Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs entered this weekend with three games in three days on the schedule. The piglets picked up three standings points, splitting two games with a physical Milwaukee Admirals squad and dropping a shootout in Rosemont.

The IceHogs didn’t fare as well in terms of health.

It’s possible that Rockford will be on a three-game road trip without its two leading scorers. Brett Connolly (5 G, 6 A) was injured in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Wolves. Interim head coach Anders Sorensen listed the veteran forward as “day-to-day” in his postgame interview Sunday night after the IceHogs beat Milwaukee 2-1.

In the third period of that contest, Lukas Reichel (7 G, 5 A), took a spill into the half boards and was down for several minutes. He was helped from the ice and did not return to action.

The IceHogs are currently scoring 2.67 goals a game even with Reichel and Connolly. Losing either player crimps Rockford’s offense. Losing both would be a severe blow as the Hogs begin play in December.

Rockford is now 6-7-1-1 on the season and in fifth place in the Central Division. They visit Milwaukee on Wednesday night, then spend the upcoming weekend in Grand Rapids, where the IceHogs will face the Griffins on Friday and Saturday.

 

Weekend Musings

  • Collin Delia followed up a big start in Chicago November 20 with another impressive start despite taking the loss Saturday. He stopped 26 of 28 shots in regulation and overtime. Starts are going to be infrequent for Delia, as well as for Malcom Subban. Both goalies are going to have to make the most of the time they get in the Hogs net.
  • If Connolly and Reichel are out of the lineup this week, Dylan McLaughlin may be able to pick up some of the scoring slack. McLaughlin is currently on a five-game point streak. Alex Nylander had the game-winner off a rebound of McLaughlin’s shot; both players are going to be counted on heavily in the next few games.
  • Rockford fell behind in each game this weekend. The piglets fell behind 2-0 in what was a listless 5-2 loss to the Admirals Friday, then allowed the game’s first goals to Chicago and Milwaukee on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Kale Howarth picked up his first AHL goal in his third game with the Hogs. He also got into a scrap with Milwaukee’s Ben Harpur after Howarth hip-checked an Admiral into the end boards. Howarth could be an interesting player to watch. I don’t believe him to be a fighter, but he plays rugged and Rockford could use another player who can hang around the net.
  • In 15 games, the IceHogs have scored the first goal three times. They’re 2-1 in those games.
  • Rockford has not out shot an opponent this season.
  • It should come as no surprise that attendance is down at the BMO. Rockford averaged 2447 fans in their seven home dates in November. On Friday night matchups with traditional rivals Chicago and Milwaukee, the best the Hogs could do was to fill the barn to half-capacity. Of course, the current landscape explains why some fans may be staying home for the time being. Attendance may be a moot point with the Blackhawks committing the next 15 seasons to Rockford. Still, the atmosphere on Sunday and weeknight games is non-existent.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs faced a stiff challenge to open the 2021-22 season. The Blackhawks AHL franchise had a pair of tough road opponents on tap over the weekend in Grand Rapids and Chicago. I thought a split of the first two games would be just fine in my book.

Well…the piglets got that split. Rockford dropped a 6-1 decision to the Griffins Friday night, then rallied to defeat the Wolves 5-3 in Rosemont on Saturday.

Heading into the second period with Chicago, fans had a right to be concerned with the way the offense was faring. The passing looked off by just a bit and the Hogs seemed to be getting used to the lines set out by head coach Derek King.

Four unanswered goals in the next two periods gave cause for hope.

Rockford wasn’t moving the puck around the zone like the Wolves were for most of the evening on Saturday. However, they did make the most of some turnovers and counterpunched their way to a big win over their biggest division rival.

A few other observations of the opening weekend:

  • Lucas Reichel picked up his first AHL goal Saturday on a fine effort, bringing a puck into the Chicago zone and streaking past the Wolves defense. Reichel skated with Alex Nylander and Mike Hardman all weekend; the combo could prove quite productive as Reichel gets used to his line mates.
  • We got a glimpse or two of the skill Nylander brings to Rockford. He missed a breakaway attempt in Grand Rapids, but chased down a puck into the Wolves zone the following night and stickhandled it into the back of the net for the eventual game-winner.
  • Dmitri Osipov made his season debut Saturday…at forward. He did spend most of the latter half of the game on defense when the Hogs became short handed on the blue line.
  • Osipov was in the lineup in place of Andrei Altybarmakian, who played Friday night. Osipov, captain Garrett Mitchell, alternate captain Ryan Stanton, and defenseman Michael Krutil were the only AHL contracts on the ice this weekend. Dylan McLaughlin, who led the Hogs in scoring last season, did not see action on opening weekend.
  • Also inactive this weekend was Alec Regula, who the Blackhawks assigned to Rockford on Thursday. The Big Regu had been on injured reserve with a back issue; perhaps he’ll be ready to skate in Iowa this weekend.
  • Malcom Subban and Arvid Soderblom were King’s goalies of choice this weekend. Subban gave up six goals on 24 Griffins shots. Soderblom got his AHL career off to a promising start with a 40-save performance against the Wolves. Each goalie served as the other’s backup.
  • Collin Delia and Cale Morris were not used this past weekend. Four goalies is too many for the Hogs to be carrying. Delia was the odd man out in Chicago for the bulk of the season. Does this carry over in Rockford?
  • Subban is the obvious experienced goalie to be recalled if necessary. Soderblom could earn a call up if he continues to play well. They need to be getting most of the work in net. Where does that leave Delia? He’s a fan favorite in Rockford, but the Hogs don’t open the season at the BMO Harris Bank Center until November 6. Will he be around by that time?

 

Krys Injured

Chad Krys, who played just six games a season ago, was in the lineup in both games this weekend. Unfortunately, he may be facing more time off the ice after a collision with Chicago’s David Cotton late in the first period Saturday night.

Krys was trying to intercept Cotton as he drove toward the Hogs net. The Wolves forward was knocked down on Ryan Stanton’s backcheck attempt. The sliding Cotton took Krys down with him. It appeared that Krys’s knee took the brunt of the accidental hit.

Krys got up and hopped off the ice to the Rockford locker room. He was not putting any weight on his right leg and did not return to the game.

Krys, a second-round selection by the Hawks in the 2016 NHL Draft, is in the final year of his entry deal. He played 45 games (2 G, 6 A) in his rookie campaign before the season came to an abrupt end. Last season came and went without much action due to some injuries.

It looked as if Krys was going to get some early time in the lineup this season to showcase his game due to injuries to Caleb Jones and Wyatt Kalynuk. Now he may be looking at missing some extended time himself.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 15-Grand Rapids 6, Rockford 1

The season got underway in less than impressive fashion, with the Griffins breaking open a close game in the second stanza and handing the Hogs the loss.

The Griffins converted on a power play set up by an interference penalty by Ryan Stanton. Joe Veleno skated into the slot and fired past Hogs goalie Malcom Subban at the 7:48 mark.

The first Rockford goal of the season came on a put-back effort by Josiah Slavin 14:52 into the opening frame. Slavin’s attempt at a redirect of Nicolas Beaudin’s point shot was turned aside by Grand Rapids goalie Calvin Pickard. However, Cameron Morrison knocked the rebound back to the crease, where Slavin steered it across the goal line. The teams skated into the intermission tied at a goal apiece.

The Griffins took a 3-1 lead early in the second period on goals sixty-six seconds apart by Tyler Spezia and Turner Elson. Rockford had some impressive stretches of puck possession in the second stanza, but it did not show up on the scoreboard. Hayden Verbeek gave Grand Rapids a 4-1 advantage at the 17:11 mark, and the IceHogs found themselves down a three-spot heading into the final 20 minutes.

Things got worse in the third period, with the Griffins adding a pair of goals by Chase Pearson and Dennis Yan. The Hogs and Grand Rapids each had 24 shots on goal, but Rockford just didn’t have it at either end of the ice.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Jakub Pour-Reese Johnson (A)-Brett Connolly

Alex Nylander-Lucas Reichel-Mike Hardman

Michal Teply-Josiah Slavin-Cameron Morrison

Evan Barratt-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Andrei Altybarmakian

Ryan Stanton (A)-Jakub Galvas

Nicolas Beaudin-Issak Phillips

Chad Krys-Michael Krutil

Malcom Subban

Arvid Soderblom

Saturday, October 16-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

Rockford was able to rally from a two-goal deficit as the offense roared to life at Allstate Arena. Hogs rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom sent away 40 shots to nab First Star honors and pick up the victory in his AHL debut.

The Wolves dominated the opening twenty, outshooting Rockford 16-3.  Miraculously, Soderblom and the IceHogs kept the game scoreless until Chicago got a power play goal from C.J. Smith 18 seconds into the second period. The Wolves added a shorthanded goal by Ryan Suzuki a few minutes later, putting them up 2-0 before the Hogs offense would get to work.

Rockford got on the board at 6:48 of the second, when Garrett Mitchell forced a turnover between the circles in the Chicago zone. He backhanded a pass to Evan Barratt, who wristed home his first goal of the season to cut the lead to one.

The IceHogs got the equalizer from rookie Lucas Reichel. Reichel took a pass from Josiah Slavin, skated to the doorstep, and flipped the puck at Wolves goalie Alex Lyon. The shot bounced off of Lyon’s glove and tumbled into the Chicago basket at the 14:21 mark.

Brett Connolly struck on an odd-man rush, converting on a fine pass from Cameron Morrison, giving the Hogs a 3-2 advantage 15:20 into the second. The play was set up by a defensive zone faceoff win by Reese Johnson. Jacob Galvas got the puck out of the Hogs zone to Morrison to pick up the secondary assist.

Rockford went up 4-2 on the first of two goals by Alex Nylander. The forward chased down a exit pass by Mike Hardman into the Wolves zone behind the defense and deked Lyon 5:46 into the third period.

The Wolves closed the gap to 4-3 on a power play goal by Eric Gelinas with 5:46 remaining, but an empty netter by Nylander sealed the contest for the IceHogs. Nylander, Reichel (1 G, 1 A) and Hardman (2 A) all had multi-point evenings for Rockford.

Chad Krys left the game late in the first period favoring his right leg. He did not return to action.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Cameron Morrison-Josiah Slavin-Michal Teply

Jakub Pour-Reese Johnson (A)-Brett Connolly

Mike Hardman-Lucas Reichel-Alex Nylander

Evan Barratt-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Issak Phillips-Nicolas Beaudin

Ryan Stanton-Chad Krys

Jakub Galvas-Michael Krutil

Arvid Soderblom

Malcom Subban

 

This Weekend

Rockford will be in DesMoines Friday and Saturday for two games with the Iowa Wild. I’ll be previewing that weekend trip on Friday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates and thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

Hockey

Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks allowed their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, to be severly undermanned in terms of depth. Nowhere was this more evident than at forward, where the organization went with a few NHL prospects and a slew of AHL signings.

How do things look entering the 2021-22 season? Right now, I’d say there’s some optimism that wasn’t there a year ago. This forward group will still consist of a lot of fresh-faced prospects. However, the piglets should be a lot deeper up front.

Is that going to show up on the scoreboard and the standings? Time’s going to tell on that one.

Rockford has been near the league basement for several seasons in terms of goals per game. Last season, the IceHogs were 25th of 28 teams with a 2.78 per game scoring average. The lack of offensive bite was a big factor in the team’s last-place finish in the Central Division.

AHL signing Dylan McLaughlin paced Rockford with 22 points (8 G, 14 A) in 28 games last season. That point total was good for 55th place in AHL scoring in 2020-21. Chris Wilkie co-led the team with eight goals and finished the season with 13 points in 22 games, while fellow rookie Evan Barratt totaled 14 points (5 G, 9 A).

Other forwards who chipped in on offense included D.J. Busdeker (5 G, 7 A), Andrei Altybarmakian (5 G, 7 A), and MacKenzie Entwistle (4 G, 8 A). All figure to be back in action for Rockford, thought Entwistle may find a spot on the NHL roster to open the season.

Getting consistent offense out of players getting their feet wet in professional hockey is a challenge. Some organizations keep their rosters well-stocked with proven, AHL-level scorers to bolster their prospects. That’s a strategy the Blackhawks have employed sparingly, if at all, over the past few seasons.

In 2020-21, the taxi squad required of NHL teams kept several potential lamp-lighters in a kind of limbo. Chicago had obtained former AHL scoring champ Brandon Pirri with the plan of him anchoring the IceHogs offense. Pirri spent most of his season on the Blackhawks taxi squad.

When Pirri was unleashed on AHL opponents, he filled the net. In just seven games, the veteran forward potted eight goals, tying him for the team lead. He had points in six of those contests, including a hat trick against the Chicago Wolves on April 7. Unfortunately, Pirri spent far more time not playing for Chicago than he spent on the ice for Rockford.

Pirri, along with other experienced scorers, are still free agents waiting to contribute to an AHL club. The Blackhawks, who own the IceHogs as of this season, don’t seem to be inclined to move in the direction of seeking established scorers. However, there may still be some offensive punch on this year’s roster.

NHL veteran Brett Connelly, obtained in a trade with Florida last season, cleared waivers this month and was assigned to Rockford. 2020-21 was a tough year for Connelly, but he’s been a consistent NHL scorer in the past. He put up a 31-goal season with Syracuse in a full season with the Crunch back in 2012-13.

Chicago is getting some cap relief by sending the 29-year-old Connelly to the AHL. If this serves as motivation for him to play his way back to the Hawks or another NHL organization, the IceHogs could have a big offensive weapon to open play in Grand Rapids October 15.

Another potential goal-scorer comes in the form of Alex Nylander, who was assigned to Rockford after he was declared waiver-exempt by the NHL. Nylander, who missed all of last season, could have been claimed otherwise.

It is unclear how long Nylander remains with the Hogs. However, he is certainly skilled enough to post a 40-point season in a full AHL campaign. Skill with the puck was in short supply in the abbreviated 2020-21 season, so any time he spends in Rockford will be a bonus to IceHogs fans.

Center Garrett Mitchell will captain Rockford, as he did last season. Mitchell, who is on an AHL contract, is probably past the days where you could expect 20-30 points from his stick, but the long-time veteran is on board to mentor the prospects.

Reese Johnson is one of the elder statesmen on the IceHogs, even at age 23. Johnson split time between Rockford and Chicago and is back for his third pro season. He was in Rockford for 18 games in 2020-21, putting up eight points (4 G, 4 A).

Other Blackhawks prospects include Matej Chalupa, Josiah Slavin, and Michal Teply. Slavin showed some offensive spark after he was signed midseason, with three goals and three helpers in his first six games.

It appears that 2020 first-round pick Lucas Reichel will begin his North American career with the Hogs. Reichel will be a player to watch in terms of offensive potential. First up for the 19-year-old Reichel will be getting used to maneuvering the rink in the grinding, physical AHL.

Cameron Morrison will also be looking to get his pro career started. In Morrison’s case, it’s a bit of a restart. The former Notre Dame skater was injured in the 2020-21 preseason and was out for the year. The question last year was how Morrison’s game translated to the professional level. Hopefully he gets the chance to answer those questions starting this weekend.

Mike Hardman and Jakub Pour are additional new faces on the IceHogs roster. Hardman turned pro after his second season at Boston College and saw some action with the Blackhawks before the season ended. Pour, who, like Hardman, is 22 years old, has spent the last two seasons playing professionally in the Czech League.

Last year, the taxi squad and a lack of depth signings made it necessary for a lot of Rockford’s AHL contracts to carry the load. Besides Mitchell, McLaughlin, and possibly Busdeker, it may be harder for some returning AHL contracts to find ice time.

Wilkie, Chad Yetman, Riley McKay, and Carson Gicewicz could split time between Rockford and the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel. New faces include Kale Howarth, who was signed following his college career ended at UCONN, and Liam Folkes, who was obtained in an AHL trade with Bakersfield.

Dmitri Osipov is a bit of an outlier. The former defenseman is apparently being converted to forward by the Blackhawks. He may get a chance to play the position with the IceHogs, or head to Indy to continue to learn the new position.

The first month of the season may see the IceHogs struggle for points. A team of young players will need to build chemistry and find the same kind of scoring touch from their college or junior days. If Rockford has aspirations of competing in the Central Division, they will have to find some steady point producers.

How will the Hogs fare in this year’s AHL schedule? Things get started in Grand Rapids on Friday, October 15. Rockford visits Chicago the following evening. I’ll be back in a few days to preview the opening weekend of action with the Griffins and Wolves.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the action in Rockford throughout the season.

Hockey

Records: Predators 24-21-1 (49) Hawks 21-19-5 (47)
Puck Drops:
7:00PM (4/19, 4/23), 6:00PM (4/21)
TV/Radio:
NBC Sports Chicago (4/19), NBCSN (4/21), NBC Sports Chicago+ (4/23), WGN-AM 720
Kings of Leon Fans, but Unironically:
On the Forecheck

vs.

It all comes down to this. All the garbage (and not-so-garbage) games we’ve watched all season long have culminated into this three-game series against the Nashville Predators, one of now multiple teams who are vying for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central.

Since we last saw the Nashville Predators, they’ve gone 4-3, beating Detroit, Dallas, and Tampa Bay, respectively. However, they are currently on a two-game losing streak thanks to the Carolina Hurricanes putting a stop to the hole they were tearing in the Central Division spacetime continuum. (The Predators have gone 0-5-1 against Carolina this season.)

Nashville fans are feeling the same sort of upcoming dread about this series as we are, understanding the importance of these next three games as it will likely determine their playoff fate the same as ours. If anyone remembers, the Predators were as good as dead just a month or so ago, getting completely pummeled with injuries and getting ready to sell everything they had at the deadline after going 11-16-1 to start the season. The injuries never end, in fact; since we last faced off it was announced Mathieu Olivier would be missing 4-6 weeks due to injury, but I’m sure Nashville won’t mind that since the only hockey statistic he cares about is getting 29 penalty minutes in four hockey games.

As for the recent trade deadline, the Preds acquired Erik Gundbranson, officially their 14th defender to dress for Nashville this season. And he sucks, by the way. He has a 44.4 CF%, a 31.6 FF%, and just take a look at this:

Yikes.

To make things even better for the Predators, Matt Duchene was finally activated from IR to play in their loss Saturday against Carolina. He hadn’t played since March 4, which is high comedy to everyone outside of their city considering the team has looked much better without him over the past month-plus. Duchene only has 8 points the whole year, and when you look at his cap hit and do some quick division that means he is getting paid exactly $1 million per point this season. He didn’t have a stellar game on Saturday by any means, posting a -1, although he did have a 60 CF% in almost 15 minutes of play?

As for the Men of Four Feathers, once again the absolute bare minimum amount of winning necessary happened last series against Detroit to keep this team’s playoff hopes alive. I don’t have a good feeling personally about this series, since Colliton’s Blackhawks have a reliable track record of spitting up all over themselves in games anywhere near the area code of having playoff significance, and there are no other games this season that will count more than these next three. You can also combine that with the fact that the Blackhawks have zero (0) regulation wins against the Predators all season long. What more fun could be had this week than watching these games?

Guess what else? Alex Nylander is finally skating! What great news! I know we should be excited, but then I remember his play from last season and I don’t know, people. Calvin de Haan was skating today, also, which hopefully means he’s back in the lineup soon and that Nikita Zadorov once again gets stapled to the bench, although it more than likely means it will be Ian Mitchell who is the odd man out of the lineup.

Colliton once again refuses to give us tonight’s line combos and starting goalie until minutes before puck drop, but I would expect Lankinen in goal for two of these games, if not all three, and maybe even some line shakeups to get things going if things go bad quickly. Lanks will have to be nails this series, and the Hawks will need to be taking zero penalties and actually convert on the powerplay in order to get these wins. Nashville’s penalty kill percentage is garbage, just three hundreths of a percent higher than ours, good for 28th in the league. Score on the powerplay and score relentlessly, thank you.

The Hawks will really need to win two out of these three games, in regulation, to have even a chance at sniffing the playoffs this year. Three regulation wins would be preferable, but I’m certainly not holding my breath. It’s now or never. Let’s go Hawks.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Or 3 to 1, whatever. What a perfect microcosm of what you could only loosely call any of the Hawks’s success this year. The team gets its doors blown entirely off the hinges, only to win on the back of their rafter-worthy best goaltender in team history. We are all vile, disgusting creatures who do not deserve the radiance that is Corey Crawford. And yet, he giveth for at least one more game.

– Corey Crawford is the only reason this team avoids two consecutive first-round sweeps. The Hawks were completely overwhelmed from the get-go and if not for Crawford may have given up 10. He’s the best this franchise has ever seen, and we have the privilege to see it in real time. Getting to watch him could be your only reason for wanting this iteration of the Hawks to keep winning. You’d be completely justified.

He stopped 48 of 49 tonight. The Knights had the puck for more than 70% of the game. Their team xGF% was 71+. And Crawford held them to a single goal. According to NaturalStatTrick, Crawford stopped all nine high-danger shots, although it felt like each and every one was of the high-danger variety. The Hawks had no business winning this game, and yet, Corey Crawford willed them to it.

The Hawks might not be so lucky if Crawford chooses not to stay, or worse, they don’t offer him a contract. Without him, the Hawks will be lucky to win 15 games total next year. He deserves his number in the rafters and anyone who disagrees can kiss my ass and call it a love story.

Adam Boqvist is getting swallowed whole, and it fucking sucks to watch. Granted, throwing him in the deep end against Vegas was never going to flesh out. But it’s clear he’s overwhelmed and in his own head. The concern isn’t so much how he does in this series but whether this truly awful experience sours the team on him. I am extremely excited for Bowman to trade him for Kris Russell and point to tonight as justification.

– Top Cat finally bagged one. Even if it’s of the empty-net variety, we’ll take it. He’s been much more noticeable and aggressive over the last two games, and managed to be a rare instance of sweeping the puck out of a danger zone and into the corner late in the third. DeBrincat will always make his money scoring goals, but he’s got a sneaky ability to cause more turnovers than you’d expect. Just before his empty netter, he popped a puck loose at neutral ice and created a partial breakaway for himself.

– After the first period, Alex Nylander had more time on ice than Toews, Saad, Kubalik, and Dach. It wasn’t much more, but it was still more. He proceeded to post a goddamn motherfucking 6.25 CF% in four fucking minutes and 25 fucking seconds. One shot for versus 15 fucking shots against. That’s fucking profound. The very fact that this happened during an elimination game WITH THE LAST CHANGE should be enough to get Jeremy Colliton fired. It doesn’t matter how it happened, or why it happened, or that it may have happened because of an extra-long shift (guess how those extra-long shifts happen when he’s on the ice). That it happened at all is the problem.

The act of dressing Alex Nylander at all is lineup management malfeasance. Each and every time he is on the ice, the Hawks turn it over and the Knights end up with extended pressure. Every single time. He may have the individual tools to impress in non-game situations. But he is certainly not an NHL-caliber forward on this Blackhawks team, and likely isn’t one period the end.

Dress Sikura. Dress Hagel. Fuck, dress SAM’S GUY Philipp Kurashev. It may seem like pointless griping, since Nylander didn’t end up affecting much nor did he play much after the first, but it’s not. It’s the purest and most obvious example of Jeremy Colliton not knowing how to manage a lineup whatsoever. And if the next argument is “Well Bowman must be having a say in it,” that could be even worse.

There is nothing we learned tonight other than what we already knew. Corey Crawford is the most important player on this team by a country mile and the best goaltender in franchise history. We get to hold onto that and see him at least one more time. That’s enough for me.

Onward.

Booze du Jour: Coffee

Unspoken Line of the Night: I don’t think anyone Eddie and Pat knew died, which is good.

Hockey

The 2020 play-ins and playoffs will more closely resemble preseason hockey than any sort of competitive matchup between in-rhythm teams at the peak of their production. In these situations, raw talent typically beats systems. Given the alleged system that Jeremy Colliton runs—which often includes such scenes as “Connor Murphy chasing at his own blue line” and “developing 2-on-0s at the top of the circles despite the Hawks icing five guys in their own zone”—you might think this bodes well for the Blackhawks. And it actually might in terms of forwards.

Oilers forwards and potential combos

Nugent-Hopkins–McDavid–Kassian

Ennis–Draisaitl–Yamamoto

Athanasiou–Sheahan–Archibald

Neal–Khaira–Chiasson

In their heyday, the Hawks focused on speed to overpower opponents. Though that ship has sailed for this iteration of the Hawks, it’s clearly found safe harbor in Edmonton.

Connor McDavid is not only the best player on the planet but also the fastest. Draisaitl—who won the Art Ross and is in the running for the Lindsey and the Hart—also fast. Yamamoto? Fast. Joakim Nygard (if he plays coming off a broken hand)? Fast. Athanasiou? Really fucking fast. With at least one burner on each line in the top 9 for Edmonton, the Oilers will have a North–South advantage.

On top of speed, the Oilers have two guys who can do it all by themselves in McDavid and Draisiatl. Yamamoto’s emergence as “the guy Stan Bowman wished Alex Nylander were” gives the Oilers matchup options for when Coach Nathan For You shows us yet again that he has no idea how matchups work. RNH was having a strong year for himself and was on pace to put up his best point-per-game total of his career. Even Zack Kassian potted 15 goals and James Neal came close to 20. There’s a bit more depth to this forward corps than meets the eye.

But it’ll boil down to speed and the fact that the Oilers have two 90+ point scorers on the ice for at least two-thirds of the game. That’s a tough hump to get over.

Blackhawks forwards and potential combos

Top Cat–Toews–Saad

Nylander (Christ)–Strome–Kane

Kubalik–Dach–Caggiula

Carpenter–Kampf–Highmore

This is as close to the classic Hawks 3–1 forward makeup as we’ve seen in the Colliton era, even if the second and third lines are half baked. If there’s a bright spot to how this play-in will work, it’s that Jeremy Colliton can get away with his only useful move: icing Patrick Kane for 30–35 minutes a game. On three months of rest and with nothing to lose, Kane by himself could at least make this series interesting, even if Crawford can’t go.

The big story out of camp has been how good the Kane line has looked with Nylander and Strome. It’s always fun to hear about how good Alex Nylander looks in practice and watch him score slick goals when the Hawks are up by three or four. When shit matters, he’s a ghost, but you can bet your bottom goddamn dollar Colliton is going to keep trotting him out there. Kane and Strome have a ton of proven chemistry, and though it’d probably be wiser to slot Kubalik over Nylander, there’s no use in asking a giraffe to change its spots at this point.

The most interesting line will be the Dach line. Though Kubalik is decidedly not a third liner, and neither is Dach, putting these two together makes sense. Dach’s hands and vision coupled with Kubalik’s speed, shot, and willingness to GET IN DA DIRTY CORNERS DARE MY FRENT could expose the Oilers’s soft underbelly. Patrick Kane will be the one keeping them in contention, but this is the line that will win it for the Hawks, if they’re going to win.

Everyone who’s seen Dach in Magic Training Camp II says he looks faster and stronger than ever before. Whether that’s per se or simply because he’s skating with a collection of rusted jalopies is the question, but given how he really started coming into his own late last year, we buy it. Pairing him with Caggiula makes sense in theory, as Caggiula would be the primary go-get-the-puck guy. But with his concussion history and the massiveness of Edmonton’s fourth line, he’s vulnerable to another serious head injury out there.

You figure the Kampf line will try to shut down McDavid while the Toews line works Draisaitl et al. Kampf had success against McDavid the two times he saw him during the regular season, and he’ll need to repeat that if the Hawks are to have any hope of not giving up six goals a game. The real question will be whether Toews and Saad can handle Draisaitl and Yamamoto.

Forward advantage: Hawks by an asshair

The Oilers have better top-end talent but slightly less depth than the Hawks. For as fast as Athanasiou is, that’s all he really is. So, if Colliton can find a way to match the Dach line against him, they’ll get some opportunities. The Hawks will need Dach and Kubalik to continue outperforming expectations to hang with this squad, but it’s doable. If the Toews and Kampf lines can hold serve against McDavid and Draisaitl—especially if DeBrincat can shake his rotten shooting luck—the Hawks can at least make a run.

Lotta ifs, though.

Hockey

It all came crashing down on the Hawks this weekend, so who did what as yet another season is meaningless before St. Patrick’s Day, if it ever meant anything at all.

The Dizzying Highs

Corey Crawford – It feels like the Hawks are heading toward some sort of Bay Of Pigs with their veteran players, with at least Keith and Toews completely fed up with their coach. You don’t have to really jump that far on a conclusions mat to see that they might hint to the front office this summer they want this bespectacled doofus out on his ass or they’re going to be showing their thumb out of town as well. The funny thing is that Crawford’s name is never mentioned among “the vets” even though he’s only slightly less decorated than his cohorts. And Crow is the only one who could simply walk. Another week of a .917 makes him the biggest reason the Hawks could even mention the word “playoffs.”

There are certainly other goalies on the market, and Crow will be the oldest of them. Still, what if Crow joins his teammates and says, “I want to come back, I want to come back at a reasonable salary, but I don’t want to play for this guy?” What would the Hawks do? With every strong week, Crow strengthens his leverage.

The Terrifying Lows

Alex Nylander – I’m simply getting tired of putting Jeremy Colliton here, and he’s likely to get his own post later in the day anyway. He had two garbage-time points against Anaheim. And then in three important games, he didn’t do shit. Until the third one, where he gave the puck away in his own zone in the third period, and then was caught puck-watching while Alex Pietrangelo set up shop in the left circle to end that game. Keep in mind, Nylander spent the whole week on a line with Patrick Kane. And Dylan Strome, who seems to have struck up something with Kane since being moved back to center. Do you know how hard it is to go three games with a point with Kane on your line?

In a lot of ways, it’s not Nylander’s fault. He is what he is, and it’s not his fault the Hawks gave up on a useful d-man to bring him here to do nothing (other than get me a Greektown dinner). And the front office is almost certainly cramming him into the lineup to try and make up for the fact that they fucked up by punting Henri Jokiharju for him. I would have liked to see what Dylan Sikura would have done with the same opportunity. But he’s a symptom, or an example, of just how well and truly lost this organization is. Clueless in his own zone, costs too much, and not enough at the other.

As Fifth Feather pointed out in our private thread as the Hawks were spitting up to the Wings, that was a game where your depth should carry you through. A fourth line goal to get things going, or a third line performance because you just have better players there than a shit-assed opponent. Nylander is supposed to be that depth. He’s not. He sucks. And the thinking that brought him here sucks. And that’s why the Hawks lose these games.

The Creamy Middles

Patrick Kane – Four points in four games, but it sounds like he’s warming up to make some demands of his front office too. And he should, because he’s seen three seasons of his prime, and two of his most brilliant seasons, go in the toilet and for nothing. And while he might be as visibly seething as Keith or Toews, somewhat placated by playing 25 minutes a night, he’s already made noise about wanting to talk to the front office after the season and at least see if there is a plan. Kane is the only one who could ask out and probably find a host of suitors, which means he probably draws the most water. If he demands changes, the Hawks would have to listen. And if they choose this coach and GM over him, you’ll know they’re truly lost.

Hockey

Not much more to discuss after last night’s loss, as Rose summed it up pretty well. So we’ll clean through what we can.

-The Hawks will run to the stronghold of the excuse of injuries, and that has some validity. Without Saad and Strome, this team is missing two of a top six that never really had a six until Kubalik proved he was worthy of it (and you could probably still argue on a good team Kubalik is a great third-liner). That’s going to be too much for this team to overcome. Until they return, you’re probably going to see a few more two-goal games or four-shot periods and the like.

Still, I won’t hear much about adding Andrew Shaw to that list, because that’s pining for the idea of Andrew Shaw and not what was reality. You could do that when he was healthy. He didn’t provide much forecheck, hardly any scoring, and basically the only thing you got above a “meh” level was dumb offensive zone penalties.

That doesn’t mean it’s not somewhat embarrassing to get clowned by a coach who has had one practice with his new team. John Hynes might fall on the “Moron” side of our binary Moron/Not A Moron coach rating system, but his Devils teams were a nightmare for the Hawks the past couple seasons. And that’s because they had enough speed for Hynes to simply let them loose on the forecheck and there’s nothing the Hawks can do about it. Or they won’t.

Most teams don’t have to worry about leaving a third man high on the forecheck or not, because if they send two forwards aggressively they will likely cause a turnover. The Hawks have never been instructed to A. move the puck along quickly and B. have their forwards in spots to aid that if they have been. They’re either too far deep along the boards where one forechecker can get to both he and the d-man or they’re floating somewhere out in the neutral zone, stationary. The Hawks don’t time this well. What the good teams are doing is flipping pucks into the neutral zone as the forwards are charging out of the defensive end. They’re leading them.

The Hawks, because their players demanded they play this way and the front office went along with it to basically cut Colliton off at the knees, send their forwards early. So even if the d-men have time to get the puck out there, everything is a jump-ball. Hynes knows enough to know this and harasses the Hawks d-men below the goal line with all of his d-men and third forward “above” the Hawks forwards, or closer to the puck. So when there is a turnover, they’re better positioned and it’s ya-ha time.

Secondly, Hynes is yet another coach who knows the Hawks “system” in their zone is still easily pierced by a simple weave either by the circle or out at the line, where a forward carries the puck from down low to out high and a d-man switches spots with him. You saw it last night on the first goal, where Boqvist has to go chasing Filip Forsberg all the way out to the line, and hence ends up running an incidental screen on Kane chasing Josi, leaving the latter a free lane to the net. Seeing as how Forsberg’s back is to the goal and he’s moving in the wrong direction, it would seem prudent for Boqvist to pass him off to whatever forward is there because there’s time to do so without providing a four-lane high way to the slot. But no, we continue to see this.

-Speaking of Boqvist, he had a rough one last night. On the ice for the first two goals, flailing wildly on the first and caught flat-footed after Keith was stripped on the second. And then he couldn’t out-skate Nick Bonino for the first empty-netter, though he might have gotten confused whether it was Bonino or the puck he was supposed to chase. And he was at the end of a shift, so maybe judging his speed then isn’t the fairest. There were always going to be nights like this, and you’d dismiss them as just that if you thought it was part of a proper learning curve.

Still, we haven’t seen Boqvist move through the gears at all except for brief flashes in the offensive zone. What’s been frustrating for me is that as soon as he gets the puck in the defensive zone, his feet stop moving. What’s supposed to make Boqvist special is that he can squirt out of trouble with the puck and move the Hawks up the ice with a couple opposing forwards caught. He’s supposed to a risk-taker, just like Josi is and always has been. Sure, there will be some ugly turnovers that way but this is a team that desperately needs to play in space and can’t always hail mary its way to that. It needs a quick turn or spin out from behind the net and suddenly it has possession with speed and teams backing off of them.

I don’t know if this has been an organizational treatise to Boqvist, and they’ve been lording over him for a year and a half now, or just a teenager still trying to come to terms with the top division. But if he’s just going to immediately become a statue when in possession in his own end, then all you’ve got is a more skilled Erik Gustafsson. That’s not nearly enough.

-I can’t call Alex Nylander the dumbest Hawk I’ve ever seen, because that’s a hell of a competition. But man is he making a case. We’ve seen the repeated failure to gain the red line for a dump-in to change. Or the blind chases to find space when it was detrimental. He added a new one last night on the power play in the 3rd when Kubalik (I think) had the puck on the right half-wall and Nylander simply skated right at him motioning for him to switch spots like they were messing up a dance routine and they were told to take five. Doofus, he had the puck, maybe play off of him and naturally get to your spot instead of ruling yourself out as an option?

The too many men he forced was the capper though. Everyone in the arena and on TV could see the Hawks were changing and he had the puck on the opposite side of the ice under no pressure. So there’s no way he couldn’t see it. A simple shovel into the Preds zone and everything was fine. Instead, he passed it into a sea of red jerseys, where the absolute best result would have been for every Hawk to avoid the puck until the change was complete and probably result in the Preds grabbing it. And that’s if everyone was looking at him, which no one was because they were changing and just expecting a dump-in.

This might go down as one of Stan’s worst moves, which is saying something because Jokiharju maxes out as a nice, second-pairing player. But Nylander simply has no feel for the game, no instincts, and it’s getting worse. How do players like this get taken in the first round at all?

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

What a perfect microcosm of the 2019–20 Blackhawks. An early lead generated by (what better be) the New Core followed by 40 minutes of pants shitting, entirely avoidable penalties, and a flat refusal to shoot the puck while trailing. We’d love to know if this is an example of what Bowman called Colliton’s “great approach to things,” because losing to teams directly ahead of his in the wild card standings seems to be his approach. There’s a cheesy gordida crunch waiting for me, so let’s.

– This was the most dominant game Adam Boqvist has played thus far. His first period was astoundingly strong: a primary assist, a 66+ CF%, an 82+ xGF%, two shot attempts, a ton of ice time, and—the cherry on top—two excellent defensive plays. Let’s start there.

About mid-way through the first, the Flames’s fourth line had just finished a strong shift. After a shift change, Jonathan Hockey ended up with the puck behind the net. Boqvist shadowed him from behind the net up around the far boards and never let Gaudreau shake him. In fact, Boqvist nearly caused Jonathan Hockey to cough the puck up. Boqvist is precisely the kind of defenseman the Hawks would need to run Colliton’s man system. He showed quickness and strong positioning on this play.

Not too long after this sequence, Boqvist got to show off his defense again. Following a terrible cross-ice pass attempt by Keith that was easily intercepted, Boqvist picked up Monahan one-on-one and prevented a shot. These are the kinds of things everyone has worried about with Boqvist, and he showed that he can hold his own.

You can safely assume that the good defensive plays were a result of his obvious confidence with the puck tonight. He had two shot attempts early in the first and finished with at least five by my count in addition to one official shot on goal. We got to see that wicked wrister on Kubalik’s tip, which was as powerful as advertised.

Boqvist finished the game with the most TOI, the best CF%, and the best xGF% of Hawks players with more than 10 minutes of ice time at 5v5. A statement game for him if there ever was one.

Corey Crawford would be your second star after Boqvist tonight. He played a big part in the Hawks killing off their second 5-on-3 of the night, with two huge saves to keep it close. You can probably argue that he should have had Lindholm’s second goal, but other than that, it was another good start for the least respected athlete in Chicago sports history. Killing off two 5-on-3s and posting a .929 should get you a win every day. Alas.

– It’s painfully ironic how the Hawks’s PK manages to be pretty good despite the fact that their defense is forbidden by the Geneva Convention. But you can thank Jonathan Toews for the Hawks’s first 5-on-3 kill. After losing a faceoff in his own zone to start it, it was Toews alone who managed to clear the puck from his own zone twice in a row. He may only be able to do one or the other, and tonight he chose defense (though he had a few offensive flashes late), which was a treat.

Dylan Strome has a right ankle injury. No word yet on the severity, but it looked kind of like Saad’s. If he misses any extended time, the Hawks intermittently woeful offensive will be much more consistently awful.

– It’s really confidence inspiring when John Quenneville appears on the power play over Alex Nylander. Not that anyone wants Nylander on the ice at all, but it’s a true testament to the Hawks’s “No Plan, All Process” approach to . . . whatever it is they’re approaching here (a third straight year of no playoffs, most likely).

– Down a goal in the third, the Hawks managed to fart out a measly six shots on goal. Through 11+ minutes, they had exactly two shots. Either this is the Hawks actively trying to get Jeremy Colliton fired or Jeremy Colliton just doing what he does, which is beg to get fired. You can take the tram or you can take the donkey. It’s the same price.

– I’ll stop bitching and moaning about it when the mouthpieces for the Hawks stop doing it: Pat Foley’s unmitigated slobbering over Marc Crawford prior to the third period was gross. I truly like how Marc Crawford has handled himself after being revealed as a gigantic shithead in his past. He apologized, reached out to many of the players he wronged, got therapy long before his shitheadedness became public, and has been contrite about his situation. Having Pat Foley Cheshire grin his way through calling Crawford “a great guy” is so perfectly in tune for this tone-deaf organization, and yet, I can’t help but be surprised by the awfulness. Crawford went out of his way to call his second chance a privilege, and kudos to him for that, but Foley should fucking know better. Righting a ton of huge wrongs doesn’t make you a “great guy.” It just makes you less of a shithead.

But it didn’t stop there. Foley then proceeded to cite Dennis Gilbert (just can’t get away from this fucker, can we?) and Kirby Dach as guys who stated that they love Crawford while completely disregarding the proven and constantly unearthed power gap between players and coaches. They can love Crawford all they want. That doesn’t serve as adequate evidence to support Foley’s “neener neener, he’s actually a great guy” horseshit. It’s getting awfully old. I want Marc Crawford to keep getting better and succeed. I don’t want to hear Pat Foley use his pulpit to try and speed that along just because he doesn’t get it. It’s Foley’s literal job to represent the Blackhawks well, and he did a terrible job of it tonight, much like his bosses that one summer at Notre Dame. I digress.

The Hawks are a mediocre team whose stars can occasionally put them over the top against better teams taking the night off and Detroit. When the chips are down, like they were tonight, they hermit crab. But hey, Bowman thinks Colliton’s approach is great, what with yet another too many men penalty and six fucking shots on goal during crunch time.

Go back to bed, Blackhawks fans. Your Brain Trust has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, Blackhawks fans. Your Brain Trust is in control again.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: Zombie Dust

Line of the Night: Pat Foley calling Marc Crawford a “great guy,” which embarrassed even Marc Crawford

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Sometimes, all you need are a couple of individually brilliant performances. The Hawks had all the consistency and cleanliness of a Taco Bell–hosted afterparty toilet bowl, but came away with a decently dominant victory. Let’s wrap it.

Patrick Kane gave as many fucks as he could tonight. When that creep gives a fuck, it’s breathtaking what he can do. He directly contributed on all four Hawks goals and managed to make Alex Nylander look like a smart trade not once but twice. On the first goal, Kane took a chip pass from Strome up the far boards, took his time scanning for options, and fired a Royal Road pass that Nylander just had to run into for a goal.

On Kubalik’s goal, it was Kane’s aggressive and outstanding backchecking (what the fuck?) that led to a steal from Scheifele and an easy pass to a totally uncovered Kubalik. If you needed any evidence that Kane was entirely locked in tonight, this is the best example.

And what do you know? When Gus and Kane cycle even a little bit on the power play, it opens up a ton of space. Rather than having Gus pick his ass at the point while Kane puckhandled on the near boards, the two simply switched spots, which drew defenders toward Kane at the point, giving Gus a wide-open lane for a one-timer. It was 366 days ago that the Hawks’s power play woke up last year doing exactly this kind of thing.

And for the coup de grace, Kane took a cross-ice pass from Nylander and wristed a laser by Hellebuyck, getting Adam Boqvist the secondary assist in the process.

Kane made everyone look good out there. That creep can roll.

– It took Kane’s Atlasian effort to push Robin Lehner out of the top spot for tonight. Another 37 shots on goal and just one goal allowed for the 1B goalie, including a few remarkable saves in the second. The Hawks got pantsed bad in the second frame, which is turning into a trend when they play the Jets, but Lehner navigated them through it. It’s definitely fun to watch Lehner make heroic saves, but you still have to hope that Stan is at least thinking about making or taking some calls on him, especially if he can get a for-sure prospect for him. This team is clearly in rebuild mode, and after Saad’s injury, Lehner is likely the best trade piece they have now. Something to consider.

– We’re still waiting for Adam Boqvist to really flash the flair we were all promised, but tonight was at least encouraging. He had a couple of decent break ups in his own zone and led all Hawks D-men in CF% (53+) and xGF% (70+) with Keith as his partner. This is exactly the kind of play Boqvist should be shooting for, for now. You’d still like to see him quarterbacking the power play at some point, but tonight was a step in the right direction. Credit to Jeremy Colliton for having the stones to put him on the top pairing.

Kirby Dach was the only other Blackhawk beside Lehner to have a decent second period. He’s still in the good-idea-not-so-good-execution stage of his offensive development, but you can see the vision on display most of the time. Once he stops baby giraffeing with the puck near the net, he’s going to be a dangerous centerman.

– Alex Nylander had two points tonight. Though he sort of fell into his goal, that he was in the right spot is seriously encouraging. And his cross-ice pass on Kane’s goal is what you imagine Bowman traded for in the first place. For now, it’s a flash in the pan, but it’s at least encouraging.

Dominik Kubalik led all Blackhawks in CF% (58+) and xGF% (82+). Though he might not be a top-tier player, he’s got potential to be another Brandon Saad, which is a good thing to be.

– Saad’s injury was to his ankle tonight, rather than the knee injury we assumed it was. It wasn’t pretty, but there might be hope that it’s not a season ender.

– It was a fun victory, but it’s still concerning to see shit like this:

This is the setup for Poolman’s goal. There’s no reason for Dylan Strome to be that low, especially with Murphy covering his man. With DeBrincat eying the point, Nylander needs to be able to read the play and at least make an effort to cover Poolman here. Again, this is Strome’s fault for being that far out of position, but if Nylander’s only going to score once every 16 games, he’s got to up his awareness on plays like these.

It wasn’t entirely pretty, but it doesn’t need to be. On to Colorado Saturday.

Beer du Jour: Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “We were short and hard.” –Dennis Gilbert describing things during an intermission interview.