I’m relieved I waited until this afternoon to wrap this one up. The anger last night, slightly booze-fueled, was more than it should have been. That’s what happens when you toss away the first game on the trip yourself, because when you just lose one with nothing majorly wrong and you’re suddenly 1-2 on a tough trip things get amplified.
Most of my anger last night was directed at Joakim Nordstrom which is simply wrong and useless. But it felt good at the time I guess. It’s a symptom of perhaps a larger problem, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
There was a lot of angst directed at the Hawks’ sloppiness and that’s not to be dismissed, but going back over the game this morning there’s a pretty good reason why the Hawks had a tough time finding each other and it wasn’t just because it was the second game in two nights, or looking forward to Vegas.
The Sharks pressured the Hawks in their own zone more than any team I’ve seen, except for maybe the Jets. And it wasn’t the headless chicken, slobbering mess that the Ducks tried the night before which left acres of space behind them. The Sharks weren’t trying to measure their manhood with every hit, but were simply trying to take away time and space as quickly as they could. Sometimes three forwards would be closing down the Hawks in their own end.
Now, usually you would think the Hawks could bypass this and then have odd-man rushes to tumescence all night. But what the Jets have shown, and the Sharks did again last night, is the Hawks d-men have a real hard time making plays under pressure. They can’t skate away from it other than Keith, which means they’re trying to make a pinpoint pass under duress, and that’s not working out so well. The first pass is a little off, leaving the next guy with less time and under more pressure, so his next play isn’t accurate, and on and on it goes.
Because the Hawks aren’t tape-clicking their way out of the zone, that extra time they need allowed the Shark forwards to cycle back from the forecheck and close up the space in the neutral zone as well. Basically squeezing the Hawks from both sides. For you fellow soccer nerds out there, this is what teams started doing to Barcelona to prevent them from having the time and space to weave their magic.
Only a few teams can do this, because you have to be packed with speed at forward. While the Sharks remain as bewildering as always, they do have that. So do the Jets, and maybe a handful of others.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some sloppiness and disjointed flotsam from the Hawks, because there was. But there are reasons for it.
At least on the plus side, the shot-suppression we’ve worried about has been omni-present the past two games, with the Sharks only managing 20 shots. Something to build on?
Let’s get to the thing:
The Two Obs
-Right, back to the Nordstrom thing. I get that his defensive positioning or whatever his aid in zone exits are is treasured by the coach. And if you’re used as a checking line, that’s fine. But last night, they weren’t. They were up against mostly James Sheppard’s line, but basically saw the bottom six. And they got clocked.
To be a four-line team, when your fourth line goes against the other one, you want to see them just keep the puck in the other end. Kruger’s line just hasn’t done that consistently this season when not used as a strict checking line. Zone starts and all that I get, but when faced with the other bottom of the roster you should be able to turn the ice over. But that’s hardly the biggest reason the Hawks lost.
-McLellan was matchup chasing last night. He wanted Couture against Toews, which didn’t work all that well. He wanted Thornton against Richards, which did work.
-Why is Michal Rozsival playing 19 minutes? I mean seriously. Whatever the problems with Rundblad, he actually can make a pass under pressure which Rozsival can’t even get off before he’s swallowed up by a forecheck. Then again, Keith’s Corsi% with Rundblad last night was 30% and 60% without him, but there’s a better way to solve this than Rozsival.
-Teuvo bitching alert. He was just one of three forwards to not crack 10 minutes (Smith and Nordstrom the others) and on the 2nd of a back-to-back in a tough building you can’t be playing with three lines.
I get the impression the entire organization is terrified of Teuvo playing well for some reason. They’ve gone out of their way to tamper expectations, even putting their lapdogs in the media on the case. He’s been kept below 10 minutes per game, even in this one where you needed to find a goal to get a point. You’d think a team that watched Pearson and Toffoli get in them up to the wrist last spring wouldn’t be so shy about bleeding in their most offensively gifted prospect.
-Didn’t notice Brad Richards much, as he was usually chasing Thornton. This is where we’ll find out about Richards. This is when he started to fade last season. It’s only one bad game out of three, but let’s just see how February goes.
The trip doesn’t get too much easier from here. The Wild are going to be highly desperate, we know the headache the Jets have been, and the Blues may have the chance to basically keep the Hawks behind them for the rest of the year a week from today. Gonna have to close with a flourish here just to have a .500 trip and make that eight-game homestand really interesting.