On paper, it’s surprising that what’s become very clear as the vocal majority of Hawks fans aren’t more nakedly jealous of Kings fans. With basically an equal amount of success as the Hawks, Kings fans have been able to enjoy the organization from management to players being unrepentant pieces of since the summer of 2012 (when Drew Doughty was also accused of sexual assault and no one even to this day still seems to give a shit about) without having to mansplain themselves to Social Justice Warriors out to ruin the good times of white men everywhere.
Whether that’s a function of no one giving a fuck about the Kings on a national level even after winning two of the last four cups and leading their division for most of this year, or that Kings fans as a whole merely think it’s funny when it happens to other people without the slightest bit of self-reflection, their loyalty remains largely unquestioned to this point. The option of being able to enjoy their shit SPORTS franchise in uninterrupted complacency without being made to ask larger questions is certainly an option most would take.
The Kings enter tonight still holding onto the top spot in the Pacific division despite their buffer over the Ducks now nearly completely eroded with their percentages snapping back over the last month or so. But the Kings are what they’ve always been, a possession juggernaut that doesn’t have much East-West to their game. Much like Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar’s offensive production has slipped a bit this year, more than likely as a result of Darryl Sutter’s dependence on him night-in and night-out. Jeff Carter is as reliable a #2 center as there is in the game, and his early season production is what helped keep the Kings atop the division even when no one else was interested in contending for it while Kopitar worked out the scoring woes. Tyler Toffoli is on the precipice of his first 25 goal season sitting at 24 presently, and has been the lone King forward to make any kind of step forward. Milan Lucic is an ambulatory, yapping stadium-sized trough urinal with 16 goals on the season. There is no point in posting anyone’s possession numbers because they are all excellent in every situation.
There has been much consternation about whether or not Drew Doughty is worthy of a Norris win this year, to the point of the social media arguments and think pieces becoming self parody. There’s little room for argument that Doughty is at the very least in the upper echelon of true #1, every-situation defensemen in the league. There is also little room for argument that he’s a fucking asshole, and yet that never gets brought up for the reasons mentioned above. I’m sure he’s anxiously awaiting his glowing, accuser-bashing, obstacle-overcoming Sports Illustrated puff piece to help in his campaign for Norris too. Doughty has been particularly excellent on the power play this year, with 9 goals and 22 points, both of which lead the Kings. Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez are both mobile possession driving defensemen, Luke Schenn is not. Jamie McBain and Braden McNabb are indistinguishable from one antother, and Rob Scuderi is Rob Scuderi.
Jonathan Quick remains slightly above average with a .919 save percentage, but with the amount of shots the Kings allow, his plateauing hasn’t really affected the Kings much, as they are first in goals allowed per game at 2.3. However the Kings are only middle of the pack on the PK, which is down from their usual rate at 80.9%. And if the pucks are getting past Quick he can always be relied upon for a quality stick-breaking tantrum.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, apparently having 15 representative NHL forwards just isn’t enough to conceal the fact that the Hawks don’t have a middle pairing on defense to speak of when on the road. Bartolo Seabrook continues to sink a like a bloated stone in the ocean, and he continues to carry everyone down with him. It’s not the fault of Erik Gustafsson or even the visibly terrible Trevor Van Riemsdyk (though he certainly hasn’t helped). It’s crucial for the Hawks to get home ice advantage because they have to hide Brent Sbarro from basically anything that’s not third or fourth line competition at this point. And not winning a game against a Western Conference opponent in over a month isn’t necessarly a harbinger of good things to come. Michal Rozsival is back in the lineup tonight at Christian Ehrhoff’s expense; so much for an express trip to the Circle of Trust.
The Hawks’ penalty kill has gotten plenty of attention lately, but Marcus Kruger isn’t a cure-all for what’s going on here. The Hawks allow the most shots per 60 minutes on the kill, but that’s somewhat by design, as they have always allowed Corey Crawford the cleanest viewing angles to trust his technique. It’s why the Hawks never engage with any net front obelisk the Hawks might throw out there. So blocking shots isn’t the answer. Part of the problem has been that Artem Anisimov hasn’t won a draw since opening night against the Rangers, and in Kruger’s absence he’s been on the #1 PK unit, so the vast majority of time the opposition starts out with the puck. And now that Crawford’s PK save percentage has normalized a bit, the Hawks are reaping what they’ve sewn.
There’s no point in the Hawks pretending they’re anything more than the 2014 Avalanche at this point even after the trade deadline additions. They’re not magically going to reverse course and become the possession monster people have come to expect them to be at the tail end of the only season under Joel Quenneville that the Hawks have allowed more shots than they’ve taken. This team is going to need to goalie and power play it’s way through the spring, and it’d be far more beneficial if they did so at home more often than not. Time to accept it and get started tonight.