Everything Else

On July 1, the Hawks signed Chris Kunitz, Cam Ward, and Brandon Motherfucking Manning. Of this Triumvirate of Suck, Kunitz was the least odious, both in the moment and throughout the season (probably). He was here, he is gone (likely to retirement or Pittsburgh), and that’s just fine by us.

Stats

56 GP, 5 G, 5 A, 10 P

51.07 CF%, 48.65 xGF% [5v5]

It Comes With a Free Frogurt!

It took half a year, but once Kunitz got slotted where he belonged, the fourth line, things weren’t a total dumpster fire. He was one of just six Hawks forwards to post a CF% greater than 50 (with Toews and Saad being the only regulars to do so). He managed to do that while spending most of his 5v5 time in the defensive zone (56+%). His 5v5 xGF% was second only to Sikura among Hawks forwards. You’ll take small victories where you can get them.

Also, according to a more in-depth look by Stephen Yatsushiro, Kunitz seemed to not actively hurt David Kampf’s performance when they played together, which was kind of shocking. We all knew Kampf had defensive chops, but knowing that playing with Kunitz made Kampf better metrically was a nice surprise. The entire Krusty Komedy Klassic line was generally fine in its dungeon starts, and Kunitz wasn’t terribly out of place there.

He also played in his 1,000th game, which is neat.

The Frogurt Is Also Cursed

The Kunitz signing was redundant for any of the reasons you can think to sign a guy like 39-year-old Chris Kunitz. If they signed him for his grit, they already had Andreas Martinsen to do it more dumbly, Luke Johnson to do it more moon-facedly, and John Hayden to do it more arrogantly.

If they signed him to be a fourth-line grinder, see above, and then add Kampf, Kruger, and any other number of IceHogs who could have done the exact same thing.

If they signed him for his veteran leadership, why? Toews, Seabrook, Keith, and Kane have all won three Cups. Crawford and Saad two. Does winning a fourth Cup as Sidney Crosby’s passenger matter that much?

His contract wasn’t a back-breaker (though the NMC was curious at best) or anything. It was just fluff. Kunitz just seemed like a guy Bowman (or Q) wanted to have for REASONS. If you want to point to his play on the PK, why? That sucked too.

Can I Go Now?

There’s no reason to re-sign Kunitz, just like there wasn’t a reason to sign him in the first place. He’s had a nice career, and the players seemed to like him, so great. He was here and then gone. He certainly wasn’t good, but he wasn’t as bad as he could have been. And that’s probably the best way for his Hawks career to end.

Previous Player Reviews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Collin Delia

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Henri Jokiharju

Gustav Forsling

Erik Gustafsson

Carl Dahlstrom

Brendan Perlini

Alex DeBrincat

Everything Else

Don’t get me wrong, it’s more fun to watch the Hawks win than to watch them lose, but while these last two games may be some point of pride for the players, it’s in a way even more frustrating to see them beat better teams when it no longer matters. If they just got their ass kicked we could shrug and say yeah, this is where we’re at. Maybe it would help their draft position in some small way. But when they manage to do something like score five on a really hot goalie while only giving up one, it rubs salt in the wound remembering how they couldn’t do this in the key moments when it mattered. Fuck it all, let’s do the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

– Tonight was really a showcase in not-giving-a-shit, in many different ways. But how could that be, you wonder? The Hawks scored five goals…how could they not give a shit? Well, when the first period ended neither team had shots in double-digits. Both teams were playing, shall we say, leisurely, and even the refs didn’t give a shit enough to call a penalty shot on a clear take-down of Gustafsson on a break-away. You would think the Stars would have wanted to make at least a half-assed effort, but with a couple notable exceptions like John Klingberg robbing Alex DeBrincat (legally) on yet another breakaway, they really couldn’t be bothered.

– But yes, the Hawks did score five goals, so there’s a feather in our cap. Kane has a career-high in points and now 44 goals, Kahun scored off a great play by Brandon Saad in the second when Saad made a great move at the blue line and drove to the net where Kahun picked up the rebound, hell even Slater Koekkoek got his very first goal. Dylan Sikura must be pissed. Chris Kunitz also scored in what is most likely his last game as an NHL player, or if not his absolute last, the last one in a home rink. I’ve been bored and mildly annoyed with the fuss they’ve made for him even though yes, I get it, it’s the right thing to do. But I will say it was rather touching how genuinely excited his teammates were when his weird, fluky bounce was deemed to have just barely crossed the goal line. So good for him, now Chris Kunitz please go away.

– Can we all just take a moment to reflect on the scoring capability that’s on this team and yet the fact that they’re missing the playoffs again? I know we’ve all beaten this dead horse—I know you’ve thought about it and we’ve all marveled at how shitty a defense can be, how inexplicable some personnel decisions have been…all of it. But god damn it, games like this throw into harsh relief the absurdity of such talent and career years by Kane and Toews being wasted.

– And just to make things worse, Corey Crawford sustained a groin injury and left the game in the second period. Yeah, he’s got plenty of time to recover and a muscular injury is definitely less worrisome than another head injury. But this guy doesn’t need any more shit breaking or going awry, even if he’s got six months to heal. He most likely pulled it when moving left to right on a brilliant save in the first, but you could tell he was struggling when he got back up. So that’s just one more kick in the collective ass for this season and one more roadblock for someone who doesn’t deserve the hand he’s been dealt with this team lately.

– Speaking of goalie problems, Anton Khudobin came into this game with a .926 SV% and somehow managed to barf up an .813. Part of this was undoubtedly his defense not giving a rat’s ass—case in point, the first goal when Dowling kinda sorta attempted to block a shot and the rest of the Stars literally skated the opposite way of Kane and the puck, making it easier than it already is for him. Also, there was some bad luck for the Stars like when the puck deflected off Reverend Lovejoy’s skate and right onto Dylan Strome‘s stick, who happened to be all alone in front of the crease and just held onto it long enough to get Khudobin moving the wrong way. So it wasn’t that Khudobin just fucked up royally, but he still should have had at least a couple of these.

So that’s the end of things on Madison St. this season. They didn’t go down like bitches in front of the fans for the last time, which I suppose is a nice gesture. But it grinds my gears one more time that only when there’s no pressure could they rise to the occasion and play a well-rounded game. Pullega will be here tomorrow night to bring it all home for you. Onward and upward indeed.

Photo credit: NHL.com

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Devils 21-27-8   Hawks 23-25-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

MR. MEPHASTOPHELES PLEASE: In Lou We Trust

We used to have a joke in my family, it was as old as I was. I think it sprang from my father and brother doing college visits on the East Coast and having to spend some time in New Jersey (a fate worse than death). Anyway, they came up with this thing where no matter what you’re talking about, if someone from New Jersey overheard you they would proclaim that whatever you were talking about was the best in New Jersey. “Hockey in Jersey? It’s da best!” “Pizza? The pizza in Jersey? It’s da best!” “Lighting your ass-hair on fire in Jersey? It’s da best!”

As I’ve gotten older and actually had my own experiences of meeting New Jersey natives, I can tell you this is absolutely true. Anyway, I tell you this story because there’s absolutely nothing about this game tonight that makes it stand out in any way. These are two bad teams hurling at each other for no reason other than they are scheduled to do so, though they will both claim otherwise. And in the Devils’ case, they’re missing a good portion of what wasn’t an impressive bunch to begin with. Anyway. let’s rummage through the rubble.

We’ll start with the Hawks. Chris Kunitz will play his 1,000th game, which I guess is the headline. The Hawks will give him a pregame ceremony, which is nice and necessary because 1,000 games is a landmark and all. But it feels like this duty just fell on them instead of being a shared experience. They signed Kunitz and then a day or two later someone in the front office said, “Oh shit, he’s going to play his 1,000th game here. Guess we’ll have to do something for that, huh?” And then everyone just kind of nodded and went about their day. He’ll replace Brendan Perlini, who is running out of time to blow our skirt up. Soon our skirt will just be fight-strapped to our legs when it comes to Perlini. That’s some metaphor work, huh?

Elsewhere, Slater Koekkoek comes back in to save us from the chore of having to watch Gustav Forsling for a night. This is the hockey abyss. Cam Ward starts.

To the Devils, who are sitting just above the Senators in the East and seem intent on pile-driving themselves lower. They are beat up, as Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Miles Wood (not a pornstar), Blay Coleman (or Blake Olman, or Blake Coleman, it doesn’t really matter which) are all missing tonight. Without Hall, this is a lineup of whosits and whatsits aside from Nico Hischier and King Of Who Gives A Shit Style Kyle Palmieri, who has tossed another 24 goals into a pit of anonymity. There’s just not much going on here.

Both Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider have returned from injury, sending Lord Blackwood to the AHL again, but neither have them have returned to being good. Kinkaid just gave up eight to the Blues on Tuesday, and Schneider has been swatting and imaginary butterflies for at least two seasons. Now you know the big reason the Devils are where they are.

All that said, none of this has kept the Devils from slapping the Hawks around in their last three meetings, including last month in the swamp. The Hawks simply have not been able to live with the Devils speed, which even without Hall, Wood, and Coleman they still have a lot of. And the Devils use it, simply getting up the ice with banks off the glass or chips out of the zone to streaking forwards, ignoring all the tiki-taka shit the Hawks are still insistent on using to exit their zone. And because the Hawks defense is also balloon-handed as well as slow, the Devils have also forechecked them into psychosis. That will be the plan tonight. So maybe the Hawks adjust and try some of their shit, just get it out and get it up. But we keep saying that.

“Bad hockey teams from Jersey? It’s da best!”

 

Game #58 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Here in the middle of the NHL All-Star Break, I find myself in a familiar place as last year – we’re 51 games into the Blackhawks’ season, and I’m about to talk about how they should probably tank. No, really, click this link and I literally wrote about the tank last year at the same 51 game mark. Funny how these things have a way of, erm, working out. At least I get another chance to use that ridiculous photoshop I made last year.

When I did this last year, I was basically contemplating an impossible. The Blackhawks were probably a bit too far out of the running for last place to make a true run at it, and even then they ended the season with the 7th-best lottery odds and actually ended up getting jumped and ended up picking 8th. They did address the main need area of the blue line with their pick of Adam Boqvist, and his ceiling appears to be rather high.

This year, the potential for “tanking” is much higher, because the Hawks are a measly two points ahead of the last place tie between the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils. The problem is there are five other teams who can make that claim as well, and three others that are only six points ahead of the Sens/Devils. That being said, our local idiots have played at least one more game than every other team below them in the standings, and three more than the Devils (who boatraced them last week, lest we forget), so the case for them being the worst team in the league and the front runner for the last place sweepstakes is not a hard one to make, though Detroit has a case as well considering they’re tied with the Hawks through 51 games played themselves.

The situation is eerily similar to last year as well. If I wrote the following today, it would still apply , but I assure you that this cut and paste from the article referenced above:

The Crawford situation has become a lose-lose for the Blackhawks. Crow’s health is obviously the most important thing, and you don’t want to rush him back and risk anything going wrong in the future because he is going to be the key to this team contending in the years to come. And we’re seeing how well things are going without him – you have two dudes who never spent significant time in the NHL trying each game to not play as bad as they did last game. So you don’t want to rush Crow back, but without him you’re up shit’s creek without a paddle.

Then you also have the question of whether Crawford coming back this year at all is really even worth it, even if you don’t rush it. We’ve already seen reports that he might miss the whole season, so it may not be a stretch to say that the Hawks bringing him back at all could be a form of rushing him back. And even if he does come back and squeeze you into a playoff spot, is it really going to be worth playing those extra games just to more than likely get bounced by Nashville or God forbid WINNIPEG? Even if your draft lottery odds are the longest shot, that’s better chance at the apparently generational talent of Rasmus Dahlin than zero.

Clearly Rasmus Dahlin is not available this year, but insert Jack Hughes – or Kaapo Kakko if that’s your fancy – in for him (and maybe remove generational, cuz Hughes is good but certainly no McDavid/Eichel/Matthews) and it’s current. The Hawks are in a really nasty spot with Crawford and it’s arguably worse this year than it was last year, because now we’re in round two of a serious concussion problem. He’s been skating already so there’s a decent chance he returns, but as the podcast crew talked about this week he probably isn’t giving you anything more than half of the remaining games if he does come back, and even then he hasn’t had the kind of season that would see him carry them back into the playoff hunt.

Who has that kind of season is Collin Delia, who’s posted a .923 save percentage in his 10 games this year, doing so behind a defense so bad that even with that impressive save rate he still has a 3.oo GAA. If Delia proves to ultimately be a franchise goalie, then him de-railing any kind of last place finish race would definitely be okay by me. That being said, we probably won’t really know quite yet if he is a franchise goalie, even if he does help them go on some kind of run and keeps them well out of last place this year. So that’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice for us in the pro-tank crowd – do we prefer the potential franchise goalie plays bad to help secure a franchise 1C, or do we prefer Delia ruin our chances at a franchise 1C even if he won’t ultimately be a franchise goalie? If you have a firm answer to that, I envy you.

Further complicating things is the simple fact that you can’t coach a team to tank – though Coach Cool Youth Pastor running this man-to-man system with a roster not nearly fast enough to do it properly is about as close to doing so you’ll find. Despite the system, Colliton can’t convince Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or Alex DeBrincat to stop being extremely good at hockey, and he certainly can’t tell anyone else not to try. Even if most of these players are not long for the roster if this franchise is going to return to competing, they’re still auditioning for NHL jobs either here or elsewhere and they owe it to themselves to play well. On top of that, a lot of this team is young and we still need to see what we have in them – Dylan Strome, Henri Jokiharju, and Delia are all examples of this. So we need them at their best.

So it comes down to if Stan Bowman is going to ultimately admit that everything he and McD have tried to force feed us this year about this team competing was just a bunch of bullshit. It’s kind of started already, but they’ll never come out and explicitly say “actually this roster sucks ass and we wanted it this way,” and they certainly won’t cop to signing shitty players in an effort to give Joel Quenneville enough rope to hang himself – which, based on what we’ve seem from this team since Q was fired in favor of CCYP, he didn’t even truly manage to do.

And if Bowman does decide to that he’s going to sell off what he can in order to maximize lottery odds, what does he really have to sell? Do you really think shipping Erik Gustafsson out of here is going to be the final straw that bottoms out this team? Has Chris Kunitz really brought enough to the table for this team to such when he leaves (the answer is no, they’ll actually get better with that)? If you can even convince Cam Ward to leave, and convince some team to take him, does that make the Hawks chances of winning the games he would’ve played that much higher?

So yeah – personally I think that tanking, in whatever form the Hawks might be able to do so, is the best way forward for this year’s Hawks. They have a decent crop of forwards locked up for the future, but there’s no 1C of the future here, so Jack Hughes is more than welcome. Even if you end up with Kakko, that’s an improvement for the future and he might even wind up as this year’s Patrick Laine.

The thing is, like last year, there is no clear and obvious way to go about “tanking” that really results in a tank, because outside of the unrealistic Kane trade that Rose talked about on Wednesday, you’re not shipping out much talent worth anything. So, like last year, we’re almost stuck hoping that the team ends up bad enough – and the teams below them string enough wins together – to have the Hawks end up with the highest possible lottery chances, and then we again hope and pray for the ping pong balls to favor us. It’s – still – the good ol’ hockey game.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Flames 26-13-4 (1st in Pacific)   Hawks 16-21-7 (6th in Central)

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY’S: FlamesNation.ca

It’s a cruel world, this NHL. After the Hawks played what was maybe their best game of the season in Pittsburgh last night, outplaying the hottest team in the league, their reward is to wheel it back out there again tonight against another first-placed team who has been waiting for them. And one that’s already beaten them twice this season. It ain’t all waitin’ on you, as Sheriff Tom Bell’s brother told him at the end of No Country For Old Men. 

All seems pretty right in the world for the Calgary Flames, who are at least almost all of the way pivoted to David Rittich in goal, which was their biggest issue. The top line has gone absolutely bonkers, with all of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR….) Lindholm in the top-20 in scoring in the league. Matthew Tkachuk is having quite the free agent hear with 49 points his own damn self from the second line, where Mikael Backlund continues to beat anyone about the head and face possession-wise. They even get contributions from the bottom-six, even if James Neal will soon require a Hazmat treatment to be around.

The defense is the real key, where Mark Giordano‘s normal Norris-worthy year has been joined by a rebound from T.J. Brodie, and a bigger rebound from Travis Hamonic on the second-pairing. They’re even letting child Rasmus Andersson freewheel on the third-pairing, and he’s got wheels for days (and you got ass for weeks yeah yeah yeah).

Earlier in the year, the Flames were having defensive issues, even with that personnel. That seems to have cleared up a little, as only the Sharks give up less attempts per game at evens, and they’ve improved to middle of the pack in xGA/60 from near the bottom where they were. Any middling goals-against numbers are mostly the result of having Mike Smith and his arms that don’t work on the roster, and insisting on playing him any other time than when Rittich has the plague. As with most Bill Peters led teams, their metrics are glowing and this all appears to be real.

Whether the Flames can negotiate their way far in the spring depends on if Rittich is the real deal when it really counts, and if they can finish top of the division. Do that, and you only have to beat one of the Knights or Sharks to get to the West final. Don’t and you have to go through both, and that’s going to be a real trick.

As for the Hawks, they’ll turn to Collin Delia tonight, and you’d have to imagine given the Flames firepower he’s going to be awfully busy. In his limited NHL experience, this is about as good of an offense he’s seen, barring the uncaring Jets at the end of last season. Sure, the Avs have their top line but the Flames have that and then more. So this will be an interesting test, especially behind a tired team.

Shouldn’t be any other changes. Would expect Chris Kunitz to stay in the lineup after not being a toxic waste dump last night. Henri Jokiharju did fly back to Chicago last night and could play but I think Wednesday is more likely. They’d want at least one practice or morning skate, if only to figure out where exactly he slots. But you never know. Other than that, Drake Caggiula makes his home debut.

If the Hawks are going to get anything out of this one, they’ll need the special teams just like they did last night. The Flames aren’t a great PK team, and their power play is not as good as you’d think given what they have on it. A power play goal or two are close to a requirement.

 

Game #45 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

There’s probably nothing that will completely take the sting of today’s Bears game away for diehards, but the Hawks sure did their damnedest anyway. They continue what’s been a surprisingly comical dominance of the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning their 10th straight against them since 2014. And they did it on the backs of Cam Ward and Chris Kunitz. Fucking strap in.

– Every time Colliton starts Cam Ward, I want to lose my ass entirely. I usually do. But in four of his last five, Cam Ward has looked at the very least solid. Tonight was no different. It’d be hard to pin the first two goals on him. The first resulted from Toews losing his man in front while Murphy and Dahlstrom covered theirs. On the second, Keith and Anisimov got caught ogling Bryan Rust in the corner, leaving Guentzel all the space in the world to leak one past Ward off Letang’s point shot. The third goal he probably should have had. But 31 saves on 34 shots against the hottest team in the league—which also had an extended 5-on-3—ought to get you the win, and tonight it did. Ward played well.

– When Chris Kunitz and Duncan Keith both score game-tying goals in the same game, it’s probably wise to check to see which direction the screaming wind that will claim our souls is blowing from. But here we stand, alive and relatively well, following these signs of the apocalypse. Kunitz’s goal came off a slick Dahlstrom stretch pass to Kruger on the far boards. Kruger then backhanded it to a streaking Kunitz, who potted it over Casey “I’m a good guy according to a bunch of stupid jackoffs on Twitter” DeSmith’s dumbass glove. Anyone who gives up a goal to 39-year-old Chris Kunitz is automatically not a good guy. I don’t make the rules (yes, I do).

Keith’s goal was a simple snap shot from the point off a Seabrook pass. It’s been so long since we’ve seen this happen that I was certain they’d wave it off out of principle. While Keith’s goal doesn’t entirely make up for the fact that he had a dogshit game outside of it, it helps. It’s still a nightmare watching him get beat to his spots night in and night out. Tonight though, you’ll take the good with the bad.

– Speaking of good, the power play is good now. Write it down, you heard it here first officially. The Hawks scored much the same way they have been on the power play since Colliton’s actual genius brain put the current PP1 together: Toews roamed in the middle, forcing the PK to turtle into him, giving Gus, Kane, and DeBrincat more room to wreak havoc. Kane’s pass to DeBrincat was art that appreciates over time, and this is just what the PP does now.

– After a slow start, Garbage Dick came to life. First on the power play, then on the game winner, which came after extended pressure from the power play. On both goals, Kane slipped a pass from the far circle, though the slot, to a waiting Hawk. In the second case, Dylan Strome didn’t have to do much but tap it in. This is the pass Garbage Dick almost always looks for, but with the way Colliton is drawing plays up, there’s more room to work with.

– The Penguins have a Top 5 power play in the league. The Hawks killed off all of their attempts, including an extended 5-on-3 that saw Ward make several outstanding saves. The Hawks also had a 51+ CF% overall. You might say the win was a fluke, but none of the underlying numbers really suggest that. The Hawks just straight-up beat the hottest team in the league.

– In the grand scheme, Brandon Davidson probably isn’t an answer to any question you’re asking besides “Who’s that one guy who kind of sucked for the Hawks in 2018–19 who missed 25 games due to knee surgery?” But after tonight, maybe you let Forsling spend some more time in the press box with his “upper torso injury” (MORE LIKE LACK OF HEART, MY FRENTS). He and Brent Seabrook led all Hawks in CF% tonight, with a 53+ and 56+, respectively. Because fuck anything that makes sense.

– There’s no reason Dylan Sikura should be in the AHL while Artem Anisimov gets to do anything other than not play NHL hockey. Fuck the contract and whatever other excuse you want to make for Wide Dick, he unequivocally sucks. He brought up the rear in possession with a putrid 34+. The next closest was Garbage Dick with 40+, but guess who didn’t make two assists on game-changing goals? Just fucking offer him for Darnell Nurse at this point. What’s Chiarelli gonna do, say “No, that’s not a good trade for me” for the first time in his entire life? I know he has an NMC or NTC or whatever, so if you can’t get rid of him, just bench him. Sunk cost.

Folks, this is not a drill: The Blackhawks are only six points out of a playoff spot, because parity is fake, the NHL is a vile urinal, and they’ve played a few more games than everyone else just about. Regardless of where they finish, there’s hope for this team yet, and that’s before you truly incorporate guys like Boqvist, Jokiharju, Mitchell, Beaudin et al.

It may not make the hurt of this year or today’s Bears game go away, but it’s something to build on.

Booze du Jour: Tin Cup & High Life

Line of the Night: “The Blackhawks are within striking distance of the playoffs.” – Kathryn Tappen

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 15-21-7   Penguins 23-12-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

MUNCHIN’ ON A JOE, DICK, AND STANLEY: Pensburgh

While it’s easy to look at the Kings and Hawks, two recent main forces in the NHL, falling on hard times, throw your hands up and say, “Well, that’s just the price of being good for a while,” the Penguins keep putting their thumb in that eye. And when it looked like the Pens would join the Hawks and Kings in the has-been room, they go and ruin it all by doing something stupid like ripping off 10 of 11 since the last time these two met. That has seen them tied atop the Metro division again, with the Capitals, and we’re going to do this dance forever.

It’s not much of a secret how the Penguins managed it. Matt Murray came back from the wilderness and hasn’t lost. Since that Hawks game that he missed, Murray has gone 7-0-0 while giving up just nine goals. Casey DeSmith, despite being a woman-beating dickhead, has backed him up ably, and hence it’s nearly impossible to score more than one or two against the Penguins of late. You can win a lot of games like that.

At the opposite end. having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sure helps. Crosby has gone off for 29 points in his last 17 games, taking Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust–he of the hat trick the last time we saw the Pens–along with him. Phil Kessel has returned to the third line, though his combo with Derick Brassard has been just short of a disaster. That’s almost all Brassard’s fault, who has just not fit in The Steel City at all, at least not at center. Kris Letang is also molten-hot, and he’s basically all their drive from the back end as the bottom two pairings are a lot of construction horses in the form of Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak, and Jack Johnson (he the name you know).

Given the state of the Metro, there’s little reason the Penguins can’t get back to a conference final, and if Murray is going to be like this then they could go farther. Obviously he’ll have to be that level to get past the Lightning. But a goalie and star power is just about all you need to make a run in the NHL. The Penguins have both right now in spades.

To the Hawks, Cam Ward will take tonight’s start with Collin Delia going at home against the Flames tomorrow. So duck. Drake Caggiula will make his Hawks debut tonight on the fourth line, which is where he should be. His inclusion led to the demotion of Dylan Sikura, which makes us make a frowny face. Though Sikura hadn’t scored, his metrics were really good, he’d showed and understanding with Alex DeBrincat, and Brendan Perlini just doesn’t have the same dash. But whatever, he’ll probably be back soon. Chris Kunitz seems to be drawing back in in a place where he played, throwing a useless veteran a bone for reasons we wouldn’t understand and don’t want to hear. Henri Jokiharju would likely be back tomorrow, no later than Wednesday for sure.

This is not the time to be playing the Penguins, and especially at the Not-Igloo where they will get their matchups and will harass a Hawks defense that simply can’t escape its own zone. That three-pass bullshit the Hawks still insist on using to breakout will get them slaughtered tonight, so they need to play the Pens game and get it the fuck out and get it the fuck up the ice. Otherwise the Penguins loaded forward corps is going to go nuts. If the Hawks do that, it should be at least a fast, entertaining one. Until Cam Ward melts from the inside.

 

Game #44 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

 

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

At least the Colliton Era already has a familiar pattern.

Once again, the Hawks were the better team in the first period. They had the better chances, they looked faster and more creative than they have for most of the season, and yet they couldn’t solve a goalie who for the most part has struggled for a while. And then a defensive miscue causes them to fall behind. They don’t panic, but can’t scratch one out. At least it didn’t all fall apart like Thursday. Progress?

But then two veterans completely shit it on a power play, including some really questionable effort, and now you’re down two. The Hawks couldn’t crack a Flyers team that could then just sit back and wait, because they don’t have enough of those players. You know where it goes from there.

Let’s sort it out.

The Two Obs

-Let’s start with Duncan Keith. In the first period, the broadcast was all gaga about his “activity,” which pretty much amounted to impersonating that shortstop on your little league team who chased down every ball, even if it was deep in the outfield. And while activity looks nice, there’s a problem.

It’s not what supposed to be happening.

The main reason Henri Jokiharju was paired with Keith, other than there being no one else really and his veteran tutelage, was to take that part of the game off of Keith’s plate. Keith simply can’t be all over the ice anymore, he can’t be jumping into the play because he can’t get back, and he wasn’t that good at it anyway. As he settles into the sunset years of his career, a free safety role where his still useful mobility would be better suited is what’s on the menu. It’s Jokiharju the Hawks want jumping into the play. They want him making those passes and taking those shots. That’s where his game is. He’s not going to develop by having to catch all the fly balls Keith loses in the sun behind him. If Keith can’t, or won’t, reel it in, then there’s going to have to be another solution. This is part of the reason HarJu is drowning in his own zone. He’s there on his own a lot. And when his instincts to be aggressive come up, he’s finding his partner already there.

As for the first goal, yeah it’s a bad turnover, and a symptom of the Hawks still trying to do the things they used to. But still, when Keith does look, Anisimov is in that circle. Anisimov then proceeds to just float backwards toward the blue line, letting Giroux in front of him, for no discernible reason. Keith is under pressure and facing the boards, how’s he going to get that puck to you at the line, Arty? If you want to know why Anisimov’s possession and defensive numbers blow, there you go.

-Now to the second goal. Keith biffs a puck, admittedly rolling, at the blue line, letting Couturier in. And then Chris Kunitz…well I’m not sure what the verb is here. Blobs on Coots? Attempts to confuse him with his taco breath? Whispers in his ear about the emptiness and meaningless of life in an attempt to get Coots to be buried in ennui? I can’t tell.

I’m not going to rant and rave about him being on the power play at all, though I want to. With Saad out and the first unit loaded up, the alternatives are like Kahun, Fortin, and….well, you. So whatever. But if that’s the best effort that Kunitz can muster, to be shrugged off that easily, then he’s not an NHL player anymore and should be on waivers tomorrow. If he didn’t bother to do more, well that’s some veteran presence you’ve got there.

-Every time David Kampf, who does have use, makes a move at the offensive blue line to put his teammates offside, he should have to spend five minutes with a weasel in his pants.

-The third goal is mostly unlucky, except for the part where Jan Rutta is hesitant, takes a shit angle, and gets beat to the outside. Otherwise there isn’t even a shot to bounce off Crow and Manning to go in. Ain’t no coach going to do anything with Jan Rutta or Manning or Davidson. Too bad Connor Murphy is dead.

-At least Crow looked more like Crow than he has in weeks.

-A word on the broadcast. First, the barely concealed contempt Foley and Olczyk have for Barry Smith during that interview is excellent television.

We went through this last year. I know this team is a tough watch, but Pat and Eddie are getting paid a fair sum to be professional about it. I don’t need them to agree with the firing, I really won’t argue with anyone who does. But it’s not their job to sit around and lament it two games later. To make it clear how miserable you are having to broadcast this team. No, it wasn’t a great game today, but the mark of a broadcaster is what you do with the bad games. We’re all wondering what we’re doing here, but it doesn’t help when the broadcast of the game sounds like they’re narrating a trip to the DMV. Do better.

Onwards…

Everything Else

With only the second line having any kind of predictability, there looks to be a lot of open space for the younger crop of players in the bottom six. One of the more intriguing options is the massive Victor Ejdsell, who came over in the Hartman trade last year. Though he’s not likely to serve as a savior for anyone, he’s young, large, and has a big shot, so at least he’s something to look forward to.

2017–18 Stats

6 GP – 0 G, 1 A

43.3 CF%, 60.0 oZS%

Avg. TOI 13:19

A Brief History: Ejdsell is a curious combination of size and skill rarely seen around these parts. When Nashville shipped him over, his 6’5”, 214 lb. frame screamed, “Annette Frontpresence!” But Ejdsell, for all his largeness, has never been a plop-in-front-of-the-net guy. He came up at the end of the year for a cup of coffee, and outside of a surprisingly strong first game, which found him centering Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, he looked lost and timid playing primarily between Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Sikura in his final five games with the big club.

Last year’s AHL playoffs is where Ejdsell shined, though. In 13 games, he scored 12 points (seven goals, five assists), including two series-clinching goals against the Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose. The biggest question mark on Ejdsell’s ledger was whether he could skate in stride, both based on his size and adjustment from the larger European ice. According to Jon Fromi, he never looked lost on the ice in terms of skating while with the IceHogs. Coupled with his booming shot and strong on-ice vision, Ejdsell has potential to come into his own this year.

The question will be where can Ejdsell play? He came over as a center, but there’s a bit of a logjam for the Hawks at center, and that’s not necessarily because of depth. With Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov, and Marcus Kruger all pretty much chiseled in as your centers, there’s not much Ejdsell can provide there (read: he won’t have an opportunity to provide there).

Fortunately, between the AHL playoffs, training camp, and preseason, Ejdsell has found himself on the wing more often, which likely will suit a man of his significant carriage more fittingly. Whereas the scouting report has often said that Ejdsell projects as a playmaker, given the heat on his wrist shot, he might find additional success pounding shots off of passes rather than making passes himself. Moving Ejdsell to the wing can also cover a bit for any holes in his skating and defense, which he projects to have based solely on his size and inexperience.

It Was the Best of Times: Best-case scenario sees Ejdsell blossom not as simply a winger but as a winger on his off-wing. A workable combination of DeBrincat–Toews–Ejdsell brings a ton of scoring potential to the de facto top line. For this to happen is to expect probably too much from Ejdsell. Because he’s not a crash-the-net type, Ejdsell would be responsible for making plays while Toews went to get the puck below the goal line. You’d also need to expect Ejdsell to improve on his backchecking skills, which might also be asking too much based on the fact that he’s probably never going to be anything more than an average skater.

But if everything went perfectly, a combination of Ejdsell’s instinctive playmaking abilities, big shot, and talented linemates could make Ejdsell a dangerous wild card on the top line. It would also solve the “Toews needs to score more” problem, since that onus would fall mostly on DeBrincat as a sniper and Ejdsell as a playmaker/shot pounder, leaving Toews to take the Marian Hossa two-way player responsibilities.

Finally, Ejdsell steps up as a key contributor on the power play. He found time on the PP in the AHL and did decently, and he parlays that potential into success on the second unit with Erik Gustafsson.

It Was the BLURST of Times: Ejdsell doesn’t make the team at all because his skating simply isn’t up to snuff. This would mean he would have to be a worse skater than Anisimov, which is almost inconceivable. He toils in the AHL all year and can never put it together. This opens the door for a third line of Kunitz–Anisimov–Andreas Martinsen, which is not a line that teams that make the playoffs have.

Prediction: Ejdsell breaks camp as a third-line winger next to Anisimov and Sikura. When Quenneville finally comes to terms with the fact that Chris Kunitz is not a first liner, Ejdsell gets a shot next to Toews and DeBrincat. He becomes a 15-goal scorer, three of which come on the power play with Gustafsson and Kane, and works well as a setup man for DeBrincat, racking up 40–45 points on the year. His defense is never outstanding, but it gradually improves as he learns his angles and how to use his length as a weapon when he feet aren’t up to the task.

I’m bullish on Ejdsell’s ability to take the leap forward this year. But I think that unlocking Ejdsell’s potential is tied to playing him on the RW with DeBrincat on LW, because as teams realize that they have to focus on DeBrincat’s ability to snipe, it will leave Ejdsell with more space to capitalize on his hard shot, especially his wrister. Playing Ejdsell on the right side will open up those shot opportunities nicely.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Brandon Manning

Jan Rutta

Erik Gustafsson

Henri Jokiharju

Nick Schmaltz

Alex DeBrincat

Chris Kunitz

Artem Anisimov

Marcus Kruger

Everything Else

Kruger is only one season removed from being the firefighter you remember here, and we know that Q knows exactly what he is. Let’s say he’s an improvement on David Kampf. And he only has one year on his deal, so if he’s another charred remains of a beloved warrior of victories past, well whatever. . . . At this point in his career if Kruger matters too much you’re fucking sunk.Sam Fels, July 12, 2018.

Well shit.