Everything Else

Tonight’s game was quite a throwback—to stupidity, dirty hits, pointless fights, everything you remember from the bad old days! This marks two games in a row where the Blackhawks have had a player thrown out, which tells you nearly all you need to know. Let’s get to it:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks actually made it over 10 minutes without giving up a goal in the first period. This is where we’re at now, when going half of the first without falling behind is a major step. Putting aside the blackness of that reality, not only did they avoid giving up multiple goals early, they even answered the Flames’ first goal with a classic forehand-backhand by Jonathan Toews, which just de-pantsed Mike Smith. So the game didn’t get off to TOO terrible of a start, although it must be said that the Flames outshot the Hawks 18-6 in the first. Think about that for a minute. They gave up 18 shots in one period, which is bad enough, and that was a full three times the number of shots they themselves managed. What does this tell you? One, is that they barely clung to life in that period. Two, is that the only reason they did so was because Corey Crawford is unreal. He had multiple saves in the first that kept the game from getting out of hand early, including after Forsling had a bad giveaway, and also on the PK after Kunitz took Dumb Penalty #1 (more on that later). Crawford hasn’t exactly been lights out in his last few games, but none of the goals tonight can be pinned on him as bad or soft ones. He was definitely back to form.

–And man did we need him to be. The level of stupidity tonight was really something to behold. After getting out of the first tied at one and with a tenuous hold on things through 4-on-4 to start the second, Chris Kunitz went full-on Neanderthal and elbowed Travis Hamonic in what can only be described as a dickhead play. Hamonic’s head was down, but Kunitz went high with the elbow and he was getting rid of the puck so it was both foolish and dangerous. Kunitz fully deserved the major penalty and game misconduct. And of course, the Flames scored twice on the ensuing extended power play. Those goals made the difference in the game, and they were entirely because of Kunitz being a stupid asshole. If he isn’t stapled to a chair in the pressbox for the rest of the season that will prove once and for all that the Hawks’ brass is incompetent, doesn’t understand how to win, and doesn’t care to figure it out.

–In an attempt to not be outdone in the stupid asshole department, everyone’s favorite dung heap Brandon Manning got in the most useless and wimpy fight possible with Garnet Hathaway (which btw is NOT an actual name). The two skated around each other with fists brandished like old timey boxers, and hit each other far less than that. It didn’t “change the momentum” or “send a message.” In fact, the only upside was that Manning spent most of the rest of the game in the penalty box and thus unable to offend our eyes with his playing.

–Clearly I’m not one for fighting, but I will say this: in the second period when James Neal basically stomped on Corey Crawford and Crawford came after him and nearly punched him, I was cackling with delight. If Crow wants to hit someone because he’s frustrated with this shitty team and the defense allowing him to get curb-stomped, I’ll set aside my issues and I’ll be here for it.

–The power play…it’s just so bad. And on paper it really shouldn’t be: Toews, Kane, Saad, DeBrincat and Jokiharju…this should be a functional first power play unit! But they can’t make a zone entry to save their lives. Seriously. They cannot get out of their own zone, they cannot get through the neutral zone, and they most certainly can’t get across the offensive blue line. It’s like a god damn force field, and that stupid-ass drop pass in the defensive zone has lived on in the Colliton era like a recurring nightmare. There are too many issues to cover in these bullets, but suffice it to say that the clown shoes are still firmly entrenched.

–Alright, enough doom and gloom. What was good from this game? Toews’ goal was pretty and we need the top line to keep scoring. The Kahun-Kampf-Kane line may be something that works. Their 43 CF% didn’t bode all that well but they were certainly fast (and besides, the entire team was underwater in possession). Dylan Strome had a nice goal. And once again, for the cheap seats in the back, Crawford finished the night with a .927 SV% and an assist, and had to face 41 fucking shots on goal.

Tonight was ugly, dumb and frustrating. If the Hawks had gotten blown out it would have made sense and been deserved. The Flames are playing much better, but again this could have been a winnable game—Mike Smith is Mike Smith which means there’s always a chance, and the fact that it came down to the stupidest of penalties is downright painful. But, there’s no rest for the wicked with three more games this week. Fire Chris Kunitz into the sun. Onward and upward.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

 

Everything Else

You don’t need me to tell you what was important about tonight—but I will anyway, it was Corey Crawford coming back. And despite what the score was, he looked just fine. It was the usual suspects being the pieces of crap that they are that led to the loss, but you don’t need me to tell you that, either. To the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

–After goal-a-thons in recent games tonight’s effort seemed rather anemic on offense. This could have easily been at least 2-0 Hawks at the end of the first, had it not been for Fortnite’s total lack of finish. Kane set him up beautifully multiple times, but to no avail. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him demoted back down to the third or fourth line after tonight’s performance (although it’s just as likely Q loves him and will keep him on the second line, so who knows). A poorly timed post by Schmaltz in the second period was another example of the Hawks being snake-bitten.

–Don’t take that to mean that there was no plain ‘ole incompetence tonight—that would be far too generous. Back to Nick Schmaltz, he had a pretty shitty game, to be perfectly honest. Yeah, his CF% ended up being 52.9, but that was a rebound from the mid-30s he had going in the first period, and he pulled his classic pass-when-he-should-shoot early in the third, which basically wasted a huge amount of time and space that could have been a good opportunity.

–But the real tale of woe here is Brandon Manning and Chris Kunitz and how horrible they truly are. We’ve already beaten this dead horse that they suck, but it’s hard to overstate just how much. Even with the aforementioned anemic offense, this game would have been tied at 1 (at worst), had it not been for Manning completely misplaying a 2-on-1 in the first and hanging Crawford out to dry, and had Kunitz not made a shitty, stupid pass attempt late in the third that Clayton Keller (GET A FIRST NAME, ASSHOLE) picked off and scored on to basically put the game out of reach. So after not being able to score a 5-on-5 goal yet this season, the fucking Coyotes found their even-strength mojo thanks to our useless clods who Quenneville refuses to sit, despite the availability of Brandon Davidson, Victor Ejdsell, and ANYONE ELSE FROM ROCKFORD AT THIS POINT.

–Alright, enough of what sucked. The silver lining was that really Crawford looked pretty good. Sure, there were a couple saves where he just barely got a toe on the puck, and in the second there was a terrifying moment where he half-somersaulted out of the crease and I held my head in my hands like I was trying to protect his brain by steadying my own, but all in all he was solid. That includes some great point-blank saves like the one he had on Grabner in the third, which at that point kept it a one-goal game (till Kunitz shat the bed). I’m guessing it’ll take a little while for him to be fully comfortable, and there’s always the chance he’ll regress after dealing with contact or other unforseen issues, but for a first outing after 10 months, this was a very good sign.

–You know who else had a good game? Erik Gustafsson. That’s not a huge shock as he’s been generally playing well, but tonight he had the lone goal after textbook passing from Toews and Top Cat during a 4-on-4 stint, and he made two huge shot blocks to bail out Crawford in the first and second periods.

–I can’t be mad about Raanta having a good game. And when Hjalmarsson was getting misty-eyed after his ovation I was basically at the point of yelling I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING at the tv. And I can’t be mad about Our Cousin Vinny scoring two goals either. I want to be mad because this loss is extremely aggravating, but of course it’s these guys who I can’t hate.

So the Hawks were dealt their first regulation loss of the season, and to the fucking Coyotes (did I already complain and call them that? I did, didn’t I?). It was bound to happen at some point, but the fact that it came at the hands of The Team of Hawks Rejects and on the night Crow finally came back makes it all the more painful. There are still positives to walk away with, though, and with a barrage of games coming up that’s what we’ll do. Onward and upward.

Beer: Lagunitas Sumpin’ Easy Ale

Line of the Night: “Good players get a stick on it.” Steve Konroyd, throwing shade at Alexandre Fortin after he missed yet another great pass from Kane 

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Everything Else

Following on yesterday’s hopeful theme, one of the other bright spots from last year was obviously Alex DeBrincat, affectionately known as Top Cat around these parts. Despite his coach’s best efforts to keep him off the team, and then thwart his development once there, Top Cat blossomed into the latest version of our Special Boy. So what does sophomore year hold?

2017-18 Stats

82 GP – 28 G – 24 A

54.3 CF% – 58.9 oZS% – 41.1 dZS%

A Brief History. Along with Nick Schmaltz, DeBrincat was the breakout star of the season. And Top Cat may actually take top honors in that category because he was the leading goal-scorer. And he did it without playing on a line with Patrick Kane. DeBrincat led the team in hat tricks, with three (how meta); had the second-highest shooting percentage at a muscular 15.5 (behind only Schmaltz’s aberration); and his line’s possession numbers were the strongest on the team, although DeBrincat’s zone starts were incredibly sheltered, it must be added. However, if you control for guys who played less than 41 games (i.e., didn’t play at least half the season so getting discarded in my very scientific opinion), Top Cat’s 54.3 CF% at evens is fourth best, and guess who was ahead of him? Linemates Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad (and Vinnie Hinostroza, sky point).

And let’s not forget—let’s NOT forget Dude—that Top Cat was shuffled around with subpar linemates while Quenneville tried his damndest to find a reason to be off with his head. DeBrincat was moved to the opposite side and got stuck with the likes of Lance Bouma as well as Patrick Sharp and Ryan Hartman. No, I’m not comparing even about-to-retire Sharp with Lance fucking Bouma, but none of these were appropriate linemates for Top Cat’s speed and passing. Despite Saad’s rough year and Toews’ ongoing decline, their line was definitely not painful to watch, notching 8 goals and an impressive 67.4 CF%.

It Was the Best of Times. In an ideal world, everything comes together and Top Cat remains effective on the right side because if he’s going to play on the top line, it’ll be in that capacity, that much is clear. And he should be on the top line—he’s one of the most gifted scorers on the team and I’m kinda being generous to some of the other players by saying it that way. In the best-case scenario, he has a 70-point season, helping to spark a Saad renaissance and extending Toews’ usefulness. He can make the jump from promising youngster to legitimate elite top-6 scorer.

It Was the BLURST of Times. There are a couple worst-case scenarios to ponder, unfortunately. So far, Chris fucking Kunitz has been seen on the top line with Toews and DeBrincat, which is so utterly stupid and utterly Quenneville-ian that it defies the capacity for logic. Yes, let’s put a useless, aging, bottom-6’er on the top line with an already-slowing center, entirely wasting DeBrincat’s abilities. Another potential situation is that he falls victim to Q’s machinations and gets marooned on the third line with Anisimov and whatever other oaf ends up there—could be Kampf, could by Hayden, really a race to the bottom in terms of options for DeBrincat, while Kunitz is this year’s Tommy Wingels, i.e., no-talent asshat on the top line because REASONS. In this scenario, physically unable to skate as slowly as these fools, Top Cat unsurprisingly struggles to score, which becomes a wretched feedback loop of Q claiming he doesn’t deserve to be on the top line, and so he doesn’t score, and it goes around and around. This sophomore slump entirely of the coach’s making makes him eager to get the fuck out of here and play for a team that recognizes his talent, while at the same time the front office obliges so that they can bring in yet another useless, aging veteran because they decide that GRITHEARTFART was what their forward corps was lacking.

Yet another nightmare scenario is that Top Cat doesn’t keep his head up and some Neanderthal decides to CHANGE THE MOMENTUM in a random game and demolishes him, since even if he can put on some bulk he will not conceivably be able to put on any more inches, and he ends up concussed or with a liquefied knee. (If Niklas Kronwall so much as blinks at him I’m going to hunt that fucker down, I’ll tell you that right now.) Either way, whether by misuse or abuse, should one of these situations come to pass this city would see yet another talented youngster provide flashes of brilliance before having it all ripped away.

Prediction: I can only hope to be wrong about the injury thing. I’m going to tell myself calm, soothing words and just say that won’t be the case. As for Top Cat’s place in the lineup, I think he’ll earn his spot on the top line and he’ll click with a resurgent Brandon Saad.  It’ll take a few weeks of dumbfuckery as Q tries to make the Kunitz experiment work, or Saad-Schmaltz-Kane works out for a while so they genuinely have to play someone else on the top line. DeBrincat will lead the team again in goals, this time over 30, yet probably have some wobbly patches throughout the season when Q wants/tries to demote him, and Top Cat has to play his way out of trouble every time. And he will. Because he’s our Special Boy.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Brandon Manning

Jan Rutta

Erik Gustafsson

Henri Jokiharju

Nick Schmaltz