The first month of the season is in the books–well, it’s the first three weeks but with the Hawks having played all the games in October they’re going to it just makes it cleaner to do this now. We haven’t learned all that much about the Hawks this month that we didn’t already know. They’re a very good team, they have a couple roster holes that they still haven’t really cleared up, and the power play gets a lot of chances but doesn’t finish as often as anyone would like, like a drunk male model.
So, what have we seen this month?
-I mentioned this on Twitter last night, but through the first 10 games this season Duncan Keith looks better than he did last year when he won his second Norris. You have to look a little deeper, but it’s there. His Corsi is up to over 60%, and he’s actually right on pace to have more primary assists than he did last year, which was 20. He has three so far this season, though only one secondary assist. Whether that’s up to luck or not, I leave for you to decide.
But beyond the numbers, Keith has basically completely shutdown his side of the ice. As McClure said last night in one of our conversations, he’s basically become a shutdown corner. Teams do their best to avoid dealing with him at all. He’s almost impossible to carry the puck in against if he’s in position because he closes the gap so quickly, and he’s going to win any race back to the puck after a dump-in.
Voters would be loathe to hand Keith a second straight Norris and third overall unless he puts up an eyeball popping amount of points again, and he still yet might, or if the Hawks win the Presidents’ Trophy again or something. He still has his issues offensively in getting shots through, but at least on the power play that’s as much as a system issue as anything with Keith. Players aren’t supposed to get better when they’re over 30, but so far Keith has looked as good as he ever has, if not better.
-Along with the usual scapegoats–Bickell, the new free agent signing (Richards), the new kid (Morin)–it seems Brandon Saad also is going to find himself regularly shuffled up and down the lineup based on his last game or two. I don’t know if that is really appropriate here. There was some rigamarole last night on the broadcast that Saad isn’t getting enough shots, and perhaps that’s a little true. But he’s averaging 2.1 shots per game, which is basically his career average. He’s got six points in 10 games, which isn’t far off his career average. His shooting percentage is 4.5% though, and that’s almost a third of what his career average is. You sort of wonder if that corrects and he’s playing as he’s playing now if everyone won’t think he’s playing well again.
Beyond that, Saad still pops up on these zone entry charts (and I’ll get them up as soon as I have them I promise) as the Hawk who carries the puck in more than anyone other than Kane. In charting this I write #20 a lot. His straight-line game is still very much on view.
Saad’s numbers dip when playing with Kane and Shaw. This isn’t to pile on Shaw (I’ll do that in a second) but it’s clear that Shaw isn’t playing his best now. Kane and Shaw’s numbers get even worse when they’re not playing with Saad. Saad’s fine, and that’s going to be clear pretty soon.
-Andrew Shaw hasn’t been very good. That much is clear. After being a positive possession player for his time here and either just at or slightly above the team rate, he’s neither this year. This can’t all be explained by simple numbers.
When watching Shaw, we already know that he’s not really a center. But it has worked in the past. Why? This is just a theory, but he works as a center when he’s not really being a center, i.e. playing with wingers who make things happen off the cycle and down low. Shaw combined well two years ago with Bickell and Stalberg, and most of it was on hard work below the goal line (most of you have forgotten but Stals and Bicks combined really well in 2013). This is not Kane’s game, obviously. In theory you’d think it would be Saad’s, and he’s far from helpless down low, but Saad is even better in open ice. Sticking Versteeg on that wing isn’t solving anything either. Shaw’s best game of the season, at least possession wise, came in St. Louis when he was mostly deployed with Hossa and Sharp. Again, he’s hardly the perfect solution for them but Sharp and Hossa can play on the cycle a lot better than Kane can.
As a center, Shaw is rarely going to be first in the zone and his first pass up to the wingers just isn’t good enough right now. If they haven’t set up a forecheck by the time he gets there, he can’t really do what he does best unless Kane is able to wait and wait (and teams don’t give him that unless they have no choice).
This isn’t a huge problem, it just looks bad now when Kane is sitting with one even-strength point. At some point, Teuvo is going to punt Shaw to a wing, where he can be first in the zone more often and get to the puck down low and cause a little ruckus. But for now, he should be removed from Kane’s line.
-Michal Rozsival looks terrible, which isn’t great when it’s only the season’s first month.
-The Hawks backup goalie role is still unsettled, and I doubt this is the last shuffle Scott Darling makes.
-Trevor van Riemsdyk is definitely a surprise, and imagine how good he would look without dragging around his very own Stone of Triumph.