Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Capitals 33-17-7   Hawks 24-26-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

THE NATIONALS HAVE NEVER WON A PLAYOFF SERIES: Japers Rink

At this point, we should just enjoy every game for the singular event that it is. I guess. So tonight is the one time per year that Alex Ovechkin comes to town, and if you’re headed to the UC tonight remember that you may be seeing the greatest goal-scorer of all-time (if you adjust for the era and such). So that’s cool. Other than that… well, it’s more to the Lance Bouma-Tommy Wingels Showcase Showdown.

When looking at the Caps, it’s actually really hard to tell just what the hell they’re doing at the top of the Metropolitan. Maybe it’s just that division is so bad, or was until the Penguins turned on lately. For fuck’s sake, the Flyers are in third in that division. Did you know that? No, you didn’t, because you don’t ever think about Cold Ones. And you don’t know who the hell is on there anymore. And they’re in third.

The Caps are a bad possession team. They’re a bad defensive team, as they actually have a worse expected goals-against than the Islanders, and the Islanders defensive policy is to fart into the wind. The Caps haven’t even really gotten a high-level of goaltending, as both Braden Holtby and Phillip Grubauer are carrying SV%’s right around league average. Holtby of late has been terrible, with an .898 in February. At least Trotz has figured out to not punt him out there 70+ times a season.

What the Caps do is shoot well, with the league’s best SH% at evens. The Caps have never needed to dominate games possession-wise with the skills of Ovie, Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov, and they still have bottom-six finish with Eller, Connolly, and Vrana. They get some help in that area from the back end as well, with Carlson and Orlov each having over 20 points (and Carlson over 40). But the extent at which they’re overcoming their deficiencies so far makes you believe this is all a house of cards. And of course, once the Caps spit it in Round 1 or 2, we’ll get the now springtime tradition of Caps and turning their road jerseys into home ones by opening up a vein or six.

The Caps busted a modest two-game losing streak by stuffing the Wild but good on Thursday. They’ve been ho-hum this month, going 3-2-2 and giving life to the division chase of Pittsburgh. The Pens are three points back but have played two games more, so it’s still a ways to go but if the market corrects on the Caps before the playoffs, you can see where this is going.

Still, for tonight, it’s an awful lot of firepower for the Hawks beleaguered defense and goalies and… you know, let’s just change this to “beleaguered Hawks.” The Caps can get you from three lines and the power play is always something you don’t want to mess with. Trotz likely won’t hold anything back tonight, as the Hawks look like easy prey to just about everyone right now. The word’s out that if you get the Hawks in any kind of antsy situation, they’re probably going to find a way to lose and/or pack up the cats. So Washington will be looking for an early lead to get themselves an easy night. Not like the Hawks can score three goals anyway.

For the Hawks, lineup changes look like Connor Murphy will be punished for catching a rut on Thursday in Quenneville’s every increasingly-logical world. David Kampf also looks like he’ll draw back in for Tomas Jurco, so he can center Duclair and Anisimov for seven minutes or so. Everything else should stay the same, and Forsberg will get two straight starts if you can believe it.

Nothing to do now but play spoiler and see how much Schmaltz, Top Cat, and now Dahlstrom can grow. At least the Hawks showed some chutzpa on Thursday. That’s another thing to watch, whether Q can keep them trying until the end. We have so little to hang on to.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 24-20-7   Flames 25-18-8

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago here, Sportsnet up there

FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY: Flamesnation.ca

It can get exhausting living this way. After most losses you pronounce the season over, only to build yourself back up by the next game to say the turnaround has to start RIGHT NOW, even though that’s what you said before the last game. The constant push and pull gets deeper every time, and no matter which side you’re on that day THIS TIME YOU MEAN IT. So it is with that in mind that we say once again, the Hawks have to start their attack run RIGHT NOW, especially considering the next four points on offer are four points they could deny a direct competitor in the Calgary Flames. They’re going to have to climb over teams, and they get to face Calgary, Anaheim, and Minnesota in the next two weeks. Biff it, and then we’ll know it’s all over but the shouting and we can get on to dreams of Yoan Moncada and a Kyle Schwarber renaissance.

And this might be a good time to catch the Flames, who appear to be a real mess. On the same night the Hawks were letting out a beer belch in Vancouver, the Flames were spectacularly blowing a 4-2 lead to the Lightning at home to lose 7-4. That probably doesn’t do it justice, either. Mike Smith gave up four goals in eight 3rd period minutes to blow that lead, and it was a singular meltdown. You probably saw the GIF of him breaking his stick against the post before being pulled, though we’ll excuse you if you can’t tell it apart from the dozens of other GIFs of Mike Smith going apeshit toddler on his posts and stick.

It broke a hot streak for Smith, who before that had only surrendered 14 goals in his last eight starts. Overall he’s been really good with a .922 SV% and a .943 SV% in January. And yet the Flames haven’t been able to get going fully, other than a seven-game winning streak which they counteracted by failing to win any of the six after that (four losses in OT or SO).

If Smith isn’t the problem, the offense is. Before the outburst against Tampa, they’d managed eight goals in five games. And Edmonton, LA, and Buffalo were part of that slate and you’re supposed to get goals against them currently. Basically if Johnny Gaudreau’s line doesn’t score, the Flames won’t. Michael Frolik has returned to reassemble the 3M line and give them something of a second option, and they’re slowly trying to fortify the bottom six with a couple kids like Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane. Also, Kris Versteeg looks like he might make it back before the season ends, but if you’re in a place where you need Kris Versteeg you’re probably in a place that has no running water.

The Flames aren’t clean on defense either. Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton have been just about the best pairing in the West all year. But below that, T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic are in a competition to see which can turn the other more into unidentifiable ooze all season. Michael Stone lives below that and that’s definitely a place that doesn’t have running water. And for some reason Glen Gulutzan won’t play Dougie enough to make a difference. Strange days, indeed.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the Flames’ power play is also holding them back, and unlike the Hawks it has a couple natural QBs to run it. Their penalty killing hasn’t been as good either, and in this league special teams can make a huge difference. They won’t find much sympathy here, of course.

Now to the Hawks. There’s been yet another reshuffle, and it appears that Q’s patience with Brandon Saad has come to an end. Toews’s line remains the same (does anybody remember laughter?). Artem Anisimov moves back in between Schmaltz and Kane. On the surface this is a little frustrating, but then you remember that Wide Dick Arty is pretty much useless unless he’s playing with Kane and you have to maximize what you have. Saad is going to play with Wingels and Hartman as Q wants to keep Jurco-Kampf-Vinnie Smalls together, and with good cause. What a Saad-Wingels-Hartman line does is anyone’s guess, as we’ve said about the third line all season. What it might do is force Saad to start creating his own chances, which is in his holster but we don’t see very often. Or he can continue to drift aimlessly through games. He’s now gotten called out in the press by his coach, which is usually the last card Q wants to play. Now or never, bud.

It’s Judgement Day for the Hawks over the next couple weeks, as nonsensical as that sentence actually is. They face a bunch of teams around them. They could actually gain ground. But they’d have to put a streak together for more than three or four games, and that’s been beyond them all season. You turn enough corners, all you’ve done is end up where you were.

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