Hockey

The Hawks did about what was expected the last three games, looking alive enough to win one game for Pat Foley before they ended up getting schooled by Nashville and Calgary, two playoff teams of differing skill levels that still skated circles around the Hawks. As is life on Madison these days.

Lukas Reichel’s first-year contract is now officially burned as he garnered around 31 minutes for a team playing for nothing. You would think doing this goes directly against the organization’s narrative of keeping all other Hawks prospects down in Rockford for the Tomato Can Playoff Push while players like Riley Stillman, Erik Gustafsson and others get NHL minutes instead of them, and turns out the front office realized the same, as it was announced last night he was heading back to Rockford this morning to go win the Tomato Can Hockey Cup. Good luck!

Thursday 4/14
Hawks 5, Sharks 4 (Hawks win! Hawks win!)
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks finally got their give-a-shit meters to work again, and all it took was their beloved announcer calling his last NHL game and a matchup against another garbage team on a losing streak of their own. Kane, the Cat, Strome and Amy’s Eldest had multi-point nights, while Raddysh with a Y extended his scoring streak to two games. On the other end of that spectrum, defense was nowhere to be found, Reichel took away a puck in the 2nd and then immediately gave it away again five seconds later for his highlight of the night, and Toews, Dach and newly signed Reese Johnson were pointless in this game that should’ve been a point-grabbing free-for-all for every player involved.

The Hawks and Sharks seemed to trade goals all night, as the goaltenders on both sides of the ice were downright bad. Lankinen’s positioning and rebound control were, of course, all over the place, and the Sharks always seemed to have an answer for whatever goal the Hawks scored. Overtime sucked, as both teams didn’t really do shit on either end, trying to get to the shootout, I guess. But the Hawks can still cling to shootouts as something they’re relatively good at, and were able to win the game because of it thanks to a nasty goal by the Cat. Someone’s gotta get it done.

Outside of all the offense, there was too much clowning in this game for my liking. The fact that the Hawks punched Timo Meier in the head because he did a snow spray on Kevin Lankinen was a choice, and then Stillman fighting Jeffrey Viel over it was also a choice, and then Jake McCabe taking a myriad of dumbass roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties was by far the stupidest, most exhausting shit of the night. Remember when this guy was signed to be an effective shutdown defenseman or whatever the fuck? You can’t do that when you’re in the box. It’s time to move on from this style of hockey, I’m exhausted.

Saturday 4/16
Hawks 3, Predators 4
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Starting this game out by watching Jeremy Lauzon’s knee bend in ways it should never be able to bend was certainly not the best, and the Predators were able to get out ahead soon after that to set the tone for the game. The Hawks led once thanks to efforts by goals by Kane and Dominik Kubalik later on in the 1st and 2nd periods, one in which Kane mouthed off to some dude in front row seats because that’s hockey baby. Reichel and his newly-burned first-year contract got his first NHL point in a pretty neat assist to Kubalik’s goal, however, and we’ve all been waiting for that. It was a good moment.

Lankinen didn’t look too terrible in this game either, making more impressive saves in this game than the previous. But right after Mackenzie Entwhistle and Boris Katchouk were assessed penalties—including one game misconduct—for REASONS, the Predators completely turned the game around in their favor, with Roman Josi scoring just a minute later to tie things up. Two more Predators goals at the end of the 2nd and the 3rd sealed the deal for the Hawks—the first goal on a Nashville powerplay thanks to Alex Vlasic and a dumb high sticking penalty, speaking of clowning. Despite Kane making a passing play that any Joe Schmoe, including Stillman, can put into the back of the net, the Hawks were pretty overpowered in this game and it showed as they came up empty in the points column.

Monday 4/18
Hawks 2, Flames 5
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

I predicted this outcome, and I’m sure you did too. And the Flames spent no time making the Hawks look silly, scoring 22 seconds into the game with a fluky goal that Lankinen will probably see in his nightmares. In fact, the Flames had two goals before the Hawks could even register a shot on the fucking net, as I continue to be perplexed as to why Raddysh with a Y was the one tasked to try and stop Johnny fucking Gaudreau from scoring, a mistake I’m sure Derek King and his man behind the curtain will not make again.

The two teams’ meatheads in Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe went at it after Zadorov continued to show his ass by putting a big hit on Toews in the first period. Toews then got high sticked right off the faceoff, had to leave to get stitches, and the Flames scored again to put them ahead for the rest of the game, though Alec Regula scored the second and final Hawks goal in the 2nd period with a shot from the point that probably shouldn’t have gone in. Then the Flames rested on their laurels for a majority of the 3rd period, getting only four shots on net in those 20 minutes, probably because they knew they’d have multiple empty net opportunities with the Hawks yanking Lankinen for the extra attacker like always. Johnny Gaudreau isn’t going to miss those empty netters, and this game was no exception.

Thank God we’re almost to the end, and this schedule will be a tad easier as the Hawks revisit the Kings and Sharks near the tail end and face the Coyotes, barely an NHL team, tomorrow night. Can’t wait to see who will muck it up this time!

Hockey

The Hawks seem very determined to end this season with a whimper, as the losing streak continues to stretch on for as far as the eye can see and quite possibly with no end in sight if the team’s play over the last few games is any glimpse into the future. McClure pretty much summed up how we all feel in his last wrap, which can be boiled down to “sick of everyone’s shit.” It also doesn’t help that we’re all jonesing for Lukas Reichel’s first NHL point, in which he was denied despite having multiple good chances in the most recent Hawks shellacking against the Kings.

There’s not a lot to look forward to as most Chicagoans have turned their sporting attention to whichever baseball team pleases them most, which can be easily seen in Tuesday’s crowd numbers at the United Center, appearing to be one of the lowest of the season. If you are one of the very few who will be tuning in to watch this dreck (or perhaps just tonight’s ceremony honoring the career of Pat Foley), here’s the rundown of the opposition.

4/14 vs. San Jose

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSCH / WGN 720
Nice Shark, Not a Mindless Eating Machine: Fear the Fin

It’s a battle of the bad teams, as the Sharks somehow beat out the Hawks for the longer losing streak, which is at seven games and against mostly playoff teams, though a 5-2 loss to Arizona is quite embarrassing. We should know, as we’ve recently been there.

The biggest news in the Sharks universe is that Doug Wilson has officially stepped down as general manager for health-related reasons. The team is already a bit of a tire fire on the ice, and now that an extensive search for the new GM has begun in San Jose, there aren’t a lot of Sharks who should feel safe. Like the Hawks, the goaltending situation for next year is very much up in the air, as none of the five goaltenders who have played for the team this year have particularly stellar numbers. James Reimer, with the majority of the starts, and Kaapo Kahkonen, traded from the Wild at the deadline, are looking at .915 and .913 save percentages respectively, which is about as average as it gets. Kahkonen is probably a lock as the veteran netminder who stopped 40 of 41 shots in the Sharks’ brutal 1-0 OT loss to Nashville, but there’s also Adin Hill to look at as well, who has started the second-most games this year and probably wouldn’t clear waivers. I do not envy whoever’s job it is to sort that out.

On the offensive front, there are only three players on the Sharks with more than 12 goals this season, and only two players over 50 points (though Logan Couture is at 49). In many ways, this team mirrors the Hawks with these kinds of stats, except that the Sharks organization is still in denial about their situation and is still trying their best to get back into playoff contention next year—that is, if owner Hasso Plattner has anything to say about it. Either way, this game could be high-scoring and amusing if both teams come out to play. Or not. The Hawks have nothing to play for and look it.

4/16 @ Nashville

Game Time: 11:30 AM CST
TV/Radio:
NBCSCH / WGN 720
Team from the North Country:
On the Forecheck

The Predators are currently fighting for their playoff lives against the Stars and Golden Knights (I guess) and find themselves currently sitting in the first wild card spot in the west. It seems unlikely they will be able to catch St. Louis for the third spot in the Central Division with a 7-point gap between the two teams. Dallas is only a point behind them in the 2nd spot, which neither team will want to be in, as the 2nd wild card team will have to play a game called “How many playoff games can you survive before the Avalanche inevitably crush you?” To make things more amusing, the Predators have the hardest schedule down the stretch with 7 of their final 10 games coming against playoff teams, including Colorado, Calgary twice, and Tampa Bay. This Hawks game is essentially must-win for the team, as it is far and away their easiest on the docket.

The Predators can mostly thank Roman Josi for being where they are now, as he has gone on an offensive tear that blows all of his previous stats completely out of the water. He has 19 goals and 68 assists for 87 points on the year, good for being in on 13% of all goals and assists the Preds have scored this season. To give more credit where credit is due, Matt Duchene bounced back from his horrific season last year to score career highs in goals and points. Filip Forsberg is also blowing away all his previous stats with 72 points this year. And let’s not forget the time-honored tradition (if you can call 2 seasons a tradition) of Juuse Saros putting up a .920-something save percentage. And considering your backup goalie is David Rittich (I shudder at the thought), Saros will likely be ridden hard into the playoffs and depended on for every game.

The Predators will be desperate for an easy win, so I’m sure this game won’t go poorly at all.

4/18 vs. Calgary

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST
TV/Radio:
SN, NBCSCH / WGN 720
You Don’t Care for Me, I Don’t a-Care about That:
The ScorchStack

An absolute ass kicking will commence here. Kevin Lankinen or Collin Delia or whoever Joe Schmoe the Hawks will trot out in net will get absolutely pummeled, shellacked, lit up by the Flames and their fearless leader Johnny Gaudreau, fourth in the league with 101 (!) fucking points because of course he is. There have only been 8 other Flames in the franchise’s history to hit 100 points, so Gaudreau hitting that milestone in their most recent game was a pretty big deal, and a big reason why the team is currently on a 5-game winning streak. (Feasting on the Seattle Kraken for two games in a row doesn’t hurt either.) His linemates, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, are both having career-best seasons offensively, but are just as much of a pain in the ass defensively as well—God help the Hawks as they try to get by or stop these three.

Other than the first line, secondary scoring is probably a bit of a concern for Calgary as they head into the playoffs. As everyone knows around here, it takes contribution from more than one line to win the Stanley Cup. The Flames have been doing well thanks to their solid defensive metrics, including having the third-least scoring chances against them in the league this season. It also helps when your goaltender Jacob Markstrom has a .924 save percentage, and Flames fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when Connor Mackey made his debut for the team against the Sharks, putting old pal Nikita Zadorov on the bench. Anytime his ass can be stapled there will improve the defense on whatever team he may be on.

Hockey

The new-coach glisten has begun to dull a bit as the Hawks won only one game this past week. Though the Hawks still seem to be a bit less lost than when Coach Cool Youth Pastor was at the helm, the Sharks game was tedious at best and the Flames game was not pretty. Though this team is getting better at resetting after a bad period, the elusive 60-minute game still seems just a bit out of their reach. At least the defense looked better than under Colliton—better, or at least adequately positioned enough to save Fleury’s ass from a goal on Sunday, see above.

Goals for this team also seem to be few and far between, at even-strength and on the advantage. Even when King pulls the goalie late in games to try and get something going, the Hawks just can’t seem to score. And now that Brett Connolly and Lukas Reichel have both gotten injured over the weekend on the IceHogs, the pool of players they can bring up to score goals has just gotten much shallower. Anyone want to ride the Alex Nylander train? Didn’t think so.

Hawks 2, Flames 5
Box | Natural Stat Trick

The tone for this game was very quickly set with Kirby Dach getting in a fight just a minute into the game despite having an injury history with his wrist, and then a Flames goal shortly after. Then Jake McCabe and Brandon Hagel seemed to get hurt within minutes of each other, and though they both returned to the game the narrative was set.

Though the Hawks would come back from their deficit to tie things back up thanks to Hagel returning to play, the Flames always seemed to be able to answer with another goal. Before the period ended, the gargantuan Milan Lucic was able to score on a Richardson assist that left Connor Murphy floundering to take back the lead. The Flames were able to out-shoot and out-attempt the Hawks for all three periods, not to mention the Hawks powerplay being in the deep freezer lately.

The Hawks were able to tie the game again in the 2nd period with Reese Johnson’s first NHL goal—he had two points this game and made a good argument for staying in the lineup. And yet the Flames scored three in the 3rd period, two of them being empty-netters at the end of the game when Derek King decided to pull Fleury a few times because fuck it. The good news is at least Nikita Zadorov is floundering defensively for someone else’s team now.

Hawks 3, Blues 2 (Hawks Win Drunken Three-Legged Race)
Box | Natural Stat Trick

Instead of losing a game they should’ve lost like the previous night, the Hawks won this game that they still should’ve lost. In true 2021 Blackhawks fashion, they immediately gave up a goal to start the game, this time not even a minute in on a three-on-one as the Blues simply outskated the Hawks to score. The Hawks seemed to tie it up a few minutes later as Toews appeared to score thanks to a flounder behind the net by Jordan Binnington, but it was ruled offside after a coach’s challenge, leading to some frustration that culminated in another late-period goal by St. Louis that just bounced around in front of the net before going in.

The 1st period ended up being the only period the Hawks didn’t have the higher CF%, as they were able to effectively reset, I guess, and were able to scrape together the two goals to tie the game and got Kevin Lankinen essentially taking care of the rest. First it was Khaira and the 4th line who put the Hawks on the board, and Brandon Hagel was able to score a beautiful goal with five minutes left in the game to force overtime—when you get to the net, good things happen, of course.

Everyone saw the OT-winning goal by DeBrincat and set up by Kane. Seth Jones should get credit, too, for getting the puck to Kane in the neutral zone by spin-o-rama-ing the puck away from two St. Louis defenders. It was about as greasy as a win gets, but at this point we’ll take all the wins we can get.

Hawks 0, Sharks 2
Box | Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks, who surprisingly had the better possession numbers in two of the three periods at play this game, just didn’t have the offense to back it up. It just so happens that when Hagel and the Cat have an off night of any kind the amount of goals this team can score absolutely plummets.

You’ve probably read online about the 5-on-5 goal numbers, and they really are that ugly. Currently tied with the Islanders for the least amount of 5-on-5 goals in the league certainly isn’t a stat you want to attribute to your team, and yet this is where we sit. And then there’s the powerplay…dear God. Although they are technically only the 11th-worst powerplay in the league, that number would probably be even lower had that unit NOT been the only thing working under Coach Jeremy Bevington’s regime.

The Hawks had their chances (and two powerplay opportunities) but weren’t ever able to capitalize on any of them. And despite playing better defensively—Marc-Andre Fleury only saw 22 shots, amazing by this team’s standards—the lack of offense ended up killing them. Timo Meier scored in the 2nd and 3rd periods for the Sharks, and by that time players like Kane and DeBrincat were visibly showing their frustration for not being able to get one past James Reimer. Meier’s first goal just bounced off his body and in and the second was an empty netter, so feel about that what you will.

This week’s opponents for the Hawks are almost entirely crammed into the weekend, with games against the Capitals, Rangers and Islanders on the docket for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. The Islanders could be a soft cushion for the Hawks to get an easy win (or the world’s dullest 1-0 shootout loss), but the Capitals and Rangers sit in the top half of the league in goals per game—the Capitals in the top 5. Perhaps some more line blending by King will get someone to score—otherwise, Lanks and Fleury had better be lights out if we want to win even two out of three.

Hockey

With the last stop of the mini circus tour tonight ending in Calgary, the absolute worst the Hawks can go is .500 on the trip which all things considered is pretty respectable. Which is not to say that the actual PLAY of the team has been up to snuff on the defensive end, because it has most definitely not been the case. Were it not for the herculean efforts of one Marc-Andre Fleury the Hawks would most likely have banked zero points on this swing as opposed to the 4 they currently own.

Looking at the metrics themselves, they bear this out as the Hawks have only managed a 45% share of CORSI in the last 3 games, which I’m being told is not great. A lot of this stems from the fact that Coach King’s new system of “just play some hockey” results in the forwards (especially the top line of Kane/Cat/Dach) flying the defensive zone Paul Kariya-style looking for an odd man rush. While this has definitely helped the Hawks on the scoresheet (all 3 goals against The Krak were on the rush), a fair amount of the time it results in the D getting pinned in their own end.

This is still in the honeymoon phase for Coach K, and to be fair it’s worked out pretty well so far with the Hawks winning all but one game under him. What we saw in Edmonton, however, is what you get when it doesn’t work.

 

11/23 At Calgary

Game Time – 8:00 PM Central

TV / Radio – NBCSN, WGN-AM 720

Read The ScorchStackScorchStack

 

Nothing like ending your road trip with the best team in the Western Conference. The Flames are (pardon the pun) scorchingly hot as of late. They have the best goal differential in the entire league at +27, and are 5th best in CORSI for. The Flames are tough to get around on the back end, with a very solid defensive corps headlined by Rasmus Andersson who has come into his own this season.

Offensively is where the Flames shine, with Andrew Mangiapane tied for 2nd in the league with 15 goals. They also still have Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm racking up the points, along with Keith Tkachuk’s garbage child stirring the shit with 17 points of his own. Speaking of shitbags, Milan Lucic is here along with monolith Nikita Zadorov, so DeBrincat and Kane need to have their heads up in this one.

Between the pipes, Vancouver cast off Jacob Markstrom should draw the start against the Hawks as backup Dan Valdar shut out the Bruins on Sunday night. Markstrom has been outstanding so far, with a 1.71 GAA and .942 save% so far. He’s only given up 24 goals in 14 games, so the Hawks forwards are going to have to make every shot count.

 

11/26 vs St. Louis

Game Time – 2:30 PM Central

TV / Radio – ESPN, WGN-AM 720

Wretched Hive Of Scum And VillainySTL Gametime

 

Ugh, these assholes again.

The first game back in the UC and the Blues come oozing into town, 2nd overall in the division but squarely in the middle of the pack statistically everywhere else. Their +12 goal differential is tied with Colorado in the division, but is less than half of what the Flames boast. That’s more a statement on the quality of the Central Division than it is an indictment of how good the Blues are.

Jordan Kyrou leads the team with 18 points, and seems to have taken the leap from “2nd round pick with potential” to “possibly a thing.” While his 17% shooting percentage doesn’t seem sustainable, the fact that 1/3rd of his points have come on the powerplay leads one to think that his value won’t dip too much when that comes back down to earth. David Perron is also here, and he still sucks.

Jordan Binnington and his 2.8 GAA average will most likely man the crease come Black Friday, and if the Hawks can get him moving side to side there will be gaps for them to shoot at. The Blues don’t give up a lot of space for offensive forwards, so the Hawks will most likely have to do their damage in transition (which is currently their MO).

 

11/28 vs San Jose

Game Time – 6:00 Central Time

TV/Radio – NBCSN, WGN-AM 720

Pied PiperFear The Fin

 

Last and least of the 3 teams here is the San Jose Sharks. Currently caught in the limbo of cap hell, the Sharks are a mix of overpriced vets (Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic), expiring cap-friendly contracts (Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier), and rookies making a splash (Jonathan Dahlen, Alexander Barbanov). They also have Evander Kane here, at least until the casinos break his legs and leave him for dead in the desert outside of Vegas.

The Sharks are actually playing better than what everyone expected at this point in the season, dropping Carolina on their collective heads 2-1 last night at home. Karlsson and Burns are both playing well (though not $20 mildo per year good), with Karlsson in particular looking a little more like himself when paired with youngster Jacob Middleton who allows Karlsson to leap into the play as he is wont to do. The Sharks back end is a pretty good mix of old and young, with Karlsson, Burns and Vlasic pairing with the younger crew of Middleton and Mario Ferraro (who has steadily improved his play the last two years).

With James Reimer doing the thing he does in the first half of every season (1.87 GAA and .940%), there’s enough talent there to keep up with most teams and allow the younger players to make mistakes without every one of them ending up in the back of the net.

The Sharks are basically a better coached Blackhawks team, and I’m curious how this game in particular is going to go. Both teams are right on the periphery of the playoff race, but stuck with a couple of contracts that prevent them from going whole-hog on a rebuild. It’s games like these that can turn into the fun kind of track meet that makes for entertaining viewing. Or it could be a horrible slog. Either way, we’ll be watching.

Hockey

You may have been surprised when you woke up and saw the Hawks score from last night (because I’m fairly confident you weren’t staying up late to see it–only losers like myself, Sam, Matt, and about four other cretins would actually spend a Saturday night that way). And you probably thought, wow, maybe some shaky defense but that’s a dominant offensive performance. The thing is, though, it wasn’t. The score doesn’t really reflect the game itself, but please understand I’m not complaining. I’m just scratching my head, and have been for over 12 hours now. I suppose that after getting shut out on a bazillion shots by Vancouver, a correction was due and boy did it happen. But it didn’t inspire the confidence that you would think an 8-goal performance would. Let’s break it down:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The first period was all Jonathan Toews, and honestly I’m here for it. He scored 30 seconds into the game, on the first shot on goal, which should tell you how the night went for David Rittich. Not long after that, Toews made smart plays behind the net to hold onto the puck on the power play, and fired a perfect pass to Dominik Kubalik for the second goal. The captain was even busting out the Patrick Kane spin-o-rama move. And that was all fine and good. The bizarro nature of the game was already happening early on, though, with the Hawks ending the period up in shots (12-8) and possession (52 CF% at evens), and yet tied in goals and it felt downright shaky at times. Also strange (well, it’s kind of normal now but it SHOULD be strange) is their special teams–in the first period they were dominant on the penalty kill, and thank christ for that. However just moments later when the Flames pulled a Hawks and took a too many men penalty, the Hawks couldn’t even get out of their own zone, much less get INTO the offensive zone to do anything. It was, as I kept calling it on Twitter, confounding.

–And then the second period happened and I’m still confused. The Hawks were not good, not by any stretch. Calgary lapped them in shots (14-7 in favor of the Flames), and the Hawks managed just a 38 CF%, but they scored 4 goals in the period. Two of those were from Alex Nylander so what the fuck is that about? The first one from Brandon Saad was off a gorgeous no-look pass from Patrick Kane, so it was lucky in that the Hawks finally got control of the puck for a few seconds, and since Kane and Saad are both good, they took advantage. That’s sort of how the rest could be explained too, I guess. The few moments when the Hawks could hang onto the puck, they scored. There ya go, people, there’s some quality analysis for you. But in all seriousness, Nylander’s first goal was off a steal, perfectly executed in the middle of the ice, Alex DeBrincat‘s (yay for this guy finally!) was thanks to Dach’s work behind the net and a quick passing sequence from Dach to Strome to DeBrincat, and Nylander’s other one…whatever. They just exploded with a handful of really good plays, while otherwise they were chasing and running around like rabid raccoons and getting skulled in possession.

–So all that offensive production is great, but they also conceded a few, right? Unfortunately 50% of the goals given up can be laid squarely on Adam Boqvist, who did not have a good night at all. On both Sam Bennett s and Elias Lindholm‘s first goals, Boqvist just didn’t pick up his man and left Lehner totally exposed. The offense made up for the shitty defense so it was fine, and as we’ve said, Boqvist is going to have mistakes, but it still wasn’t a confidence builder.

–And then, to top it all off, the Hawks still sucked in the third and yet piled on more goals. The weirdness just didn’t stop. In fact, when Lindholm scored his second goal, on the power play about five minutes into the third, everyone was palpably nervous that the Hawks were going to blow it. I think the team themselves expected to blow it, given the fact they got outplayed in every way except the one that counts. The Flames outshot the Hawks 20-9 in the third. Please think about that–it’s more than double the amount of shots the Hawks had, and mind you, that’s following the second where they were equally terrible. The difference of course was Robin Lehner, who, up until the third didn’t actually look that great but he turned it on when he had to. As mentioned, his defense wasn’t doing him a lot of favors, but he was giving up a lot of rebounds and his positioning wasn’t too solid through two. He figured it out for the third, though, and definitely bailed the Hawks, until Kane’s empty netter put the game away.

–The Flames really should be kicking themselves in the ass for this one, because not only did they totally outshoot the Hawks on a night when our goalie wasn’t actually lights-out the whole time, the Flames also had three power plays in the third period and still managed to lose. Also Matthew Tkachuk is awful and made about 50 bad turnovers, so that was entertaining. Rittich got pulled in the second and rightfully so, but Cam Talbot wasn’t any good either (a .692 SV%, lmao).

So it was all very strange, but it wasn’t boring. And if the Air Raid Offense is the best we can muster because our defense sucks, so be it. (Let it also be known that Erik Gustafsson still sucks and Boqvist is not the only defenseman who wasn’t at the top of his game.) Onto Winnipeg tonight, where it’s once again a “must-win” if you’re still deluding yourself that this team has a chance at the playoffs. Onward and upward!

Hockey

It’s hard to believe that Mikael Backlund is only 30 years old. While that’s old in hockey years, we were hearing Flames fans’ excitement about him all the way back during the 2008-2009 season, even before the Hawks put the Flames to the sword in the playoffs. He only played one game that year, and perhaps he never lived quite up to the hopes of being a 1st round pick and a prized prospect for a while. But he’s definitely the cult favorite of Flames Nation. He’s the Fugazi of Calgary, where you only love him if you really know what’s going on.

Most of that is down to the years where he, Michael Frolik, and Matthew Tkachuk formed one of the best lines in hockey. At least in terms of metrics it was. The 3M line started most of their shifts in the defensive zone, and ended most of them in the other end. They were one of the best possession lines in hockey, and the Flames asked them to do just about everything. And they did just about everything.

Starting last year though, Racist Ol’ Bill Peters soured on Frolik pretty quickly, and split that line up more often than you would think, i.e. at all. Lots of others moonlighted with Backlund and Tkachuk, but never quite captured the same magic. And Backlund’s metrics started to slide because of it.

It’s only gotten worse this year, and Backlund has often been used as a winger on the top line to help Sean Monahan and Johnny Gadreau keep the puck. But that’s not really what Backlund is, and it weakened the Flames down the middle as Elias Lindholm was tried as simply an offensive center than the Swiss Army Knife Backlund was and can still be. Recently, they’ve scrapped that and returned Backlund to the second center hole.

The numbers make it pretty clear that when Backlund is centering Tkachuk, things go well. When he’s on a wing with the others, they don’t, as his percentages drop. Seems pretty simple, but a lot of hockey coaches tend to outthink themselves.

The weird thing about Backlund is over the years he seems to do worse the more you start him in the offensive zone. It’s like if he doesn’t have ice to skate into he just backs up to find it. He’s more checking than scoring, though he’s consistently put up 40-50 points. Three years ago, he started just 35% of his shifts in the offensive zone and yet carried a 55% Corsi-share and 52% xG%. This year he’s starting 56% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and he’s below the team-rate in the analytics for the first time in a dog’s age.

Being the sole puck winner from a wing on the top line just doesn’t appear to suit him, and in recent games the Flames have returned Lindholm to that wing. They’ve won three of four with an aggregate score of 18-4 in those three wins. Seems pretty obvious the lineup needs to be tuned a certain way.

Either way, Backlund will remain the die-hard’s favorite, taking on the top lines of other teams and always getting the Flames out of it. At 30 and signed for a few more years could get sticky as he ages, as a $5.3M hit for a checking center seems a bit ambitious. Once Backlund’s scoring dries up there might be questions. But those are a long way off. Right now, he’s the Flames fans smallpox champion.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Flames 22-17-5   Hawks 19-18-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

COVERED IN HORSESHIT: Flames Nation

This week, the Hawks get a chance to put a couple things…well, not right but at least improve. One is their home record. They moved just over .500 with the win over Detroit, but they simply have to be better on Madison St. Second, they can get a couple wins over teams around them in the standings, which they can claim they are competing with for wildcard spots. They did get one over on the Flames last week, which was a departure, but generally this has been a sore spot for them. Calgary is visiting tonight and Nashville on Thursday, and those just happen to be two of the three teams between them and the final playoff spot.

Obviously, not much has changed with Cal and Gary since these two spent New Year’s Eve together (I assume loudly singing along to Lizzo like everyone else). They beat the Rangers at home on the 2nd and then snuck out of St. Paul with a shootout victory on Sunday. So the issues are basically the same. As we like to say around these parts, they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They have the fourth-worst SH% at evens in the league, which belies the talent on display here through Monahan (Lisa needs braces…), Gaudreau, Tkachuk, et al. You still have to figure that will correct at some point and send the Flames toward the automatic spots in the Pacific, which they’re only two points behind and two of which are occupied by the Coyotes and Oilers. Most would guess those teams will deflate before the end of the season.

Still, something is more amiss up in Southern Alberta. This team was something of a possession monster under Bill Peters, which is something he just tended to do for his teams (as well as kick them and be racist toward them). This year, even before his dismissal, that’s not been the case. Some of it is Mark Giordano aging, and some of it is just no one else stepping up to fill in some of that gap. Recently they’ve split Gio and T.J. Brodie, perhaps to get some more push from a different pairing. But Brodie’s always been a bit lost without Giordano, so that’s a risk.

Another problem for them is a top line that just hasn’t fired at the pace they’re accustomed to. Monahan and Gaudreau have been point-per-game players before, and neither are there at the moment or anywhere close. Gaudreau especially seems to have eschewed getting to the middle of the ice, and is doing something of a mini-Getzlaf act on the outside. This has hurt Monahan’s game, as he thrived on the havoc Johnny Hockey used to cause in the offensive zone. They attempted to replicate this by moving Mikael Backlund to wing on the line and getting him in the middle, but that had middling results. Now they’re shuttling Elias Lindholm between 2C and 1RW, which is also having the benefit of making it clear what the Flames need to go get before the deadline.

Either way, this was a team that until the last meeting had given the Hawks fits, because it’s one of the many that is significantly faster than them. They weren’t much at the races against the Hawks for the first 30 minutes last Tuesday, allowing the Hawks a 4-0 lead. But once they realized they were about to be embarrassed, traffic flowed in only one direction and the Hawks were even somewhat lucky to get out of there with a rare regulation win. You can expect the Flames to be a little more attuned tonight.

Still, their goaltending has been a little wayward. Big Save Dave has given up 11 in his last three starts (including the Hawks game), and Cam and Magic Talbot gave up three at home to the Rangers. So maybe the Hawks can find some joy there.

As for the Hawks, I wouldn’t expect any changes. Robin Lehner wasn’t in the starter’s net at the morning skate and is still working through his minor leg problem. Look for him Thursday. There’s no reason to change any of the lineup, though Dennis Gilbert took a shot off the ankle at practice. But that couldn’t make him any slower. Maybe Fetch slides in for him, which whatever. After scoring his first NHL goal it would be heavily cruel to sit Dylan Sikura and lose the confidence he just gained. So Alex Nylander’s useless ass can stay in a suit.

As we’ve said, this is a part of the schedule the Hawks can make their season meaningful in. The Flames are a confused bunch, and the Preds even more so after firing their coach. The Ducks suck, and then they’ll get two games against either a rebuilding dreck like the Senators or yet another confused bunch in the Habs before having to try and catch the Leafs in Toronto. Either you are or you aren’t, and these next two weeks should tell us which. Even if you think you already know.

Hockey

It’s not fair to to Mark Giordano to merely label his Norris Trophy win last year a “Lifetime Achievement Award,” even if it had that feel. Gio had been one of the league’s best d-men for a while, certainly one of it’s premier puck-movers, and a spike in point-total was all that was required to get him an award he probably should have won. Had he not gotten hurt in 2014 he very well may have won that year, to match some truly bonkers relative metrics.

In reality, Giordano’s ’18-’19 wasn’t all that different from his ’17-’18, as in both he had utterly dominant possession numbers. Gio clearly took to the hiring of Bill Peters, who swept away the conservative, whatever the fuck tactics of Glengarry Glen Gulutzan or Bob Hartley before that and got the Flames going up the ice aggressively. Gio’s individual and team-rates are pretty much exactly the same over the two years. The difference was that last year the Flames shot 10% when Gio was on the ice, which was a huge jump from the 6.7% the year previous. So Gio ended up with 57 assists instead of 25, to go with 17 goals, which weren’t really out of line with what he’d done before.

Fair enough, Gio was really good last year and no one is upset that he has a Norris in his case now. What comes next? Well, there may have been a warning shot in last year’s playoffs.

In five games, Gio was clocked to the tune of a 44 CF% and a 45% xG%, both of which were over 10 points lower than his regular season marks. And they were mostly due to the tire tracks on his chest that Nathan MacKinnon was leaving over those five games, though to be fair to him he was only on the ice for two goals against and one for in that series. That doesn’t mean the chances weren’t flowing and they were mostly flowing the wrong way.

Something has carried over into this season. All of Gio’s metrics are way down, including his own attempts and chances. It would be easy to point to the sinking Flames ship as a whole, but his relative Corsi has tanked along with it. His relative xG% has stayed up though, so even if he’s spending more time in his zone he’s not conceding a wealth of great chances while doing it.

What gives? First, it’s hard to ignore that Giordano turned 36 right before the season, and you can’t keep the wolves of age at the door forever. Everyone loses a step, and Gio only need look at Duncan Keith his contemporary to see that. Keith’s fall came earlier, but Keith also played a ton more hockey at the top level than Giordano has.

It hasn’t helped that T.J. Brodie, Giordano’s partner for all of last year, is himself declining as he closes out his 20s. Brodie was always Gio dependent, but this year even that’s not enough. Gio’s numbers shoot up a bit when paired with younger Rasmus Andersson, and that’s what the Flames have gone to of late.

Going forward, the Flames might find themselves in the same position as the Hawks, needing to find a replacement for their stalwart while he’s still around. That was the hope for Andersson, but he hasn’t grabbed that yet. Neither has Oliver Kylington, who is in and out of the lineup. The Flames might have the option of going outside the organization for help, as they’ll have over $20M in space in the summer including both Brodie and Hamonic being free agents if they choose to remake their blue line.

Gio will be 37 then, and the time is now for the Flames given the ages of Gaudreau and Monahan and Tkachuk. It would be folly to trust the big minutes entirely to a 37-year-old for a Cup contender, which is what the Flames are built to be (even if they’ve spent the first part of this year being decidedly something else). Giordano’s one individual award won’t be enough for everyone.

Hockey

Milan Lucic – By god he found another home. It’s amazing how many teams are willing to take a chance on a player because they might provide “grit,” the most nebulous and overvalued skill in any sport. Lucic still can’t move, still can’t score, and no one gives a shit about his antics because he’s such a boon on the ice to the opponent. And he’s murdering the Flames’ cap just as he did up the road in EdMo. This guy’s been an albatross for five years. You have to almost be impressed. But hey, maybe after a whistle he can spear a guy in the nuts. That’ll get the Flames up the standings.

Whichever of Keith Tkachuk’s Garbage Sons Is Here – Not that there’s any difference. They all run their mouth and start shit all the time. But when you watch them do it you know this is just an extension of when they would go throw things at homeless people with their other private school friends. They’re just spoiled rich kids who never got told to shut up or got the shit kicked out of them because of who dad was, and got all the best training in hockey because he was rich. You know the Tkachuk’s, they just have a different name.

Not Using The Retros All The Time – The old look at home is great. Then the Flames debuted their retro whites this year, and it’s clearly what they should be wearing all the time. More teams need to learn that having black as a lining or a color, unless it’s a main color of the team–only deadens the look in HD and live. The Hawks only have the stripes on sleeves and waist which is why their jerseys still pop.. Thank god the Flames are going to these full-time next year. Enough with the superfluous piping and stripes and whatnot.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 17-17-6   Flames 20-16-5

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY: Flamesnation.ca

Cal and Gary would probably be way down the list of NHL cities you’d choose to spend NYE in, but the Hawks don’t get much choice as that’s what the schedule says. It’s one of two sojourns they have to make to Western Canada due to the utterly fucked nature of the NHL schedule, as they’ll kick off 2020 in Vancouver. Somewhat symbolic given what those trips used to mean in the first half of the decade and now don’t mean shit except to the few lunatics who still want to boo Duncan Keith. But we’ll get to that Thursday. Tonight, the Hawks will deal with one of the more confusing teams in the West.

The Flames were supposed to be amongst the glitterati. They did post the most points in the conference last year, and basically returned the same team minus Mike Smith and his amazing powers to turn everything he touches into barf. They had a solid backup this time around in Cam And Magic Talbot to back up Big Save Dave Rittich. They didn’t really add much to it, but steps forward from Oliver Kylington (and his weirdly pronounced name) and Rasmus Andersson were supposed to take pressure of the top of the defense. They still had a young, dynamic forward corps and depth.

And it all just kind of has been…there.

It’s turned around from earlier in the year, as the Flames were way out of a playoff spot to start but are now in one. But no one is reaching the heights of last year. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are dealing with SH% problems as well as possession problems. Mark Giordano may simply have been broken by Nathan MacKinnon in the playoffs last year, and he’s also 36. And when he’s not very good, TJ Brodie isn’t good at all. Matthew Tkachuk and his gaping maw haven’t been as good away from Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, though he’s hardly been bad.

What the team is really suffering is the NBA Jam guy constantly screaming, “CAN’T BUY A BUCKET!” They have the fourth-worst SH% as a team overall, which has negated their more than acceptable goaltending. They aren’t creating a wealth of chances (21st in xGF/60) but you’d still expect them to do better than over 7% of finding the net. If that rebounds at all, the Flames should comfortably get back to the playoffs and probably pass the Coyotes and Oilers to do it.

They’ve also had the off-ice shenanigans with Bill Peters being outed as a scumbag and the switch to Geoff Ward. That seemed to alleviate some things but not all, as they’re 2-3-1 in the last six. It’s a team that just hasn’t really done anything that well so far this year, and until their top line starts to act like one, that might be the case all season. Lucky for them, their division is so bad they can just sort of float to or near the top.

For the Hawks, you wouldn’t expect too many changes tonight. Possibly Olli Maatta to come back in but they’ve been loathe to change a winning squad so we’ll see. Lehner looks poised to take the lion’s share of the starts the next little while, as he’s just playing better.

This has not been a friendly opponent for the Hawks of late. They’ve lost their last six against them, not beating them since the ’17-’18 season. Tends to be the case with teams that have a lot of speed and play like it, which the Flames at least used to do. The possession-dominant ways of Peters have gone away, as they’re only middling in that sense now. Giordano’s fade has something to do with that, and Hanifin is the only player to really improve from last year.

As we keep saying, if the Hawks want to make anything of this season it has to be right now. The schedule is somewhat kind, they’ve played better in the last two (at least most of them) and so this is the time to get on a roll. But then, we say that a lot, don’t we?

Note: I may be on the Twitter feed for part of this, or not at all. And any recap will be in the morning, if any of us are in any condition to watch this thing tonight. You know how it goes.