Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs this weekend, capping off a 2-2 week of action. The piglets knocked off the top two teams in the Central Division (Chicago and Manitoba), and also dropped decisions to the worst two teams (Grand Rapids and Iowa).

Rockford is in fourth place in the division standings, with an outside shot at overtaking Milwaukee for third place. The Hogs will need to win their last three games-at Iowa and Milwaukee on Wednesday and Friday, then the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday night.

A fourth-place finish will result in a play-in series with the division’s fifth seed; that looks like the Texas Stars at this point. Winning the play-in sets up a best-of-five series with Chicago. Gaining third-place puts Rockford in an opening round series with the Moose.

The IceHogs have defeated the Wolves eight times in eleven meetings this season, including Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Rosemont. The season series with Manitoba is 5-3 in favor of Rockford, who beat the Moose 5-3 to punch its ticket to the postseason Saturday.

In this last week of regular-season action, the piglets will look to stay healthy and finish strong. It’s been a pretty successful campaign for Rockford. With some good fortune, this club could get some extended development time in May.

 

Roster News

The key development for Rockford is the loss of veteran forward Brett Connolly with a left knee injury. The team announced Saturday that Connolly will be out four to six weeks. It’s unlikely we see him in action with the Hogs again this season.

D.J. Busdeker is nursing a sore shoulder but could possibly return for the playoffs. However, it’s Connolly’s leadership and offensive punch (17 G, 18 A) that is going to be tough to replace.

With his last appearance being in Manitoba April 16, Rockford is 3-2 without Connolly. The IceHogs have managed to score without his presence, which will have to continue over the next couple of weeks.

 

Notes

  • Lukas Reichel added four assists to his team leading point total. He now owns the IceHogs rookie scoring mark with 53 points, besting Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51-point effort in the 2016-17 season.
  • Andrei Altybarmakian extended his goal streak to five games in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Iowa. He now has 10 goals and 30 points in 63 games this season.
  • Mike Hardman had four goals this week; one of his two goals against the Wolves was the game-winner in the final minute of regulation. Hardman 19 goals is second on the team behind Reichel’s 21. He will be counted on to provide offense in lieu of Connolly.
  • Arvid Soderblom continues to be the team’s workhorse in goal, having started ten of Rockford’s last twelve games. Cale Morris turned in a solid performance in the win over Chicago Wednesday, but it would appear that Soderblom will anchor the Hogs in the postseason.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for more thoughts on the IceHogs playoff prospects as the regular season winds down.

Hockey

With the season all but over now, the only point to watching the Hawks going forward should be to see what the younger players have to offer in a couple of actual NHL games. Instead they’re all down in Rockford to help them in their “playoff run” in the AHL. That’s nice and all, but in reality they all need to be up here getting experience against legitimate playoff teams (because the Hawks are going to lose to a few of them in the next week and a half) at the highest level that hockey can offer. Lukas Reichel doesn’t need to be bum slaying down in RockVegas where he potentially could take an elbow to the head by some career minor leaguer. I also don’t need to see the pale, gooberish face of Erik Gustafsson on my TV anymore while Ian Mitchell and Nicholas Beaudin rot in RFD.

Honestly, other than the trade of Brandon Hagel to Tampa Bay (which to be fair was a very good deal), our Shiny New GM has not done much to fill me with confidence in his ability to steer the ship through Rebuild Bay. The rest of the deadline deals were somewhat meh, and his insistence of keeping some of the prospects in Rockford over playing up here is mysterious at best. His real work will begin this summer at the draft in deciding what he wants to do with Kane and Toews moving forward, but the initial returns are not promising.

BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED!

 

 

Wednesday 4/20

Hawks 4 – Coyotes 3 (OT)

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

It’s appropriate that this game occurred on 4/20, because being stoned out of your gourd would be the best possible way to watch these two bottom feeder teams slam their heads together like rams on the side of a mountain. It ended up being exactly what you’d expect from the Hawks and Yotes, except for the outcome where Alex DeBrincat potted the game winner in OT when he buried a sick feed from Kaner past something named “Karel Vejmelka” for his 40th of the season. The Hawks (as is their way) coughed up not one but two 2 goal leads before putting the game away in OT. Alex Vlasic also got his first career goal as a Hawk, so that’s something you can tell your children about 30 years from now when they put you in a home.

 

Thursday 4/21

Hawks 1 – Kings 4

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Woof.

The Kings fucking smoked the Hawks right out of the Staples Center on this one (it’s always gonna be the Staples Center, no matter how much CryptoFartWankJob.Com might want it to be otherwise), scoring twice in 15 seconds at one point. On top of that, Phil Danault gave us yet another reminder about how much a fucking moron Stan Bowman is by opening the scoring 9 minutes into the game. The CORSI shows just how much a waxing this was by the Kings, as they averaged just over 70% of the possession time in the game, peaking in the 2nd where they held a 75% share. Unreal. Anyways, Kane scored his 26th of the season, and that’s about the only highlight for the Hawks in this one. Good seats still available!

 

Saturday 4/23

Hawks 1 – Sharks 4

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

Looking at that chart and nothing else, one would be lead to assume the Hawks beat the Sharks like a drum up and down the ice. Sadly, sometimes puck luck and a hot goalie can have other ideas, as Kaapo Kahkonen made 27 saves (quite a few of them being of the high danger variety) in his second win since being sent over from the Wild at the deadline. The Hawks also carried a 75% CORSI share in the 1st period, which is EASILY the highest number they’ve had all season, and potentially all decade.  Tyler Johnson potted one for the Hawks here, which is nice to see for his own sake in this injury-ravaged season that he’s having.

One thing that has become abundantly clear is the Hawks goaltending situation may be the single most important issue that Kyle Davidson deals with going forward. While Kevin Lankinen isn’t entirely to blame (the defense being played in front of him is eye-bleedingly bad), I think we’ve seen enough to show that he’s not going to be The Guy going forward. He would be a very capable backup for whoever the Hawks ultimately anoint as the goalie of the future, but his sole purpose going forward is to eat as many minutes as necessary while the next generation learns on the fly.

The march towards the inevitable heat death of the Blackhawks season continues this week with games against Philly, Vegas and Buffalo. Two of those 3 should be winnable games, but the only one that matters is the Vegas one as the Knights attempt to cling onto their playoff hopes as they chase down Nashville. While it probably won’t happen, it would be kinda fun for the Hawks to step on their fingers as they cling to the side of the cliff.

Onward.

Hockey

The Hawks did about what was expected the last three games, looking alive enough to win one game for Pat Foley before they ended up getting schooled by Nashville and Calgary, two playoff teams of differing skill levels that still skated circles around the Hawks. As is life on Madison these days.

Lukas Reichel’s first-year contract is now officially burned as he garnered around 31 minutes for a team playing for nothing. You would think doing this goes directly against the organization’s narrative of keeping all other Hawks prospects down in Rockford for the Tomato Can Playoff Push while players like Riley Stillman, Erik Gustafsson and others get NHL minutes instead of them, and turns out the front office realized the same, as it was announced last night he was heading back to Rockford this morning to go win the Tomato Can Hockey Cup. Good luck!

Thursday 4/14
Hawks 5, Sharks 4 (Hawks win! Hawks win!)
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks finally got their give-a-shit meters to work again, and all it took was their beloved announcer calling his last NHL game and a matchup against another garbage team on a losing streak of their own. Kane, the Cat, Strome and Amy’s Eldest had multi-point nights, while Raddysh with a Y extended his scoring streak to two games. On the other end of that spectrum, defense was nowhere to be found, Reichel took away a puck in the 2nd and then immediately gave it away again five seconds later for his highlight of the night, and Toews, Dach and newly signed Reese Johnson were pointless in this game that should’ve been a point-grabbing free-for-all for every player involved.

The Hawks and Sharks seemed to trade goals all night, as the goaltenders on both sides of the ice were downright bad. Lankinen’s positioning and rebound control were, of course, all over the place, and the Sharks always seemed to have an answer for whatever goal the Hawks scored. Overtime sucked, as both teams didn’t really do shit on either end, trying to get to the shootout, I guess. But the Hawks can still cling to shootouts as something they’re relatively good at, and were able to win the game because of it thanks to a nasty goal by the Cat. Someone’s gotta get it done.

Outside of all the offense, there was too much clowning in this game for my liking. The fact that the Hawks punched Timo Meier in the head because he did a snow spray on Kevin Lankinen was a choice, and then Stillman fighting Jeffrey Viel over it was also a choice, and then Jake McCabe taking a myriad of dumbass roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties was by far the stupidest, most exhausting shit of the night. Remember when this guy was signed to be an effective shutdown defenseman or whatever the fuck? You can’t do that when you’re in the box. It’s time to move on from this style of hockey, I’m exhausted.

Saturday 4/16
Hawks 3, Predators 4
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Starting this game out by watching Jeremy Lauzon’s knee bend in ways it should never be able to bend was certainly not the best, and the Predators were able to get out ahead soon after that to set the tone for the game. The Hawks led once thanks to efforts by goals by Kane and Dominik Kubalik later on in the 1st and 2nd periods, one in which Kane mouthed off to some dude in front row seats because that’s hockey baby. Reichel and his newly-burned first-year contract got his first NHL point in a pretty neat assist to Kubalik’s goal, however, and we’ve all been waiting for that. It was a good moment.

Lankinen didn’t look too terrible in this game either, making more impressive saves in this game than the previous. But right after Mackenzie Entwhistle and Boris Katchouk were assessed penalties—including one game misconduct—for REASONS, the Predators completely turned the game around in their favor, with Roman Josi scoring just a minute later to tie things up. Two more Predators goals at the end of the 2nd and the 3rd sealed the deal for the Hawks—the first goal on a Nashville powerplay thanks to Alex Vlasic and a dumb high sticking penalty, speaking of clowning. Despite Kane making a passing play that any Joe Schmoe, including Stillman, can put into the back of the net, the Hawks were pretty overpowered in this game and it showed as they came up empty in the points column.

Monday 4/18
Hawks 2, Flames 5
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

I predicted this outcome, and I’m sure you did too. And the Flames spent no time making the Hawks look silly, scoring 22 seconds into the game with a fluky goal that Lankinen will probably see in his nightmares. In fact, the Flames had two goals before the Hawks could even register a shot on the fucking net, as I continue to be perplexed as to why Raddysh with a Y was the one tasked to try and stop Johnny fucking Gaudreau from scoring, a mistake I’m sure Derek King and his man behind the curtain will not make again.

The two teams’ meatheads in Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe went at it after Zadorov continued to show his ass by putting a big hit on Toews in the first period. Toews then got high sticked right off the faceoff, had to leave to get stitches, and the Flames scored again to put them ahead for the rest of the game, though Alec Regula scored the second and final Hawks goal in the 2nd period with a shot from the point that probably shouldn’t have gone in. Then the Flames rested on their laurels for a majority of the 3rd period, getting only four shots on net in those 20 minutes, probably because they knew they’d have multiple empty net opportunities with the Hawks yanking Lankinen for the extra attacker like always. Johnny Gaudreau isn’t going to miss those empty netters, and this game was no exception.

Thank God we’re almost to the end, and this schedule will be a tad easier as the Hawks revisit the Kings and Sharks near the tail end and face the Coyotes, barely an NHL team, tomorrow night. Can’t wait to see who will muck it up this time!

Hockey

The Hawks seem very determined to end this season with a whimper, as the losing streak continues to stretch on for as far as the eye can see and quite possibly with no end in sight if the team’s play over the last few games is any glimpse into the future. McClure pretty much summed up how we all feel in his last wrap, which can be boiled down to “sick of everyone’s shit.” It also doesn’t help that we’re all jonesing for Lukas Reichel’s first NHL point, in which he was denied despite having multiple good chances in the most recent Hawks shellacking against the Kings.

There’s not a lot to look forward to as most Chicagoans have turned their sporting attention to whichever baseball team pleases them most, which can be easily seen in Tuesday’s crowd numbers at the United Center, appearing to be one of the lowest of the season. If you are one of the very few who will be tuning in to watch this dreck (or perhaps just tonight’s ceremony honoring the career of Pat Foley), here’s the rundown of the opposition.

4/14 vs. San Jose

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSCH / WGN 720
Nice Shark, Not a Mindless Eating Machine: Fear the Fin

It’s a battle of the bad teams, as the Sharks somehow beat out the Hawks for the longer losing streak, which is at seven games and against mostly playoff teams, though a 5-2 loss to Arizona is quite embarrassing. We should know, as we’ve recently been there.

The biggest news in the Sharks universe is that Doug Wilson has officially stepped down as general manager for health-related reasons. The team is already a bit of a tire fire on the ice, and now that an extensive search for the new GM has begun in San Jose, there aren’t a lot of Sharks who should feel safe. Like the Hawks, the goaltending situation for next year is very much up in the air, as none of the five goaltenders who have played for the team this year have particularly stellar numbers. James Reimer, with the majority of the starts, and Kaapo Kahkonen, traded from the Wild at the deadline, are looking at .915 and .913 save percentages respectively, which is about as average as it gets. Kahkonen is probably a lock as the veteran netminder who stopped 40 of 41 shots in the Sharks’ brutal 1-0 OT loss to Nashville, but there’s also Adin Hill to look at as well, who has started the second-most games this year and probably wouldn’t clear waivers. I do not envy whoever’s job it is to sort that out.

On the offensive front, there are only three players on the Sharks with more than 12 goals this season, and only two players over 50 points (though Logan Couture is at 49). In many ways, this team mirrors the Hawks with these kinds of stats, except that the Sharks organization is still in denial about their situation and is still trying their best to get back into playoff contention next year—that is, if owner Hasso Plattner has anything to say about it. Either way, this game could be high-scoring and amusing if both teams come out to play. Or not. The Hawks have nothing to play for and look it.

4/16 @ Nashville

Game Time: 11:30 AM CST
TV/Radio:
NBCSCH / WGN 720
Team from the North Country:
On the Forecheck

The Predators are currently fighting for their playoff lives against the Stars and Golden Knights (I guess) and find themselves currently sitting in the first wild card spot in the west. It seems unlikely they will be able to catch St. Louis for the third spot in the Central Division with a 7-point gap between the two teams. Dallas is only a point behind them in the 2nd spot, which neither team will want to be in, as the 2nd wild card team will have to play a game called “How many playoff games can you survive before the Avalanche inevitably crush you?” To make things more amusing, the Predators have the hardest schedule down the stretch with 7 of their final 10 games coming against playoff teams, including Colorado, Calgary twice, and Tampa Bay. This Hawks game is essentially must-win for the team, as it is far and away their easiest on the docket.

The Predators can mostly thank Roman Josi for being where they are now, as he has gone on an offensive tear that blows all of his previous stats completely out of the water. He has 19 goals and 68 assists for 87 points on the year, good for being in on 13% of all goals and assists the Preds have scored this season. To give more credit where credit is due, Matt Duchene bounced back from his horrific season last year to score career highs in goals and points. Filip Forsberg is also blowing away all his previous stats with 72 points this year. And let’s not forget the time-honored tradition (if you can call 2 seasons a tradition) of Juuse Saros putting up a .920-something save percentage. And considering your backup goalie is David Rittich (I shudder at the thought), Saros will likely be ridden hard into the playoffs and depended on for every game.

The Predators will be desperate for an easy win, so I’m sure this game won’t go poorly at all.

4/18 vs. Calgary

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST
TV/Radio:
SN, NBCSCH / WGN 720
You Don’t Care for Me, I Don’t a-Care about That:
The ScorchStack

An absolute ass kicking will commence here. Kevin Lankinen or Collin Delia or whoever Joe Schmoe the Hawks will trot out in net will get absolutely pummeled, shellacked, lit up by the Flames and their fearless leader Johnny Gaudreau, fourth in the league with 101 (!) fucking points because of course he is. There have only been 8 other Flames in the franchise’s history to hit 100 points, so Gaudreau hitting that milestone in their most recent game was a pretty big deal, and a big reason why the team is currently on a 5-game winning streak. (Feasting on the Seattle Kraken for two games in a row doesn’t hurt either.) His linemates, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, are both having career-best seasons offensively, but are just as much of a pain in the ass defensively as well—God help the Hawks as they try to get by or stop these three.

Other than the first line, secondary scoring is probably a bit of a concern for Calgary as they head into the playoffs. As everyone knows around here, it takes contribution from more than one line to win the Stanley Cup. The Flames have been doing well thanks to their solid defensive metrics, including having the third-least scoring chances against them in the league this season. It also helps when your goaltender Jacob Markstrom has a .924 save percentage, and Flames fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when Connor Mackey made his debut for the team against the Sharks, putting old pal Nikita Zadorov on the bench. Anytime his ass can be stapled there will improve the defense on whatever team he may be on.

Hockey

There’s really not much to say at this point. Even for this being the post-deadline final kick for teams that have been long dead such as the Hawks, this recent stretch has been absolute dog shit. During this past week the Hawks got deservedly shut out at home by an expansion franchise that is actually trying for a slow build, allowed one of the most boring teams in the league to put six goals on them, and got absolutely dog walked in terms of possession by a team missing its best (and credibly accused sex criminal) defenseman.

Lukas Reichel has been called up and he’s been noticeable, but still hasn’t put the puck in the back of the net yet because the entire Hawk attack is now being very easily pushed to the perimeter. Neither goalie looks like he will be in the league next year, and Kevin Lankinen’s rebound control has only worsened since he got through the division once in last year’s goofy ass intra-division schedule. Jonathan Toews has hung the I’m Not Interested sign and adorned it with flashing neon lights and truthfully he cannot be blamed in the least at this point – hell, look how this post is even constructed. Even the reliable and enjoyable Alex Debrincat has gone cold and been stuck on 39 goals for a while now, and it is in no way a coincidence that the Hawks have not even been competitive in these games when he’s not making the score sheet. There aren’t even any kids on the absolutely desolate blue line to look for growth out of because Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson have consistently still been dressed up until the the LA game. That’s the same Erik Gustafsson who wasn’t good enough for the dog ass Flyers blue line and was brought in to be a power play specialist and has scored precisely ZERO power play goals. In fact the Hawks do not have a single power play goal from a defenseman, which is truly a fucking marvel.

The box scores and possession numbers are out there for any reader who needs to further punish themselves with this. But for any sane person, at least the ride is almost over.

 

 

Hockey

As we embark on the final month of the Hawks season, there really is no need to do a “how did we get here” post mortem, because we all know exactly how it happened. There’s really nothing to rehash now that the excitement has faded from the trade deadline and the next batch of intrigue not arriving until the NHL draft this summer. All we’re left with are a few games to judge how some of the younger talent (especially Lukas Reichel, who was recalled from RockVegas recently) handles the adversity of the waning weeks of a lost season and the chance to play spoiler to teams who are actually going to be playing some meaningful hockey in May.

At least the MLB is firing back up today. Let’s do that Baseball!

 

4/7 vs. Seattle

 

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Krak Squad: Davy Jones Locker Room

 

If you think this game is meaningless just because both of these teams moved significant pieces of their rosters at the trade deadline to plan for the future, then boy howdy let me tell you that you’re absolutely right. While I’m only being slightly facetious here, the fact is that both the Krak and the Hawks will be using these final weeks of the season as an audition for roster spots in the fall. Both teams will be treating the free agent period this summer as a “pump and dump,” looking for aging talent and reclamation projects that can be signed to 1 year deals and then flipped at the trade deadline this time next season.

For their part, the Kraken have at least made their inaugural season entertaining for the Seattle fans, who have been waiting for something other than the Seahawks to root for since the Sonics packed up their shit and headed for one of the worst states in the union. Prior to shipping off Mark Giordano to a 1st round exit in Toronto and Marcus Johannson to the Caps, the Krak’s forward corps was managing to put up just over 3 goals per game, which for an expansion team with no deigns on competing is actually kind of impressive. Their issue is still on the back end and between the pipes, as the team as a whole has been giving up almost 4 goals per game over the last month and a half. Philip Grubauer and his 3.20 GAA with a .880 save percentage haven’t been helping at all, and essentially tanked his value for what was admittedly a very tepid market for goaltenders at the trade deadline.

 

3/10 vs. Dallas

Game Time: 6:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Deep In The Heart of JerryWorld: Defending Big D

The Stars have very quietly been one of the better teams in the Western Conference since the calendar flipped to 2023. They’re a pretty well rounded team, being in the top half of the league (but not TOO much in the top half) in pretty much every available stat category. Stacking all of this up with the very, very good season that Jake “the Otter” Oettinger has put together between the pipes and you get a team that’s not going to make one of the top 3 spots in the conference, but one that should fairly comfortably snag a wild card spot with the games in hand they have over Vegas.

The Stars are also very good at the American Airlines arena down in Dallas, compiling a 22-9-1 mark vs 13-18-5 on the road. That will make their quest to get out of the first round of the playoffs against Calgary or Colorado even more difficult as they’re almost guaranteed to be playing on the road more. What would help their cause would be for Alex Radulov to climb back up the cliff his production flew off of this season. With a mere 17 points in 62 games thus far this year, he hasn’t done much to justify his 6.25 million dollar cap hit, or made much of a case for him to get even the tiniest raise when he hits UFA status in the summer.

 

4/12 vs. Los Angeles

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Run Them Jewels Fast: Jewels From The Crown

 

The Hawks have a genuine opportunity to play spoiler in this game, as the Kings are clinging to a mere 4 point lead for the 3rd spot in the Pacific division over the Vegas Golden Knights at press time. The Kings have been treading water somewhat since the end of February, basically going slightly over .500 in the month of March. Not wanting to sell the farm to upgrade their roster at the deadline and hamstring their future (stares at Stan Bowman), the Kings were pretty quiet at the trade deadline. Honestly a pretty smart move, as the Pacific division is clearly the weakest out of any in the NHL so their odds of sneaking in and getting a few games in the playoffs are better than a 50/50 shot.

The Kings are one of the better possession teams in the NHL, and a lot of that credit is due to the system installed by former Sharks head coach Todd McClellan. They have one of the better breakouts in the league from their back end, as their D-men are able to push the play off their own blue line and back into the neutral zone pretty consistently. Alex Edler and professional dirtbag Drew Doughty are big reasons for this, as their passing skills are top notch. Old Friend Phillip Danault is here, very quietly being on pace for a 60 point season (stares at Stan Bowman) and has clearly learned quite a bit from Anze Kopitar in his time here with his +15 rating and consistent 57% CORSI share at even strength. He also gets considerable time on the PK, which makes  me want to saw my wrists with a spork even more. I would expect the Kings to come out flying at the Hawks defenders with a pretty strong forecheck (really, every team should do this as the Hawks breakout is a mess when Seth Jones isn’t on the ice) to try and pin them in their own zone and let their cycle go to work. The Kings forecheck and passing vs. Caleb Jones, Riley Still(here for some reason)man and Jake McCabe. I know who my money’s on.

Let’s Go Sox