Hockey

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Game Times: 7:30 PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN (3/9), SportsNet (3/9), NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Dammit Pantera, This Beer Is Warm: Defending Big D

 

As hard as it is to believe, this series in Dallas will mark the halfway point of this abbreviated campaign for the Hawks, as it’s both zipped right by and felt interminable somehow simultaneously. They’ll face a Stars team that itself is adrift and had better get things straightened out in a hurry given the onslaught of makeup games they now face after both covid and Texan disasters in the past two months.

Hockey

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Game Times: 2:00PM (2/7), 7:30PM (2/9)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN+ (2/7), WGN-AM 720
Sky Point Riley Gale: Defending Big D

This past fall or summer or whatever (time has no meaning anymore), the Stars nearly set the hockey world back 20 years by boring-ing their way to the Cup Final only to be fodder for the eventual and inevitable champion Lightning, with interim coach and NHL lifer Rick Bowness largely keeping Jim Montgomery’s desolate and exhausting defensive system in place which clearly belied Montgomery’s personal life. But that run earned Bowness a Magic Training Camp of his own, and after being the first of now countless covid breakouts across the league, the Stars have somehow turned into a pinball machine of scoring.

Hockey

This was a well-played game. Yeah, that’s right, I said they were good! Of course there were a few defensive breakdowns and they gave up a total of 16 high-danger chances, but they stayed right around 50 CF% as a team, they actually led in shots (38-32), and also gave up way fewer than 40 shots on the night. That alone is notable. Plus, only three of those high-danger chances came in the third so essentially they not only held a lead but extended it, took advantage of their one power play opportunity, and tightened up defensively when needed. Oh, and their goaltender was pretty OK too I guess. To the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The story tonight again was Corey Crawford, and really the goaltending in general. But let’s be honest, Crow was amazing, particularly during some scrums in the second period, such as during the PK on Shaw’s dumbass penalty (how many more times are we going to say that? Wait, I don’t want to know). The Hawks gave up 14 shots in the second, their worst period in that measure, and yes Calvin de Haan deserves credit for saving a goal but Crawford was basically the first and second star tonight (at least, to me his is). It seems safe to say at this point that balancing the workload with Robin Lehner is really working for Crawford, and it makes sense as he’s getting older and has more time to recover from shit like the two shots he saved with his facemask tonight. I’m not suggesting he’s concussed every time a puck hits him above the shoulders, but it’s just punishing in general to get hit with shit at high speeds, and the extra time to rest between games certainly doesn’t seem to be breaking his rhythm or his comfort in the crease. He’s the hero we need but don’t deserve.

Anton Khudobin was really fucking good too, though, and the Hawks should be damn proud that they got two by him. The first by Brandon Saad was squeezed through a closing five hole like the Millennium Falcon escaping closing monster jaws. The second was Patrick Kane‘s that keeps his scoring streak going, and it was on their lone power play. That goal came in the third and basically sealed the game, and it was pretty classic where Kane held the pass as everyone in the UC—and me leaping off my couch—screamed for him to shoot but he held on just long enough to get Khudobin out of position. Well, really Khudobin was already flopping a bit but Kane’s patience faked him out just enough. It was a thing of beauty.

–And our Large Irish Son capped it off with the empty netter, which always seems like something we can never manage.

–One downside was that Dylan Strome was scratched for concussion protocol, but Kirby Dach did a fine job filling in on the second line. Granted, that line was still shitty defensively (35.7 CF% and 9 SA) but Dach played well and given Coach Gemstone’s predisposition to be randomly shitty to Strome, there’s a chance Dach plays himself right into Strome’s job. I don’t want that and I still say that DeBrincat-Strome-Kane is a no-brainer while Dach should play with Kampf and Kubalik, but I’m also saying don’t be surprised if the new kid supplants Strome, who ends up getting traded in a typical lack of foresight.

–Speaking of forward lines, the fourth line of Smith-Carpenter-Highmore was excellent. They had a 77.8 CF% at evens and a total of 5 shots between them. Early on in the first when the Hawks were getting outplayed, Zack Smith even had a breakaway that of course he couldn’t finish on because he’s Zack Smith, but still you gotta appreciate the effort. They were solid throughout and exactly what you want out of a fourth line.

–And, let’s just note for the record that the Hawks killed both penalties they gave up, and took advantage of the one power play they had. It was a little questionable with Erik Gustafsson as the only defenseman out there on the power play but as we saw, it ended up not being a problem. It was a relief to see them 1) not give up a shitload of penalties and 2) not fall to pieces when they gave up the two penalties that they did. We need special teams to keep this up.

–I also have to say, given everything that’s going on with the NHL right now with asshole coaches, endemic racism and bullying, and hopefully the start of a general reckoning with deep-seated cultural problems in this sport, I was relieved to not be listening to Pat and Eddie tonight. I pictured myself wincing every time Foley opened his mouth, worried about what ass-backward thing he would say if any of the recent news came up. And for the record, AJ Mleczko was knowledgeable, confident and had a nice TV voice—she was a pleasure to listen to and way less annoying of a between-the-glass person than that jamoke the local broadcast has been putting out there. She handled color commentary and the bench interviews and was excellent the whole time. Can we please try having more women in these roles?

The Stars’ winning streak and the Hawks’ losing streak are both over, good riddance. It’s not getting any easier with two against Colorado after the turkey coma, but if they can play like this it may just stay interesting. Onward and upward.

Line of the night: “He can scoot!” –John Forslund describing Kirby Dach, who is probably the only guy you could say that about and not get your ass kicked (yet).

Beer de jour: Busted Prop Wheat, Crystal Lake Brewing

 

Everything Else

Don’t get me wrong, it’s more fun to watch the Hawks win than to watch them lose, but while these last two games may be some point of pride for the players, it’s in a way even more frustrating to see them beat better teams when it no longer matters. If they just got their ass kicked we could shrug and say yeah, this is where we’re at. Maybe it would help their draft position in some small way. But when they manage to do something like score five on a really hot goalie while only giving up one, it rubs salt in the wound remembering how they couldn’t do this in the key moments when it mattered. Fuck it all, let’s do the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

– Tonight was really a showcase in not-giving-a-shit, in many different ways. But how could that be, you wonder? The Hawks scored five goals…how could they not give a shit? Well, when the first period ended neither team had shots in double-digits. Both teams were playing, shall we say, leisurely, and even the refs didn’t give a shit enough to call a penalty shot on a clear take-down of Gustafsson on a break-away. You would think the Stars would have wanted to make at least a half-assed effort, but with a couple notable exceptions like John Klingberg robbing Alex DeBrincat (legally) on yet another breakaway, they really couldn’t be bothered.

– But yes, the Hawks did score five goals, so there’s a feather in our cap. Kane has a career-high in points and now 44 goals, Kahun scored off a great play by Brandon Saad in the second when Saad made a great move at the blue line and drove to the net where Kahun picked up the rebound, hell even Slater Koekkoek got his very first goal. Dylan Sikura must be pissed. Chris Kunitz also scored in what is most likely his last game as an NHL player, or if not his absolute last, the last one in a home rink. I’ve been bored and mildly annoyed with the fuss they’ve made for him even though yes, I get it, it’s the right thing to do. But I will say it was rather touching how genuinely excited his teammates were when his weird, fluky bounce was deemed to have just barely crossed the goal line. So good for him, now Chris Kunitz please go away.

– Can we all just take a moment to reflect on the scoring capability that’s on this team and yet the fact that they’re missing the playoffs again? I know we’ve all beaten this dead horse—I know you’ve thought about it and we’ve all marveled at how shitty a defense can be, how inexplicable some personnel decisions have been…all of it. But god damn it, games like this throw into harsh relief the absurdity of such talent and career years by Kane and Toews being wasted.

– And just to make things worse, Corey Crawford sustained a groin injury and left the game in the second period. Yeah, he’s got plenty of time to recover and a muscular injury is definitely less worrisome than another head injury. But this guy doesn’t need any more shit breaking or going awry, even if he’s got six months to heal. He most likely pulled it when moving left to right on a brilliant save in the first, but you could tell he was struggling when he got back up. So that’s just one more kick in the collective ass for this season and one more roadblock for someone who doesn’t deserve the hand he’s been dealt with this team lately.

– Speaking of goalie problems, Anton Khudobin came into this game with a .926 SV% and somehow managed to barf up an .813. Part of this was undoubtedly his defense not giving a rat’s ass—case in point, the first goal when Dowling kinda sorta attempted to block a shot and the rest of the Stars literally skated the opposite way of Kane and the puck, making it easier than it already is for him. Also, there was some bad luck for the Stars like when the puck deflected off Reverend Lovejoy’s skate and right onto Dylan Strome‘s stick, who happened to be all alone in front of the crease and just held onto it long enough to get Khudobin moving the wrong way. So it wasn’t that Khudobin just fucked up royally, but he still should have had at least a couple of these.

So that’s the end of things on Madison St. this season. They didn’t go down like bitches in front of the fans for the last time, which I suppose is a nice gesture. But it grinds my gears one more time that only when there’s no pressure could they rise to the occasion and play a well-rounded game. Pullega will be here tomorrow night to bring it all home for you. Onward and upward indeed.

Photo credit: NHL.com

Everything Else

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Game Time: 11:30AM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Of The April Birds: Days of Y’Orr, Cup of Chowder

This morning’s national TV tilt means nothing to the Blackhawks, having wrapped up home ice in the Western Conference yesterday afternoon thanks to the Wild getting blanked in Nashville by the Preds. And in an ideal world, they should just be able to forfeit the remaining four games on the schedule and not even get into their cars to head to the rink from here on out, let alone get on a plane to head out west for the final three games on the road, only one of which will be against a team playing for anything in the Ducks. But that’s not allowed, and today’s opponent, the Bruins, still aren’t out of the woods yet as far as getting into the post-season, so brunch hockey is still going to take place on West Madison.