As the homestand nears its halfway point the Hawks still find themselves winless on the season, and the schedule has done them zero favors with a very early season tilt against the suddenly shit-hot Oilers and arguably the fastest player in the history of the game.
The Oilers have been a punchline for a reason, and their offseason moves gave no one any reason to not continue to talk copious amounts of shit about the franchise and its ability to waste a generational talent in Connor McDavid, one they somehow fell ass backwards into drafting in hopes of resetting the team’s fortunes for the 48th time in a decade. But even despite all of their laughable personnel decisions, when Run CMD goes off, he goes all the way the fuck off, to the tune of 2 goals, 5 assists, and 7 points in the Oilers’ three games last week, bringing their overall record to a perfect 5-0-0, and McDavid’s totals to 5 goals, 8 assists, and 12 points in 8 games. He’s gotten help so far too in places both expected and not, with Leon Draisaitl right behind him with 11 points, and New Deal James Neal somehow with 7 goals to this point, equaling his total in Calgary for all of last year already. Five of Neal’s 7 goals have come on the power play which would indicate that it’s still McDavid that’s driving Neal’s resurgence, but goals on the advantage still count the same as others no matter what every Canadian with a copy of Excel installed wants everyone to believe. At evens McJesus and Leon The Ladies’ Man still have Zack Kassian barreling his big dumb ass into things on the top line, and Neal flanks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the second along with erstwhile Hawks’ project Tomas Jurco. The Oilers’ bottom six forwards certainly are on an NHL roster, with only Joakim Nygard among them registering a single point thus far into the season. Clearly this is a top heavy unit that cannot be given any opportunities on the power play whatsoever.
On the blue line, the Oilers seem to be in a state of perpetually trying to figure things out. The very awesomely named Ethan Bear has been partnered with Darnell Nurse with Adam Larsson hurt, and they’re the de facto top pairing if only because Nurse still absolutely looks the part of the #1 he was drafted as, even if his play to this point in his career hasn’t reflected it, and Nurse has been shelled to this point in the season with a 41% possession share. Oscar Klefbom has fared a bit better on the second pairing, driving play with Joel Persson at a very respectable 56.9% rate in 54 minutes of even strength time. Kris Russell and all of the flashpoint debate that he inspires is still here holding down the third pairing with Matthew Benning, though Russell will bounce around situationally because of his ability to get perforated with pucks.
In net, the 37 year old Oscar winner Mike Smith has been mediocre-to-serviceable in his 3 starts so far this season with a .907 overall and .892 at evens, which will assuredly come back to bite both him and the Oilers in the ass given that to this point Smith (and the Oilers as a team) have only allowed one power play goal against, by Smith, in 20 shots. As good as Dave Tippett has always been at suffocating the very life out of hockey, a .950 on the kill is going to come back down eventually. Koskinen for his two starts has been slightly better with a .914 overall, and .926 at evens while not allowing a single power play goal himself. It will be Smith who gets the cage tonight, and his ability to handle the puck is always a concern, so cross-corner dump ins will be a necessity, as will Andrew Shaw resisting the urge to get within a four foot radius of him again.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they said they wanted to not be chasing again early in the season, and they had the Magic Training Camp to set everything right, and still the defense is an utter disaster. It’s unclear what is more troubling, that Coach Kelvin Gemstone thought he could play a “high pressure” defensive zone system with this group of players all falling somewhere on the Immobile-Clueless spectrum, or that he’s not recognizing in real time that he can’t. Either way the Hawks are a clown car in their own end no matter how stabilizing a force Calvin de Haan and his detatched crotch might end up being. And in the wrong matchups tonight, Edmonton’s top line has the speed and creativity to eviscerate this non-existent coverage.
Up front Brendan Perlini gets a seat for political reasons, even though if he’s not scoring goals his speed and size can still be an asset away from the puck, where the Hawks have found themselves far more often than not so far. In his place, priced asset Alex Nylander returns, who has demonstrated no such attributes this far, and putting him on the fourth line as he’s slated to be to start out tonight isn’t doing him any favors to maximize that. Truly visionary moves, both of them. Of course these two are just deck chairs if a team that knows its top heavy at forward isn’t getting anything from the top, which it hasn’t yet from Jonathan Toews, and only has a goal and an assist from Alex DeBrincat. So what the Hawks are right now is a team that can’t outscore their horrendous defensive deficiencies, which makes whomever is in net merely academic, and tonight Corey Crawford gets another shot of finally getting the Hawks in the W column this year.
With last change at home and one line basically accounting for all of the opponent’s scoring, this would be a prime opportunity for Coach Jeremy Trestman to show that he has any kind of thought process about line matching to not let McDavid and Draisaitl turn the Hawks’ defensive zone into Patrick Bateman’s apartment. Furthermore, the Hawks cannot take any unnecessary penalties not only because their PK currently sucks a profound degree of shit and will only get bailed out by goalie play, but also because one of how well the Oilers’ advantage has played so far. And even if all of that does still happen, Dave Tippett, while a purveyor of horrendously boring hockey, is absolutely not a moron, and will surely force Beto O’Colliton to have to reach for more than the “Double Shift” lever to get something going if the Oilers are suppressing shots the way Tippett designs things. So what was once thought to be at least manageable matchup in this home schedule has now become an incredibly steep mountain to climb, and the calls for major changes will only get louder from everywhere, and the unwashed masses will have to start preparing themselves for “Head Coach Marc Crawford”, which no one wants or needs. Any time you’re ready, shitheads. Let’s go Hawks.