Hockey

To a certain extent it’s a mild relief that now the Hawks are losing games where they’re simply outgunned as opposed to looking like they’re playing a completely different sport than the opposition, or at best there like was a gas leak in their locker room (which would have explained Coach Jeremy Trestman hiding in the stalls). But regardless of who is coaching it, and that’s still currently up for debate seeing how much more of a role Marc Crawford has taken recently who is now playing the part of Dick Cheney in the Derek King administration, this team still really can only get goals from like 3 players even when things look how they’re supposed to. Basically if Alex DeBrincat and Garbage Dick don’t score, they’re not really going to, especially since the power play has completely dried up. Dylan Strome gets back into the lineup and back onto the first unit this evening after being healthy scratched for a while, and he STILL has their last power play goal that happened over two weeks ago. But with what Toews can contribute still a mystery, Dominik Kubalik still trying to gain his footing after having his ice time messed with by Kelvin Gemstone, really past the top 2 wingers there’s a big yawning void only occasionally filled by Brandon Hagel. Kirby Dach hasn’t scored in over a month, much of that spent between two guys with 40 goal potential, and that’s simply unacceptable for the third overall pick and who the Organ-I-Zation says the future is entrusted to. If that doesn’t turn around in a big way and in a hurry, there are going to be some extremely bleak and uncomfortable situations concerning the post-Toews era.

12/2 at Washington

Game Time  – 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Bulldog Front – Russian Machine Never Breaks

Look, the Hawks are going to lose this game. They literally have not won in DC since 1998, and the Caps are just better even without plenty of key pieces (Backstrom, Oshie) in their lineup, even though it does appear that Justin Schultz is supposed to return. When watching this game, just seriously take time to appreciate what Alex Ovechkin is doing right now. Yes he’s creeping up on the all time goal list having passed Brett Hull this season (Hull himself was gracious, his Garbage Son was not) in a race against time to possibly catch Gretzky. All things considered factoring in eras and equipment and style of play, Ovie already is the greatest goal scorer in the history of the league, but having that number to prove it would be something to behold, especially after it was once thought that literally no one could every ascend to Gretzky’s totals. But the fact that he is second in the league in goals and third in the league in points (19 and 37 respectively) through 23 games in his age 36 season is truly incredible. He’s on pace right now for 68 goals, which would put him just two shy of Gordie by year’s end. And even if that pace flattens out a bit, he still might be the oldest player to score 50 goals ever, passing Johnny Bucyk 50 years ago. And Ovechkin isn’t just camping out at his spot on the power play. Twenty four of his 37 points have come 5v5, 27 at all even strengths. The Hawks have 26 goals AS A TEAM at five on five.

12/4 at MSG

Game Time – 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
NUMBA ONE BAYBEE – Blueshirt Banter

After completely overhauling their front office and coaching staff where they decided they needed to get more rock-headed in launching Jeff Gorton and David Quinn for first timer Chris Drury as GM and red ass Gerard Gallant behind the bench, the team promptly announced that as a roster they intended to be stupider by trading for Ryan Reaves. Of course, this roster was already promising enough with a surprise Norris from Adam Fox last year, as well as Mika Zibanejad flourishing alongside Artemi Panarin, but it appears that they’re poised to make a return to the post season with 31 points in the airtight Metropolitan division. Chris Kreirder has cannonballed his way into 16 goals already, on pace to obliterate his career high of 28 – though shooting 26.2% against a career average of 14% probably helps with that quite a bit. There’s no one thing that this team does exceptionally well, they’re in the middle of the road statistically in pretty much everything, but Gallant teams always play fast and hard, and Igor Shesterkin’s .936 5v5 and .935 overall are certainly good to make it all stand up. Given the expectations set by the start and the new management, don’t be surprised if they try to make a big splash at the deadline.

12/5 at Belmont

Game Time – 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
A Headache With Pictures – Lighthouse Hockey

Apparently the limits of Barry Trotz’s occult coaching wizardry are finally breached by a 13 game road trip to start the season, injuries, and a COVID outbreak that forced the Islanders to postpone three games last week. Perhaps playing in the the charmingly revolting toilet that was Nassau Coliseum is where those dark forces that allowed the Isles to reach two straight final fours/semifinals/whatever in modified playoff years, because their brand new UBS Arena at Belmont Racetrack has not been so kind to them to this point, as they’ve lost all four games they’ve had there in regulation. They’re currently in the midst of an 8 game losing streak, and will face the somewhat surprising Sharks tonight at home before they see the Hawks again, so that may very well reach nine. They’ll at least have the benefit of getting the Hawks on the second half of a back to back, but given the offensive struggles of both of these squads, it’s not likely to be a Sunday evening track meet.

Hockey

With the opening three games on the road going about as balls-up as could have possibly been imagined, the Hawks return home with some serious heat on them after a roster overhaul and reassurances that yet another Magic Training Camp would make things different. But things have not been different, and cries that “It’s only X games” into the season are largely meaningless when the same disorganization and bleeding of chances has been on display for nearly 200 games since almost three calendar years ago with Coach Vinny Del Colliton’s hiring. An underreported event that has somehow slipped through the cracks in all of this was Marc-Andre Fleury’s meltdown in the tunnel following getting yanked in his “homecoming” against the Penguins on Saturday night. For all the pear shaped playoff games he spat up in Pittsburgh to getting his job taken both there and in Vegas, there has never, ever been one reported instance of him losing his shit in such a fashion, and yet it took less than four periods here enduring the barrage he’s been subject to. It could just be a prideful professional feeling embarrassed in a place he called home for so long, but he hasn’t gotten the reputation as being one of the best locker room guys in the league for a generation and a half now because he takes shit like that to heart. Truly something to monitor as he makes proper home debut tonight against the Isles.

10/19 vs. Islanders

Game Time –  7:00PM CDT
TV/Radio – ESPN, WGN-AM 720
Profane Geometry  – Lighthouse Hockey

The Isles hit the West Side tonight looking for their first win as well, though their losses came against actual teams in the Canes and Cats, and on the road, as they wait for their brand-new non-charming-scum-bucket arena at Belmont Racetrack to get the finishing touches on it prior to its grand opening. One time Hawks flirtation Anders Lee is back after missing all of their second consecutive ECF run with a torn ACL, and Lou has brought in the remnants of Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise to do….things. And while the Islanders have more skill than their reputation indicates with Mat Barzal, Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kyle Palmieri who will give you 22 goals whether you need them or not, the story as always here is the structure in which Barry Trotz has this team playing, as they will rarely beat themselves. What’s been uncharacteristic so far has been their goaltending allowing 5 goals in each of the first two games, with Ilya Sorokin getting off to a tough start. They’ll be looking to correct that this evening.

10/21 vs Canucks

Game Time – 7:30 PM CDT
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, SportsNet Pacific, WGN-AM 720
Diaper Time – Nucks Misconduct

After the back half of last year’s abbreviated season had the team absolutely beset by covid running wild through their dressing room causing the team to hilariously play meaningless games after the playoffs had started elsewhere, this Canucks campaign threatened to start equally as auspiciously with Young Go-Hards Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes not getting their second contracts signed until camp in Vancouver had already opened. But after much rending of garments in the streets, both were ready to be in the lineup on opening night. This is another team that got an overhaul that likely isn’t going to accomplish much, with long time blue line fixtures Chris Tanev and Alex Edler (and his elbows) now gone in favor of whatever might be left of Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Conor Garland also came over in that deal, and was likely the centerpiece of it and taking on OEL’s increasingly smelly contract was the cost of doing business. In the process they were able to jettison Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel, so it kind of all comes out in the wash. The Pacific division is a complete moldering corpse, so this team might make it in by default, but it will certainly help their chances if JT Miller continues to play at a Selke level to take some responsibilities away from Petterson. However, this team did most recently lose to the loose conglomeration of the Detroit Red Wings, so anything is possible.

10/24 vs Red Wings

Game Time – 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, SN1, WGN-AM 720
This Is Me Breathing – WIIM 

Speaking of which….those same Red Wings come to town on Sunday night. In a perpetual rebuild that has somehow not yet cost Jeff Blashill his job, the Wings once again have next to no expectations this year, and still basically only have Dylan Larkin to be concerned about. That being said, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of blowing this Hawks team’s doors off in terms of burying them in shots as they did a couple times last year and as recently as a couple weeks ago in Detroit. The blade sharpens….

Everything Else

vs

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby: Lighthouse Hockey

It’s been spoken of many times previously on our various stops along the information superhighway, but the long held Boxing Day (and now Day After Boxing Day thanks to the CBA) quasi-tradition of the Hawks playing at home generally tends to be one of the more energetic affairs on West Madison, even dating back to the dark ages of the late 90s (entirely different era). UC denizens are generally stir crazy from a week cooped up with relatives and/or early hungover wakeups to see what Santa brought, so the opportunity to get out of the house and just yell shit at hockey players offers a decent catharsis. However, with Barry Trotz’s visiting Islanders in town, the action on the ice may in fact feel more like a noose tightening around the necks of those present.

Hockey

It’s a pretty easy narrative to create around Barry Trotz. He shows up to your team, you become very hard to beat, he gets results, but there’s a limit to it. And there’s an even stricter limit on the entertainment value of your team. The former limit got blown apart with the Capitals’ Cup win two years ago. But then the Caps perhaps didn’t think that much of it, or Trotz’s part in it to be more specific, opting to let Trotz walk to the Islanders right afterward.

The idea has always been that Trotz will make you defensively solid, and with that base you can only ever be so bad and it’s not that hard to be good. But…is that really what’s happening? Let’s look.

In Trotz’s two seasons on The Island/Brooklyn, the Islanders have only been a middling to ok defensive team. They’re 18th in attempts against over these two campaigns, 10th in shots-against, 12th in xGA against. They are third in scoring-chances against, so they limit those well. But what they do lead in by some margin is save-percentage, at .935 at even-strength over this season and a half. So that’s what they do exceedingly well.

In Trotz’s last two seasons in Washington, the Caps were 8th in attempts-against, seventh in shots-against, but 19th in xGA against and 20th in scoring chances against. But they were 3rd in save-percentage, at .930. Trotz’s first two seasons in DC, which saw a couple of 100-point seasons and a 120-point season, are a slightly different story: 13th in attempts-against, fifth in shots-against,  fifth in xGA, 15th in scoring chances-against, but 15th in save-percentage.

When Trotz washed out of Nashville with two playoff-less campaigns, these rankings stayed just about the same except they had one of the worst save-percentages in the league thanks to Ol’ Shit Hip’s meandering ways at the time. So Trotz does construct defensively sound teams, just not dominating ones. It’s the goalies who seem to thrive. But is that on Trotz or his goalie coach Mitch Korn, who follows him everywhere?

Braden Holtby was good before Trotz and Korn arrived, with a couple of .920 seasons. He became a Vezina winner with them. When he faltered, Philip Grubauer had his best season which earned him a trade to be Colorado’s starter. Tomas Greiss had one .920 season before Trotz and Korn showed up. He now is working on his second consecutive with a Jennings Trophy in the bag. Robin Lehner had flashed before in Ottawa and Buffalo, but then went .930 last year. Semyon Varlamov nearly won a Vezina in Colorado but went up and down with each passing season. He’s at .919 now along with Greiss as the Islanders haven’t really missed Lehner at all.

So is it Korn or Trotz that you’re hiring? Certainly Rinne rebounded post-Trotz, Lehner is doing just fine, and Grubauer is chugging along. Maybe the lessons they learned under Korn stick forever. And if they’re a package deal and they get these results, certainly Trotz and Korn are worth having around.

And it’s unlikely we’ll ever truly know, and Korn isn’t going to go work for someone else. But someone should probably throw a bucket of money at him to be their goalie coach, just like a prized pitching coach. Because goaltending is just as important as pitching, is it not?

Hockey

Barry Trotz – No question he’s effective, but good lord is it dull. Trotz won’t care, he’s got a ring and a series of teams that have overachieved throughout his career. But in a league trying to be a souped up as possible and needs all the juice it can get, here comes Trotz to throw a wrench. Perfect that he’s now working for…

Lou Lamoriello – Old hockey men love to talk about how much they love hockey players and how they’re just different than everyone else (yeah, they’re dumber), but in reality they hate them. No better example than ol’ Lou, whose Devils first nearly killed the sport and also were a prime precedent for other organizations to see players as interchangeable parts as long as the system was sound. Lou hates paying anyone, doesn’t think anyone should get paid, and we doubt he could tell you half the names of his players. They’re merely worker bees to him, and it’s no coincidence that all his teams were torture to watch. Including what should have been the high-flying Leafs.

Matt Martin – He’s not fitting our usual narrative at all, because he doesn’t have a penalty minute all season. He’s supposed to be nothing more than a broken Imperial Walker, and now he doesn’t even really destroy anything. All he does is look like Jacob deGrom.

Hockey

There was no bigger surprise team than the Islanders last season, as Barry Trotz took a contract dispute from DC up the Acela and then proved he can turn just about anything into a useful team. But his boss, Nosferatu, blames free agency for the global warming he assuredly doesn’t believe in, and the Isles look like they’re just going to count on running it back again. Will it work? It’s hard to think a Trotz team will ever be bad, but catching lightning twice has eluded just about everyone in history. Let’s learn about the Islanders.

2018-2019

48-27-7  103 points (2nd in Metro)

Won 1st round over PIT, lost second round to Carolina

2.72 GF/G (22nd)  2.33 GA/G (1st)

47.8 CF% (26th)  51.2 xGF% (12th)

14.5 PP% (29th)  79.9 PK% (19th)

Goalies: The Islanders lost one half of their tandem that anchored this team last year, as Robin Lehner toddled off here in July. The Islanders are going to attempt to take the whispers of Trotz and Mitch Korn and apply them to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was very up and down in Colorado last season, eventually losing his job to Philip Grubauer. That was kind of his whole career in Denver, where he flashed Vezina form at times and then was one of Jack’s French girls at others. But overall, he’s got a career .915 SV%, and considering how all Trotz teams make it easier on goalies, it would be reasonable to expect some good numbers from him.

He’ll pair with Thomas Greiss, who flourished behind this team last year at .927. He and Lehner had high expected-save-percentages thanks to the ultra defensive system, but both exceeded that in actual save-percentages. Greiss has done this before, but hasn’t been able to back it up. He won’t be asked to carry the load here though, and again, goalies under Trotz rarely shit a chicken unless their hip falls off.

Defense: Again, the exact same crew you remember from last year, though this time with a full season from the promising Devon Toews. They’ll hope for another step from Ryan Pulock, as Nick Leddy really struggled for most of the year to push the play. Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech are about as solid as you can ask for without doing much you’ll remember. Johnny Boychuck will pair with Leddy as he has for the past five seasons, but time seemed to catch up to him last year. As we cannot hammer enough, this defense gets a lot of support from the forwards, but was somewhat exposed by the speed and possession of the Hurricanes last year. Both Trotz and Lamoriello don’t want much to do with puck-moving d-men here, so they’re lucky in that they don’t have a prime one. Still, in a conference that requires you to get past Carolina or Toronto or Boston or Tampa, it probably takes more than obstinance to do so. Maybe Noah Dobson gets a look? That would be a real stretch.

Forwards: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the exact same crew as last year. The only addition to it has been Derick Brassard, or whatever pod person is occupying his body now as he hasn’t been productive in the last three seasons at least. Which leaves Mathew Barzal and his missing T to carry the mail on the top line next to Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Brock Nelson anchors the second line, and after that it’s a whole bunch of grunts and agriculture. Only one Islander forward managed more than 60 points last year (Barzal) and only three had 20 goals or more. And one of those was Casey Cizikas, who shot nearly 20%, and that’s not going to happen again. The Isles will hope to smother and bore their way to a playoff spot again.

Prediction: It’s not wise to go against a Trotz-led team, but the margins are so thin for this bunch. They limit good chances, even if they don’t limit attempts. There’s just so little scoring here, and if they don’t get water-tight defense, the percentages are going to go against them. Neither Varlamov or Greiss is really capable of taking a full starter’s load at this point, so if one falters the whole system might sink underneath them.

Luckily for the Isles, the division blows hardcore. The Caps and Pens are on the downsides of their cycles, with only the Canes looking like their pivoting up beyond the Isles. The Devils day may yet come, but not this season you wouldn’t think. And you can catch a lot of teams cold in January and February when they can’t locate the fucks to give to work hard enough to deal with a Trotz trap. Still looks short to me, but I said that last year too.

Hockey

The one wrinkle that Stan Bowman missed while ironing his brain this summer was signing Robin Lehner. With Corey Crawford in a perpetual state of ouch and a blue line more horrendously conceived than Waldo’s Dad’s wall, finding a Robin for the Batman Bowman thinks this backend is was quite the steal, if not a bit on the nose.

2018–19 Stats

46 GP – 25 W, 13 L, 5 OTL

.930 SV%, 2.13 GAA

.934 EV%, 1.000 PP%, .888 SH%

28.7 Shots Against/Game

A Brief History: Lehner had a career year last year. He won the Jennings after Barry No-Neck reinstituted his “hockey should feel like a botched vasectomy” defense on the Isle/Brooklyn. He won the Masterson for performing well after confronting and addressing the hell of bipolar disorder. And he was second runner-up for the Vezina. For all the pants shitting Bowman did in the off-season, he managed to fling at least one diaper onto Lou Lamoriello’s cue-ball dome by signing Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal.

Lehner consistently ranked in the top five among goalies in ALL situations last year.

  • Second overall with a .930 SV% (behind only THE BISHOP!)
  • Third overall with a 2.13 GAA
  • Third overall with a .854 HDSV% (high-danger save percentage)

Lehner also only gave up 93 goals on the year against an expected 109 (ALL situations), which simply means he played better than expected.

You may remember that the Blackhawks were the absolute worst team in HDCF% and a bottom-10 team in HDGF% last year, which is just a fancy way to say that their high-danger defense was a plastic bag of sun-drenched mayonnaise. So, that HDSV% should pop out as promising.

Lehner was pretty good on the PK last year, too, with a .888 SV%. For a team that portends to piss itself on the PK again this year, you’ll take any improvement you can get there.

It Was the Best of Times: If Lehner plays at just his career average rate, then the Hawks have a pretty comparable albeit lesser replacement for Corey Crawford.

Career

Games

SV%

SH SV%

5v5 HDCF%

5v5 HDGF%

5v5 HDSV%

Crawford

448

.918

.869

.501*

.529*

.852*

Lehner

265

.918

.892

.498

.479

.825

Postseason not included

* = 2007–19, NaturalStatTrick.com

And over the last four years, Lehner’s been the better of the two on the PK, though inferior in terms of HDSV%.

2015–19

Games

SV%

SH SV%

5v5 HDCF%

5v5 HDGF%

5v5 HDSV%

Crawford

180

.919

.875

.475

.520

.864

Lehner

179

.919

.891

.502

.477

.815

Postseason not included

This will be Lehner’s first real year since 2013–14 behind a team whose offense isn’t reliant on gas station enhancement pills for even a spurt. (Did you know Ottawa had a top-10 offense in terms of goals scored that year? I sure forgot.) Even with all the woe we throw at this team, the offense has been in the top-10 in terms of goals scored four of the last five years.

So, best case, Lehner performs at a career level or better, which improves the PK despite the fact that it’s somehow going to be slower than it was last year. With the Hawks scoring at a top-10 rate, Lehner can hide some of the trouble he’s had in allowing high-danger goals as the Hawks simply go with an air raid strategy all year. Lehner takes a 60/40 split of starts and the Hawks eke out a playoff spot on the backs of their offense and 1A/1B goalie tandem.

It Was the BLURST of Times: Robin Lehner played for one of the best defensive teams last year. You saw the numbers he put up behind that. The year before, he played for one of the worst defensive teams in Buffalo. His results weren’t pretty, as he threw a .908 SV% and 3.01 GAA. His HDSV% was an abysmal .796. The latter is closer to the kind of defense that Lehner can expect coming to Chicago.

Worst case, aside from an injury, is that Lehner can’t make up for how bad the Hawks blue line is. His HDSV% plummets behind a blue line that, again, managed to somehow get slower than it was last year. He drowns even splitting time with Crawford, and when Crow inevitably gets hurt, Lehner turns into the pumpkin we called Cam Ward last year. The Hawks don’t make the playoffs, don’t get a lucky bounce in the lottery, and no one learns anything.

Prediction: Lehner will end up as the 1A goalie as Crow’s tenure as the Hawks’s resident Rodney Dangerfield winds down. He won’t wow like he did last year, but we’ll get a serviceable, slightly-below-career-average line from Lehner. Let’s say, .908 SV%, .880 SH%. But the Hawks blue line and Lehner’s career HDSV% will pair as well as puke on a pile of shit, and none of the problems the Hawks had last year will really be solved.

Here come the Hawks?

Stats from hockey-reference.com and NaturalStatTrick.com

 

Everything Else

Oh right, the Islanders.

It’s not easy to wipe away the buzz and impact of sweeping a long-time tormentor with just the flick of a wrist, but then nothing has been normal about the Islanders since…well, ever. You’re supposed to carry the momentum of a franchise-turning win like the first-round sweep of the Penguins into something that will define this era and be remembered for a while. Scoring five goals in the next four games, including getting two and a half games against the perpetually bewildered Curtis McElhinney reduces that first round to odd trivia shared in various Long Island and New York bars where Tammy from Queens will offer to blow you in the bathroom but won’t remove her bubblegum to do so.

The Islanders sold their soul already, assuming they had one. You can’t blame them, really. This is a franchise that has managed consecutive playoff appearances just once in the past 15 years. So you see why they turned to Barry Trotz, the Jose Mourinho of hockey (though about 1/130th of the asshole). You’ll get results, your defense will improve, but good god it will be about as entertaining as checking your dog for fleas. And if you give him a historic collection of offensive talent, he just might get your team to grunt and belch to a Cup (though it’s important to note no other Trotz team has ever made a conference final, which seems his destiny in wherever the Isles call home). There’s definitely a floor you acquire with Trotz, you’re just going to end up on it if you watch them for more then two weeks straight.

You’ll hear a lot over the coming weeks about how the Isles future is so bright after this. Yes, clearly a GM who has acquired Matt Martin twice and Leo Komarov  for a second team, who has openly admitted he hates playing players anything, and is managing a team with literally no home is sure to steer this club into the sunshine. Nothing hockey players love quite like shaving every day and having to throw a dart to remember where the home game is today! Certainly worked out well for the last big free agent the Islanders had, all the way back to last summer. Can’t help but notice Brock Nelson and Anders Lee haven’t re-upped yet. Perhaps they and their agents are going over the Lamiorello, “Every player is overpaid,” comment and wondering just how much they enjoy life between the highways of Long Island and commuting an hour to an arena where the structure and the fans are constantly off-center.

And the Islanders need them, and then probably another two top six forwards. See how they do that when they’ve never been a free agent destination before. Thomas Vanek once went here to die, I think. Andrew Ladd did die, and he’s only got four years left on his deal. If you sign in Brooklyn in the summer you’re going to end up smelling like Brooklyn in the summer…sweat and mistakes. No, the Isles acquire players when they essentially become Australia and other teams send their unwanted contracts there just to get them off the books. And then they stay, because much like a prison a lot of Islanders realize they don’t belong anywhere else.

Still, this is the Metro Division and you can stay around the top merely by floating for a while. The Penguins are exhausted, the Flyers, Rangers, and Devils are too busy trying to give themselves enemas orally. So maybe your future can remain bright by doing literally nothing and watching everyone else fuck up. That must be what Isles fans are getting at. Assuming both their goalies don’t quit the team to go build the wall on the Texas border themselves, or bring guns into the dressing room (which is hilarious, because would the NHL actually punish anyone for doing that?).

But hey, the Islanders have now won a round in consecutive playoff appearances, which they haven’t done since 1985. And yes, those playoff appearances are three years apart, but when you’re an Isles fan or player you have to grab onto whatever you can. That, and perhaps the most boisterous atmosphere in the league, for the 10 games the Isles play on Long Island that is. Just another lesson in how Brooklyn pretty much ruins everything. Tell us about your parking lot tailgates again though, which you have to have because there’s literally nothing else in Nassau. Is Nassau even a place? I don’t know and I don’t care and no one else does either. It only is inhabited because Robert Moses built a kingdom on getting white people to flee black people. And the only team that belongs in Brooklyn plays in Chavez Ravine.

So farewell to the Islanders, who will spend the next few years wondering if an arena can be built next to Belmont Race Track, which will hinge basically on how to get at train to go backwards efficiently. No really, it will. You have to take a moment to realize the wonder of a sports organization longing to get to a nowhere place like Elmont, NY. Every other team wants to get downtown, the Islanders want to get to a freeway exit. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

 

 

Everything Else

And now the Penguins have their own 2017 Predators series. We’re not alone.

Two years after their third Cup. Swept out. Looking out of ideas, out of energy, out of speed. Those who had been pillars of historic success simply nowhere to be found. A GM floundering and picking up slow, past-it d-men, holding onto methods that no longer apply. A former playoff chew-toy rising up and vanquishing those that hadn’t even considered them an adversary before. A raucous crowd behind them, swinging wildly between euphoria and disbelief that it’s finally happening (though let’s thank Isles fans for finally stealing European soccer songs instead of just college chants, a la Music City). A sense of of it truly being over.

Sound at all familiar? The difference here of course is where the Predators simply sped past the Hawks at every turn, the Islanders boa constrictor’d the Penguins from the off, and there wasn’t any air anywhere for them. You can’t really blame the Pens. After the past three years, it would take an utter miracle to find the energy to get through a Barry Trotz team. Especially when you’ve run into a Barry Trotz team the previous three seasons. At some point, everyone just says, “Fuck this, I’ve had enough.” Victory has defeated you, as they say.

It seems every defining team goes through this. The Hawks in ’17. The Kings missing the playoffs altogether after their second Cup and then being utterly destroyed by the Sharks a year later. The Wings being flattened by the same Predators in 2012. The endings are never clean or graceful. As Sick Boy put it, “At one point you’ve got it, and then you lose it and it’s gone forever.” In the NHL now, that moment where it switches doesn’t let you down gently. It goes upside your head with a mace.

Oh, I’m sure Penguins fans will scream until they wretch up an Iron City that as long as Crosby and Malkin are around they’re never out of it. We said the same thing around these parts, and look where it got us. If Sidney dyes his hair purple and tells the assembled press in September he’s really gotten into writing his own poetry, you’ll truly know where you’re headed. They’ll pout and stamp their feet about how Jim Rutherford will figure it out. The same Rutherford who signed Jack Johnson and traded for Erik Gudbranson and then wondered why they couldn’t bust a Trotz trap. And remember, that was all for a still useful Carl Hagelin, who just happens to still be playing. I’m sure Rutherford has a real master plan here. After all, he wasn’t responsible for all of the Canes playoffs-less decade. Just most of it.

Oh, they’ll tell themselves that Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad will put it together at The Confluence. That they just need to be in a winning atmosphere and suddenly they’ll blossom. Sure thing, that’s why the Panthers are so good. Maybe they can bring back Matt Cullen again, assuming they can find enough virgin’s blood between now and training camp to keep him upright. Signing centers over 40 is always such a keen strategy.

Next year will be the 54th straight that Olli Maatta is going to have a breakthrough. Or maybe next year is finally the one Justin Schultz can make it through without catching legionnaires  or having half of a construction site fall on him. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. Maybe if you try hard enough, Pens fans, you can close your eyes and focus and suddenly Marcus Pettersson will just become Elias.

Matt Murray is still young, they’ll tell themselves. Really had a surge in the second half of the year. All that’s true, except he just put up his second subpar playoff performance to go with his two good ones. Are they ready for another Marc-Andre Fleury roller coaster? They didn’t like the first one much. There are no answers here either.

No, realizations like Patric Hornqvist proving that if you’re an asshole power forward and you take the power forward away, you’re just an asshole, aren’t going to get any better and brighter when he’s 33. Come December the Pens will have their very own Milan Lucic! They must be so excited.

And there’s little salvation to be found. The only big contract coming off the books soon is Schultz’s, and that will mostly be insurance after he’s eaten by werewolves. This is entrenched. This is what you are. It was good enough not so long ago. It’s not now, and it  won’t be again. There are glories past to be celebrated, and you’ll have to hang on tight, because what comes next isn’t very fun. Ask us. We know. Keep the DVDs close.

So fare the well, Pittsburgh Penguins. Don’t worry, the NHL will keep shoving you in outdoor games and on national television. The name recognition doesn’t fade. But that only shines a brighter light on what isn’t there any longer. Believe us, we got here first. When all you want is to remain in the shadows so no one will notice you trying to white-knuckle through another Gudbranson shift, the masses will keep coming back to scoff and mock, and try to remember what it was like before, while decrying that they still have to watch and pay attention to you. And you’ll tell them you don’t want them to either, but NBC keeps bringing you back. Everyone is going to know your pain when all you want is to be left alone.

It’s a dark ride from here.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE: Game 1 at Islanders – Wednesday 6:30, Game 2 at Islanders – Friday 6:30, Game 3 at Penguins – Sunday 12pm, Game 4 at Penguins – April 16th 6:30

Ho-hum, here the Penguins are with 100 points again, and likely as anyone to get out of the Metro Division. Before anyone tells you what the Hawks have gone through the past four seasons was unavoidable due to the cap and success, ask yourselves if the Penguins ever went four seasons without a series win, or three without a playoff win, or even two without the playoffs. The answer…is no. They’ll meet up with the league’s biggest surprise, and its tightest defense. Which will probably make this one a slog to watch, other than the Nassau crowd being utterly bonkers and frothing and smelly, because it’s Long Island. This will be the first series the Islanders have started at home since the Mesozoic Era. Let’s run it through.

Goalies: You have to start with the Isles, and their tandem that brought home the Jennings Trophy. As of now, Barry Trotz hasn’t announced a starter, and the Isles might just tandem it up as they did throughout the season. While Trotz certainly did lock things down defensively after Doug Weight had turned the Isles’ zone into what Springfield Elementary looked like when Flanders was the principal, both Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner both performed above their expected ranges. Which makes beating the Islanders quickly almost an impossibility. However, playoff runs rarely work out when you’re switching goalies, the 2010 Flyers being something of an exception and that was due to incompetence. Generally you get one trigger-pull. The Isles are unique, and if one drops the ball they can just go with the other. But then there won’t be the safety net they’ve had all season. It’s a tough balance.

And if New York was hoping that their playoff fortunes hinge on getting significantly better goaltending than their opponent, they’ve picked the wrong fight here. Since December 1st, Matt Murray is rolling up with a .929 SV% overall. And a .933 at evens all season. And he’s already gone the route twice, so the stage won’t frighten him.

Defense: While the blue and orange faithful are probably hoping Barry Trotz can conjure more magic from last year, he doesn’t have the horses on the blue line this time around. I would argue John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov are better than anyone the Isles can boast. While promising, Pelech, Pulock, and Mayfield have only ever projected to be middle pairing guys. Nick Leddy was woeful for most of the season, as his freewheeling style doesn’t fit in with Trotz. Devon Toews has been something of a revelation, but you see how far Trotz trusts a rookie in the postseason. They play a style that shields them well enough, but there’s also a couple legends on the other side.

The Penguins will actually head into this series healthy on the blue line…for about five minutes. Again, it has the experience. There’s just way more firepower here with Letang and Schultz. Somehow, Erik Gudbranson didn’t sink them, and the Isles aren’t going to play fast enough to expose him and Jack Johnson. Maybe they capitalize on a mistake or two, but aren’t going to constantly cave them in.

Forwards: There have been series in the past when the Penguins won because they had Crosby and Malkin and the other team didn’t. Malkin had what everyone called an offseason, and he was pretty bad at times, and he still ended up with 72 points in 68 games. It’s still Evgeni Malkin. Jake Guentzel had 40 goals, and I’m not sure he does anything but stand still and let Crosby bank it off of him in the net, but he’s good enough to finish all those chances. Hornqvist is a nasty playoff weapon because he’s just around the net all the time, and especially in a series that could easily be trenched the fuck up, those kinds of goals and those kinds of scorers are paramount. PHIL!’s goal-scoring has dropped off a touch but he’s actually a better playmaker now. Again, the Pens don’t starve for weapons.

The Isles aren’t bereft of skill, it’s just not used that way. Barzal led them in scoring with 62 points. The Penguins feature four players who topped that, and a d-man who wasn’t far behind in Letang with 56. Brock Nelson is a hell of a second center, and Anders Lee could be a Hornqvist in the playoffs. But boy, beyond that…

You can write off Jordan Eberle now. This isn’t his time of year. His one playoff journey in EdMo saw him manage an 0-fer in 13 games. Sure, playoff narratives are built around grind-y, check-y, grunt-y guys like Casey Cizikas and ClusterFuck, but I’ll still take the Hall of Famers on the other side, thanks.

Prediction: Trotz is going try and make every game 2-1, because the Isles sure can’t shoot it out with the Penguins. And he did get one over the Penguins last year. He also lost to them twice. You honestly can’t count on the Islanders getting better goaltending than the Penguins will with how Murray is playing. Sure, it’s hockey and when things are this tight bounces can go either way. Still, if the goaltending is even, the offenses aren’t. Who do you think is more likely to get the 2 than the 1?

Penguins in six.