Hockey

I was hoping for at least one Hawks win this weekend, but that became too much to ask when the team flubbed it against the Blue Jackets Thursday night. Once again a lack of offense, a powerplay sucking at loud, and Patrick Kane not giving a shit in February did the Hawks in. Recap time, I guess.

2/17
Hawks 4, Blue Jackets 7
Box
Natural Stat Trick

On the front end of a back-to-back and with the Blue Jackets being one of the more terrible teams in the league, it was time for Fleury to take a seat in favor of young goaltender Arvid Soderblom. He was able to stop an onslaught of chances from the Jackets in the first seven minutes of the game, but unfortunately he showed his greenness when he gave up a goal on a rebound thanks to a Blue Jackets powerplay opportunity. And then a second goal just seconds later (shoutout to the horrific Erik Gustafsson giveaway that could’ve been prevented). He gave up five more goals, including a Patrik Laine hat trick, before the game was over. A flurry of them were his own fault, though many were the result of the Hawks being incredibly lazy when it came to defending their own zone.

The Hawks got goals from Philipp Kurashev, Ryan Carpenter, Mackenzie Entwhistle, and The Cat (most offensive-minded players were taking the night off). But the real story that came from this game is what the future of the goaltending for this team should be. No way Fleury stays, and it’s become incredibly clear the Hawks can’t trot out Lankinen and Soderblom or whoever as the starters next year. (Lankinen’s contract ends this season anyway.) You’d think they’d be on the market for a goaltender, but then you look at the 2022 free agents available and…well, ah jeez.

2/18
Blackhawks 0, Stars 1 (Stars Win Absolute Snoozefest)
Box
Natural Stat Trick

The morning of this game, the Hawks announced a flurry of roster moves. Fearless leader Jonathan Toews, although spotted Friday morning at the optional practice and on the ice, was placed on IR retroactive to his head injury on Jan. 26 and The Only Sure-Fire Prospect in the Entire Organization Lukas Reichel was called up yet again for the Hawks and placed right on the top line with Kane and Hagel.

Reichel’s game wasn’t terrible for his 3rd NHL game; he was hustling, winning board battles and generating chances in the 1st period before getting rocked over the visiting boards and getting himself stripped of the puck by Alex Radulov of all people in the 2nd. The Hawks had a surprisingly high CF% in the 1st period at over 70%, and Kane’s give-a-shit meter even seemed to be up higher than usual for the entire 1st period before things seemed to drop off for him. The Cat’s defensive skills were also great to see, as he kept pucks in and set up plays for Strome and Kubalik.

Unfortunately, none of these chances ended up in any goals scored, which is more of the usual for this team despite the “burst” of offense we saw from them the night before. And even though they had some good chances at the end of the game, the Hawks don’t have any finishing power and were lucky to pick up a point at all. It was mostly because of the heroics from Fleury in net—what else is new?

After an entertaining overtime and six rounds of a shootout, Jason Peterson won it for the Stars, despite Fleury doing all he could to drag this team to a win. Maybe you shouldn’t choose Jake McCabe in a shootout situation? Just a thought.

2/20
Hawks 2, Panthers 5
Box
Natural Stat Trick

Despite starting out horrifically with Kirby Dach allowing a Panthers breakaway seconds into the game because he didn’t have his stick on the ice, the 1st period saw the Hawks outshoot and out-posses the Panthers 8-3 and 66%-33%. Although the Panthers struck first on only their 3rd shot of the game thanks in part to Patrick Kane not feeling like playing defense, Kane decided to make up for it with just a few seconds left in the period by scoring from below the goal line, the puck bouncing off the back of Sergei Bobrovksy and into the back of the net.

The Panthers must’ve gotten absolutely and rightfully berated during the 1st intermission, because the 2nd period was much more what we expected out of both the Hawks and the Panthers. With the Panthers dominating the possession game, they were able to take the lead thanks to a shot from the blueline in which Fleury was screened by both Seth Jones and Calvin de Haan together. Sam Lafferty had a similarly Laff-able period, filled with multiple turnovers and a missed shot on a wide-open net.

It didn’t take long for the Panthers to get their commanding 3-1 lead thanks in part once again to Dach tipping the puck in past Fleury with his own stick. (This will certainly be a game Dach will want to forget as much as we will.) Fleury made as many saves as he could in the 3rd to keep the Hawks in it, and he had some help from a coach’s challenge to keep it 3-1 in the 3rd, and a surprise goal from Amy’s Youngest made the game seem close for a minute or so. But then two empty-net goals at the end of the period cemented the Hawks’ fate. This outcome is about what we expected, especially considering the Panthers are the NHL’s top offensive team and the Hawks are…well, basement-tier.

My parting words for the weekend? Fuck Radko Gudas.

Hockey

Pardon the title of the preview, but I watched Get Back on Disney Plus the other day and have been listening to Beatles tracks ever since. Anyways, the Hawks played as expected the past 3 games since coming back from their extended Xmas Vacation, getting smoked in all facets in the Nashville and Calgary games and then playing a solid 58 minutes against Colorado but ultimately falling to a simply disgusting Makar OT goal.

What is becoming clearer by the minute is that the Blackhawks are desperately short on skaters that can finish off their shots. Outside of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat (who is shooting absolutely lights out at a 19% rate, and will eventually come back down to earth) the cupboard is bare at the NHL level. This was never more apparent when Kirby Dach got run down in the 2 on 1 in the 3rd period against the Avs. Ultimately this will result in more of the same for the Hawks, making it only so far in games as Marc Andre Fleury can carry them and hoping Kane and Cat are able to pot a few before the dam breaks.

Reading the tea leaves as to why Lukas Reichel hasn’t been called up from Rockford yet is a pretty clear statement from Kyle Davidson as to what he thinks of the Hawks chances going forward. Why waste a year on his rookie deal for half of a wasted season? While the analytical part of my lizard brain agrees with this, the hockey fan in me wants to see what this kid can do. It would at least give us something to write about other than “the Hawks sucked again,” which feels like what I was doing in 2017-18 covering the White Sox for this joint.

Anyways, here’s who’s next for the Hawks this week:

 

1/6 @ Coyotes

Game Time: 8:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Hockey Fans More Depressed Than Us: Five For Howling

 

If there were ever a salve for a hockey team that just had it’s ass lit on fire by 3 top tier teams, playing the Desert Dogs would be aloe vera. Not only are they constantly playing under the threat of being locked out of their own arena, the city they call home is actively trying to get them to leave. Not a very conductive work environment, and it shows. Sitting at or near the bottom in every advanced metric the internet could concieve of, the Coyotes are the A#1 team in contention for the first overall pick in the summer. While the Hawks are terrible in goal differential, the Yotes are taking it to an entirely new level with a -56 mark less than halfway through the season. To put that into perspective, the worst goal differential in 2018-19 for the whole SEASON was -64 (hello, Ottawa), so yeah. They’re bad.

There are some pieces that can be salvaged at the deadline for them, however. Professional Hot Dog Man Phil Kessel is here, and 3rd on the team with 21 points and entering his free agent season. Shayne Ghost Bear has one year left on his 4.5 million dollar deal and is producing nicely from the back end on the PP. Assbag Antoine Roussel is also here, and brings that idiotic element that teams so love to acquire for the playoff run. Nick Schmaltz is also here and has 6 points, so…I guess that’s one trade that Bowman actually won.

The only player worth talking about with a future in the organization is Clayton Keller. Drafted 1st overall in 2016, the Yotes handed him an 8 year, $57 million dollar extension last season. He’s rewarded them for doing so by being the team’s leader on the ice night in and night out. While he’s generously listed at 5′ 10″, Keller plays a much bigger game than you would expect, and has the type of finish that reminds you of Alex DeBrincat. More impressively he does most of his damage at even strength, as only 3 of his 21 points have come on the man advantage. If the Hawks D can keep a lid on him, the odds of picking up 2 points goes up exponentially.

 

1/8 @ Vegas

Game Time: 9:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Degenerates Unite: Sin Bin Las Vegas

 

After a very rough start to the season (7-8 in their first 15), the Knights have righted the ship and find themselves back atop the Pacific Division having gone past the surprising Ducks of Anaheim in the last week. Much of this is due to the Knights forwards finally remembering which end to shoot at. And boy do they shoot at it, because if the Knights don’t pot more than 3 goals a night it’s tough for them to win. After choosing Brain Genius Robin Lehner over MAF, the Knights GAA sits above 3.00 for the first time in their existence. As a team, the Knights have given up merely 2 more than the Hawks have (granted they’ve played 3 more games) and 37 more than conference leader Calgary.

The flip side of that is the Knights lead the West in scoring by a pretty large margin. Leading this charge is Washington castoff Chandler Stephenson who is tops on the team with 34 points. After him come the usual suspects in Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore and Mark Stone. The Knights can run 4 lines out there and have all of them score, and this is even before the eventual debut of ole Slinky Neck Jack Eichel. Take the over in this one.

 

1/11 @ Columbus

Game Time: 6:00 CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Did You Know Ohio State Is In Columbus?: Jackets Cannon

 

Another team slumming it at the bottom of the league statistically, the Blue Jackets are another opportunity for the Hawks to pick up some points on this Sherman-esque march to the sea. Columbus is very similar to the Hawks in terms of being unable to keep other teams from scoring, and only getting their own goals from very limited sources. The good thing for the Jackets is that all the goals they ARE getting are from the younger draft pick crowd. Alexandre Texier, Oilver Bjorkstrand and Zack Werenski are all going to be bright parts of the Jackets future. Even some of the “older” players like Boone Jenner and Gus Nyquist are still well South of 30, and could be a part of that future.

Boone Jenner currently leads the team with 11 goals, half of which come on the man advantage where he does most of his damage between the dots. Bjork Bjork Bjork leads the team with 23 total points, and is a lot of fun to watch with his combination of speed and hands. Also Jake Voracek is here.  In between the pipes is where the Jackets have issues, as their GAA over the last month and a half is North of 3.50. CBJ had brought up Daniil Tarasov up from the AHL to fill in for the broken (and terrible) Joonas Korpisalo, where he performed pretty admirably before leaving the game against Carolina with a lower body injury. Korpisalo is back now, and he’s been teaming with Elvis Merzlikins to be extra terrible. The Jackets have given up 7 goals in each of their last 2 games, and weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before that. This game seems like a good chance for Fleury to steal one for the Hawks, but again I’d still take the over.

 

Hockey

Game 1 Box Score / Game 2 Box Score

Game 1 Natural Stat Trick / Game 2 Natural Stat Trick

 

Here we have the first series of the young hockey season where the Hawks dominated most stats in the column and ended up not winning both games. If it were not for the efforts of Joonas Korpisalo in the first game stopping 31 of the 32 shots, the Hawks would’ve walked away with at least 3 if not 4 points in the series. Korpisalo stoned multiple Hawks in the 2nd and 3rd frame, most notably on the mini breakaway by Carl Soderberg. Ultimately there was a lot more to like than dislike about the Hawks effort in the series, and any progress has to be viewed in a positive light this season. Could Coach Smoothbrain be getting his message through? Perhaps…

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

-For the first time this entire season, the Hawks not only were able to avoid getting crushed in possession metrics, they were the ones doing the crushing. Game one they owned the CORSI by a 55% to 45% share, and 52% to 48% in the 2nd. As noted above, if it were not for the Herculean efforts of Korpisalo the first game would’ve ended quite a bit differently. There are times when CORSI doesn’t accurately depict what the flow of the game looked like, but this was not one of those times. The Hawks clearly had the edge in play for both games, and were the better team for long stretches.

-The powerplay is still nails, and was responsible for the only time the Hawks were able to dent Korpisalo’s armor in game one with a nifty roofed backhand by Strome. He’s definitely found a home being a pest in front of the other team’s netminder recently, and if his ceiling is “Thomas Holmstrom Lite,” I can totally get down with that.

-Nikita Zadorov on the PK is just…not good. He’s constantly leaving his spot down low to go look for HITZ and leaving his partner and goalie out to dry. The need to put a meathead out there like that because you “have to have that guy who can clear the front of the net” becomes utterly useless when he wont STAY BY THE FUCKING CREASE.

-In ice time news, Colliton has rolled out a new plan. That plan apparently involves giving Patrick Kane the kind of minutes that Duncan Keith would get 10 years ago. 27 total minutes without the game going into OT was insane in game one. I realize you’re chasing a goal in the 3rd, but if this continues Kane is going to burn out before the snow melts. Hopefully this is just a function of not having DeBrincat right now, because it’s not sustainable.

-As good as Korpisalo was in game 1, his timesharing partner Elvis Merzlikins (amazing name) was as bad. There wasn’t anything he could do about Kurashev’s sick tip in the first, but Tortorella is going to have a coronary if he keeps playing the puck so poorly behind the net. Pius Suter will take gifts like that all year long, I’m sure.

-In the opposite crease, Kevin Lankinen continues to be a pleasant surprise in net. He doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but he’s very positionally sound and has adjusted to the North American sheet of ice much quicker than I expected. Winning the puck possession battle in games will do wonders for his shot volume because once teams set up in the Hawks zone it’s difficult for them to be removed from it.

-Kurashev being on the top line with Kane is a good thing, and the CORSI bears that out as they carried a 59% share when they were on the ice. More please.

-Next up for the Hawks is the return of Our Sweet Boy Teuvo and the mostly COVID free Carolina Hurricanes. This is going to be the first real test for Lankinen as the Canes are a possession monster and pounce on every mistake teams make. Should be fun.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 16-17-6   Jackets 17-14-7

PUCK DROP: 4pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SNAPPING TURKS?: Jackets Cannon

For once, it won’t be the Hawks making the locals sad and despondent. The Hawks will head into a city-wide black veil in Columbus as the place mourns the death of another Ohio State season, because Columbus is creepy and weird and strangely southern and no one needs it. Some will try and ease their pain by watching the only pro team in town take on whatever it is the Hawks are these days.

It was supposed to be a disaster of a season for the Jackets. The departures of Mssrs. Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel, and Bobrovsky were supposed to leave them bereft of any identity, strip them of any goaltending, flatten out their offense, and leave them facing yet another rebuild for an organization that’s seen just a little too many of those. It hasn’t worked out that way quite yet. That’s because for all his self-celebratory bluster and nonsense this is probably where John Tortorella is at his best–getting the best and more out of an unheralded bunch. Recall his Rangers teams only really had star power in net, and yet they were frequent visitors to the later rounds of the playoffs.

It did come to fruition that the Jackets don’t score much, 26th in goals per game. But like a true Torts team, they defend well and are getting goaltending, mostly through blocking a fuck ton of shots. The Jackets are middling at best when it comes to attempts against per game, but in the top five when it comes to shots against. Hence their overall expected goals share is pretty good, especially for a team where you couldn’t pick their first line out of a crowd if they were all nude and painted blue.

The Jackets have also survived a raft of injuries, with Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, and Josh Anderson missing out today and Zack Werenski and a few others missing time earlier in the season. You know it’s bad when Nathan Gerbe is suiting up for your side.

The goaltending hasn’t crashed down around their ears like expected. The Jackets are getting top-ten SV% at evens, and Joonas Korpisalo is carrying a .913 overall. He’s been decent shorthanded as well, so that isn’t why the Jackets are currently out of the playoff spots, as their six points out of a wildcard and eight from an automatic spot.

It’s the lack of firing talent that’s keeping them back. Especially without Atkinson, who murders the Hawks with his speed and has done for far too long now, there just isn’t any top line scoring here. They may claim it’s supposed to be Pierre-Luc Dubois and his superfluous first name, but without Panarin he just hasn’t looked it. If Jones and Werenski aren’t filling the net on the power play as they did two years ago, they’re short of goals.

That doesn’t mean the Jackets won’t be a continued headache for the Hawks. They’re still filled with speed that works hard because they have to, and are coming off a win in DC which are something of a collector’s item these days. So they’ll be feeling themselves. They keep it pretty simple, which is just fine against the Hawks as their defense is happy to give you things.

For the Hawks, Adam Boqvist will return to the lineup, and they’ll need his mobility if he’s given license to use it. Robin Lehner is likely to get a stretch of starts here, as Crawford has stumbled and this might be something of a last stand for the Hawks before they decide if it’s fire-sale time.

They’ll talk about consistency and doubling up on Thursday’s effort. But that’s their thing, and they’re not good enough to keep putting those kinds of games together. Also, they won’t be facing a team that flew in that morning after a Christmas break. But that’s the assignment.

Hockey

As the Blue Jackets pick through the half-drank bottles and empty plates of the party and simultaneously the ruins of the team of the last two years, the only one to ever bring a playoff series win to Ohio, they must figure out where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. Even with the departures of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and their deadline acquisitions, there does seem to be a foundation with which to start again.

There’s a solid top pairing, and that might even be underselling Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Ryan Murray finally overcame the obstacle of his body being made of Tonka toys to emerge as a solid second-pairing option. Vlad Gavrikov has turned some heads in the opening of this season.

Goalie is obviously a problem, and forward isn’t far behind. While Cam Atkinson poured in 41 goals last year and has consistently provided around 30, he just turned 30-years-old and for a player who relies on speed, one has to wonder how much longer he can contribute top line numbers. Then again, he could be the much more chipmunk-faced Patrick Marleau. It’s clear Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are past it. Boone Jenner is somehow only 26 still but has proved to not be much more than a middle line pivot.

So a lot of where the Jackets are going to go, and how they’ll get there, is riding on Pierre-Luc Dubois. See if this sounds familiar, a big center with nifty hands taken third overall? That was Dubois back in 2016, though he came out of the runway-to-the-net that is the QMJHL instead of the we’re-still-cowboys WHL that Kirby Dach might emerge from this year. Dubois has had the bonus of centering Panarin and Atkinson his first two years, which resulted in a more than respectable 64 points at just 20-years-old last season.

But Panarin is gone now, so whatever aid or safety net he was providing Dubois went with him. Is he up to the challenge? On the scant evidence we have, he should be. Dubois’s attempts-share fell off a cliff away from Panarin in his first two seasons, from 56% with to 48% without. Luckily for the Jackets, Dubois’s xGF% didn’t suffer near the same drop, though a drop nonetheless, which means though they might not be in the right end as much without Pantera they’re still getting the better chances.

He still has Atkinson of course, and though it’s only six games the results are good so far. They’re in the positive in both attempts and expected goals, with Gustav Nyquist standing in for Panarin, and who’s made a career of being just north of representative. Long season to go, of course.

And it’s a big one for Dubois, because it’s after this one that his entry-level deal expires. The Jackets are well set-up to give him a big contract, as they have $18M in space as of now with only Dubois being the must-have among all their free agents. Yes, they’re going to have to find a goalie somewhere, but they’re just as likely (and probably better off) trying to find a young one of those that they don’t have to overpay to pretend to care about OSU football and emphasize the pronunciation of “the.”

Still, the Jackets might want to take a breath before they decide whether or not to hand the boat to Dubois. 64 points at 20 is a hell of a thing, but they’ll need to see this year that he can be a 80-90 point guy. GM Jarmo Kekkalainen didn’t think Ryan Johansen was that back in the day, and he got Seth Jones out of it. It’s that type of shrewdness that might be the way to land himself a goalie, though it doesn’t have to be Dubois to get him that.

Teams find it hard to get anywhere without a true #1 center. Dubois has this year and maybe a couple more to prove that he is that.

 

Hockey

Brandon Dubinksy – Perhaps the leading example of a belcher/grunter/scowler that is held up as leadership and grit for a team when his actual usefulness disappeared somewhere during Obama’s second term. Certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a last name that’s a modern iteration of “Grabowksi,” which the Ditka-philes that make up a majority of NHL front offices cover themselves in vaseline for. Dubes has spent the last two seasons getting his team backed into its own zone while he points and yells at clouds. He’s currently pulling his patented move of being hurt.

Nick Foligno – See above, but with the captain’s “C.” Foligno also has the added bonus of being a former player’s kid, which in the NHL boots your overall rating at least 25%. He’s only ever scored more than 20 goals twice in his far too long career, and for that he’ll take him $5.5M this year and next before the Jackets extend him so he can be the Ohio version of Mikko Koivu.

John Tortorella – This guy won a Cup, folks. While we’ll always stan for a guy who loves and rescues dogs as much as Torts does, you can bet one of the reasons both Bobrovsky and Panarin wanted to beat it out of town as quickly as possible was to get away from this guy. But this is the NHL, where a coach like this can pants an actual forward-thinking coach like Jon Cooper (not that Cooper ever needs much of an excuse to toss his pants aside). Clock must be ticking on this guy as the Jackets head into another rebuild after the monumental accomplishment of winning one playoff series.

Hockey

Well, hope it was all worth it.

GM Jarmo Kekkelainen wasn’t going to let his squad go quietly into that goodnight last spring, and went all in at the trade deadline, bringing aboard Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel for the Jackets playoff push. It got them a stunning, historic sweep of the historically good Lightning. And that’s it.

Is that enough? For a fanbase that had seen their team accomplish exactly dick for their entire existence, it may be. Those memories will last a bit. But not that long, and soon they’re going to crave real success, like a division title or conference championship, two things the Jackets haven’t come within a $50 cab ride of. And neither of those look to be coming any time soon, as the squad that brought a playoff victory for the first time to Ohio has been shorn of three big pieces…and Dzingel. It’s not exactly a husk that’s left…but it’s the h-u-s of that.

Let’s run it through.

2018-2019

47-31-4 98 points (5th in Metro)

3.12 GF/G (12th)  2.82 GA/G (11th)

50.0 CF% (12th)  50.3 xGF% (14th)

15.4 PP% (29th)  85.0 PK% (2nd)

Goalies: Jarmo probably should be sued by the season ticket holders for negligence for heading into the season with Joonas Korpisalo as the starter. The story they’ll try and sell is that Korpisalo is 24, and heading into his prime, so there’s always a chance for a big step forward. It’s going to have to be an awfully big step, because Joonas hasn’t shown much in his brief cameos as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s backup. He’s played 90 games, and has a career .907 SV%, which would be just about league-average now. League-average isn’t going to get it done for this Jackets squad.

The wildcard is Elvis Merzlikins, and no he doesn’t have the traditional back-to-school parade here in Chicago. But I will allow for all the Fu-Schnickens jokes you want to make. Merzlikins was great in the Swiss league the past few years, but it’s impossible to know if that means anything. They seem pretty high on him, but he’s going to have to do an awful lot of heavy lifting if this team is going anywhere. That would also mean Korpisalo snuffed it, which is almost certainly doom for the Jackets.

Defense: The one unit that wasn’t scorched by free agent departures. Columbus can still roll out Seth Jones, Zach Werenski (assuming he ever signs), Ryan Murray, and Markus Nutivaara for two-thirds of the game, which is a nice place to be. It’s not Carolina’s blue line, but it’s still one of the better ones around. And they’re just running it back, as there’s been no additions to it in the offseason. So the top four will still be supported by David Savard, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, and Adam Clendening. Or some combo thereof, to be more precise. There’s a chance that Vladislov Gavrikov is part of the equation as well. The Jackets can at least point to this and know what they’ll get, which is more than you can say for the rest of the team.

Forwards: Ouch. At the moment, the Jackets are maybe one line and a lot of questions and hope. Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are still a formidable tandem, and Atkinson scored before Panarin arrived. They signed Gustav Nyquist possibly to put on that line, but Nyquist is a support-scorer these days, not a main man. Alex Wennberg and and Josh Anderson will probably anchor the second, but that’s where it starts to sound short for the Jackets. Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are still here to belch and fart and call it leadership, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner are going to have to seriously build on promising seasons from last campaign for the Jackets to score enough, and that’s always a dicey bet. They might need to toss prospect Liam Foudy into the deep end right away to up the amount of skill to even acceptable.

Prediction: The Jackets are in deep. They’re clearly behind the Penguins, Caps, Canes for the automatic spots in the Metro. The Islanders may have fallen farther than they did, which helps, and the Rangers and Devils probably aren’t ready to cycle back up past them just yet. Who ever fucking knows with the Flyers? So that leaves them tangling with the other division for wildcard spots, but there just doesn’t look like there’s enough scoring up front with this lot. And Jarmo already scraped the savings vault to go for it last year.

Hope those Tampa memories keep them warm for a while. It might not be enough to keep Torts from throwing himself off the roof in January.

Everything Else

Well that was quite the party. And like any good party, everyone worth a shit now leaves before they stick around past the point that all the creatures of the night do. You know those people, the ones who a Saturday night turns into a Sunday afternoon with the curtains drawn. They where all black and love to tell you about the weird sex they have. That’s where the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves…amongst the New Order records. No one wants to be the last to leave.

What a historic spring for the Jackets. Causing one of the biggest upsets in first-round history, they’ll join such luminaries like the ’91 North Stars, the ’93 Blues, the ’93 Islanders, and ’09 Ducks in the pantheon of…wait, you don’t remember any of these teams? Of course you fucking don’t, because they’re nothing more than quirky trivia. Something that helps you win the three free rounds at a pub quiz while you pretend you’re having fun. But hey, that’s more memorable than the Jackets have ever been.

We’ll spend the next day or two wading through various love letters and bouquets thrown at Jarmo Kekalainen, a man who has been allowed to be GM for six years with one playoff series win, no division titles, and never actually earning home-ice in a playoff series. What a record! Oh how he went for it! Oh what dash he showed! Why don’t more GMs show such gumption, they’ll cry!

Yes, selling out your future for six playoff wins so that your two most important players tell you to do one a couple weeks later than they were going to truly is foresight. It’s a wonder Jarmo isn’t a goddamn Vulcan. And when Duchene and Dzingel see Panarin and Bobrovsky fuck off, we’re sure they’ll be heavily tempted to commit their futures to a rest stop between known cultural centers of Cleveland and Cincinnati. Wonder how much longer Zach Werenski is going to want to commit to North Louisville after all that as well.

This is what you don’t get, Columbus. Once a college town, always a college town. Just because you’re strangely podunk and the home of an insurance company that keeps foisting Peyton Manning on the nation like a proud mother doesn’t mean you’re a destination. You go to Columbus, you stay for a few years, you get measurably dumber and then you move on to fix that. Those who stay around their college towns after graduation are always desperate and weird. If you’ve seen Buckeyes fans gather in Evanston or whatever Wrigleyville/Lincoln Park Date-Rape Palooza  bar they call home, you know of where we speak. It applies to the Jackets, too.

You needn’t sweat it. Your contemporaries the Minnesota Wild haven’t accomplished anymore than you. You two are what everyone thinks millennials are. Bad clothes, bad decisions, loud noises and few accomplishments. At least the Wild actually got a free agent or two to show up. And no, Nick Foligno wanting to stay doesn’t count. That’s more of a metaphor than you’re prepared to face right now.

Everything will be fine, you say. Cam Atkinson and his recent damn fine impression of Patrick Roy era Gabriel Landeskog  is still here. So’s Pierre-Luc Dubois. Josh Anderson and whatever brains didn’t leap out his ear thanks to McAvoy last night are too. Jones and Werenski. We’ve got a base. You sure do. Those 89 points that base will collect as they stare at whatever punter is in net wondering how that went in will be glorious. We’re sure you’re looking forward to it.

While the press lavish praise on Jarmo, because he gave them so much to write about, one has to ask if the truly brave call wouldn’t have been to cash in on Panarin and Bobrovsky for actual assets that will be around Ohio longer than until the keg goes dry. Perhaps something lasting instead of a cheap thrill and a parlor trick. These same writers will be doing “Was It All Worth It?” articles in March when the Jackets are five points out of a playoff spot. This will of course follow the “No One Believed In Us!” articles that come in November when the Jackets have the same five-game winning streak every team does.

No, the coach will still be a bullhorn, and his boring-ass style and hard-ass ways are going to get a lot more scrutiny when there are more losses than wins. And then one might wonder just how many more coaches Jarmo “Balls To The Walls” Kekalainen gets. And then won’t those make for some fun Athletic posts?

Face it Columbus, no one wants to be there. No matter what any player or team does it’ll be Page 2 behind which OSU running back showed up to spring practice in a Tesla. Oh wait, I think Urban Meyer is bending over again to show just how much this means to him. It doesn’t even matter that he’s not coaching anymore, he cares so damn much he’s killing himself out there!

You’re just a misplaced SEC town with the hillbillies to match, except you didn’t bother to include Nashville’s nightlife or music scene. You’re a jumping off point, and will always be leverage to get somewhere better. Which is just about everywhere. Rick Nash was only the first. He’ll hardly be the last. But hey, you’ve got a cannon, right?

Everything Else

We’ll never know if John McIsaac and Kelly Sutherland had thoughts of Vegas-San Jose Game 7 traipse through their head when trying to assess a penalty to Charlie McAvoy last night. It would not be a surprise if it did, and what happened to those officials. Officials want to rise to the top of their profession just like anyone else, and seeing their colleagues hung out to dry and then sent home for the summer certainly could easily have been a factor.

Make no mistake, Charlie McAvoy should have been given a major penalty, booted, and suspended for multiple games. He left his feet, came from the blindside, and hit directly to Josh Anderson’s head. I don’t know what other qualifications you need.

But the because the NHL is so terrified of pissing off its knuckle-dragging fans and media (probably more the latter), because for some reason it’s mortified at the thought of a Don Cherry or Brian Burke rant on Canadian television about how the game is lost, this is what we get. A minor penalty, which won’t do much to deter hits to the head that the league claims it wants to do away with to preserve the safety of its players.

And because officials have seen what happened to other refs who have deemed to punish to heavily, they are gun-shy. NHL officials always have been, and while I try and give them as much credit as I can because the refs in other sports can be so awful, they often lean too far the other way. “Let the players decide,” is a fine mantra, but lean into too far and you’ve ended up ignoring what the players have decided. When one player forces another into a penalty/foul, they have decided that one team gets a power play. When you ignore that, all normal hockey goes out the window and you bring your star players down to the level of those who can’t emerge from the muck. You may bitch about NBA refs being too obtrusive, but the NBA playoffs are still a stage for the best they have to do what they do and they dominate the headlines (some of that is the difference in the sports). When you’re asking Nathan MacKinnon or the like to survive being tackled and now possibly beheaded at every turn, you ground down what makes them rise above the rest, and hence their team.

That’s also the not the exact discussion here. When the league threw its refs from San Jose-Vegas under the bus, it pretty much pulled the rug out from under all the refs. The idea, in theory, is that the officials are the representatives of the league and are administering the game. All the NHL has done is create a separation, make it seem like they work for the teams now, and leave the refs on their own. Which would undermine their authority.

And that gets even more undermined when they’re terrified to make the right call, for fear of being singled out by the league again. No team deserves an apology for a ref’s call. The ref didn’t make the Knights give up four power play goals in five minutes. The refs didn’t make them not score in overtime against a depleted and exhausted team. The refs aren’t why the Knights lost.

Bad calls happen to every team, and it’s part of the accepted system as currently fashioned. The refs weren’t looking out to screw the Knights, the only situation that should have earned an apology. If the league thought those refs made the wrong call, there is a grading system in private already in place and they should have just been quietly not assigned the next round. All referees accept this when they take the job.

“Not deciding the game” is also a red herring for officials. After all, not making a call can swing an outcome just as much as an over-aggressive call. Last night’s miss on McAvoy probably didn’t cost the Jackets the game, but you can see where a similar one would. And now if the league were to suspend McAvoy, which it should, it will be publicly hanging out their refs to dry again. It will have no choice.

The league could help refs of course by clearly outlining that any hit to the head is a major, game misconduct,  and a suspension whether you meant it or not. Do you want these hits out of the game? Miss on the high side then. It can’t get more clear-cut than McAvoy’s hit last night, but there will be others. You’re not going to change the behavior and make players adjust how they play until there are serious consequences, no questions asked. It will be an uncomfortable six months, or full season, with some questionable decisions and old men yelling at clouds before they soil themselves.

And then it would change. Players wouldn’t take hits they weren’t sure of. Muttonheads who can do nothing else would be out of the league, and that would be a good thing. Players adjust. Look at what happened with interference calls and slashes and hooks. They’re still around, but players know the deal and play the game differently. It’s pretty simple.

The league needs to back its officials, even when they’re wrong. It’s part of the game right now, and they need the support. Did Marc-Andre Fleury apologize to the fans for turning into Wile E. Coyote for a period? No. His mistake(s) were no less than the refs. It’s just a matter of degree. The refs won’t call this how it should be if they don’t think their bosses have their back. The refs are out there in the field of play and take the brunt. They’re the ones enforcing the decisions made above them. They’re the ones influencing games, rightly or wrongly. How can they do that when they feel they have no backup?

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston – Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Columbus – Tuesday, 6pm

Game 4  in Columbus – Thursday, 6:30

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. And the Jackets aren’t even in this division! We’re not supposed to be here today! Hockey is weird and stupid but that’s kind of why we’re here. For the first time in their history, the Jackets will play games in May. Maybe just one, but it’ll happen. Can they keep the miracle run going? Let’s find out.

Goalies: Are four games enough to declare a former playoff-barfer suddenly a dynamo? That’s the question you’ll have to ask about Sergei Bobrovsky. He was very good against Tampa, after a so-so regular season, though thanks to the Jackets forecheck he didn’t have to do that much. Which probably should have been the plan all along. He never faced 35 shots in a game, and really in only Games 1 and 4 did he face what you would call anything close to an abundance of good chances. Those were the games he gave up three goals, so really this might depend more on what the Jackets make Bob do than what he does. The Bruins shouldn’t be that hard to hold to a reasonable amount of shots and chances, except for that one line. But that one line is an expert at moving the puck around quickly, which is where Bob’s athleticism kicks in. But he’ll have to toe that line of athleticism and losing his positioning. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Amongst the Toronto wailing is that Tuukka Rask was marvelous against the Leafs, with a .928 over seven games. Rask’s playoff performance have become basically metronomic at this point, almost always in the mid-.920s if not better. He’s got a career .928 in the postseason. He may not steal a series, but he’s as sure a bet as there is left to not lose it, and the Jackets are going to have to work a hell of a lot harder here than they did against the very jumpy Vasilevskiy.

Defense: This comes down to how tinker-y and match-y up-y John Tortorella wants to get. The first round acted as a coming out party for Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, racking up nine points combined in four games. However, possession-wise, that pairing got kicked around a bit and not by the Lightning’s top line either. The natural inclination is to think that they’ll take on Bergeron’s line. Judging by what happened last round, that’s probably not the case. Strangely, it was David Savard and Scott Harrington who did the heavy lifting, and at least held their own. But if you trust those two against arguably the best line in hockey that is also playoff-proven, you go right ahead. I’ll be over here. Maybe it’s whether or not Jones and Werenski can do enough on the power play and against lesser and whether that cancels out Bergeron and Marchard against Savard and Harrington. I don’t know what a Dean Kukan is and I don’t care.

For Boston, they already know the plan here. The Jackets are going to do the same thing they did against Tampa, which is push their trap up the ice, try to get their forwards on the Bs defensemen as quickly as possible and bring da ruckus. The Lightning’s defense is pretty slow beyond Hedman, especially when Sergachev was having a nightmare. You’d think this would be a problem for Zdeno Chara and the tennis balls on the bottom of his skates, and maybe it will be. It just rarely seems to be. In theory this is why you have Moonface McAvoy and Torey Krug, as they can skate themselves out of trouble. But they also blow chunks in their own zone. Then again, they just survived a more skilled and better forward crop in the last round. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Forwards: The Jackets forwards certainly were buzzing against Tampa, with that forecheck getting them the puck back below the circles and only requiring a pass or two for chances and goals. That’s clearly the plan here, and in transition and with things scramble-y that’s when Atkinson and Panarin and Anderson are lethal. You can’t catch back up to them and how quickly they can start moving the puck around. If the Bruins can keep things stable, the Jackets lack a little shot-creation, especially if Panarin isn’t in the mood to do it. There are grunts here who can scrum in a goal or two, but you can’t beat the Bruins if your top isn’t your top (not a sex joke).

The Bruins are one line and David Krejci. And yet that’s enough for 100+ point seasons and at least a round win. The Bs got contributions from Charlie Coyle and Joakim Nordstrom and the like, but those aren’t the things you can count on. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it’s (Gorilla Monsoon voice) highly unlikely that Marchand and Bergeron and Pastrnak aren’t going to produce. And it’s hard to see a way that the Jackets stop them from doing that, even if they try and cut it off at the source by harassing the Boston D before they can get the puck up to them.

Prediction: This isn’t going to be easy for the Bruins, and the argument that the Jackets just dispatched a better team before we had time to fart into the couch is always lingering there. And as we’ve stressed a ton, it’s not like the Lightning didn’t have playoff pedigree. Their recent pedigree is actually better than the Bs. But I don’t trust Bob yet, and Rask is pretty much a rock. And that feels like it’ll be the biggest difference here. It’s just going to take a while.

Bruins in 6.