Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 24-21-6   Coyotes 26-21-6

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

NO REGRETS: Five For Howling

The Hawks won’t get to ease their way back into the swing of things after their midseason bye, as they’ll immediately be plunged into something of a wildcard four-pointer in Arizona. And this has not been a location that has been too kind to the Hawks of late, nor the opponent.

The Hawks only have one win in their last five games against the Yotes, and they were popped there earlier in the season and lost what was essentially their last stab at relevance late last season. You wouldn’t think this would be such an issue for the Hawks, given the lack of star power Arizona has and the usual majority of Hawks fans in the stands making it a de facto home game. But their collective speed on every line provides the same problem that teams like Vegas or Colorado do, just on a smaller scale. They can harass the Hawks deep in their own end into mistakes and streak out of their zone away from the Hawks to get into open space.

The Hawks won’t be allowed any excuses tonight, however. They’re four points behind the Yotes, who hold the last wildcard spot, but have two games in hand. Thanks to the Jets incompetence and the Preds not being a whole lot better (as well as having their own bye), the Hawks are still in this with only Nashville to leap to get to Arizona. And the Predators have a date with Vegas tonight, so the Hawks can jump over them tonight if results go their way.

They should be seeing an ornery team, as the Yotes returned from their bye earlier in the week and promptly only took one point out of four against hanging curveballs Anaheim and LA. They would have looked at this three in four as a spot to really cement their status as playoff contenders, but could be looking at truly biffing it if they lose to the Hawks. And this isn’t a team that should be overflowing with confidence, given their history of fading into the background consistently.

Injuries have been an issue, most notably with Darcy Kuemper missing weeks as he was the anchor to this team. He won’t return tonight but is due back very soon, probably their next game. Without him, the Yotes’ weaknesses are much more easily exposed, as Antti Raanta and Adin “Silent” Hill have been hardly worth writing songs about. Those weaknesses are pretty much they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They don’t score much, they don’t possess the puck much, and they’re barely a middling defensive team. If you dismiss Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” guy, there really isn’t a star anywhere on this team. Phil Kessel was brought in to be that, but much like the story he’s getting old now.

Taylor Hall was then brought in to be what Kessel might not be able to be anymore, and he’s put up 16 points in 18 games as a Yote. He gives them what should be something like two scoring lines, as Keller and Kessel are on the other one. But Keller has one point in nine, and Kessel is a few months away from doing ads for The General car insurance. They’re depending a lot on Hall, Dvorak, and Garland, though the top line of Keller-Stepan-Kessel has been possession-mutants.

Defensively, without OEL there isn’t really an advanced puck-mover here. Chychrun chips in goals with a booming shot but it’s not really what he does. Alex Goligoski is getting up there in age. Maybe Ilya Lubishkin, but he’s no guarantee for the lineup. OEL is a miss, whatever you consider him.

To the Hawks. Just about everyone other than the long-term casualties is reporting for duty, as it looks like Dylan Strome is going to make the post. That leaves the Hawks just one winger short of a pretty keen “3+1” model, with Dach at least getting limited looks between Kane and Saad and Top Cat reuniting with Strome. Kampf will continue to try and square-shape into that round hole as the other winger on that line for now. No word yet on which goalie will start but considering the way Crawford was playing and the way Lehner kind of had a hiccup that almost made him barf against Florida, the money is on Crow.

You can count on the Coyotes to try hard, because they have to, and because they’re coming off two disappointing results. You can probably expect a pretty scratchy first period from the Hawks, as they try and figure out how their legs and arms work again and get timing down. So really, just wading through the first 20-30 minutes is the order of the day, and then if things are still tied or in one goal the Hawks can begin to find their game. They’ll have to be tight with the puck in the offensive end, because this Arizona team will be looking to spring on them and away from them at the first sign of a turnover.

This is a big month, as February doesn’t tend to be. The schedule is very road-heavy, but that’s suited the Hawks better all season. Most games are against teams around them or below them. If you’re a part of this, then be a part of this. Otherwise, stop wasting our time.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 22-20-6   Maple Leafs 25-16-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network

ALL DAY: Pension Plan Puppets 

We’ve been doing this all season. The Hawks string together two or three wins, generally over bad teams, and look good in at least one of them, and a part of you wants to believe that something has clicked and just might go on a run to make the season interesting. They’re only four points out of a playoff spot, with only one team between them and that last wildcard spot, and you don’t even have to squint all that hard to make a case they could make a run at it. Especially when they’re chasing the Oilers, who are more guaranteed to have their intestines fall out than the Hawks. Vancouver and Arizona could also still make a thud.

And then usually they get thwacked by a good team and we start this all over.

So that’s what feels like is about to happen tonight, as the Hawks take their three wins against the Ducks, Sens, and Habs up against a real team. And the Leafs are the fully operational annoyance that they were forecasted to be. Casting off the shackles of Mike Babcock has had the effect that Kyle Dubas would have hoped, as Sheldon Keefe has helped everyone realize their joy again. The Leafs are more threatening, more dynamic, and quite a bit more scary now that Keefe has allowed them to “try shit.”

Which shouldn’t have been all that hard. The Leafs still have perhaps the richest array of offensive talent in the league. There certainly isn’t a team that can match Matthews-Tavares down the middle at 1-2, and Alex Kerfoot has enjoyed the sweetheart spot that used to belong to Nazem Kadri. Nylander, Marner, Hyman, Johnsson, Kapanen certainly don’t lessen the threat on the wings. If they’re on song, they can put up a touchdown on you before you’ve finished your Timbo’s.

But the problems for the Leafs are still the same, and they’re exacerbated now. Both Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin are out for weeks with a broken foot each, and this wasn’t a great defense to begin with. It’s lead them to give Travis Dermott top pairing minutes, and use Tyson Barrie as a defensive specialist, neither of which is a path you’d choose lest your life depended on it. Keefe has at least kept Cody Ceci away from the top pairing.

And the goalie is far from sure either. The Leafs haven’t had a solid backup all season, as you saw evidenced by Michael Hutchinson KICK-ing every puck into his own net here in Chicago last time they met (get it?). But Fab Five Freddie Andersen has been bad for six weeks now, partly due to exhaustion. Also he’s Freddie Andersen, which is the definition of “just good enough to break your heart.”

For the Hawks, Brandon Saad could suit up tonight, but that’s looking like a gametime decision. Brandon Hagel could make his NHL debut after being Rockford’s leading scorer. With optional morning skates we’re guessing along with all of you. Corey Crawford will get the start, with Lehner taking the back half of the double tomorrow night at home against Winnipeg.

Once again, the Hawks have risen to at least the discussion of a playoff spot. But now they’ll be facing two teams that are either good or competing with them for that spot, and it’s a spot where they’ve generally fallen flat on their face. The Leafs aren’t invulnerable here, given the state of their defense and Andersen’s level right now. But getting into a track meet with this team almost certainly equals death, and yet the Hawks don’t have the structure generally to keep things tight. They did so for most of the game against the JV version of the Leafs in Montreal, but this is the real thing.

They were able to hilariously add on to a Leafs crisis last year in T.O, even though Duncan Keith did his best to ruin all that work. It’s a big stretch here on the weekend and then Quenneville Bowl on Tuesday. The Hawks have to put it together now, so five of six points is minimum before we even consider believing they can actually take this to the wire.

Plus, beating the Leafs is always fun.

Hockey

The level of inconsistency this past week was mind-boggling, so why not examine the good, the bad and the marginally acceptable? There was plenty of all three to go around.

The Dizzying Highs

Dominik Kubalik: A Little Bit of the Kubbly has been downright impressive these last few games, not counting the game against the Devils on Monday where the entire team got their dicks kicked in. Look past that, and Kubalik had a goal and assist against Colorado (a good team, mind you), and he had three points in his last four games. He’s fit in well on the top line, even with Brandon Saad now out of that picture. And speaking of that, the Hawks really need Kubalik to step into a Saad-like role, ideally with more finish, which seems entirely possible at this point.

Patrick Kane: It feels lazy to put Kane here, I know, but I’m working with the material in front of me, OK? Garbage Dick had a four-point night against the Jets and pretty much owned the entire game. Hell, he even made Alex Nylander look good in that game. Six points over the last week. Creep can roll.

The Terrifying Lows

Injuries: Listen, we can sit here and complain about a LOT of things, but in the spirit of Christmas I’m going to take the high road and only complain about some shit that isn’t directly anyone’s fault—injuries. On Monday night Adam Boqvist got hurt, and while it’s impossible to say that he would have changed the outcome, it certainly didn’t help to be down a defenseman in a game rife with defensive breakdowns (even more than usual). Add to that Calvin de Haan being out  and possibly needing shoulder surgery again. Even if de Haan does come back this season, this is the worst possible outcome of that move because now his shoulder will be gum and tinfoil for the rest of his career, and he was at least passable on defense, albeit too slow. Let’s not forget about Brandon Saad either, who had finally started scoring a little right before he too got hurt. Luckily his ankle injury isn’t a blown knee or a concussion, but for a struggling team none of this is good. Keith being out for a stretch did them no favors. And wtf is going on with Brent Seabrook? Not like having him IN the lineup is exactly helping the team, but whatever is going on is just another element of unnecessary drama for this team. If his voice and presence in the locker room is really so valuable, then this mysterious disappearance can’t be good.

The Creamy Middles

Kirby Dach: We’ve seen Dach’s potential on display in the last few games. His goal against Colorado was a pretty one—his reach and ability to hold onto the puck have been good to see. Playing him with Top Cat has been helpful too. Even in the ass-waxing against the Devils they led the team in possession with a 60 CF%. (DeBrincat’s had no finish lately so he doesn’t get an honorable mention here.) Dach can’t save the team on his own, but he’s showing he just may be the top center we’re going to need sooner rather than later.

Hockey

@  

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Alpenglow Botanicals: Mile High Hockey

For the second time in a month, the Hawks and Avalanche will be playing one another for the second time in a week. And for the second time in a month, the Hawks will be looking to avoid getting blanked in earning any kind of points in the standings whatsoever. Maybe this time it will be different.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Sometimes, all you need are a couple of individually brilliant performances. The Hawks had all the consistency and cleanliness of a Taco Bell–hosted afterparty toilet bowl, but came away with a decently dominant victory. Let’s wrap it.

Patrick Kane gave as many fucks as he could tonight. When that creep gives a fuck, it’s breathtaking what he can do. He directly contributed on all four Hawks goals and managed to make Alex Nylander look like a smart trade not once but twice. On the first goal, Kane took a chip pass from Strome up the far boards, took his time scanning for options, and fired a Royal Road pass that Nylander just had to run into for a goal.

On Kubalik’s goal, it was Kane’s aggressive and outstanding backchecking (what the fuck?) that led to a steal from Scheifele and an easy pass to a totally uncovered Kubalik. If you needed any evidence that Kane was entirely locked in tonight, this is the best example.

And what do you know? When Gus and Kane cycle even a little bit on the power play, it opens up a ton of space. Rather than having Gus pick his ass at the point while Kane puckhandled on the near boards, the two simply switched spots, which drew defenders toward Kane at the point, giving Gus a wide-open lane for a one-timer. It was 366 days ago that the Hawks’s power play woke up last year doing exactly this kind of thing.

And for the coup de grace, Kane took a cross-ice pass from Nylander and wristed a laser by Hellebuyck, getting Adam Boqvist the secondary assist in the process.

Kane made everyone look good out there. That creep can roll.

– It took Kane’s Atlasian effort to push Robin Lehner out of the top spot for tonight. Another 37 shots on goal and just one goal allowed for the 1B goalie, including a few remarkable saves in the second. The Hawks got pantsed bad in the second frame, which is turning into a trend when they play the Jets, but Lehner navigated them through it. It’s definitely fun to watch Lehner make heroic saves, but you still have to hope that Stan is at least thinking about making or taking some calls on him, especially if he can get a for-sure prospect for him. This team is clearly in rebuild mode, and after Saad’s injury, Lehner is likely the best trade piece they have now. Something to consider.

– We’re still waiting for Adam Boqvist to really flash the flair we were all promised, but tonight was at least encouraging. He had a couple of decent break ups in his own zone and led all Hawks D-men in CF% (53+) and xGF% (70+) with Keith as his partner. This is exactly the kind of play Boqvist should be shooting for, for now. You’d still like to see him quarterbacking the power play at some point, but tonight was a step in the right direction. Credit to Jeremy Colliton for having the stones to put him on the top pairing.

Kirby Dach was the only other Blackhawk beside Lehner to have a decent second period. He’s still in the good-idea-not-so-good-execution stage of his offensive development, but you can see the vision on display most of the time. Once he stops baby giraffeing with the puck near the net, he’s going to be a dangerous centerman.

– Alex Nylander had two points tonight. Though he sort of fell into his goal, that he was in the right spot is seriously encouraging. And his cross-ice pass on Kane’s goal is what you imagine Bowman traded for in the first place. For now, it’s a flash in the pan, but it’s at least encouraging.

Dominik Kubalik led all Blackhawks in CF% (58+) and xGF% (82+). Though he might not be a top-tier player, he’s got potential to be another Brandon Saad, which is a good thing to be.

– Saad’s injury was to his ankle tonight, rather than the knee injury we assumed it was. It wasn’t pretty, but there might be hope that it’s not a season ender.

– It was a fun victory, but it’s still concerning to see shit like this:

This is the setup for Poolman’s goal. There’s no reason for Dylan Strome to be that low, especially with Murphy covering his man. With DeBrincat eying the point, Nylander needs to be able to read the play and at least make an effort to cover Poolman here. Again, this is Strome’s fault for being that far out of position, but if Nylander’s only going to score once every 16 games, he’s got to up his awareness on plays like these.

It wasn’t entirely pretty, but it doesn’t need to be. On to Colorado Saturday.

Beer du Jour: Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “We were short and hard.” –Dennis Gilbert describing things during an intermission interview.

Hockey

Don’t worry, this won’t be just hair-pulling and complaining about the terrifying lows…I mean, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it, but I wouldn’t do that (yet)…

The Dizzying Highs

The Kubalik-Toews-Saad line. This has been working, when so little else has been. Brandon Saad in particular has been playing well lately, including not one but two goals in the eventual collapse to the Blues on Saturday night. Dominik Kubalik has also been setting up Jonathan Toews pretty nicely and is proving that he does in fact belong on the top line. Going into Sunday night’s game this line had a a 52.6 CF% and an xGF% at a healthy 55.8. And they’ve been doing the basics like winning puck battles, hanging onto it, making good passes, etc., not to mention they scored the go-ahead goal against the Wild. This one line isn’t enough to solve the Blackhawks’ many, many woes right now, but they are still a functional top line.

Whoever decided to let Boqvist play 10 games. Having played 10 games, the first year of Adam Boqvist‘s contract is now officially in force. This means that he will likely play only here with the top club, which is exactly what needs to happen, not any contract chicanery for some imaginary future state. No, Boqvist isn’t some kind of savior, and he hasn’t been playing all that impressively quite yet, but the only way for him to develop into a reliable NHL-level player is to play in the fucking NHL. The Hawks cannot pull any Jokiharju-level nonsense this time: no sending him to the World Juniors to beat up on other children, despite whatever “confidence boost” people say that will have. You know what’s good for a kid’s confidence? Telling him, “you’re an important part of our future and good enough to play at the highest level.” How is no one else mentioning that? Besides, with the defense literally in shambles there is no other choice, because if the Hawks really don’t care about this season and consider it lost, they need Boqvist to develop and get better so that things don’t stay this way. Or, if they really do believe their own marketing slogan and think they can claw their way back into the playoffs this year, they absolutely need a fast, puck-moving defenseman who can also be on the power play. Either way, contract timing should not be the deciding factor and I’m relieved that it no longer is.

The Terrifying Lows

Dennis Gilbert. Whatta jamoke. This fool spent half the week taking dumbass GRITHEARTFART penalties that directly led to goals against them. About a week ago it cost the Hawks the game, leading Adam Burish to ever greater levels of dumbassery on the broadcast to defend these meatball tactics. By this past Saturday Gilbert was almost not offensive to the eyes, but then he got paired with Seabrook (not his fault but still) and was on the ice for both the second and the game-tying goals by the Blues. In fact, in his first nine games he was on the ice for just one goal but also out there for 11 against the Hawks. He is not an NHL player. Full stop.

Alex Nylander. Fuck this idiot, seriously. Well, actually let’s say fuck the stupid front office who traded a talented young defenseman for this idiot.

Erik Gustafsson. So many options for the Terrifying Lows this week, amirite? Gus was particularly awful against the Coyotes earlier in the week and really just couldn’t accomplish basic defensive coverage, stickwork, what have you. Oh wait, but then there was the pass to Mark Stone in the Vegas game (technically a turnover but felt like he just forgot which team he was on). And fucking up on the Knights’ short-handed goal that same game. Really, too many terrible moments to choose from.

The Creamy Middles

Connor Murphy. Connor Murphy is fast becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of this team and I am not having it. He is the only actual defenseman the Hawks have right now—and he’s been playing as well as the lone d-man on a bad team can. He’s leading the defense in CF% (51.3), and has been trying to cover for Gustafsson’s stupidity, which is quite the unenviable task. So he’s been on the ice for a lot of shots and scoring changes against lately (29 and 33, respectively, going into Sunday), but he’s still managed to be one of the only decent players on a regular basis. And he even had two assists last night against the Wild—one on a shot that Kampf redirected for the third goal, and another shot for a bizarro redirect that became the winning goal. Also, did I mention he’s the only actual defenseman they have?

Corey Crawford. The numbers won’t show it, but Crow has been keeping the Hawks in it over his last few games. Against Vegas his SV% was just .865 and against the Blues it wasn’t much better, at .895. But if you saw any of it, you know that Crawford has been one of the few reasons why things aren’t even worse, and his play is largely how the Hawks aren’t losing by a touchdown on a regular basis. Also please note this is not to say Lehner has been bad, but Crawford has borne this burden with class and a lack of appreciation, as always, so he gets the shout out.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

A win tonight would have been a steal. Other than Crawford, Toews, Saad, Kane, and Murphy, the Hawks did absolutely nothing to deserve to even be up by three, let alone be up by two with just seven minutes to go. This was a monumental breakdown that should cost everyone their jobs after tonight, but it won’t, because the organ-I-zation can do no wrong ever. You knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it feel much better. Let’s tidy up.

– Before the third, Corey Crawford was once again the best player on the ice. And despite the last two goals, which Crawford probably could have had, Crawford kept this trash heap in it for as long as he could. Until the last seven minutes or so, Crawford was the number-one star, but you can only hold the dam for so long before the facts that Alex Nylander, Dennis Gilbert, and Brent Seabrook are skating serious minutes for this team bear shit fruit from their gigantic ass tree.

Brandon Saad continues to shine as the best all-around skater on this wet-bag-of-diarrhea team. His first goal was certainly an excuse me, but his second one reminds you of what he could be if he showed that kind of finish regularly. The whole play was beautiful, really.

First, Toews pickpocketed Jabe O’Meester on the boards, which was right in line with the Blackhawks’s consistent member-berries theme of 2019. After the steal, Toews used Kubalik as a screen near the far post to pass to Saad. Saad streaked in through the back door and used a quick backhand-forehand exchange to pot his second of the night. Who, other than everyone but Jeremy Colliton, could have ever seen Saad–Toews–Kubalik working?

Patrick Kane’s goal was pure filth. It’s easy to forget how lethal his wrister is when he’s got even an iota of space, but he made sure to remind us all tonight. After Strome and DeBrincat played patty cake with the puck near the blue line and in the neutral zone, Kane decided to gird himself, taking a loose puck off the near boards and going outside to inside before snapping his goal off in one slick motion. Creep can roll.

– I never want to see Alex Nylander on the ice in a Blackhawks sweater again. We all knew he sucked going into this year. But after tonight, there is no doubt that he is a total and complete bust with absolutely no feel for how the game works. What the fuck is he supposed to be doing here?

Or here?

Or here?

Alex Nylander didn’t lose this game, but you’d be hard pressed to find a game he helped win, either.

– We’ve been saying this for the past two months, but seriously, Jeremy Colliton should be fired after tonight. Two goals in 10 seconds, including the game-tying goal, with Seabrook and Gilbert on the ice for fucking both. On purpose. By design. Seabrook was easily one of the worst players on the ice tonight and the worst defender by far. Dennis Gilbert is Dennis Gilbert. These are the guys you want on the ice when the momentum has obviously swung? Fuck, disregarding the momentum, why the fuck are these two on the ice together at all? Fuck your injuries, there is no reason these two should be a pairing for any reason ever.

And this was after Gilbert had an inoffensive game for the first time in his short career. Watching him get his ankles broken off a Thomas pass right before Bozak’s second goal, followed by his wheel pose on de la Rose’s game-tying goal should be the last memory we have of him. But it won’t, because this is the Chicago Blackhawks, an organ-I-zation that can do no wrong. Just ask them.

Jeremy Colliton might be a great European coach. Maybe he can cut it in the AHL. But he’s entirely overmatched in the NHL. Even with the horseshit roster he’s been handed, he’s done nothing to show that he has the creativity or foresight to even try to put them in a position to win. (And if you’re more of a “fire Bowman for that” person, I’m with you.) Tonight ought to be the nail in the coffin. But it won’t, because this organ-I-zation has never once taken responsibility for its fuck ups. It is not going to start now. Bowman et al. have jobs to protect, and woe be to anyone who questions the talent smokescreen of the privileged.

It’s not surprising, but it’s nonetheless embarrassing. Even for a team as bad as the Hawks, allowing four unanswered goals, including three in the span of five minutes in the third period, is unacceptable. You can bet that Eddie O is putting all his money on being the head coach by the time we reach the quarter pole.

One goal: The lottery.

Beer du Jour: Hometown Coffee Stout (Westfax Brewing), Maker’s Mark, Miller High Life, Sour Monkey

Line of the Night: “Pick those up with some jean shorts in St. Louis.” –Pat Boyle on toasted ravioli

Hockey

You hear a lot of this from bad teams. “We do it one night and not the next.” “When we do the things we’re supposed to we can play with anyone, but when we don’t we lose.”

“We just need to be more consistent.”

These are the kinds of quotes leaking to flooding out of the Hawks’ dressing room as the losses pile up. You got this from Saad, Lehner, and Kane last night. You’ll get it again after the Hawks are likely done getting brained by the Blues tomorrow. We can do it one night, so we just need to do it more often.

Here’s the thing. The Hawks are inconsistent because they’re bad. Not the other way around. Most bad teams are. It’s just how these things work.

Look, just about any NHL player is capable of playing a great game. A hat trick can come from anywhere on any given night. Hell, we’ve seen Michael Frolik dominate multiple playoff games. And that’s true with just about any sport. Anyone can go 3-for-4 one afternoon with a couple homers. I even saw Todd Hundley do it once. Some night, things come together and the 7th man goes for 21 points and 10 rebounds.

What separates the good players and great players from the rabble is that they can do it every night. That’s the baseline of their performance, a level they get to each and every night. Bad players peak there and then return to whatever it is they do and the abyss from which they emerged. That’s why they’re third and fourth liners.

You’ve seen Alex Nylander have a great game or two. And then he goes back to being Alex Nylander, which is someone waiting for the puck to get to him in space and then panicking when he gets it while he spills it into the corner. You’ve seen Erik Gustafsson at times genuinely look like an exciting d-man. And then he returns to turning the wrong way and having no defensive instincts whatsoever and being slow. I could go on.

The Hawks can sit around and wish for consistency, but they’re not going to get it with this roster. It’s not some mental deficiency. It’s not a matter of wanting to be consistent more often. They’re simply not good enough to be. Although I guess if your teammates are telling the press you’re just not good enough, that’s probably worse.

-It’s hard to know how to watch, or judge, or cover the rest of this season. It can get so depressing so quickly, especially of late. But seeing as how the Hawks have yet to tell us what the aims are or what they’re trying to do, we can only view it in the dual prisms they’ve given us. This is what I attempted to do last night.

Essentially, you have to watch the Hawks on two levels. One is their flaccid attempts to get back into the playoffs, which they’re abjectly failing. The goalies haven’t helped stop the slide, the vets they picked up either provide the character “Major Suckage” or are hurt. They don’t look to be moving toward anything.

The other is something of a redevelopment, or rebuild, take your pick. And that isn’t judged or hinging on the results. That’s what Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach and still DeBrincat and Strome look like after a stretch. Are their games growing? Do they appear to be learning? Are they getting better? The first two are incomplete because they simply haven’t been around long enough and/or are being supplied with plugs to play with. Strome looks like his game has expanded a bit, as his skating is a little better and he’s being trusted in his own end a touch more (though with very mixed results).

Top Cat is a harder study, as for the first time he can’t buy a bucket. His attempts and scoring chances are down, though his individual expected goals is still on course. So is he contributing in other ways? So far the answers aren’t encouraging, as all his metrics are way down. But this is the first time we’ve seen his finishing not cure all, so he needs to be given room to breathe as well.

That’s just about the only way I can tell you to watch the Hawks these days, until they give you a clearer picture of what their map is. Assuming they have one.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

As has been the way under Jeremy Colliton, whenever the Hawks get entangled with a team they’re supposedly tussling with for a playoff spot, they scream at their shoes. The Knights are much better than the Hawks, but they have a wildcard spot the Hawks claim they want. They crushed the Hawks. The Yotes are likely to be in or near the wildcard spots. They have now beaten the Hawks twice in a week, and pretty much ran them over tonight. Continuing theme.

It’s obvious the Hawks cannot handle the absences of Duncan Keith and Calvin de Haan. Without them, they have exactly one guy who plays defense at an NHL level. That’s Connor Murphy. Clearly he can’t do it all himself. They will continue to get shredded until those two return, and no team should ever depend on those two players so much.

I guess the best way to view the Hawks from here on out is both in a redevelopment fashion and a win-now one. Since we don’t know which path the Hawks have chosen, and they very well may not have chosen either, it’s kind of our only choice.

So…

Rebuild Phase

-An up and down night for Adam Boqvist. Dominant possession-wise, which is why he’s here. But an iffy pinch led to the first Coyotes goal, though Gustafsson could have had a better angle and Lehner could have made a save. He and Gilbert were split for Keller’s breakaway, and I don’t know how playing either with the other is going to help one of them at all. But this is how you learn.

-Um…Kirby Dach looked threatening at times, and the training wheels of playing him on the fourth line have to come off now, because the Hawks need goals.

-Strome had a power play goal. That’s nice.

The Rest

-It’s hard to figure out what is Jeremy Colliton’s fault and what isn’t. But you’ll notice when a Hawks puck-carrier is under any pressure, be it on the blue lines or along the boards, do the other Hawks come close to give him an option or do they fade behind opponents just hoping the puck will find them in space? You’ll see it’s the latter more often than not. That’s cheating. That’s playing for yourself. And that speaks to a team with no structure. The Hawks are trying to manufacture transition by having their forwards cheat out of the zone instead of just being fast out of it. That’s a good deal on the coach, and the lack of talent too. It’s all a problem.

-The give-a-shit meter was on absolute zero for Kane tonight, which isn’t surprising and understandable. It was kind of a piss poor effort on the Schmaltz goal, and he seemed to be taking the easy option most of the time. I don’t expect Kane to be on high alert for all 82, but just know the Hawks will never create enough when he’s not.

-Erik Gustafsson is simply awful.

-The power play only scores when DeBrincat move the puck quickly, either to the net or to the open man, or if Kane makes his James Harden routine work. The latter is not a tactic they should be using. Kane needs to be a threat for a one-timer coming from the other way than the teams cheating to DeBrincat. Until that happens, you’ll get this choppiness.

-Any team, especially when they’re ahead, that is well coached enough to follow the plan of simply standing up at their blue line has the Hawks buffaloed. If the Hawks have to dump the puck in, they’re simply not fast enough nor have the players who can win the puck back consistently. The ones who can are all on one line, and Toews isn’t quick enough anymore to get there. They also don’t have enough creativity to break through that kind of defense, which is why Boqvist’s possession numbers are among the best on the team tonight because he’s the only one who can.

-Did I mention that Gustafsson is awful?

-The season very well could be over by the weekend. Maybe it’ll force the Hawks into real decisions.

Onwards…for some reason…

 

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks win a game that looked like mononucleosis on ice. There were some really nice highlights from guys you care about, too. Let’s keep it tight, cuz it’s a drinkin’ night.

Corey Crawford might not get his number retired. He probably won’t make the Hall of Fame. But he’s now a 250-win goaltender and has firmly established himself as at least a Top-3 Hawks goaltender of all time. It’s easy to take him for granted because he does so well without the panache of someone like Robin Lehner, but once again, he proved to be the crux of a Hawks victory. He stoned three of four Devils power plays and held on in the shootout, stopping 29 of 30 overall. The fact that Dennis Gilbert got Player of the Game just reinforces that Crawford is Chicago’s Rodney Dangerfield.

Kirby Dach had himself a nice game, too. He was aces in the first period with three shots on goal and a smooth steal to set up his first shot. The scuttlebutt has been that Dach needs to shoot the puck more, and tonight he showed he took that idea seriously. His forehand deke in the second was just a bit wide, but he had the right idea. Though the shootout is a waste of everyone’s time, his patience on it got the Hawks the extra point. It’s still extremely dumb to see him playing fourth-line minutes with Smith and Carpenter, even though if you squint, you can sort of get the logic—having him play against trash and all. Let’s get him more time against better talent and see what he can do going forward.

– If Brandon Saad had any sense of finish about him, we’d actually get to call him Hossa Jr. Once again, he was strong in possession and dominant on defense, but he also got stoned on breakaways twice. His pass to a wide-open Kubalik in the waning minutes of the third was art, and if not for Kubalik gripping his stick too hard it could have been a game winner.

– We got to see Dominik Kubalik skate with Toews and Saad for a bit, after Nylander once again proved that he’s done nothing to deserve that spot. Saad–Toews–Kubalik has all the potential in the world to be a strong, right-kind-of-heavy line for this team if only that coach of theirs would let them. Credit for doing it at all, but do it more, now.

– The DeBrincat–Strome–Kane line was a threat all night. DeBrincat’s goal showcased all the things they can do when they’re clicking. Kane came toward the circle off the near boards and lofted a pass to Strome. Strome batted it out of the air with the shaft of his stick in one of the more impressive displays of hand-eye coordination we’ve gotten to see this year, then fed Kane for a quick, hard shot. The rebound deflected to an uncovered Top Cat, who bit the snake back with a backhander. Eddie gave Toews the credit for standing in the crease, but Dylan Strome was the real hero on that play.

– The next time Brent Seabrook tries to tell you that he’s still got something left to give, remember this clip:

There’s no reason for Brent Seabrook to be that far out for that long, unless you’re running Supre Brain Genious Jeremy Colliton’s dumbass system. The Hawks were fortunate that Hughes didn’t pot that shot.

– We shouldn’t be surprised when Foley and Eddie dump all over Subban, but listening to Eddie do a three-minute Andrew Dice Clay impression about Subban’s scoring woes just minutes after claiming that the things Dennis Gilbert does are things “you can never get enough of” is pitch-perfect HOCKEY MAN bullshit. Wad that up and shove it in your dick, Eddie.

Four points is four points, and the Hawks get the added bonus of leaving New Jersey. Overall, not a bad trip.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: High Life

Line of the Night: “It IS meaningful.” Pat Foley describing Dennis Gilbert’s fight, trying harder to convince himself than any of us.