Hockey

It’s been a hot minute since this fair website did one of these, and for a while this season the team hasn’t looked that horrible in 12 years. Although we’ve seen some improvement over the past 25-ish games with Derek King at the helm, the Hawks are still fraught with issues that will take quite a few years to fix. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Dizzying Highs

Alex DeBrincat – God help him if he ever leaves us. The Cat has been the main scorer as of late, netting a quarter of the Blackhawks goals so far this season. His offense is so valued that he has been bumped down to the second line to try and generate more chances with Toews and Kubalik, and it worked out well for Kubalik last game as he was able to score on a play set up by the Cat. DeBrincat is also the pity representative for the Hawks at the All-Star Game this year, and it is well-deserved considering the plethora of highlight-reel goals he has scored for us this season.

Defensive Improvement – Compared to the galaxy-brained Systems that Jeremy Colliton was forcing on young and impressionable hockey players, Marc Crawford has been able to help restructure the back end so they give up slightly less chances than they did before, and look better while doing so. Under Colliton, the team had a 46.3 CF% and under King they’ve improved slightly to 47.2%. Their newer, grinding style has almost everyone playing more defensive-mindedly, preferring to get greasier goals at the net or waiting for Kane or the Cat to work their magic. It also helps the defense that the Hawks are getting better goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, as the man continues to garner up wins and another shutout or two for his storied career.

The Terrifying Lows

The Offense – It’s gotten a little bit better as of late, but more guys are definitely going to need to step up in the immediate and distant future, especially considering we can likely kiss this year’s first-round draft pick goodbye. Kane and DeBrincat are in on 35% of the team’s goals, and after them the top points-producer is Seth Jones with 25 points (22 assists). The 3rd-highest scorer on the team is Brandon Hagel, who is tied with Kane for 9 goals. Kubalik has recently been picking up the pace with two goals over the past two games after a six-game pointless streak, and hopefully he can continue to produce because God knows we need it. The Hawks have the 4th-worst goals for per game in the league with 2.37, and because of it there is a very low margin for error for the defense in order for the Hawks to pull out a win these days.

Future Goaltending – Let’s be honest: the Blackhawks will be a bit of a stopover for Marc-Andre Fleury. Although I’m not sure the Hawks will be able to deal him at the trade deadline because of how hesitant he’s been in the past to uproot his family to a new city, he will become a free agent this summer and I think it’s unlikely the Hawks will re-sign him. Kevin Lankinen’s contract will also be up this summer, and although he’s been a serviceable backup, his numbers don’t exactly scream NHL starter: .884 save percentage, .899 at evens this year? No thanks. Arvid Soderblom is next in the pipeline, but at only 22 years old and playing his first season in North America, he will need more time before getting thrown to the wolves in front of this team. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks deal with this glaring issue in the offseason.

The Mushy Middles

Derek King – It wasn’t hard to rise up from rock bottom, which is where Coach Cool Youth Pastor left this team when he got fired. But interim coach Derek King has been serviceable so far. Everyone keeps talking about how much more confident they are on the ice, although that doesn’t stop Kane from looking like he doesn’t give a shit if his team is losing during a mid-January game. (And can anyone blame him?) They’ve had a lower goals against per game with King: 2.92 vs. Colliton’s 3.91. However, after a 4-game win streak to begin King’s tenure with the Hawks, they leveled out a bit with a 14-9-3 record, which included a six-game losing streak and another four-game winning streak. He’s doing about as much as can be expected with the current roster, but it’s still hard for me to see him staying on as the permanent head coach unless Marc Crawford becomes The Man Behind the Curtain. And if that happens, then God help us all.

Landon Slaggert? – I recently watched the Hawks’ 2020 3rd round draft pick have a career game against Ohio State on Friday night, where he absolutely dominated offensively. He scored a goal and assisted on the other two Notre Dame scored, including the overtime winner. And the Hawks coaching staff should be pleased to hear he showed GRIT and HEART when he flattened a Buckeye and took a roughing penalty in the 2nd period, watched as the Bucks couldn’t complete a single successful zone entry in the ensuing powerplay, and scored minutes after coming out of the box. He was super quick on his feet and might be able to max out as a Brandon Hagel-like surprise success in the NHL. Granted, this is all after seeing by far his best game of his college career so far, so maybe I need to temper my expectations. He’s still a few years away from being able to sniff the NHL, but at least there could be SOMETHING bubbling down the pipeline.

Hockey

It’s the good, the bad, and the moderately acceptable in the world of the Blackhawks this week…

The Dizzying Highs

Drake Caggiula: Two goals in two games from Caligula earns him a spot in the Highs this week. The first came when he was on the top line against Columbus, and the second came during his stint on the bottom line against Washington, off a great pass from Alex Nylander, showing that while Caggiula is really a bottom six guy, he is producing throughout the lineup (such as it is) right now, so more power to him.

The Third Line: Saad-Kampf-Kubalik is the real deal. Every time they’ve played together they’ve dominated possession, and they can score to boot (example: third goal against the Capitals Sunday). Whether it’s stats or the eye test, they’re passing it. It feels like a resurgence for Saad as well, as he finds a place in the lineup where he can make an impact without all the outsized expectations. Luckily Beto O’Colliton seems to have realized this as well and is keeping them together so far.

The Terrifying Lows

Erik Gustafsson: To be honest, there are a lot of guys on this team that could be here right now. But I don’t make the rules, and I can’t put the entire team in the Terrifying Lows (yet), so we’re going with Gus, who’s been demoted to the third pairing and is still managing to suck balls. He’s had four assists but most of them were a couple weeks ago, he’s got no goals, his possession numbers are underwater, and Calvin de Haan has had to drag his ass around because Keith and Murphy are a more trustworthy pairing then Keith and Gus. Plus, de Haan is an actual defenseman and Gus clearly needs a babysitter. QB’ing the power play was his only redeeming quality and that hasn’t resulted in much of anything lately. We’ve been saying sell high…

The Penalty Kill: As of this writing it was 28th in the league. Same as it ever was.

Pat Foley: Whatta jamoke. Not only did he make a mildly sexist comment about female hockey players’ appearance, but he did it mere weeks after making a mildly racist comment about a player’s name. There isn’t much I can add to what Pullega and Sam have already said, but ultimately it’s up to the Blackhawks as to whether they want to deal with the Hawk Harrelson level of dumbassery that’s clearly here to stay (and I say this as a lifelong Sox fan with many fond memories of Hawk calling games throughout my childhood).

The Creamy Middles

Goaltending: So we’ve all been waiting to see how the Crawford-Lehner duopoly would work out and…it’s too early to say that one guy has the hot hand and the other doesn’t. To be fair though, Lehner looked outstanding earlier in the weekend against the Blue Jackets with a .949 SV%. Crawford has been a little shakier, with an .862 SV% against the Capitals on Sunday but a great performance against the Oilers before that (.964). A few of the goals by the Caps can’t really be blamed on Crawford (e.g, Wilson’s goal when Seabrook was actually interfered with and didn’t just fall on his ass on his own, for once), yet he hasn’t always been sharp. To be clear, I am not advocating to bench Crawford. I am just pointing out that the goaltending has been a mix of great and mediocre and so we’re still waiting to see how this goes.

Kirby Dach: Yes, it’s the smallest of sample sizes, so let’s just be up front about that. But Dach was thrown into the deep end immediately and handled it well. At least, he didn’t cause any problems or make anything worse. And he had a beautiful pass to Kane that should have been a goal on the backhand (I think Kane wasn’t expecting such a spot-on pass), some quality backchecking, and even put his babyface in the right place at the right time to draw a four-minute penalty (the fact that the Hawks ended up DOWN after that wasn’t really his fault). There’s not much else to commend him for, but he wasn’t bad.

Alexander Nylander: I’m being fair here, everyone, give me some credit. You know I don’t like him and will hold against him something that he can’t control (being traded for a player I think is better). However, Nylander had two assists on Sunday against the Capitals and even got elevated from the fourth line (which was actually clicking quite well so no shit-talking here about the fourth line). Over the weekend he’s had a 53 CF% and has generally been helpful wherever Colliton has put him. Small sample size again, but it’s taking the sting out of that trade right now.

 

Everything Else

I was very resistant to any idea that the Blackhawks were “back” as they were embarking on the win streak a few weeks ago. But as they got within touching distance of a playoff spot (through no major accomplishment of their own, mind you), I started to come around on the idea of playoff hockey for the atmoshphere and excitement. Then this past week happened and this team is back to being who we thought they were, which is a not good team that might be better off in the final field for Jack Hughes than Lord Stanley. Here’s who did what this past week along the way:

The Dizzying Highs

Patrick Kane – Is picking the guy who was on an otherworldly scoring steak a bit lazy? Absolutely. Listen, when you write the Sugar Pile you can be as creative as you want. I also struggle a little bit to find someone who really dominated last week. For the most part the Hawks were not great, but Kane continued to be. He had 6 points in the first three games of the week and then saw his 20 game point streak come to an end on Sunday against Dallas. Up until Sunday he was basically to the point you could consider the Hawks up 1-0 at puck drop because you knew he was getting them a goal one way or another (alas, even with that hypothetical advantage I had low confidence in them).

More than just the scoring, Kane absolutely skull-fucked the opposition on the possession front, only posting a CF below 57% against Detroit. Otherwise? 58.54% against Ottawa, 63.64% (!!!!) against Colorado, and 57.14% against Dallas. Toews was along for the ride for a lot of that, but Kane clearly stole the show by my estimation.

The Terrifying Lows

Collin Delia – Not the most encouraging week for Delia, as he played in just two of the four games and was not great in either. He got just 8 minutes on Monday against Ottawa and managed to give up 3 goals on just 10 shots in that time before getting the yank. None of the goals were exactly horrible, but they also were of the “could have had it but didn’t get it” variety. So we had that, and then he played against Colorado, and the same thing happened. None of the goals were awful, but he got beat pretty easily on seemingly pedestrian breakaway shots, and there was one that was just a straight up bad one by me.

None of this means too much for Delia, who has been overall fine this year but has slowly seen that save percentage creep closer and closer to “oh shit that’s bad” level – he’s at .909 right now. That’s more than serviceable from a first year NHLer, which he is, and it’s more than fine from a backup, which he might be long term. The jury is still out, but we just need to get him back on an upward trajectory after a pretty shitty week.

The Creamy Middles

Cam Ward – While I am loathe to really say anything nice about Ward (mind you, in a week in which he didn’t even have a save percentage that started with a nine, having him as a “middle” is probably quite nice) I have to say he didn’t exactly hurt his case with me last week. In what was just a fucking awful overall hockey game on Monday against Ottawa, he managed to keep the game under a semblance of control and backstopped them to a win. He also wasn’t horrible on Sunday in what was a much more fun and entertaining game. He kept them in that one as well up until they managed to screw it up in the end. I do not give a single shit about Cam Ward, but he was fine last week and his performance is exactly what I think of as “creamy middle” – boring vanilla bullshit that managed to be not good and also not bad.

Everything Else

Well, we’ve passed the halfway point of the season, and as the Hawks go into the bye week we can all take a breath following the recent win-loss-win-loss whiplash we’ve been subjected to. The organ-I-zation made a seemingly smart trade (waaat?), and with the deadline approaching and the Hawks very much a team on the cusp, one has to wonder if there is more to come. (On the cusp…I’m being generous. This team just got their ass handed to them by the fucking Red Wings yesterday.) So where are we at before the trade deadline arrives? I’m sure the Hawks brass is eagerly looking to us for the evaluation.

The Dizzying Highs

Nick Schmaltz: I’ve been waiting all season for Schmaltz to earn a spot here in the Highs and the time has come. How many times has one of us here said he was the best player on the ice in a given game? Well, I don’t have an exact count but I assure you it’s happened multiple times. More recently, in the seven games in 2018 he’s had 8 points, including two power play goals against the (admittedly shitty) Senators last week. Yes, Ottawa sucks, but power play goals have become rarer than double-digit temperatures in this frozen hellscape. In fact Schmaltz is second in points on this team, with only Kane above him and duh that’s his linemate so Schmaltz rightly gets some credit there too. In Anisimov’s absence he’s been a very capable center for what has ostensibly become our top line.

Beyond just points, his CF% at evens is 54.5. At times he, Kane and Hartman struggle in their defensive zone, don’t get me wrong. But as a whole their possession at evens is 51.5 CF%. Add to that Schmaltz’s speed, and his current muscular shooting percentage of 18.8, and he’s basically made himself the most valuable youngling along with Top Cat.

The Terrifying Lows

Jan Rutta and the Gustav Foreskin Experience: OK, we’ve been bitching about these two all season but they’re really, really not good. Maybe individually that’s an exaggeration, but as a pair it definitely is not. Their CF% as a duo is 48.2 at evens. Despite having slightly more offensive zone starts than defensive ones (both have a dSZ% at 48 and change), it isn’t nearly enough because they are positively lost in their own zone (kind of a problem when your job description is defense). Larkin’s goal yesterday for the Red Wings was a classic example: both Rutta and Forsling got mesmerized by Nyquist and he was able to calmly drop the puck behind him to to Mantha (not excusing the shitty backcheck, but still, c’mon guys). Yeah, Rutta scored against the Jets the other night, but again, their job description is defense. Every time they’re on the ice it’s nerve-wracking at best and disastrous at worst.

The Creamy Middles

The Penalty Kill: A strong case could be made for putting the PK in the Dizzying Highs. To again reference the games played in this young calendar year, the Hawks have only given up one power play goal in 2018 (seven games). And that goal came against the Rangers right after New Year’s, so it’s been six games and 23 opportunities in which they’ve prevented opponents from capitalizing on special teams. This tells me two things: 1. We are taking way too many penalties, I mean really, 23?? Wtf? and 2. This half of our special teams is one of the only threads we have to cling to in the quickly unraveling sweater that is our playoff hopes. It’s become the mirror image of the shit-stained power play.

Vinnie Hinostroza. I think our boy Vinnie deserves an honorable mention here in the Middles. In the past six games he’s had five points, including a three-point night against the maddeningly successful Golden Knights. His performance in that game was one of the few bright spots of that fuck up. He’s managed to become comfortable on the top line that was searching for someone ever since Richard Panik turned back into Richard Panik, well before the trade happened. He’s only played 14 games with the top club so I can’t really make any sweeping generalizations or bold statements (sample size and all), but the Saad-Toews-Hinostroza combo has a 63.8 CF% at evens, and hey, he’s a local boy who done good! (For the record, I was going to put Jordan Oesterle here, but then he fell into Keith á la the Three Stooges yesterday which allowed the third goal, so no dice.)

All stats from Hockey Reference and the Natural Stat Trick Line Tool.