Well, we’ve passed the halfway point of the season, and as the Hawks go into the bye week we can all take a breath following the recent win-loss-win-loss whiplash we’ve been subjected to. The organ-I-zation made a seemingly smart trade (waaat?), and with the deadline approaching and the Hawks very much a team on the cusp, one has to wonder if there is more to come. (On the cusp…I’m being generous. This team just got their ass handed to them by the fucking Red Wings yesterday.) So where are we at before the trade deadline arrives? I’m sure the Hawks brass is eagerly looking to us for the evaluation.
The Dizzying Highs
Nick Schmaltz: I’ve been waiting all season for Schmaltz to earn a spot here in the Highs and the time has come. How many times has one of us here said he was the best player on the ice in a given game? Well, I don’t have an exact count but I assure you it’s happened multiple times. More recently, in the seven games in 2018 he’s had 8 points, including two power play goals against the (admittedly shitty) Senators last week. Yes, Ottawa sucks, but power play goals have become rarer than double-digit temperatures in this frozen hellscape. In fact Schmaltz is second in points on this team, with only Kane above him and duh that’s his linemate so Schmaltz rightly gets some credit there too. In Anisimov’s absence he’s been a very capable center for what has ostensibly become our top line.
Beyond just points, his CF% at evens is 54.5. At times he, Kane and Hartman struggle in their defensive zone, don’t get me wrong. But as a whole their possession at evens is 51.5 CF%. Add to that Schmaltz’s speed, and his current muscular shooting percentage of 18.8, and he’s basically made himself the most valuable youngling along with Top Cat.
The Terrifying Lows
Jan Rutta and the Gustav Foreskin Experience: OK, we’ve been bitching about these two all season but they’re really, really not good. Maybe individually that’s an exaggeration, but as a pair it definitely is not. Their CF% as a duo is 48.2 at evens. Despite having slightly more offensive zone starts than defensive ones (both have a dSZ% at 48 and change), it isn’t nearly enough because they are positively lost in their own zone (kind of a problem when your job description is defense). Larkin’s goal yesterday for the Red Wings was a classic example: both Rutta and Forsling got mesmerized by Nyquist and he was able to calmly drop the puck behind him to to Mantha (not excusing the shitty backcheck, but still, c’mon guys). Yeah, Rutta scored against the Jets the other night, but again, their job description is defense. Every time they’re on the ice it’s nerve-wracking at best and disastrous at worst.
The Creamy Middles
The Penalty Kill: A strong case could be made for putting the PK in the Dizzying Highs. To again reference the games played in this young calendar year, the Hawks have only given up one power play goal in 2018 (seven games). And that goal came against the Rangers right after New Year’s, so it’s been six games and 23 opportunities in which they’ve prevented opponents from capitalizing on special teams. This tells me two things: 1. We are taking way too many penalties, I mean really, 23?? Wtf? and 2. This half of our special teams is one of the only threads we have to cling to in the quickly unraveling sweater that is our playoff hopes. It’s become the mirror image of the shit-stained power play.
Vinnie Hinostroza. I think our boy Vinnie deserves an honorable mention here in the Middles. In the past six games he’s had five points, including a three-point night against the maddeningly successful Golden Knights. His performance in that game was one of the few bright spots of that fuck up. He’s managed to become comfortable on the top line that was searching for someone ever since Richard Panik turned back into Richard Panik, well before the trade happened. He’s only played 14 games with the top club so I can’t really make any sweeping generalizations or bold statements (sample size and all), but the Saad-Toews-Hinostroza combo has a 63.8 CF% at evens, and hey, he’s a local boy who done good! (For the record, I was going to put Jordan Oesterle here, but then he fell into Keith á la the Three Stooges yesterday which allowed the third goal, so no dice.)