Atop The Sugar Pile – Week #1

Ok, so it was the second week but the Hawks only played one game in the first week so it’s the first week of the Sugar Pile and fuck you. That’s how we do things around here.

The Dizzying Highs

David Kampf – While Marcus Kruger‘s rep was at least a little tarnished by his years away from Chicago and then his second tour of duty here (though they were better than you might remember), what shouldn’t be forgotten is just how much of a unicorn he was and how vital he was to the second and third Cup teams. He was a purely defensive center who flipped the ice consistently, and you just don’t find those. Just last season, of the 20 centers who had the worst zone starts, only two had positive, relative Corsi-percentages to their team. They’re just not that common.

And one of those centers was David Kampf, which means the Hawks have a knack for finding these players (or at least their European scouts do).

In the Hawks first four games, Kampf–along with Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik–has been identified as a straight checking center. Finally. His only rough game came against the Jets, where he wasn’t deployed as that straight-up against Mark Scheifele, though the Jets obviously have other threats.

But last night was a perfect example, as his line matched up with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl exclusively and rolled out with a 3-to-1 difference in attempts and doubled them up in expected goals, and most importantly played them even in actual goals (+1 if you count the empty-netter, where Toews centered him and Saad). Which no one had done this season in the Oilers 5-0 start.

If the Hawks do anything this season that matters, Kampf will be a very unheralded but very important part of it. If used properly, and if he continues in this fashion, he relieves Toews of the duty of taking on other #1s, which at his age he can’t do and score as much as the Hawks are probably going to need him to. If he keeps turning over other top lines, he forces coaches to make some weird adjustments, as we saw last night with Dave Tippett triple-shifting McDavid just to give him room against someone else.

How Colliton manages Kampf on the road will be a watch. It’s probably too early in the season to start pulling guys off immediately to get Kampf out there against the biggest threats on the fly, but it is a tool Colliton should go to later in the year. For now, starting him in his own zone should see a decent enough amount of matchups against other top lines.

The Hawks have a real tool (in a good way, jerks) here. Pretty sure they know it, now let’s see if they maximize it.

The Terrifying Lows

Jonathan Toews – No reason to panic, as before last season the slow start was something Toews just did. October over his career sees his lowest amount of goals and points, He has averaged .,31 goals per game and .72 points in October, which are below his career averages overall. Last year’s seven goals and 12 points in 13 October games are the anomaly, not this.

Still, in the first three games of the year, Toews got absolutely clocked. 28% Corsi against the Flyers, 16% against the Sharks (what?), and 45% against the Jets. His xGF% was 33%. He was better last night as Kampf spared him having to play against the one center the Oilers have. When you spend most of your night against Riley Sheahan, good things should happen.

Still, Toews has looked a half-step or worse off the pace this year, which was the problem a couple years ago. Again, could just be a slow start. Could be some goofy linemates too, as combined with Alex DeBrincat and Caligula he has too much to do. He has to be some of the puck-winner and some of the playmaker, and that’s not really his game anymore. Caggiula is a good soldier but the Hawks need something more dynamic there (Kirby Dach on a wing?).

Toews has earned all the leeway, but they’ll need more from the captain soon.

The Creamy Middles

Connor Murphy and Duncan Keith – This was probably how it was supposed to look three seasons ago, given that it’s only been two games. But as Niklas Hjalmarsson was moved out, and Joel Quenneville‘s heart with him, Hammer had already supplanted Brent Seabrook as Keith’s main partner. It was the two of them getting turned into person-shaped piles of ash with blinking eyes by Nashville in ’17 that inspired Stan Bowman to look for someone more mobile than Hjalmarsson. Mostly due to  being Q’s red-headed step-child, Murphy only got sporadic looks with Keith, and they didn’t go well. But we imagine this is what Stan envisioned when he made the deal.

Only two games, but Colliton has opted for this as his top pairing and through those two games they’ve been great. They were matched up with Wheeler and Scheifele on Saturday and came out ahead, and did so again last night against McDavid (with help from Kampf, of course). Given what’s on the roster, this is the best the Hawks can do right now. And in these past two games, it’s been more than enough.

Murphy is just about the only other d-man on the roster with the mobility and defensive awareness to cover for Keith when he goes out a-walkin’ after midnight, and gives Keith something of the cushion to still try it. Which he’s going to anyway, but when he’s panicky it only gets worse and Murphy at least takes that away. For now.

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