It was never going to be as straightforward as it felt like it might be during the first 40 minutes of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. That fact was smashed home with the force of Mjolnir and the speed of Evan from Superbad right away in Game 2, and it left the Hawks chasing a much faster team from Jump St. to leave the series tied going into a PIVOTAL Game 3 late this evening. Because ALL games are pivotal at the moment. It’s immutable hockey law.
For the Oilers, they got exactly what they wanted out of Game 2, which was an absolutely dominant performance from Connor McDavid, and sturdy enough goaltending to make it stand up from Mikko Koskinen. Dave Tippett didn’t really need to chase matchups with last change because a) his counterpart Jeremy Bevington coaches a style that does not adhere to any kind of common sense tenets of line matching, and b) when McDavid is playing like that, what the fuck is anyone, let alone a rusty Calvin de Haan, really going to do about it? For as dominant as the Toews line was on Saturday, Tippett saw no problem with throwing McClavicle out there against him, and he proceeded to dong whip the entire line from a possession standpoint, with Toews himself only sporting a 33 share in 6 minutes of head to head play. And that right there is was probably reason enough for the series to now be equal.
The other major difference was Tippett starting Mikko Koskinen in net over Mike Smith, despite his (mostly correct) claims that Game 1 wasn’t Smith’s fault. Koskinen was mostly fine, and he definitely outplayed his counterpart who had more than his share of wobbly moments. It would stand to reason then that Koskinen would keep the cage and there would not be any other lineup changes for the Oilers, even with the series “shifting” to them being on the “road”.
As for the Hawks, the reasons they are the worst team to have qualified for this tournament were laid bare basically immediately. The construction of their lines and pairings are mismatched, most notably the “top” pairing of Keith and Boqvist, where a lack of communication somehow left the fastest player to ever live in front of Crawford without anyone in the same postal code. It’s been hammered on repeatedly here, but both of these players want to do the same things, and Duncan Keith isn’t exactly a welcoming veteran who’s willing to adapt his game for the sake of bringing a top prospect along (read: he’s a stubborn psychopath). Which of then leaves almost NO speed on the bottom two pairings of de Haan/Murphy and Koekkoek/Maata, even if the latter pairing had goals from each of them. Maata in particular appears to being targeted whenever he’s out there as someone who just can’t keep up, which is another point that has been reiterated time and time again despite all of his EXPERIENCE. There have not been any reports from practice indicating any changes, and remember who the coach is, so it’s fairly safe to assume that this will be the grouping this evening as well.
Up front, the Alex Nylander thing simply isn’t fucking cute anymore. He is absolutely worthless on the second line, and that point was magnified when the unit of Dach, DeBrincat, and Garbage Dick generated all three goals for the Hawks while Nylander was standing still at center ice fiddling with his own dick while the puck went the other way and into the Hawk net. And it’s not like he was ever trusted on the second line anyway. With that little sociopath on the wing, a player gets MAYBE two chances to not fuck up, and then he’s never trusted to be sent a pass again; he may as well not exist. At least John Quenneville did everyone the courtesy of being largely invisible during his riveting 3 minutes of ice time, while Nylander keeps getting top 6 minutes and power play time. These are games that “matter” and he is out here fucking up at every possible juncture. In the words of Walter Sobchak, “You’re killing your father, Larry”. Not only should he be demoted, but he should be scratched outright, especially when a perfectly useful and FAST Dylan Sikura is just sitting right there. But again, benching Nylander isn’t triple shifting Kane, so Jeremy Kimm isn’t interested in it.
All of this was exacerbated by Corey Crawford clearly not being right coming back from covid, with a couple more softies allowed. But there aren’t a lot of options after him unless he actually cannot go, absolutely no disrespect to Malcolm Subban. If at the beginning of the series the option was given to go into the “home” portion of the schedule tied at a game a piece with Crawford looking as shaky as he has in years, pretty much any Hawks observer and the organization themselves would have taken it. The hope has to be that with every day that he puts some distance between the last days of the illness his play improves.
Plenty will be made on the broadcast about the Hawks having last change and the opportunity to get the matchups they want, but that assumes that their coach actually knows what a matchup even is, because in nearly two years on the job he’s yet to show a shred of evidence around that. And all that being said, the Hawks are still VERY much in this series, because the defensive structure on the other side isn’t exactly reminiscent of the 1995 Devils. McDavid or Draisaitl could still bend reality to their will at any given moment, and if it’s at the expense of the Toews line any matchups Alpo Colliton could chase might end up being moot anyway. The Hawks are the deeper team, they just have a lot of obstacles in their way that prevent them from showing it. Either way it’s going to be another wacky late night track meet. Let’s go Hawks.