Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-6   Wild 23-22-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ONE GOOD DOSE OF THUNDER: Hockey Wilderness

The Hawks will conclude their mini-trip out of the bye week in St. Paul tonight, before returning home for all of one game and then heading back out where they came from for another five games. That’s some brilliant scheduling if you ask me! You can feel Toews’s rage without much effort. But the Hawks won’t have a lot of time or cause to bitch, because every point is valuable and though the travel schedule might not make much sense the opponents on offer are certainly gettable. That for sure describes the Minnesota Wild these days.

While the Hawks are certainly in the thick of the playoff race, mostly because it came back to them, they aren’t really away from anyone. The Preds and Jets are right there with them. The rest of the division is pretty much out of touch out ahead in the distance. Except for the Wild, whom the Hawks can kind of put out of their misery tonight. That sounds silly to say with 29 games left after this one, but a regulation win would put the Wild five points in arrears and that’s a massive gap. Not that it’s one the Hawks couldn’t cough up, but let’s say it’s unlikely. And the more teams you can cull from the chase the better off you are.

It’s not hard to pinpoint where it’s gone wrong for the Wild. While Bruce Boudreau continues to conjure up his magic potion of not really being a great Coris team but an excellent expected goals team – i.e. the Wild are content to give up attempts but don’t give up good chances–that doesn’t really matter if your goalies can’t stop a sloth in the sand. The Wild give up the least amount of xGA/60 and scoring chances per game in the league, but their SV% is bottom-10 with both Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk especially facing the wrong way and identifying cloud shapes most of the time. That’ll torpedo most teams, and so it has done with the Wild.

Which might just be enough to torpedo Boudreau out of a job come April.  It would be a second-straight playoff-less season, and the team probably needs an overhaul, and there’s a new GM on board these days in Bill Guerin and his weird face. It might not be totally fair to Gabby, but dem’s da breaks. The Wild certainly score enough to be better than this, at 3.06 per game, and their defensive structure has kept the task to a minimum for the goalies. But they haven’t been up to it, and if you were to swap goalies with the Hawks the Wild most definitely would be in the playoff picture if not up among the top three in the Central. Also when your goalies suck it’s hard to have anything near a decent penalty kill, and the Wild very much don’t, second-worst in the league. They’re not good enough to outscore teams by two or three at evens.

Which is saying something for Gabby, because the Wild feel like they’re short on frontline talent once again. Zach Parise these days is a tweener between a first and second line player, and the advanced age of Eric Staal might make him that as well. Mats Zuccarello has always been that, as has Jason Zucker (and he’s missed a fair amount of time this year as well). Kevin Fiala might actually be proving to be something more than sarcophagus filling with 28 points, but he’s not providing what Mikhail Granlund used to (but certainly isn’t now). That Rask-for-Nino trade was such a disaster that Rask is a healthy scratch tonight. There isn’t a lot here, and you can’t say Boudreau isn’t maximizing it.

The blue line is still very solid and finally healthy, as you can do a hell of a lot worse on a top-four than Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, and Dumba. That’s how the Wild keep things pretty limited in their end, even if it is all getting undone by the men in the mask.

No changes for the Hawks other than it looks like Lehner will get the start with Crow getting the slightly tougher assignment of Patrice And The Pips tomorrow night. New boy Nick Seeler, who is neither loose nor tight, won’t make his debut against his former team tonight and let’s just hope he’s ballast for the rest of the season. You don’t want this rockhead taking regular minutes, believe us.

The key tonight for the Hawks is getting to the middle of the offensive zone. The Wild are more than happy to let you putter around the perimeter and try and thread a needle through to the net from there. Suter and Brodin especially play economical defensive games where they let things come to them and simply prod you back outside the dots or behind the net. So players like Kane and Dach and Strome and Top Cat, the ones who can conjure something out of nowhere will have to, and players like Toews, Kubalik, and Saad who can get to the middle through power will need to do some of that as well. If you can get the shots, the Wild goalies will give you goals.

It’s a big ask to get four of four with the Bruins waiting tomorrow, though they’ll also be on the second of a back-to-back, on the road, the Hawks have been great with those all season, and they’ve caught the Bruins napping before this season. Still, these two points seem pretty vital before that road trip that is going to determine the rest of the season. They’re right there, so take them.

Hockey

Earlier in the season, when the Wild couldn’t get a save and were even rooted behind the Hawks in the standings, there was a feeling that Bruce Boudreau wasn’t long for this job. And the joke going in hockey circles was, “Zach Parise kills another coach.” It’s funny because you don’t think of Parise that way. He’s never been considered a loaf, doesn’t bark in the press, and is generally thought to be a heart-on-sleeve player.

And yet Boudreau is the 10th coach Parise has played for in his 15 seasons. Which is a pretty stunning total. Some of that is attributed to Lou Lamoriello’s itchy trigger-finger in New Jersey, where he had a habit of installing himself behind the bench. Some of that is Minnesota’s general incompetence, though Boudreau has stuck longer than anyone else. It hasn’t amounted to much, no playoff series wins under Boudreau and only two first-round triumphs under Mike Yeo for Parise’s Minnesota stay. And maybe that’s the problem.

When Parise and Ryan Suter signed, at the time, those mammoth deals in St. Paul, they were thought to be franchise-turning players. Suter has arguably been that, but Parise has always felt a shade below that. His one 4o-goal season was 10 years ago now, and a consistent 30-goal guy is what his ceiling has always been. That paycheck suggests, or suggested, that he is a top line player. On a truly good team, he’s probably a second-liner, and he’d be a great second-liner to have. But partially due to that paycheck, the Wild have never been able to find another winger to slot him down to that. They wanted it to be Mikael Granlund. He never could really manage it. Jason Zucker occasionally flashes that, but you know what he is at this point. And maybe it’s that lack of truly elite production that keeps Parise’s teams from achieving much, and gets coaches fired.

As it is with these things though, Parise’s salary has come back to the pack and now that $7.5M number seems just about right for a player who gets you 25-30 goals. Which is what Parise will do if he stays healthy, which is always the big question mark with him. That can’t be used as an excuse for the Wild anymore.

Parise is on pace for slightly more this year because of a SH% spike, as he’s up near 17%. But his attempts and chances are down from career norms, and if he can’t keep up the luck he might flatten out hardcore, which would deprive the Wild of even more scoring they don’t really have. And then finally the sword of Democles might fall upon Boudreau, and Parise will have another scalp.

Hilariously, Parise is signed for another five years, to his 40th birthday. Buying out Parise isn’t really an option, because were the Wild to do that his cap hit would stay on the books until 2030. And there would still be a cap hit of $6.7M or more for three seasons starting in 2022. There would be no relief. Until a new CBA, the Wild can’t even hope Parise retires when he becomes useless thanks to cap recapture penalties. Luckily, with his injury history, that will most likely provide an out for both parties should it come to that.

How many more coaches between now and then, though?

Hockey

Bruce Boudreau – Not because he’s annoying, though he can be, but because of jealousy. The Wild aren’t going anywhere either, and have yet to win a playoff round under him. But you can’t argue that he doesn’t maximize whatever he has, at least in the regular season. Last year was the aberration, but he’s got this nothing squad three points out of a playoff spot at the moment and haven’t lost in 12. Wouldn’t that be nice? A coach who can take the pieces he’s given and fit a system to them to get them playing at least relevant hockey for a stretch?

Ryan Hartman – Leads the Wild in penalty minutes, which is seemingly all the Hawks ever wanted out of him. He may have been the last pick in a first round, but he’s yet another first round pick who ended up doing dick for the Hawks. And now that his NHL career is hanging by a thread, he’s upping the bullshit. Andrew Shaw’s line continues.

Jason Zucker – Here come more goals against the Hawks.

Hockey

There are few teams around that I can definitely say the Hawks will finish ahead of. And there’s only one in the division I can be certain of, and it’s this outfit. Or. to put it more accurately, if the Hawks don’t finish ahead of this collection of used rags and grill scrapings, everyone is fired. Let’s look in on this fine mess…

20180-2019

37-36-9  83 (!) points

2.56 GF/G (27th)  2.84 GA/G (12th)  -23 GD

50.9 CF% (11th)   54.1 xGF% (5th)

20.3 PP% (14th)  81.7 PK% (7th)

Goalies: So here’s a thing that Minnesota can’t seem to wrap their frozen brains around — their goalies were bad last year, and Devan Dubnyk has been kinda bad for a while now. Sure, .913 doesn’t look all that bad from Doobie on the surface. Except he had the best expected SV% in the league thanks to Bruce Boudreau trying to do everything he can to shield him. And he had the third worst difference at evens between his expected save-percentage and actual, behind Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones. That’s not a neighborhood you want to be putting down roots. It was the same the season before, and Dubnyk is 33 so he’s probably not going to jump forward at this point. The Wild got the best out of him, and now they’re going to have to smoke the resin.

Stalock wasn’t any better, and if the Wild are hoping for a .915-.920 that he’s spasmed out a couple times as a backup in Minny and San Jose, they might be looking down the tracks for a very long time. What’s so weird about the Wild is that even with this roster, Boudreau was able to keep them getting the majority of attempts and chances and severely limit what their goalies had to do. And they couldn’t do it. And there’s little reason to think they will now. Combine that with a distinct lack of finish and you get…well, make your own whoopee cushion sound.

Defense: It’s the same crew as it’s been, though they will get Matt Dumba back after he missed more than half the season last year. That’s not insignificant, and along with Jared Spurgeon that’s all the Wild’s get-up-and-go from the back. Dumba was on pace for his second-straight 50+ point season before a torn pectoral ended things prematurely. Spurgeon’s influence started to slip a bit last season. He was still ahead of the team rate on his metrics, but not by the wide margins he used to be. Perhaps having to cover for Dumba hurt him and they can set that right now. Ryan Suter is getting up there but can still economize his game to remain effective. Once again, Jonas Brodin will be solid but not much more. The third pairing will be some concoction they pull out of a steaming cauldron of Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt and whatever other eye of newt they find on the ground.

Forwards: And here’s your big problem. There isn’t a first-liner anywhere to be found, so they’ll have to shove Eric Staal, the eight minutes Zach Parise‘s back isn’t a puppet show, and Mats Zuccarello up there. Or Jason Zucker and however he’s decided to pronounce his name this season. Or they’ll have to force-feed Kevin Fiala, the first version of Eli Tolvanen, trying to prove the Preds wrong in that he can be a genuine top six forward in the league. Can they conjure another miracle out of Ryan Donato? His 16 points in 22 games after being acquired for Charlie Coyle suggest there might be something there. But doing it in 20 games that don’t matter and over a full 82 are different matters. Mikko Koivu is 187 years old and wasn’t good enough when he was 27 to do the things the Wild needed him to. Ryan Hartman somehow has ended up here, though St. Paul tends to be the last stop for the bewildered and lost. No matter what kind of magic and voodoo Gabby cooks up to keep the Wild in the right end of the ice, there’s not nearly enough here to make it really count unless a couple players get some spirits to conjure shooting-percentage spikes.

Prediction: It’s funny how the Hawks season is being viewed as some springboard to better and the Wild seem truly and deeply boned, and there was one point between them. Yet the Hawks do have some youth and growth on the roster and in the system. The Wild have lottery tickets like Fiala or Donato. With the goaltending heading south, there just isn’t enough scoring, or close to it, for the Wild to get around a playoff spot. Maybe if it’s truly awful they can start over, which they’ve needed to do for about two seasons.

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 19-24-9   Wild 26-22-3

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBC (WHAT?!)

GOIN’ CRAZY OUT DERE BY DA LAKE: Zone Coverage MN

Whatever it is the Hawks are now, and it’s certainly been entertaining the past couple weeks if hardly artful, heads into St. Paul this evening to back up the what-have-ya in Buffalo last night. They’ll meet a Wild team that has an even more ridiculous back-to-back, coming home from losing in Dallas last night and only having to traverse essentially the length of the country in a night. Again, artful is not something you’d count on tonight from either side. So what a wonderful piece of programming for NBC to put across from Lakers-Warriors, huh?

Due to last night’s loss, the Wild handed the last automatic playoff spot in the Central back to the Stars, which they’ve been passing back and forth to each other like a handmade bowl, and slipped into the first wildcard spot. They have a three-point clearance on the Canucks, who are the first outside the cutting line. It’s been a  roller-coaster season for the Wild, who lost five in a row around Christmas to drop out of the playoffs altogether, then won four of five, and then have gone .500 in the 10 games since. Which is probably exactly what they are.

It’s not what you’d normally expect from a Boudreau-led outfit, as this is the best defensive team in the league in terms of chances and shots they surrender. As always with the Wild, they just don’t have enough front-line talent to bag in the goals. They’re 26th in goals per game, and 25th in shooting-percentage.This is never going to be a team that outshoots its percentage, not until it gets some more firepower. Missing Matt Dumba is huge, both on the power play and at evens, as he gets them up the ice better than anyone and can score from the blue line, which they don’t have anyone else to do.

Not that it seems like new GM Paul Fenton gets it, with the recent bewildering trade of Nino Neiderreiter for Victor Rask. Neiderreiter may not have put up the hard numbers to get anyone tumescent, but he was one of the best possession players in the league for years and had an acute case of snakebite this year. If you’re going to move him, you move him for someone who actually dents twine on occasion. Rask sets off toxic alarms everywhere he goes, and that’s all he does. Other additions around the edges like Pontus Aberg and Brad Hunt don’t really move the needle. The addition of Rask jumbled the lineup as well, moving Charlie Coyle back to a wing when he finally looked somewhat comfortable at center, and bestowing upon Parise the honor of looking at Rask confusedly, trying to figure out what in the actual fuck he’s doing. At least Coyle and Jordan Greenway have meshed nicely with Eric Staal on the top line.

The Hawks will get Alex Stalock tonight, after Dubnyk went last night. The latter really hasn’t been all that good this year, and has benefitted far more from the defensive work of the team in front of him than vice versa. Stalock hasn’t done either.

Speaking of goalies needing help. Collin Delia will get the start, and since his initial splash he’s been just this side of rancid. Sure, he’s getting no help, as the Hawks routinely are giving up shot totals that start with a “4.” But the last time Delia gave up less than three was December 29th, and you can’t hope that Patrick Kane is going to outscore that kind of surrender (even though he has of late). Delia has had a nice long break to reset, not playing since January 20th. This is still an audition for Delia to vault himself onto the roster for sure next year, whether as backup or not, but he’s not going to do that looking behind him four times a game.

Any other changes will be small. Maybe Koekkoek in for Dahlstrom or Forsling, though unlikely. Maybe Perlini in for Kunitz or Hayden, though unlikely.

Given how free-scoring the Hawks have been of late, this is a challenge. The Wild don’t give up much at all, and the Hawks’ two wins over them were basically goalie wins. The Islanders were able to keep the Hawks down in a way that the Caps and Sabres were not, and it’s a similar style. Mikko Koivu has been a particular annoyance to Jonathan Toews for his entire career, and were that to continue that quiets the big gun of the Hawks in Kane. Probably where most lies tonight.

The idea the Hawks can get back into it all is still ridiculous, but if they’re going to go on a run it’s right here. The Wild are nothing impressive, and the Oilers less so. The Canucks again are not anything special, and the Red Wings are worse than the Hawks. The Devils, Senators, and Ducks all appear on the slate in February, as do the Avalanche and Stars, teams the Hawks have handled earlier in the year. If they’re going to do something stupid, it’ll happen now.

 

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We’ve had a good bit of fun at the expense of Bruce Boudreau through the years. It’s probably not fair that some of that is due to him looking like he should be holding the princess hostage while waiting for Mario to come save her. But his constant thrashings-about in the playoffs and in the press have always been good for a chuckle. And while the regular season record is marvelous, the playoff record is clear to see. One conference final appearance. That’s it. A flush of blown 3-2 leads and Game 7 losses at home with Anaheim and Washington. He is the yin and the yang of NHL coaching, all while looking a bit like the Buddha.

And what we used to marvel at with Gabby was that he got the results despite having no structure whatsoever to his team. His teams played harder than anyone in February and March when most teams are running short on fucks to give, and by the time the playoffs came around his players were toast and suddenly opponents cared again and actually had a plan. Boudreau’s “Go Get ‘Em, Scouts!” approach didn’t work once it was spring.

Except that’s not how it works anymore. And the Wild would do well to recognize what they are to create the flexibility they need.

The Wild are the best defensive team in the league. Not in terms of goals allowed, but in terms of chances. They have by far the best expected-goals against per 60, at 1.97. The next best is Boston at 2.04. And this is the second year in a row they’ve been among the best. They give up the second-least amount of shots at even-strength as well, and are in the top-10 in attempts. They don’t create a whole lot, but they shouldn’t have to given they surrender next to nothing.

The thought around the Wild has been they go as far as Devan Dubnyk will take them, but that’s not necessarily true. Dubnyk has the highest expected-save-percentage in the league. Which means as far as starting NHL goalies go, he’s got the easiest job, or at least asked to do the least. And yet his actual save-percentage, at even-strength, hasn’t been anywhere near what it should be. He’s running the third-lowest difference in expected and actual save-percentage in the league, behind Roberto Luongo and Martin Jones. The Panthers haven’t been able to overcome that. The Sharks are so talented they can, but if it goes balls-up in the playoffs, you’ll know why.

The biggest problem for the Wild is that they don’t have enough, or maybe any, genuine top-line talent. Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise these days, Charlie Coyle if you squint…these are all second-line players at best. Eric Staal was a top-line player last year, but is not this year, and is headed for free agency anyway. The Wild don’t have a ton of cap space, and Artemi Panarin isn’t going to go there anywhere due to a lack of beaches.

The Wild have about $15M in space for next year, with only really Staal’s space to fill. They can get more space by trading Dubnyk. It’ll be poison to some ears in Minnehaha to hear that, but if the Wild are going to be this good defensively, and he’s going to drag that far behind what he should be doing, then the Wild can do better than him, and probably at a cheaper rate. At age 33 in May, he’s unlikely to get better. And given how slow NHL GMs are on the uptake, the Wild can free themselves of his $4.3M hit pretty easily, especially to any team that has a playoff flameout due to goaltending (Toronto we’re looking at you, and maybe San Jose as well). Dubnyk still carries a name, as multiple Vezina finalists do.

Maybe the Wild could use that money to upgrade at goalie, never give up a goal, and give themselves more than a pubic hair’s margin at the other end. Maybe it frees them to get a Mark Stone or Matt Duchene, or both, which they need. They can’t rebuild with this roster, and they need to get creative to maximize their shrinking window to get up amongst Winnipeg and Nashville. They’ll have to get creative, and this is one way.

 

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You’re supposed to get a guarantee with Bruce Boudreau behind your bench. Your team might not have any defensive structure, or really any offensive structure for that matter, he’s going to be awfully red-faced, but your team will finish with over 100 points. Oh, and you’re going to do dick in the playoffs. Those are the guarantees. So what happens when your team doesn’t get those 100 points? Or even looks bang-on to not even get 90?

Bourdreau’s record is quite remarkable, both in its consistency and uniqueness. No team he has coached for a full-season has played at less than a 100-point pace (the Ducks had 66 in the season-in-a-can of 2013). The exception, if you want, is his ’11-’12 Capitals team that 25 points through 22 games before it fired him. But that’s really the only team before this Wild one that wasn’t going to clip triple-digits. And even that Caps team was on course for 93 points which may have been enough for the playoffs.

But obviously, that’s been combined with a startling, and honestly hilarious, lack of success in the playoffs. Boudreau teams have only gotten past the second round once in his 10 attempts to ascend the mountain. And even in that one, it was the third of four-straight Game 7 capitulations at home for the Ducks. No coach is ever going to be able to claim that again, you wouldn’t think.

Which makes Boudreau a hard coach to judge. Based on the far larger sample size of the regular season, you can hardly find one better. Even Joel Quenneville can’t match Boudreau’s regular season marks, and he had superior talent for most of it. And yet in a sport that only cares about what you do after that, you can’t really find anyone much worse. At least no one who’s had the chances that Gabby has had.

While you’re tempted to make a certain level of excuses for Boudreau’s playoff face-plants, and his two Wild teams really had no business going anywhere anyway, there’s only so far you can go when a team has led 3-2 four times with a Game 7 at home and whiffed on it every time.

So this season, when the Wild don’t look to be set for the regular season success, where do they go? The Wild are on pace for 86 points, which is going to leave them open leagues from a playoff spot. In the underlying numbers, the Wild still look good, Their 12th in CF% for a team, and 5th in expected-goal percentage. What they can’t get is a save right now, 22nd in even-strength save percentage, as Dubnyk had a simply abhorrent November and has only been ok in December. They also find themselves unable to hit water if they fell out of a boat, as they’re 25th in SH% as well. Is that really on Boudreau if he can’t get a save and his team isn’t converting the chances that his “system” is creating?

Still, you get the feeling the Wild know this era, such as it is, doesn’t have much legs left. Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and Dubnyk are all on the wrong side of 30, and Jared Spurgeon reaches that next season. They hired a new GM in Paul Fenton, and presumably his main charge was to find a way out of the cap hell his predecessor Chuck Fletcher got them in. That probably means younger soon, and Boudreau’s teams have rarely been that, save for his first Caps team. Which then pretty much quit on him anyway.

Boudreau’s regular season record certainly warrants more than one bad one before a shit-canning. And yet when combined with nothing close to banner-worthy playoff success, and the wick on this candle may be a lot shorter than you’d first guess. But how do you find someone to squeeze better regular season results out of this? It’s also a hellish division, where the Preds, Avalanche, and Jets aren’t going anywhere for a while and one could assume the Stars and Hawks won’t suck forever (though they might).

It’s going to be an awfully tough decision for Fenton. Boudreau’s tenures haven’t lasted too much longer than a third full season. In DC he was fired during his fourth full-season. In Anaheim it was after his fifth. It won’t be long either way, you’d think.

 

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Ben Remington covers the Wild for ZoneCoverage.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. 

The Wild have had an ugly December that have seen them tumble down the standings. What’s been the problem?
From an eye-test perspective, the scoring has dried up something fierce, and the loss of Matt Dumba recently has definitely exacerbated that. On paper, the stats back that up. Since December 1, the Wild are 30th in the league in Shooting% at a paltry 7.1%, and have scored the least amount of goals in the NHL (23 in 10 games…woof).
Devan Dubnyk struggled mightily in November with an unsightly .882 SV%, but seems to have turned a corner, and is sitting at .916 in December. The defense is playing pretty solid, but they’re giving Dubnyk no margin for error, and he’s not quite up to the task of standing on his head every night. Wild fans have long lamented the Wild’s inability to finish, and this time, it’s popping up in the regular season with regularity, rather than only happening in the playoffs.
The Wild don’t score a ton. Eric Staal has 12 goals. The Wild weren’t counting on anywhere near 42 again like last year, were they?
I don’t think so, but they were certainly expecting a good season, which I think he’s close to. Staal is a really interesting topic for Wild fans, partly because of those 42 goals last season, there’s a decent sized crowd that want to see him re-signed. There’s also plenty of folks who think when you win in roulette like you did with his contract, you don’t place an even bigger bet on the exact same number on the next roll.
That being said, the Wild are woefully, woefully thin at center, and Staal is the the only true first line center this franchise may have ever had. Take a look at the panic that ensued after Mikko Koivu missed a few games to get an idea of how important Eric Staal is to this team right now. Charlie Coyle has again been hokey-pokeyed into playing center, but he’s not exactly flourishing at the position, not that he was at wing, and he could very well be playing in a new sweater soon.
Ryan Suter is on pace for a career-high in points. How has he remained so effective into his 30s and could he send some notes to Duncan Keith?
Suter has really changed his game a bit, as my friend Tony Abbott from The Athletic wrote about last week. Suter’s been a tad more aggressive on offense lately, but it has caused a handful of defensive breakdowns, which is uncharacteristic. It could be his pairing with Dumba for most of the season that has him so offense-happy, or it could be a change of heart in relation to what’s fun about playing hockey after his ankle basically exploded late last season and almost ended his career.
So I guess if you want Duncan Keith to see the light, maybe a ‘Misery’-type lower body injury? If it doesn’t get him playing better after he recovers, it would be cathartic for some Hawks fans, at the very least.
If the Wild can’t pull out of this spin and miss the playoffs, will Bruce Boudreau face some heat? It’ll be three years without a playoff series win, and a new GM in town who might be tempted to find his own guy…
That’s a very real possibility. We Twins fans just saw Paul Molitor canned more or less because he wasn’t the current GM’s hire, and that could very well be Bruce’s fate if things don’t turn around. It’s really unfortunate, because I think Boudreau is a good coach, and his time with a lackluster Wild roster has somewhat tarnished his reputation, but that could very well be a chicken and egg situation.
But Paul Fenton seems fairly happy with Bruce, and I think he’d be more apt, and probably better off, making some worthwhile changes to the roster first before he gets rid of Bruce. That could just be the Bruce fan in me talking though. He’s a great coach to cover, especially contrasted with Mike ‘Cold, Wet Blanket’ Yeo. Bruce might just need an ‘NHL 24/7’ type rant on the Wild to turn things around, if he hasn’t given them one every game yet.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Wild 12-6-2   Hawks 7-8-5

PUCK DROP: 5pm

TV: WGN, NHL Network for those outside the 606

ANIMALS STRIKING CURIOUS POSES: Hockey Wilderness

After playing two games that would be considered a war crime if you made any prisoner watch them, the Hawks will get a chance to open up things a little tonight. Or this afternoon. 5pm exists in that nebulous area where it depends on the time of year whether it’s night or afternoon. Let’s go with evening. Anyway, they’ll face one of the hotter teams in the league in the Minnesota Wild.

This is where other people would tell you that the Wild mean business this time. That their faster ways are indicative of a team that knows it’s on the precipice of being blown up and has maybe one more chance and is finally going to take it. And I’m supposed to tell you as long as Devan Dubnyk is healthy (and ugly) and doing Doobie Brother things, the Wild have a puncher’s chance. That’s what I’m supposed to say.

But you know what I’m going to say. This is just more of the same from Bruce “Are You Gonna Finish That?” Boudreau and his charges. His “GO GO GO BURRITO DORITO FIESTA ANTIPASTO” method of coaching works great in the regular season, especially one like this that’s been so open. And his team will play harder than most everyone who couldn’t locate a fuck to give come February. And then his lack of any structure or Plan B (or even Plan A) will doom the Wild to getting it upside the head by the Jets or Predators or Sharks. That’s how this goes. You know how this goes. You’ve seen this before.

This version features a Mikael Granlund shooting 27%, which has him making an assault on his career-high in goals already. It’s 26 if you must know. Zach Parise has returned from whatever bionic implant procedure he had to have most recently and is averaging close to a point per game. Mikko Koivu drank the mermaid’s tear and is also near a point per game on a line with Parise. All of this sure sounds sustainable!

The Wild do have something of a newish weapon on defense in a fully operational Matthew Dumba. He had 50 points last year, bet you didn’t know that, but he’s already at eight goals so far this term. He’s a real weapon on the power play where his shot is quite powerful and accurate, so hopefully the Hawks d-men take notes. Ryan Suter has been happy to cede the puck-moving responsibilities to him on the top pairing, so hopefully Duncan Keith takes notes on that (he won’t). Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin remain one of the more underrated second pairings in the league, where Spurgeon’s size doesn’t preclude him from moving the puck in the right direction most of the time.

Dubnyk started last night in a loss to the Sabres, so the Hawks may benefit from the rare appearance of Alex Stalock (Alex Stalock…at this time of year…at this time of day…in this part of the country….localized in the United Center). But then again the Hawks couldn’t really solve whatever parking lot attendant was backstopping the Kings on Friday. And also Boudreau likes to turn his starters into paste by March so don’t be shocked if Gabby runs Dubs right back out there.

The statistical oddity about the Wild, and this was the case last year as well, is that they don’t get the majority of attempts but they do get the majority of good chances. They’re below water in Corsi but one of the league’s best in xGF%. They limit chances and their high-rate of speed in the top nine does get them to the net. This became a huge problem for the Hawks in their game at The X when their slow defense couldn’t protect a lead against these forwards when they were fully off the leash. Hard to see how that gets better tonight.

The Hawks will have a bit of a reshuffle, with the nuclear option of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane forming a top line and Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat dragging around the carcass of Artem Anisimov. Fortin-Kampf-Kahun will form an at least quick third line, which could be something of a checking unit if need be. It won’t score much, but it could create some havoc. We’ll see. Jan Rutta comes in from the cold to partner Gustav Forsling, with Stan Bowman in the suite with fingers and toes crosses that tonight is finally the night his vision comes to life of that pairing. Corey Crawford gets the start.

The Hawks get a schedule advantage tonight, not having played last night and waiting for the Wild who did. They get a backup possibly. They put up something of a beer fart of an effort on Friday, but the Wild are not going to sink and trap and try and keep things quiet like the Kings and Blues did. The Hawks don’t really have the creativity, especially in the back, to work their way through those kind of trenches consistently. It’ll be more open tonight. But it also might be too open for a defense that can’t really move or do well under extreme pressure.

So the Hawks struggle against real conservatism. They can’t handle high-pressure. That’s just about every team in the league covered.

Fuck me.

 

Game #21 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

As the season draws nigh, we land on the team in the Central Division that I become more and more convinced are the only ones the Hawks can actually catch. The Minnesota Wild will show up to make up the numbers, because that’s really all they do. Sure, there was that weird one a couple seasons back where they almost won the division, and then surrendered meekly in the playoffs.

And that’s all the Wild ever really do. The height of their accomplishment is that they almost did something. They like, almost beat the Hawks in 2014. They almost won the division. And they almost mattered anywhere beyond that.

This is a team that if it has a true, top-line player it’s either the pretty damn old Eric Staal or the permanently crocked Zach Parise. If it has a truly top-pairing d-man it’s the pretty damn old Ryan Suter. It will once again rely and Devan Dubnyk to bail them out of just about all the things they can’t do, as he barely clings on to the platform of top-echelon goalies. Again, he’s an almost. He’ll almost get you there. But he won’t. And they won’t.

2017-2018: 45-26-11 101 points  253 GF 232 GA  47.8 CF%  53.5 xGF%  8.1 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: You know the story here. Doobie Brother is going to be in net and he’s going to be better than you ever think he is, because we don’t associate him with the Prices and Holtbys of the world, perhaps just because he’s so damn goofy looking. But last year’s .918 SV% overall was something of a small step down for him, And over the past four seasons, only Price has a better SV% than he does. He’s a tick ahead of Corey Crawford in that span as well. He’s just that good, and without him the Wild would essentially be the Canucks.

He’ll be backed up by Alex Stalock again, who was just about serviceable last year. Stalock spent three seasons being woeful or being in the AHL before last year, and he’s certainly not anyone the Wild are going to want to have to ride if Dubs were to get hurt. But he’ll do a job. This whole fucking team is guys who’ll “do a job.” It’s why they don’t do anything.

Defense: Christ, is there a team with less turnover than this bunch always seems to have? Dumba, Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon. It’s been that way for seemingly 89 years. And none of these guys are bad, and in fact all are quite good. Even if the Wild have been trying to trade Brodin for three seasons. Suter has aged better than his contemporary Duncan Keith because his game is more efficient. There’s no wasted movement. Dumba put up 50 points last year and I bet you didn’t know that. Spurgeon has been one of the best puck-movers and possession d-men in the league for years even though he’s not getting on any roller coaster. As far as top fours go, there are plenty of teams doing way worse than this (leading off with the one in town).

The third-pairing is looks to be Greg Pateryn, who is a broken toilet, and rent-a-stiff Nick Seeler. There’s a couple kids in the AHL in Menell and Belpido who could come up somewhere during the season to bolster this, but in the meantime they’ll get by with the top four they have.

Forwards: Again, you know this crew. Eric Staal somehow came up with 42 goals last year, though somehow I doubt he’ll shoot 17% again. As he hadn’t scored more than 30 since 2011 before that, you can look for 25-28 goals again. And where the Wild will make up the difference, I can’t tell you. Mikael Granlund is still here to not be a center and a top line winger with a whole lot of “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” Jason Zucker got rich and will still score 10 goals annoying goals against the Hawks, and that’s it. His 33 goals last year aren’t the anomaly that Staal’s totals were, because he’d scored at that rate before. But you see him and think, “If he was on the second line, that team would be good. But he isn’t, and they’re not.” Zach Parise is here for 50 games and then he’ll have some injury that will cause you to have to take a moment to yourself while kneeling. Charlie Coyle is a synonym for disappointment. Mikko Koivu needs his food turned into mush. Nino Neiderreiter will be undervalued by everyone, including his coach. “Joel Eriksson Ek” is something you say while booting. Marcus Foligno is always a sign that your roster needs work.

We have written this preview for them for like four straight seasons. I’m just fucking cutting and pasting next year, assuming the Hawks haven’t caused me to turn the lyrics of “High Speed Dirt” into a performance art piece.

Outlook: The thing about the Wild is that the roster isn’t anywhere near bad enough to be bad. That would at least be interesting. They’re a team full of the middle skater from the Nintendo hockey game. Just fast enough to not get killed, but not skilled enough to surge. Dubnyk gets them to the playoff platform if he performs. If he falls off or gets hurt, this is the definition of an 88-point team.

But they’re not going to do anything memorable. They’re not anywhere near the Jets or Preds. They’re nowhere near bottoming out to get a top pick to actually get a player you’d recognize one day. They’re in that limbo-hell that teams in other sports actively try and avoid (except for the Bulls). They’re not gong to win anything, they’re not going to rebuild. They’re as bland as the state they come from. Seriously, how did that place produce Prince? That seems like a crime.

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