Hockey

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Game Time: 9:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Rural Alberta Advantage: Copper n Blue, Oilers Nation

 

While it was pretty well assumed that the preliminary series between the Oilers and Hawks was going to have all the defensive structure of a Jackson Pollock rough draft, Saturday afternoon’s tilt showed just how silly this whole thing has the potential of getting in a hurry. And fortunately the Hawks came out on top putting the Oilers immediately on their heels in this short 5 game series.

Hockey

To this point in the riveting miniseries this week that has been the preview of the Hawks and Oilers’ best of five play in series, things have been fairly close to a toss up in the other categories. A case can be made either way among any of the on-ice units either of these teams possess, as there are enough question marks and variables everywhere coming out of a four and a half month hibernation to really make it anyone’s guess. The same can not be said behind the benches however, as the Oilers have an actual adult running their show in Dave Tippett, and the Hawks have Jeremy Prinze, Jr. playing the sensitive nerd when he wears his glasses.

Hockey

We close our position-group previews for the upcoming Hawks-Oilers play-in series by visiting the most important position in the game. In spite of all the star power up front for both teams in the likes Patrick Kane or Connor McDavid, it’s quite possible that this series comes down entirely to the two men standing in the crease. It’s well-established now that goalies are capable of stealing or throwing a series entirely on their own, and considering the goalies playing in this series and the circumstances around them of late, it certainly seems like either of those options are equally on the table. Let’s dig in.

Oilers Goalies

Probable Starter: Mike Smith

On Roster: Mikko Koskinen, Stuart Skinner

The Oilers are still playing the typical hockey unknown game in terms of who will be their starting goalie for the series with the Hawks, but given his history with coach Dave Tippet and overall experience, I think it’s safe to say Mike Smith is the favorite to get the job overall. Smith’s numbers in the regular season were somewhat strange, as he had a fairly respectable 2.95 GAA but a sub-optimal .902 save percentage in 39 appearances. He was even worse at 5v5 with an even .900 SV%, and when you check the venue- and score-adjusted 5v5 stats he finally dips below the Goalie Mendoza Line to a .899 SV%. His goalie play is no longer what it was in his prime (which was not that great anyway) but worry not, as he is still a giant shitbaby.

On the flip side, Mikko Koskinen had a much more impressive regular season, posting a 2.75 GAA and .917 SV% in 38 appearances. And continuing his trend of being opposite-of and better than Smith, Koskinen’s stats improved at 5v5; he posted a .924 SV% at evens, and it drops only slightly to a .922 when adjusted for score and venue.

If this “playoff” series were happening in the immediate aftermath of a season, Edmonton would be incredibly dumb to start Smith over Koskinen. However, it’s been more than four months since anyone played a hockey game that meant anything, and four months since either of these goalies took the crease, so the Oilers’ decision is going likely going to be based more on their restart camp and exhibitions, making it a toss-up. Regardless, I don’t think either goalie is especially impressive or intimidating, but neither should be discounted either.

Blackhawks Goalies

Probable Starter: Corey Crawford

On Roster: Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen

In a vacuum, there would be no question that Corey Crawford would be in the net for the Hawks when the puck drops on Saturday. Unfortunately, this is not a vacuum, and thus we have many questions that need to be answered before this season starts. Crawford continued his reign as one of the best goalies in the NHL – still without the proper recognition or appreciation, of course – with a 2.77 GAA and .917 SV% in 40 appearances this year. That save percentage jumped to an eye-popping .926 at 5v5, both in raw numbers and when adjusted for score and venue. Without being too disrespectful to the other goalies on the roster, Crawford is probably better than the rest of them combined and in normal circumstances if he were to be benched in favor of any of them it would be a travesty.

But again, this is not a vacuum and these are not normal circumstances. Unfortunately, Crawford recently recovered from testing positive for COVID-19, which kept him in Chicago longer than the rest of the Hawks; he just returned to the team and practice last Saturday, giving him just a week to get back into game shape after four months off *and* dealing with the virus. This does create something of a question in terms of if Crawford will be fully ready to play come Saturday. Should the answer be no, my guess is the crease would go to Malcolm Subban, who was once a top goalie prospect in the game but has never really reached his potential. He barely played after being acquired in the Robin Lehner trade – he got into one game for exactly 1:10 – and he posted a .890 SV% in 20 appearances for Vegas. That is not great, so if Crawford cannot play, this could get even uglier for the Hawks than even the ugliest scenario you’ve envisioned.

Advantage: Hawks…. maybe?

If Crawford plays, there is no question that the Hawks have the advantage here, even if the Oilers start Koskinen. Crawford being able to play, and doing so in top form, is the Hawks’ best chance of winning this series, let alone anything beyond that. Quite frankly, I have my doubts that they can really do win even with Crawford playing, but that’s a different conversation. If Crawford cannot go, though, the scale tips in Edmonton’s favor. If Crawford cannot play, this could really become a 3-game sweep for the Oilers.

Hockey

While this country has in no way earned the right to begin discussing the resumption of team professional sports in the way that South Korea has with baseball, or Germany has with Bundesliga soccer given the ghastly disparity in how the pandemic has been handled in the those places versus the United States, the NHL at least got out in front of any of the other team sports by formally announcing how the playoffs and draft are going to work. It’s quite dense, but it’s hockey so it can’t be THAT convoluted.

 

Now to the big takeaways from the announcement:

  • The 2019-2020 regular sseason is officially over, and as such, the top 12 teams via points percentage in each conference are now in this tournament, meaning…..your Chicago Blackhawks have once again qualified for the playoffs, if only by the hair on their ass as the 12 seed in the west.
  • The divisional playoff model has been abandoned, and top four seeds will play a round robin to determine their playoff seeding with regular season rules OT rules, concurrent with the remaining bottom 8 teams playing best of 5 series for the right to advance to one of the top four. Bettman notes in the announcement that it has not been determined yet if the first two rounds will re-seed or follow a static bracket, not to mention that the NHL managed to make overtime even more of a clown show by having two different flavors of it conceivably being played on the same day in the early goings. Even at its most competent, there is no circumstance under which the NHL can’t manage to look like dipshits.
  • That being said, the Hawks are now locked into a best of 5 series with the Edmonton Oilers when and if play takes place. So that means a matchup in a series against the league’s top two scorers in McDavid and now-Ross winner Leon The Ladies’ Man with a defense that had no structure to begin with, and in general when teams break camp raw skill tends to win against systems. But there’s always the chance that there could be revenge of known method actor Mike Smith. Stranger things have happened.
  • Also of local interest is that Chicago is mentioned as one of the potential hub cities, presumably for the Western conference, given the amount of hotels and rinks that are available in the area (the UC, RoseMizon, Sears). Given that there would be multiple games a day concurrently at least in the first two rounds, the time zone issue for starting games past 8:00PM locally here probably wouldn’t loom too large, but it should be considered. Of course, this is operating under the presumption that the city and suburbs have the COVID situation under control, which they absolutely do not right now. But this is the sort of thing the city and state usually trips all over their dicks to incentivize for big business at the expense of common citizens, and during the pandemic things have been no different.
  • Bettman made basically zero mention of the medical safety protocols that are going to be enacted during this, such as full cages/facemasks, celebrations, bench spacing, shared towels, water bottles, dressing room procedures, or any number of other things that need to be figured out and will almost certainly be disregarded by players immediately because they’re by and large minimally educated self-declared Sovereign Citizens. He did mention “extensive testing”, which seems like an absolute bare minimum, and limiting traveling parties to cities to a total of 50 people per team, so after 23 players and 3-4 coaches, teams are going to have to be judicious on their staff selections. And taxi squads (since the AHL season is DONE-done) will likely have to be kept remotely.
  • With regard to the draft, it’s even more convoluted. Basically, they’re going to hold an initial lottery at the end of June, and then if any team that is going to resume play jumps in order, or “wins” the first round lottery, there will be a second re-draw after the conclusion of the round-robin, best of 5 round.

It was made clear numerous times during the video that none of this is etched in stone and the situation is completely fluid from a lot of different angles. Bettman gave July 1 as the absolute earliest camps could open if everything broke right, but didn’t specify if those would be in hub cities or home cities. There’s still time for all of this to go completely balls up again as states start to re open and cases are likely to spike again after the incubation period. But it’s a start, and now the Hawks can say that Jeremy Colliton got this rag tag group into the playoffs and justify keeping him around until the NEXT pandemic.

Hockey

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Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Church Of McJesus Christ and Leon-Day Saints: Oilers Nation, Copper n Blue

Well, the Hawks certainly won’t be able to say that they weren’t the beneficiaries of a bit of good fortune during whatever this so-called playoff push might become, as word just before press time leaked out that Connor McDavid will miss 2-3 weeks with a thigh bruise, which certainly puts him out for tonight’s tilt in Edmonton, and may very well keep him out of the lineup for the UC rematch the first week of March.

Hockey

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Game Time: 7:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, SportsNet 1, WGN-AM 720
Royal Oil: Copper ‘n Blue, Oilers Nation

As the homestand nears its halfway point the Hawks still find themselves winless on the season, and the schedule has done them zero favors with a very early season tilt against the suddenly shit-hot Oilers and arguably the fastest player in the history of the game.

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
Alberta Clipper: Matchsticks & Gasoline, Flames Nation

As this Blackhawks season quickly spirals into the separating asshole of mutual acrimony and defeat, every successive game is both an opportunity to right the ship, and also one to finally make the breakthrough into Fun Bad. And the schedule certainly has conspired to make the latter more likely with the Flames in town tonight on West Madison.

Everything Else

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Game Time: 7:30PM
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Joe Arpaio Should Die In Prison: Five For Howling

If it feels like forever since the Hawks had a traditional 7:30 start at home at the UC, it kind of has, as it’s been nearly a month since they had one. It was a riveting affair, as they always are, against the Winnipeg Jets on January 26th, and tonight figures to be just as rollicking against the the league’s second worst team in the visiting Arizona Phoenix Glendale Coyotes/Quebec Nordiques/Seattle Metropolitans.