Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Oilers 36-23-8   Hawks 30-28-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SO VERY COLD: Oilers Nation

I suppose this is something of the pivot game for the Hawks. You would assume, though that could be a very silly thing to do, that they’ll get the win in Detroit tomorrow night that’s on offer for everyone. Another embarrassing effort against the Blues waits on Sunday (there’s been three already). But the Hawks can turn that into something of a free hit with a win over the Oilers tonight. That would also be four wins in row, with a chance of five in Michigan, which would allow the Hawks to say they’re “charging.” That’s if you buy into all this.

Also, the Oilers aren’t a flu-ridden Ducks team missing its top three d-men (who then went on to beat the Avs in Denver last night, because hockey is here to prove your rules are for shit).

That doesn’t mean we can tell you what the Oilers are. We have no idea. We were sure they would have collapsed by now. We thought Mike Smith would sink them. Or McDavid’s injury. Or a complete lack of forwards. Or just being the Oilers. And yet here they are, not only entrenched in the playoff race but only two points behind the Knights for the Pacific lead with a game in hand. Perhaps it’s just the Pacific Division that makes you question the rules you followed.

So what are they doing here. Special teams, special teams, and special teams again. The Oilers power play is clicking at 30%. They have the second-best penalty kill in the league. They have 56 power play goals, and 30 power play goals against. When you win the special teams battle pretty much every night, you don’t have to be that good at even-strength. And don’t you worry, the Oilers aren’t really.

Then again, it also helps to have two MVP-worthy players centering your top two lines.

The Oilers finally separated Draisaitl and McDavid this year, and have watched Draisaitl carry the team in McDavid’s absence and become the front-runner for the Hart himself. He leads the league in scoring by 13 points…over McDavid. He’s on pace to blow by Kucherov’s 128 last year, which we thought was a number that came from the moon then. And McDavid is McDavid. Seeing as how they’re going to the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opposing blue line that would be looking forward to this challenge.

The Oilers sought to shore up their pretty sad forward situation at the deadline by bringing in Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, who apparently that guy who plays for all teams at pickup games in any sport. Raise your hand if you knew Ennis was still in the league. He wasn’t, he was in Ottawa. Anyway, he’s currently getting the sweetheart spot of playing alongside McDavid.

Which puts McDavid in the strange spot of being the line you don’t worry about as much. Since RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have been put together they’ve kicked a hole it he world. Athanasiou is currently being used to give the bottom six anything resembling a pulse, so it’s a stronger outfit than the Hawks couldn’t overcome last time they met. And that one didn’t have McDavid, which kicked off that horror show Western Canada swing.

No changes for the Hawks tonight, and nor should there be. CCYP is making noise about starting Crawford in both halves of this back-to-back, but you’d think there couldn’t possibly be a softer landing for Malcolm Subban to make his Hawks debut than against former-Scum.

The Hawks couldn’t deal with the Oilers power play last time, so it will be imperative to stay out of the box as much as possible tonight. No one can deal with this power play. But hey, the Preds stayed out of the box pretty much against this team on Monday, and they gave up seven even-strength goals. So yeah.

But if the Hawks want to claim they have one last charge in them, and they’re on it now, they have to get this one.

Everything Else

This game is a perfect example of why the Blackhawks aren’t actually a good team, despite fancy numbers like wins and point streaks. They blew a three-goal lead in the third against the flotsam that is the Detroit Red Wings, or really, because the two good players on the Wings were able to score multiple times against the entire Hawks lineup. The Hawks’ possession, shots, and general defensive effort were awful, and had they been playing a team that was marginally functional, they probably would have lost. Let’s get to the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks started strong for the most part. They had a few shots given up really early, but ended up taking control of the first period and jumping out to 3-1 lead. Anisimov caught Jimmy Howard being lazy and dumb and scored on a wraparound, Saad torched Niklas Kronwall—whose level of speed can only be generously called glacial—and scored his 21st goal, and then Dylan Strome had a patient, gorgeous pass to Top Cat who buried it. Their possession at evens wasn’t stellar (exactly 50 CF%) but they had the numbers that counted.

–They started to take their foot off the proverbial gas pedal in the second, even though Kane increased his point streak and extended the lead to 4-1. By the third period they were in full-on blowing-the-game mode, despite being barely above water in possession (52.3 CF%). Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou pretty much scored at will, and fucking Anthony Mantha had assists on all four goals. This points to the fact that Coach Cool Youth Pastor still has to either get the team to listen to him or take him seriously, or at least give half a fuck, when things are going well.

Drake Caggiula got one of his eyes gouged out by Toews’ stick in the first, and he didn’t return the rest of the game. Now, I’ve shit-talked about him plenty, and I still believe he’s basking in some reflected glory by playing on a line with two Hall of Fame’rs having fuck you years, but honestly this isn’t a good thing in any way. Regardless of the reasoning he fit in well on the top line and with Kampf hurt we don’t need to lose any more forwards. Granted Brandon Saad replaced him, and he certainly deserves to be on the top line, but this isn’t the way you want to see it happen.

–The Hawks managed just 20 shots on goal…but hey, they gave up fewer than 40!

–Relatedly, Gustav Forsling looked particularly dreadful tonight. He was constantly standing around not knowing what to do or where to go on most of the Wings’ goals. He finished the night with a 37.5 CF%, and while no one was exactly sparkling with possession tonight, even Slater Koekkoek had over 50%. He was painful to watch and unfortunately I imagine most teams and their moronic GMs are noticing that too.

Cam Ward did make some good saves throughout the night, but he still finished with an .886 SV%. I’m not even going to sit here saying Delia would have been better because who the hell knows these days, but while Ward wasn’t solely to blame for giving up the lead, he never inspired much confidence either.

–Mike Tirico did the play by play for the first time and was perfectly suited to it. He handled Eddie well, and we fortunately were spared Pierre McGuire doing something idiotic or tone deaf like reminding him not to be a fan.

At the end of the day, the Hawks got the two points and this week remains interesting. So all’s well that ends well, but I gotta say that giving up a three-goal lead to a collection of basement-dwellers doesn’t exactly bode well for this playoff push, or whatever this may be. Still, it’s a win, so onward and upward…

 

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:30 CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN (Chicago & National), WGN-AM 720
Mom’s Spaghetti: Winging It In Motown 

With the homestand that spanned the the bye week now sufficiently flushed down the crapper, the Hawks hit the road again for their inaugural visit to Little Caesar’s Palace in Detroit, or The House That $5 Hot and Readies Built, to face the Red Wings for something that is supposed to vaguely resemble a rivalry.

Everything Else

You’ve probably heard all the complaints and conspiracy theories about baseball’s offseason. Be it tanking teams, teams that are only “tanking,” collusion, analytic front offices, whatever the cause you might think has led to everyone being quite bored. But if anyone actually paid attention to hockey, or if the players had a union worth a shit, the case of Andreas Athanasiou this past summer would have generated similar talk, especially considering the inaction of everyone else.

Athanasiou came off his rookie year when he played 64 games and scored 18 goals. Hardly Earth-shattering, but given that he’s perhaps the fastest skater in the league and his age, there’s certainly a lot of potential there. A player a lot of teams would certainly like to have in their holster, for sure.

And then he sat. And sat. Now, this is where you’d have to interject that Ken Holland boned himself with a lot of stupid contracts and simply didn’t have the money to pay Athanasiou what he probably deserved. This wasn’t a GM playing hardball, at least not totally. More like the hardball hit him in the head and Athanasiou was left to deal with the dizzy GM afterwards.

But then again, Holland didn’t have any reason not to even if he had the cap space. As Athanasiou was only a restricted free agent, he basically either had to take whatever the Wings offered him, or go to the KHL. It’s quite a league where your promising young players have to threaten going to play in Russia, where they assuredly don’t want to go, just to get anything near the money they’ve already earned. And according to reports this wasn’t a massive gap. Athanasiou wanted somewhere around $2 million.

Hey, we’ve been on both sides of this. We’ve been critical of Stan Bowman and the Hawks awarding contracts to their players well before they had to. The trade of Brandon Saad, the first time, was another example of the Hawks not wanting to play hardball. The system is rigged to let teams do that, and without any punishment. They can play chicken and never have to swerve.

Because no one came for Athanasiou. How many teams could have used a middle six winger with this speed and scoring instinct? All of them? Damn close. And as the Wings only had somewhere around $2 million in space, an offer of more wouldn’t have been beyond most GMs, and compensation would have been a first and third round pick.

And that’s a twofold problem. One, any player making $2-3 million per year, with exceptions, are not going to be worth a first and third round pick, at least to most GMs. The compensation levels are ridiculous. If you go above $3 million, it’s a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Think about a player making $4 million. Probably a 20-goal scorer, yeah? Second pairing d-man? Second tier starting goalie, maybe? Is that worth three draft picks? Then again, that depends on what you think of draft picks, because they develop a lot weirder than they do in baseball. It’s a hard system to judge, but GMs horde them like leprechauns to gold even though most of them don’t have any idea what to do with them.

But for someone it should have been. The Oilers are missing wingers everywhere, they couldn’t give up a couple picks for Athanasiou, who is certainly better than a lot of wingers they have? We could go down the list here. Isn’t Athanasiou the idealized version of Vinnie Hinostroza? What would have been the better signing for the Flames, him or Jagr?

But GMs don’t do it, and it’s not just the compensation. There’s a gentlemen’s agreement that restricted free agents will never be poached. Shouldn’t this be some sort of collusion? Except the compensation is in the CBA and could always be pointed to. It robs the players of all leverage until they’re 28 or so unless they want to go play in a lesser league thousands of miles from home. How can that stand? The idea of an offer sheet is to provide some sort of leverage for younger players and it’s been taken away from them by an unwritten agreement between GMs.

This would be something that the NHLPA should go after in the next negotiation. But you know how that will go.

 

Game #49 Preview

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Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built