Hockey

Records: Predators 24-21-1 (49) Hawks 21-19-5 (47)
Puck Drops:
7:00PM (4/19, 4/23), 6:00PM (4/21)
TV/Radio:
NBC Sports Chicago (4/19), NBCSN (4/21), NBC Sports Chicago+ (4/23), WGN-AM 720
Kings of Leon Fans, but Unironically:
On the Forecheck

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It all comes down to this. All the garbage (and not-so-garbage) games we’ve watched all season long have culminated into this three-game series against the Nashville Predators, one of now multiple teams who are vying for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central.

Since we last saw the Nashville Predators, they’ve gone 4-3, beating Detroit, Dallas, and Tampa Bay, respectively. However, they are currently on a two-game losing streak thanks to the Carolina Hurricanes putting a stop to the hole they were tearing in the Central Division spacetime continuum. (The Predators have gone 0-5-1 against Carolina this season.)

Nashville fans are feeling the same sort of upcoming dread about this series as we are, understanding the importance of these next three games as it will likely determine their playoff fate the same as ours. If anyone remembers, the Predators were as good as dead just a month or so ago, getting completely pummeled with injuries and getting ready to sell everything they had at the deadline after going 11-16-1 to start the season. The injuries never end, in fact; since we last faced off it was announced Mathieu Olivier would be missing 4-6 weeks due to injury, but I’m sure Nashville won’t mind that since the only hockey statistic he cares about is getting 29 penalty minutes in four hockey games.

As for the recent trade deadline, the Preds acquired Erik Gundbranson, officially their 14th defender to dress for Nashville this season. And he sucks, by the way. He has a 44.4 CF%, a 31.6 FF%, and just take a look at this:

Yikes.

To make things even better for the Predators, Matt Duchene was finally activated from IR to play in their loss Saturday against Carolina. He hadn’t played since March 4, which is high comedy to everyone outside of their city considering the team has looked much better without him over the past month-plus. Duchene only has 8 points the whole year, and when you look at his cap hit and do some quick division that means he is getting paid exactly $1 million per point this season. He didn’t have a stellar game on Saturday by any means, posting a -1, although he did have a 60 CF% in almost 15 minutes of play?

As for the Men of Four Feathers, once again the absolute bare minimum amount of winning necessary happened last series against Detroit to keep this team’s playoff hopes alive. I don’t have a good feeling personally about this series, since Colliton’s Blackhawks have a reliable track record of spitting up all over themselves in games anywhere near the area code of having playoff significance, and there are no other games this season that will count more than these next three. You can also combine that with the fact that the Blackhawks have zero (0) regulation wins against the Predators all season long. What more fun could be had this week than watching these games?

Guess what else? Alex Nylander is finally skating! What great news! I know we should be excited, but then I remember his play from last season and I don’t know, people. Calvin de Haan was skating today, also, which hopefully means he’s back in the lineup soon and that Nikita Zadorov once again gets stapled to the bench, although it more than likely means it will be Ian Mitchell who is the odd man out of the lineup.

Colliton once again refuses to give us tonight’s line combos and starting goalie until minutes before puck drop, but I would expect Lankinen in goal for two of these games, if not all three, and maybe even some line shakeups to get things going if things go bad quickly. Lanks will have to be nails this series, and the Hawks will need to be taking zero penalties and actually convert on the powerplay in order to get these wins. Nashville’s penalty kill percentage is garbage, just three hundreths of a percent higher than ours, good for 28th in the league. Score on the powerplay and score relentlessly, thank you.

The Hawks will really need to win two out of these three games, in regulation, to have even a chance at sniffing the playoffs this year. Three regulation wins would be preferable, but I’m certainly not holding my breath. It’s now or never. Let’s go Hawks.

Hockey

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Game Times: 6:30PM (4/15, 4/17)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (4/15), NBC Sports Chicago+, NHLN (4/17), WGN-AM 720
White Boy Rick: Winging It In Motown

With the trade deadline having now passed, both the Hawks and whatever is left of the Wings right now are hoping to get a look at what is on their roster that could possibly be useful in the future, with the added bonus of the visiting Hawks desperately needing both of the games this weekend in regulation in order for next week’s three game set with Nashville to mean a damn thing as far as any playoff aspirations are concerned.

Hockey

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Game Times: 6:30PM (3/30), 7:00 (4/1)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Applewood Smoked Pork Shoulder: Canes Country

As March comes to a close, the West Side Hockey club now finds itself, if only via tiebreakers, on the outside of the playoff picture now as the results of their games has finally started to match their process. And that task does not get any easier with the Canes coming to town, who now have the best points-percentage in the league thanks to a March where they’ve only lost once in regulation, and to the Red Wings of all fucking teams.

Hockey

BOX SCORES

Game 1 / Game 2

Natural Stat Trick

Game 1 / Game 2 

 

I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Nah, fuck that. I’m pretty mad too. With the Hawks early playoff points cushion all but erased by the butthole puckeringly difficult month of March, what was once just another series on the calendar suddenly took on a whole new level of importance to the team’s playoff future. During the coaching tenure of Jeremy Colliton, any time there came a game that took on an extra level of importance the Hawks routinely biffed the landing, typically not only losing that game but the next few following it. Would this series against the Preds be any different?

NOPE.

The Hawks, despite the triumphant early return of Kirby Dach (fresh off his broken wrist back in December at the World Juniors) managed to shit all over themselves this series with backbreaking turnovers and some fluky goals by the Preds. The Hawks complete inability to solve the heavy pressure of the Preds forecheck led directly to 4 of the 6 goals surrendered by the Hawks.  Instead of making adjustments as McClure mentioned on Sunday night, the Hawks just continued to try the same shitty breakout of their own end with absolutely predictable results. If it were not for Alex DeBrincat deciding “Fuck it, I’ll do it myself,” the Hawks very easily could have scored a single goal in both games.

Nashville now sits tied with the Hawks for the last playoff spot in the division, with the Jackets nipping at their heels 3 points out. While the Hawks still have 5 more games against the Preds to undo this mess, I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope that happening after watching just how easily Nashville dismantled them in the 4 meetings thus far.

 

Numbers Don’t Lie

 

-If the Hawks ultimate goal for Calvin deHaan is to have him playing well enough that the Seattle Kraken decide to snag him in the expansion draft, Stan Bowman needs to find every video copy of this series and destroy it. He had an absolutely miserable time, directly contributing to 3 of the Preds goals and assisting on another one. Granted not all of this is entirely his fault, as the defensive “system” the Hawks play can’t entirely be quantified by any known metric, but he certainly didn’t do himself any favors. On the first Preds goal Saturday night (video here), deHaan has decided to go on walkabout, inexplicably choosingto go pressure Eeli Tolvanen along the half boards, leaving Adam Boqvist to pick his poison between Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. He choose poorly, and Johansen had a clean shot at the top shelf. On the third goal (video here), deHaan intercepts a pass and instead of playing it up the boards, he tries to fire a pass up the middle that’s immediately tipped then picked off. One pass to Granlund later it’s 3-1 Preds and the game is over.

-David Kampf didn’t cover himself in glory either (video here). He did the same thing deHaan did on the 2nd Preds goal, snagging an errant pass and without a single Nashville forechecker within 5 feet of him, he tries a home run pass up the middle that’s picked off by Rocco Grimaldi and ripped top shelf on Kevin Lankinen. All of these turnovers born of the fact that the Hawks had no plan or answer for the forecheck of Nashville. Panicky plays like this are made when there’s no structure for a zone exit and the defenders have less and less time each play.

-If the lack of adjustments weren’t damning enough, Colliton proved just what a Brain Genius he was by not calling a timeout with :46 seconds left in the 2nd game and the team with the goalie pulled and a draw in the Preds zone. No, he saved that timeout until there was .7 seconds left in the game so he could draw up his grand plan to win the draw and fire in the game tying goal in less time than it takes for a hummingbird to fart. BRILLANT.

-Malcom Subban had a pretty solid game, as only one of the three Nashville goals went in off the blade of a stick. The first was a bank shot off of (who else) Calvin deHaan’s skate after the Hawks D was pressured by the Preds forecheck (seeing a pattern here?) after a misplayed puck by Subban and then promptly losing a board battle. The 2nd was kicked in by the skate of (YOU’LL NEVER GUESS) deHaan after a shot from the dot by Jarnkrok snuck through about 3 people and in. He definitely played well enough to win, but so it goes.

-Kevin Lankinen, while not the victim of the bad luck of Subban, was the victim of his own defense. He really didn’t have a prayer on any of the 3 Nashville goals, as two of them were absolute snipes top shelf, and the other was a tap in after more terrible D in front of him. He actually kept the Hawks in the game a lot longer than he should have, making some excellent saves on some in close chances from the Preds after (DRUM ROLL) turnovers behind him due to forecheck pressure.

-Kirby Dach seems pretty healthy as within 5 minutes of his return he danced through 2 Nashville defenders for a pretty sweet chance that he was unable to put home. He also made a backbreaking turnover that lead directly to a Preds goal, so take all this with a grain of salt. He’ll get better once the rust shakes off.

-Alex DeBrincat was unstoppable in game 2, putting the whole offense on his back and tying the game single handedly with a Herculean effort. The 2nd goal was particularly awesome, as he lowered his shoulder from the blue line in and muscled past Fabbro like he was made of crepe paper, then deked Pekka Rinne down and out to tie the game at two. Top Cat really is a pleasure to watch, and he’s put the struggles of last year deep in the rearview mirror.

-Nashville has now won 7 of their last 8 games to come roaring back into the playoff race after being left for dead at the end of the first week of March. While none of us believe that this is entirely sustainable, it’s nevertheless an issue for the Hawks as they’re being pressured from pretty much everyone but the Red Wings now.

-March ends for the Hawks this week with two more games Our Sweet Boy Teuvo and the Canes, before another game against the Preds. Things aren’t gonna get any easier, and when you’re fighting not only the other team but your own system as well, it can feel like you’re trying to skate uphill. Every game now takes on added pressure, and the Hawks under Colliton have routinely puked all over themselves in games like those. If they’re gonna flip the script, taking two out of the next 3 is almost a must do.

Let’s Go Hawks

 

Hockey

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Game Times: 7:30 PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN (3/9), SportsNet (3/9), NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Dammit Pantera, This Beer Is Warm: Defending Big D

 

As hard as it is to believe, this series in Dallas will mark the halfway point of this abbreviated campaign for the Hawks, as it’s both zipped right by and felt interminable somehow simultaneously. They’ll face a Stars team that itself is adrift and had better get things straightened out in a hurry given the onslaught of makeup games they now face after both covid and Texan disasters in the past two months.

Hockey

Box Score
Event Log
Natural Stat Trick

Well that looks more in line with what’s to be expected. The Hawks play an obviously better team, keep it close for long enough through a couple of highly skilled plays including a flash from a kid, while the deeper truths about how far this team has to go are ultimately revealed. It’s not that losses are good, except when they are. It’s about the results matching the output, and the Hawks have been mauled for three straight games at times, and only once by a team with any kind of hope whatsoever. To the bullets.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

– Just put his fucking number in the goddamn rafters already I don’t fucking care. As predicted, the series went through Crow. He stopped 43 of 45, including eight fucking power play shots against the best power play in recent history. He locked everything down from the second period on despite huge pressure, and if not for a plush bounce off the end boards in the second period, he may have only given up one. Don’t forget that Crawford did this coming off a COVID-19 diagnosis.

We do not deserve Corey Crawford. No one does.

– The penalty kill was complete fucking nails tonight. We all thought it was fucked following DeBrincat’s terrible boarding major, but they managed to hold on. For all the shit we’ve given Olli Maatta his entire tenure, he was a big part of that unit (not as big as Keith, Murphy, Kampf, or Carpenter, but still), so good on him. We successfully Motherfucked the Oilers PP tonight, which went 0 for fucking 5.

– Though the Toews line got horsed for most of the night in possession, they scored two of the Hawks’s three goals. Saad’s wraparound off a rebound is exactly the kind of power move we all have gross dreams about. Kubalik’s GWG is worth the $6 million they’ll have to pay him. And both of them came off an initial Toews touch. As this line goes . . .

Duncan Keith can still fuck. He logged more time than anyone on the pivotal PK and managed to not only get his shots through on net all night but also set up yet another Matthew Highmore goal. To be a fly on the wall when he powerbombs Coach Nathan For You through a table in the middle of his post-playoff-series-win speech.

– If it felt like the Hawks stole one tonight it’s because they did. Only three of them were above water in possession (Dach, Kane, and Maatta[!!!]), even when you adjust for score. The Hawks scored all three goals off bad Edmonton turnovers. They don’t have to be art.

That’s fucking all. Corey Crawford is a legend and they should retire his number. The end.

Avalanche or Knights next. We’ll worry about it in a couple days. For now, enjoy your 2020 Chicago Blackhawks playoff run.

Just like they fucking said.

Booze du Jour: Maker’s and High Life

Line of the Night: “You gotta be hard and sure.” –Eddie O.

 

Hockey

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

Hockey

Now begins the portion of the preview to this “series” where any parents allowing their children to read this should probably be reported to DCFS. While both the Hawks and Oilers boast varying concentrations of firepower among their respective forward corps, to call both of these teams a bit of an adventure on the blue line would probably be a bit complimentary. There are gaping fissures in the space-time continuum to be found on either side of the ledger here, and it will be up to the coaching staffs to find them. Ten guesses as to which one is more likely to do so, with the answer to be given on Thursday for the coaching preview.

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.