bike, but when it comes to the games, you still have to catch up and play so many games to get into a comfort level,” Hossa explained.
Hossa has 15 points in 11 career games against Columbus. As for Quenneville, he’s just happy Hossa is back and wanting to do more.
“It’s tough to put a number on it [his impact], but right off the bat he certainly [has] made an impact. You know, he’s fun to watch on a day- to-day, game-to-game basis. His usefulness is only going to get more important as we go along here.”
• Patrick Sharp talked about changing lines and understanding that the last two games, offensively, dictated the move.
“It’s tough to kind of look at it and figure out why. We just stopped going to the areas where we score goals. Whether it’s fatigue at the end of the trip, you make any excuse you want but the bottom line is we didn’t get the job done and it cost us. It’s always fun scoring 5 ,6 ,7 goals a game, but we have to remember its hard work that allows us to do that.”
• The Hawks will unveil their third jerseys against Columbus. They are modeled after the Winter Classic sweaters they wore last New Year’s Day.
• The game will be on Versus at 7 p.m. The Hawks are 3-0 at the United Center when their games air on that network. Overall, they have won seven in a row at home. Joel Quenenville takes his third shot at winning his 500th career game.
• The Hawks 16-6-3 mark (35 points) is the best after 25 games since 1982 when they went 17-3-5, good for 39 pts.
• Cristobal Huet will start in goal.