Hockey

The Hawks careen in into the All Star break hosting the Canucks and Wild tonight and Wednesday respectively, with their date last night against the Blues having been rescheduled as a part of the NHL revamping its schedule on the fly to accomodate COVID postponements and the resultant lack of participation in this coming weekend’s Olympics. Coincidentally, the not so dearly departed Jeremy Prinze, Jr is now tasked with coaching Team Canada after Claude Julien sustained a freak eye injury, so it will be utterly hilarious to watch the Canadians try to chase puck carriers above the circles on the extra wide ice. And even with the NHL not sending players, that doesn’t mean the Canadian citizenry won’t feel entitled to gold and nothing less, so those hockey-birthright jingoistic psychos should be in full froth by the medal round. But back to more pressing matters on this side of the International Date Line, where the Hawks only have two more regulation wins than the laughable Habs and Yotes, and one of the Coyotes’ SEVEN wins cam against them.

1/31 – vs Canucks

Game Time – 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, SportsNet Pacific, WGN-AM 720
Ever Heard Of The Knife Alien? – Nucks Misconduct, Canucks Army

After the obligatory Boudreau Bounce, where the Canucks went 8-0-1 after he replaced Travis Green at the beginning of December, but have gone 3-4-3 since, and still find themselves well outside the final wildcard spot, even with Edmonton absolutely shitting all over itself for like six weeks straight now. As is always the case when Gabby takes over, the pace quickens and players skate like their asses are on fire, but most of the time in every direction at once. Boudreau’s limitations have been well documented over the years in this space so there’s no need to rehash them again when this particular roster won’t get him anywhere near the top of the conference playing his signature style. The thought was that Boudreau could maximize the floundering offense of Elias Petterson, who to this point only has 24 points in 44 games, which is well off his basically point-per rate his first three (truncated) seasons. Since Boudreau took over, Petterson only has 12 points in 20 games, so things have yet to pick up for him, and it’s not as if his shooting percentage has absolutely cratered – he’s at 12.2%, but that number has been trending downward since his rookie rate of 19.9% to 16.7% to 15.9% to where it is today. Even if he were shooting his career rate (this year included) of 16.6%, that’d still only result in 4 more goals on his 90 shots. His shots on goal are only down .2 a game from his career rate, so something is off here. Considering that he’s locked up for two more years and that this season likely is going result in a sell-off prior to the deadline (where the most attractive piece might be leading scorer JT Miller who is at a point-per and plays a great two way game and has another year left), it’s probably not cause for riots in the streets, but is certainly worth monitoring,

2/2 – vs Wild

Game Time – 8:30PM CST
TV/Radio – TNT, WGN-AM 720
Doublewhiskeycokenoice – Hockey Wilderness

This will be the third meeting in two weeks between these two teams, and not really much has changed since the first two other than Jonathan Toews being out of the lineup in the concussion protocol. It’s anyone’s guess when he’ll return, and the continued presence of Lukas Reichel in Rockford makes even less sense now that the Hawks are down a center and apparently Kirby Dach has given up trying to score 120 games into his career leaving the Hawks with really only one guy with any finish, and he’s headed to Vegas once this game ends. The Wild dong-whipped the Hawks on UC ice two weeks ago in a game that was never close, and then the Hawks at least kept things interesting for a bit in St. Paul before blowing multiple leads and losing in OT. In both games the Hawks suppressed shots well enough on this Wild team, something they’ve been fairly good at since the aforementioned Coach Kelvin Gemstone got whacked, but with little to no finish, and lacking the team speed the Wild have, there’s only so much that’s going to impact actually good teams, as was the case twice against the Avs last week. This game is once again on national TV, but at least this one is the late game that a national audience won’t have to be subjected to it. After this it’s the all star break, where we’ll probably take a breather here too, because this new writing schedule is so exhausting.

Hockey

Jumping back in after 2 weeks of the most recent covid layoff was always going look less than organized for basically any team, let alone one that has had as many issues (on the ice) as the Hawks have to this point in the season. Exacerbating things was having to jump back into the mix against three real(ish) teams, and not having their top two goalies available for first two of this stretch thanks to protocols. Things went about as could have been predicted.

1/1 – Preds 6, Hawks 1

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

With both Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen still in protocol to start 2022, Derek King turned his bespectacled gaze towards Collin Delia and Arvid Soderblom to try to get the Hawks through the first two games of the year, and Delia once again proved why he is not in the NHL with any consistency. In a move reminiscent of The Jeremy Prinze Jr. era, the Hawks allowed goals in the first minute of each of the three periods, including a nice 2-for-1 as the Preds also scored in the waning seconds of the first. Delia allowed two goals about 15 minutes of game time before he had made two saves, and gave way to 12 year old Arvid Soderblom in the second. The kid fared no better right off the bat, but he was put in an impossible position. The Hawks dominated territorially in this game, but even a dope like John Hynes is smart enough to recognize that this particular opponent has no scoring punch and is currently unable to stop a damn thing at the other end, so he allowed his troops to merely hang back in the neutral zone for basically the entire game.

1/2 – Flames 5, Hawks 1

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

A quick turn around saw the Hawks hosting the Flames on West Madison, who got a bonus off day themselves missing a date in Winnipeg on their way here. That resulted in Soderblom getting the crease once again, this time in his first NHL start. Overall the kid hung as tough as he could, and the Hawks themselves managed to keep the first period fairly low event for him with only six shots on net in the frame, with the elder of the Garbage Tkachuk Sons scoring in traffic shortly after DeBrincat gave the Hawks a brief lead. But the middle part of the 2nd period saw the Hawks rapidly surrender a ton of attemps on successive shifts, and then turned around and gave the Flames 3 quick power plays and that was about it. The score actually could have been worse than this, as Dillon Dube was stopped on a penalty shot in the middle of the third, but Soderblom tracked Dube nicely as he tried to cut across the slot and get the kid to open up and commit one way or another.

1/4 – Avs 3, Hawks 3 (Avs Win 3v3 Clown Show)

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

And now to the game that actually became interesting in spite of itself. Marc-Andre Fleury returned just in time to face one of the most potent offenses in the league, having come in to last night’s game putting up some comical numbers over the past month or so, give or take a plague stoppage. And that looked to be the case again last night as the Avs forced Fleury into acrobatics right from the start of things, and jumping out to a 2-0 lead while never really getting out of 2nd gear. But give credit to whatever message was delivered in the room by King and Crawford, because the Hawks pretty thoroughly outplayed the Avs in both the second and third periods, the second in particular where the Hawks nearly doubled the Avs in attempts.  There was most certainly an element of the Avs playing with their food a bit throughout much of the middle portion of this game, which long-time observers may remember the vibe of. But after DeBrincat’s second of the night to put the Hawks ahead 3-2, the Avalanche definitely woke up a bit and eventually broke through to force the game to OT. And then of course Cale Makar did what he did and everyone saw it. At a certain point it’s just impossible to be mad at something like that.

A couple of points here regarding the Avs game:

  • Whatever has been constituting the bottom pairing of late, whether it’s Gustafsson, Jones, Stillman or some combination thereof, has been verging on grotesque. Last night in particular, with Amy’s Youngest and The Garbage Stillman Son tasked with 3rd pairing duties, one shift saw them taking turns chasing below the offensive goal line. Ordinarily that’s offensive enough coming from a third pairing, but given the situation of a 1 goal game in the second period in January against possibly the best quick strike team in the league, it just screams stupidity on both of their parts. This is of course to say nothing of Jones skating across the ice to out by the blue line (not on his side) to chase a puck carrier, which left his partner alone for a down low 3-on-1 which resulted in Newhook scoring. How can Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin possibly be any worse than this, especially with how they were both touted less than a year ago. It speaks to their either being no plan or an organizational inability to even sort of develop a defenseman. Or both.
  • There was no bigger microcosm yet of the company line here of Kirby Dach being unworthy of the “Foundational Piece” label that the Organ-I-Zation has slapped on him for a couple years then in the waning minutes of the third and then on the game winning play from Makar. Dach was leading a (potential) 2 on 1 rush down the right wing when a streaking Nathan MacKinnon burst into the play from off screen and backchecked the puck off Dach’s stick and the play into nothing. And then of course he was the victim of Makar putting him in the blender and hitting the “liquify” button before roofing MAF in tight. And that’s just the thing, THAT’s what foundational pieces look like. That’s how the jump off the screen. And whether Dach’s “development” has been somewhat derailed by covid and injuries, 110 or so games is still enough to know it when you see it. There’s a number 3 overall pick at center on this very team who showed right away scoring a highlight reel goal in his first game on his first shot, and 110 games in was already doing literally everything for the team he was on. That’s the standard the team themselves have been holding Dach to, they’ve said as much in word and deed, going so far as to even give his brother the David Toews treatment and drafting the kid out of courtesy. And there’s just nothing there.

    Again, it’s likely he’ll have a solid NHL career and make a very decent living for himself for years. But as far as being what the Hawks have needed him to be in the rapidly approaching AFTERMATH, there’s been zero evidence that that’s what’s coming.

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN National, WGN-AM 720
Strictly Leakage: Hockey Wilderness

After going above and beyond the call of duty in dispatching with the dreadful Senators last night in Kanata, the Hawks turn right back around for a RIVALRY NIGHT game against the divisional opponent Minnesota Wild, who are currently tied with the Hawks, but have played more games and have fewer regulation wins. What a time to be barely alive.

Everything Else

The Stanley Cup Final’s first visit to Music City resulted in the largest explosion of think pieces from national hockey writers expressing amazement that anywhere below the 49th could show such passion for the sport. It was rather hilarious in its naivety and its patronization. But that’s kind of what the hockey media specializes in these days.

This blog followed the Hawks down to Nashville in 2012. Neither of those versions of those teams were all that impressive. The Hawks got smoked by the Preds that night, as Corey Crawford delved into his one and only case of the yips in his career. And we all had a blast down there. It didn’t matter. It’s amazing what happens when you put an arena right in the middle of everything, especially in a place like Nashville which never needs an excuse for a drink and a time.

There’s a reason so many Hawks fans flocked there that they had to try and put in rules to stem the tide. And it’s not because Nashville is all that close. It’s because it’s been that much fun for a really long time now.

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 11:30AM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness

Late season, weekend matinee games suck out loud regardless of the two teams involved. The thought process behind having them is clear, with both college and pro football shuttered for their respective seasons, and baseball yet to move north from Arizona and Florida, there is a void that can be filled by the Winter Tenants for viewership when there’s really only Law & Order: SVU reruns on elsewhere. But the vast majority of hockey games are played at night, and professional hockey players, like all athletes, enjoy their ya-ha time after a game and generally keep later hours. There is always at least a 24 hour break going into them so it’s not totally cutting into physical recuperation the way Thursday Night Football does, but circadian rhythms are still fucked with, and now past the deadline there are many teams who are just playing out the string. Couple that with the overall quality of the league due to a flat salary cap, and it’s left an absolute dogshit product on the ice on par with Thursday Night Football by any absolute or relative measure. And on top of that Daylight Savings just kicked in, so now two teams who at least on paper who are still jockeying for the top spot in the Central and the West, are effectively facing off at 10:30AM local time, all for the sake of courting viewers that the NHL is never going to grab. Nice work everyone.