Hockey

They’re not bad because they’re inconsistent, they’re inconsistent because…well, tonight I won’t bother to finish that sentence. The Hawks beat a crappy team, as they should, so let’s take what we can get, right? To the bullets…

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–Early on, it felt like things were going to go off the rails again when Max Jones scored less than five minutes in. But the Hawks righted things well enough, to the point that while their play in the first can’t be described as “good,” it can be described as “not horrible.” Jonathan Toews had a great opportunity where he actually shot the puck through John Gibson‘s five hole but it bounced off the post in some weird quirk of physics. But, he made up for it minutes later with a wrist shot, again five-hole, but buried it straight up. The best part was, he was on a 2-on-1 with John Quenneville and at no time in the entire sequence did he even pretend like he was going to pass it to Quenneville. He was absolutely right in his decision-making, but the lack of even the slightest pretense was great.

Dominik Kubalik is tied for the league lead in rookie goals. He now has scored five goals in his last four games, two of which came tonight so he was basically the difference maker and was deservedly the first star of the game. The first goal was off a beautiful backhand feed from Patrick Kane, who’s got a six-game scoring streak of his own going, and the second was a tap-in of a rebound off a long shot from Zack Smith. Kubalik has made it impossible for Colliton to reduce his ice time or maroon him in the bottom six, which you could just tell this doofus was itching to do, and that brings joy to my cold, black heart. The team really tried to get him a hat trick with an empty netter, but you know how empty net attempts go for the Hawks. No big deal anyway, Kubalik was great tonight.

Adam Boqvist had a good night too, or at least, a much better night than his last game. In the second, Keith had his stick vaporize in his hands, giving the Ducks an easy breakaway and Boqvist hustled to strip the puck, bailing out Keith and preventing even a shot on goal. He also generated a chance in the second, which was his only shot of the night but it was the kind of play we’re all looking for–a nice wrister from the dot after a nifty move into the zone. Boqvist finished with just a 41 CF% at evens and had the least ice time of any defenseman, but he was faster and more confident than Thursday against the Predators.

Connor Murphy, on the other hand, did not have a good night. He gave up a couple bad turnovers, including one that led directly to Jones’s goal. And yet he had a 58 CF% so it wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t passing the eye test, either.

Robin Lehner looked excellent in his first game back after a bruised knee or bruised ego or whatever it was. He ended the night with a .946 SV% and made a number of key saves in the third to keep the Hawks in the lead (if the Ducks had tied this oh lord I don’t want to think of how that could have ended). There was a particularly crazy save on Gudbranson early in the third that you’ll see on highlight reels somewhere soon. All the way around, a quality start for Lehner.

–If Olli Maatta scores on you, you know you suck. That’s all I have to say.

They needed to win against this shitty team and they did. It doesn’t mean all their woes are solved but it’s better than losing to a shitty team, no? Onward and upward…

Line of the Night: “Getzlaf had a chance but instead of shooting, he tried to pass.” –Eddie O describing…Ryan Getzlaf’s MO

Beer du Jour: Beach Blonde lager, Crystal Lake Brewing

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

For a brief moment, it looked like the Hawks would rise to the occasion. They roared back from a deficit to take a two-goal lead over a team within sniffing distance of them for a playoff spot, then proceeded to cower and hope that their porous defense—which at no point during this season has shown capable of holding any kind of lead whatsoever—would hold the lead. After 53 minutes of burying his two most effective players in ice time, the Hawks’s hopefully soon-to-be former coach finally put Kane with them, and the Hawks teased another comeback, only to watch a depth forward get beat, fall out of position, and give Adam Gaudette a wide-open look for the game winner. A tale as old as time. Let’s clean it.

Connor Murphy had himself a game and continues to impress as the Hawks’s only consistently useful defenseman. He led all Hawks defensemen in possession with a 55+ CF% (10+ CF% Rel) despite having to drag Erik Gustafsson’s cratering trade value on his back for most of the night. And he scored his fourth goal of the year after Toews and Kubalik (much more on them later) dug the puck out of the end boards and slot, respectively. Murphy’s been a paragon of consistency this year when he’s been healthy.

Duncan Keith also had a good game. He was a bit underwater in possession (47+%) and xGF% (48+), but he made two outstanding plays to make up for it. After shooting the puck too hard to the far side, Keith hurried back to snuff out a 2-on-1. Then, in the third, Keith made a gorgeous steal on the near boards at neutral ice and chipped the puck to Kubalik, who danced around a defender at the blue line and left the puck for Kane, who buried his wrister. Keith’s looked spry lately, and that’s never a bad thing.

Jonathan Toews had himself a hell of a game tonight. Aside from doing yeoman’s work behind the net while setting up Murphy’s goal, Toews managed to bank a puck off Quinn Hughes for a goal after juking Alex Edler out of his elbows along the far boards. Toews led all Blackhawks with an astounding 70+ CF% and was second only to Kubalik in xGF% (60.45 vs. 60.75).

Dominik Kubalik will likely carry the torch of least respected contributor once Corey Crawford leaves town. Despite three primary assists, leading the team in xGF%, and the second-best CF% (68+), Kubalik managed merely 10:42 TOI at 5v5 and 12:19 total. Only David Kampf (expected), Matthew Highmore (who blows), and John Quenneville (who sucks and blows) had fewer minutes at 5v5. I would love to know exactly what it is that Hopefully Soon-to-Be Former Coach Bevington doesn’t like about Kubalik, but whatever it is, it’s inexcusable.

In fact, through two periods, Toews and Kubalik, who dominated in possession and expected goals all night, were among some of the lowest ice-time receivers among all Blackhawks. Sure, Toews has special teams time, but it’s as if rather than promoting Quenneville to the first line, Colliton actually demoted his two best players throughout the game to the fourth line. This kind of galaxy brain shit isn’t cute. I get wanting to play Dach, Strome, and DeBrincat more—which is something Colliton did try to do through two—but that shouldn’t mean that your two best fucking players are getting the short shaft on ice time. To the surprise of perhaps only Jeremy Colliton, once Kubalik and Toews got to play with Kane, it turned into an almost immediate goal. When playing a game you’ve got to have, you can’t wait 53 fucking minutes to do this. Dylan Sikura and Ryan Carpenter may be fine players, but they should not be on a line with Patrick Kane on purpose for a majority of a must-win game.

On top of this horseshit, nary a compliment did Eddie have for Kubalik at any point. I don’t understand why no one seems to like him, but he was a top performer tonight.

– Speaking of Ryan Carpenter, it was a tough one for him tonight. Though it’s not his fault that his coach needed to flex his throbbing genious brain and have Carpenter take a defensive-zone faceoff in a 4–3 game following a TV timeout . . . actually, let’s stay there for a second. Carpenter has a 47+ FO% this year. Toews is at 56+%, and Kampf is at 52%. Following a TV timeout, after the Canucks have seized momentum, Hopefully Soon-to-Be Former Coach Gemstone throws his second-worst faceoff guy out there with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Erik Gustafsson. Let that marinate for a second, because you can taste the fucking stupidity.

Anyway, Carpenter lost the faceoff then completely lost his man in Pettersson, who launched a set-play rocket past Lehner for the tying goal. Then, he got pantsed by Adam Gaudette along the near boards for the game winner in the third. Carpenter is a fine player, but tonight wasn’t his night.

– I’m just as tired of talking about him as you are of hearing about him, and there’s no real alternative, but Dennis Gilbert fucking blows. Four of the Canucks’s five goals resulted from Gilbert’s positioning. On the first, Gilbert had the inside track on Vesser with the puck ringing around the boards behind the Hawks’s net. And Gilbert just let him go by. Then, he went chasing a hit after Vesser passed the puck out, leaving J.T. Miller untouched for a tip.

On the second goal, Gilbert turned the puck over behind his own net and went chasing a hit again, giving Virtanen time to pass out to Edler. On the third goal, which was a PK, Gilbert inexplicably ended up at the top of the circles to pressure J.T. Miller, leaving a wide-open lane for Quinn Hughes. And on the fifth goal, the puck redirected off Gilbert’s skate, which you can’t really blame him for, but fuck him I’m going to.

– Friendly reminder that the Hawks could have traded Erik Gustafsson at any time last year or during the off-season and gotten probably at least a second rounder for him. So it goes.

Adam Boqvist’s assist on Kane’s first goal was excellent, but aside from that, he’s a kid playing scared. Whether that’s just jitters or by design, each game we see him hug the blue line on the power play makes us that much antsier. By no means have or should we give up on him so, so early, but something is off about the way he’s playing, based on what they told us he was.

Of course, all of this can and should be pinned on Hopefully Soon-to-Be Former Coach Jeremy Colliton. From yet another too-many-men penalty that led to a technically even-strength goal, to his abysmal use of his two best players, to his cowardice with a lead, to coaching scared against a team he had to beat, he continues to find ways to Lucy the football.

This supposed soft schedule doesn’t mean shit if the Hawks continue to piss in their shoes. A loss to Detroit on Sunday should be a fireable offense for all involved.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: Gumballhead

Line of the Night: “Now, he’s got some people coming on him.” –Konroyd describing a play by Sikura in the pregame show.

Hockey

Thought I would take the time to dig deep into some nerdlingers for you. Let’s get to it.

60.4, 42.7

We talked last night, you would have heard it this morning if you were so inclined, on the podcast about Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. The idea since Dach was drafted is that he would one day supplant Toews as the #1 center, and hopefully soon in that it would only make the Hawks stronger, not due to any decline of Toews. And after a slow start, Toews’s metrics are actually pretty stout the past 15 games. 54.9 CF%, 55. 2 xGF%. That’s probably more than stout. Dach’s numbers are obviously less so.

But what you’re seeing above is the offensive zone starts for Toews and then Dach the last 15 games. Which has to raise questions about how exactly you’re going to develop Dach by starting him outside the offensive zone 60% of the time, not to mention saddling him with fourth-line players. Dach’s certainly going to have to learn to play in his own zone, but right now he is a gifted offensive player and the Hawks are actually short on scoring. So why is he taking the ass end of shift starts?

If the Hawks would like to know why Dach hasn’t registered a point in 12 games, here you go. He’s not being given the best chance. And this is the future for your team, at least it had better be. Is there no confidence that Toews can turn the ice? It’s hard to know because this is how Toews has been used all season. But if the Hawks hope to get more out of Dach this year, they have to get him up the ice. And we know the Hawks can’t do that themselves.

+8.9

That’s Connor Murphy’s relative xGF% above the Hawks rate. It’s the 7th best mark in the league among d-men. To boot, no one else in the top 20 is getting worse zone starts than Murphy. Only Jared Spurgeon and Patrik Nemeth are even close. So next time Pat and Eddie are bellowing about how good Keith and de Haan have been and how they’re the two best Hawks defensemen, just remember this and that neither is anywhere close to Murphy. Who will have to be traded in the offseason for cap and roster space because no one is going to want de Haan and his one shoulder or Maatta and his no talent. And you should throw your hands up frantically accordingly.

.859

That’s Corey Crawford’s high-danger save-percentage at evens, which ranks third in the league behind Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist. This has been something of a specialty of Crow’s the past few years, as he tends to make just about the most amount of saves he shouldn’t make in the league. The past five years, only Sergei Bobrovsky has a better high-danger SV%, and Ben Bishop is right behind him, and both have been Vezina finalists while Crow never has. In that time, Crow also has the best dSV%, which is the difference between a goalie’s expected save-percentage and his actual. Hopefully, for his sake, there’s a contending team out there that sees these numbers and makes the Hawks a boffo offer for Crow at the deadline, because he deserves playing behind better than this utter trash fire as well as the lack of recognition he gets here. But I tend to doubt that will be the case, and instead he’ll just walk in favor of Robin Lehner and his gaping maw of a mouth to tell you just how hard he’s working behind the same shit defense.

Hockey

Don’t worry, this won’t be just hair-pulling and complaining about the terrifying lows…I mean, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it, but I wouldn’t do that (yet)…

The Dizzying Highs

The Kubalik-Toews-Saad line. This has been working, when so little else has been. Brandon Saad in particular has been playing well lately, including not one but two goals in the eventual collapse to the Blues on Saturday night. Dominik Kubalik has also been setting up Jonathan Toews pretty nicely and is proving that he does in fact belong on the top line. Going into Sunday night’s game this line had a a 52.6 CF% and an xGF% at a healthy 55.8. And they’ve been doing the basics like winning puck battles, hanging onto it, making good passes, etc., not to mention they scored the go-ahead goal against the Wild. This one line isn’t enough to solve the Blackhawks’ many, many woes right now, but they are still a functional top line.

Whoever decided to let Boqvist play 10 games. Having played 10 games, the first year of Adam Boqvist‘s contract is now officially in force. This means that he will likely play only here with the top club, which is exactly what needs to happen, not any contract chicanery for some imaginary future state. No, Boqvist isn’t some kind of savior, and he hasn’t been playing all that impressively quite yet, but the only way for him to develop into a reliable NHL-level player is to play in the fucking NHL. The Hawks cannot pull any Jokiharju-level nonsense this time: no sending him to the World Juniors to beat up on other children, despite whatever “confidence boost” people say that will have. You know what’s good for a kid’s confidence? Telling him, “you’re an important part of our future and good enough to play at the highest level.” How is no one else mentioning that? Besides, with the defense literally in shambles there is no other choice, because if the Hawks really don’t care about this season and consider it lost, they need Boqvist to develop and get better so that things don’t stay this way. Or, if they really do believe their own marketing slogan and think they can claw their way back into the playoffs this year, they absolutely need a fast, puck-moving defenseman who can also be on the power play. Either way, contract timing should not be the deciding factor and I’m relieved that it no longer is.

The Terrifying Lows

Dennis Gilbert. Whatta jamoke. This fool spent half the week taking dumbass GRITHEARTFART penalties that directly led to goals against them. About a week ago it cost the Hawks the game, leading Adam Burish to ever greater levels of dumbassery on the broadcast to defend these meatball tactics. By this past Saturday Gilbert was almost not offensive to the eyes, but then he got paired with Seabrook (not his fault but still) and was on the ice for both the second and the game-tying goals by the Blues. In fact, in his first nine games he was on the ice for just one goal but also out there for 11 against the Hawks. He is not an NHL player. Full stop.

Alex Nylander. Fuck this idiot, seriously. Well, actually let’s say fuck the stupid front office who traded a talented young defenseman for this idiot.

Erik Gustafsson. So many options for the Terrifying Lows this week, amirite? Gus was particularly awful against the Coyotes earlier in the week and really just couldn’t accomplish basic defensive coverage, stickwork, what have you. Oh wait, but then there was the pass to Mark Stone in the Vegas game (technically a turnover but felt like he just forgot which team he was on). And fucking up on the Knights’ short-handed goal that same game. Really, too many terrible moments to choose from.

The Creamy Middles

Connor Murphy. Connor Murphy is fast becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of this team and I am not having it. He is the only actual defenseman the Hawks have right now—and he’s been playing as well as the lone d-man on a bad team can. He’s leading the defense in CF% (51.3), and has been trying to cover for Gustafsson’s stupidity, which is quite the unenviable task. So he’s been on the ice for a lot of shots and scoring changes against lately (29 and 33, respectively, going into Sunday), but he’s still managed to be one of the only decent players on a regular basis. And he even had two assists last night against the Wild—one on a shot that Kampf redirected for the third goal, and another shot for a bizarro redirect that became the winning goal. Also, did I mention he’s the only actual defenseman they have?

Corey Crawford. The numbers won’t show it, but Crow has been keeping the Hawks in it over his last few games. Against Vegas his SV% was just .865 and against the Blues it wasn’t much better, at .895. But if you saw any of it, you know that Crawford has been one of the few reasons why things aren’t even worse, and his play is largely how the Hawks aren’t losing by a touchdown on a regular basis. Also please note this is not to say Lehner has been bad, but Crawford has borne this burden with class and a lack of appreciation, as always, so he gets the shout out.

Hockey

Patrick Kane picked a good time to have a hat trick. Yes, the third goal was an empty netter but you know what? After the debacle against St. Louis last night someone had to step up and it might as well be Kane. This team needed to bounce back in any way at all, and this game at the very least shows that they haven’t totally quit. Let’s take a look:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks proved yet again that they’re specialists at blowing a multi-goal lead. Yet, tonight was definitely not as egregious as Saturday against the Blues. The Hawks played well in the first in fact, going up 2-0 thanks to Patrick Kane’s give-a-shit meter hovering around 6.5 for a while. Hell, one of those goals was even on the power play, so things were looking up. Unfortunately Kirby Dach took a penalty immediately after the second goal, and that led to the Wild’s first, but overall the Hawks were decent—they only gave up 9 shots in the first, had a 50 CF% at evens, and yes, they were in fact winning.

–That all changed, of course, when noted offensive powerhouse Kevin Fiala went off for a couple goals. He tied it at 2 in the second, the Hawks went back ahead on David Kampf‘s redirect of a Connor Murphy shot, and then Fiala tied it again. This is obviously frustrating since they cannot hold a lead to save their lives, but it wasn’t the ass-waxing they got in the span of just a couple minutes against the Blues last night.

Olli Maatta had a tough night. He got burned on Fiala’s first goal, which was a blocked pass by Kane and then Maatta just couldn’t come anywhere close to catching him. And it was Maatta’s skate that redirected Fiala’s shot and became his second goal, tying the game yet again at 3. The first was definitely his fault, if you can consider slowness as a personal failing (I can and do), but the second was just one of those things that happens. Again, maddening to see them blow a lead but it was such a weird situation there’s not much you can point to that could or should have been different.

–And besides, that luck came back around to the Hawks with Connor Murphy’s shot (there he is again!) that was crazily redirected by Saad going up and over Kaapo Kahkonen for the go-ahead goal. It wasn’t the prettiest or most coherent of strategies, but whatever, we’ll take it. I spent the remaining four minutes of the game gnawing at my fingernails expecting them to blow it again, and I can only imagine most of the crowd at the UC felt the same way.

–But, lo and behold, Garbage Dick staved off a total collapse with the empty netter than sealed it.

–Stupid Alex Nylander was on the second line with Strome and Kane, and he assisted on Kane’s first goal so of course we’ll now see him in the top 6 again until he has another night like last night, with 4,872 dumb plays being out of position. He was already back to his clueless antics later in the game, with a lazy dump-in from the wrong side of center that became a late icing. It didn’t lead to a goal and it wasn’t the end of the world, but it’s just more evidence of careless stupidity and a lack of awareness on Nylander’s part. All I can figure is that Bowman et. al are so terrified of acknowledging the short-sightedness of trading Jokiharju for this jamoke that they’re determined to shoehorn him anywhere and everywhere, as long as it’s not in the AHL. Nylander constantly looks surprised and frightened when the puck comes his way, and one pass to one of the most talented scorers in the league doesn’t change that.

So this wasn’t exactly a dominant performance, but it was definitely what the Hawks needed. They gave up a very acceptable 26 shots, and although their possession numbers in the second and third were underwater, they managed to keep their shit together even after giving up the lead twice, and it paid off. I guess the downside is that Jeremy Colliton keeps his job a little bit longer, but that’s a price I can deal with if it means not watching the hot mess express for a second night in a row.

Line of the Night: “Every time he’s tried that in the NHL it hasn’t worked—you’re not playing 18-year-olds.” —Pat Foley criticizing Kirby Dach for a nifty move that was well defended, because apparently yelling at the kids is helpful right now.

Hockey

Not easy to do this when they biff all three games in the week, but hey, our is not to reason why…

The Dizzying Highs

Patrick Kane – It’s not really all that different for him, but when the Hawks score five goals all week and he sets up four of them, this is going to be your spot pretty much every time. Even though it felt like he was just kind of “there” in the season’s first month, there he is in the top-10 in league scoring, even though he likely doesn’t have the amount of talent around him as the players ahead of him do. Or their teams actually have the puck, when the Hawks generally don’t. While the Hawks had to attempt two dumbass-luck comebacks this week against Carolina and Tampa, two teams that are just vastly superior to them, they actually have a chance to do that because Kane’s around to either set up Gustafsson with a chance he can’t miss or get a shot through that Strome can pot the rebound of or the like.

The Hawks would be utterly fucked without their goalies, but they might not ever score if it wasn’t for Kane.

The Terrifying Lows

Team Harmony? – The Hawks weren’t offensively bad at least against Tampa or Dallas, so it’s hard to single out a particular player. But still, something was off with Jeremy Colliton scratching a clearly not-deserving-of-it Domink Kubalik, in order to get Slater Koekkoek into the lineup against his former team where no one remembers him. Toews called him out on it, the players openly derided going with seven d-men, and it all just harms the overall picture.

The reasoning was poor, the outcome probably worse, and now it just feels like Colliton is making things up on the fly. There’s no reason to scratch Kubalik ahead of Zack Smith or even Andrew Shaw, but these are both now entrenched vets that Colliton has also become afraid of. Shaw you sort of understand, and he’s been better of late, but Smith doesn’t draw any water. Meanwhile Kubalik has been your second or third most consistent forward at both ends of the ice.

That doesn’t mean the players have up and quit on Colliton, based on Saturday’s effort alone. But it seems that comes out of professional pride or a duty to each other or both more than a belief in the whole structure. That won’t last forever.

Also, this:

Maybe this deserves its own post, but why is the first thing an opposing coach notices about the Hawks is that they spin their wheels better than anyone else?

The Creamy Middles

Connor Murphy – It wasn’t his most solid week, and the Tampa game was kind of ugly, and he’s being wasted on a pairing with Olli Maatta, and I could keep going, but this season is going to end with me screaming from whatever hill I can find in this godforsaken flatland that he’s the most underrated player in the league. Murphy was excellent against Dallas, and turned over the ice with mostly Miro Heiskanen on the other side and an anchor on his. And he at least kept Andrew Cogliano from scoring against the Hawks again, and Fifth Feather from tumescence. He’s the Hawks best d-man, and I can only pray that Kelvin Gemstone treats him like it sometime this season instead of playing Erik Gustafsson into a five-year extension.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Lightning 9-7-2   Hawks 9-8-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE GUYS WHO DON’T LOOK LIKE XQUISITE: Raw Charge

It may sound strange to say the Hawks have more points than the Lightning, but that’s the case as the two ’15 Finalists get together again on West Madison. But of course, as we know here, that doesn’t mean the Hawks are better off than the Bolts. The Hawks collected their 22 points in the Cirque de Stupid that is the Central Division and Western Conference as a whole, whereas the Lightning are trying to fight through the gauntlet of the Atlantic. And one of these teams did put up 128 points last year, while the other missed the lowest bar for the playoffs in years by a good distance. And not that much has changed.

That’s not to say everything is rosy in Tampa. They’re sitting just three points above the Eastern cellar, though only two points out of the last playoff spot. While watching the Lightning, or trying to measure them by various metrics, it’s kind of clear that there’s still a malaise from last spring hanging over and in this team. Nothing they do in the regular season is going to matter to anyone, but sadly with the division they’re in they can’t play the whole regular season like it doesn’t matter. Which is kind of what they’ve been doing. Other than their power play, which has reached that “self aware” level, everything else is just meh. Right in the middle of the league.

The Lightning still score, as their overall goals-per-game and even-strength goals per game are in the top five. With the king of marksmen like Kucherov and Stamkos and Point and others, they don’t need to dominate possession to get the scoring they need. Which is good, because they aren’t. Their possession and expected goals numbers re firmly middle of the pack. Again, they can get away with that given the talent for long stretches, but it’s not ideal long-term.

Especially as they may not get the PDO balance at the other end right now. When picking through the rubble of last season’s meltdown in the first round, it was hard not to start with Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s .856 SV%. Anyone can have a bad four games of course, but any big save from Vas in at least Games 1 or 2 could have pivoted that series. The Bolts never got one. That hangover seems to have carried over to this season, where he’s carrying a .906. The Hawks will get the backup tonight, as Curtis McElhinney will take the start.

And that’s probably the biggest factor for the Bolts to get back on track, because they don’t give up a ton of great chances. They’re not among the league’s best, but comfortably in the top half. If Vas can get back to .915 or better, everything should be fine in Tampa.

It also might not hurt the Lightning that they’ve only played seven home games so far, and after this one tonight 14 of their next 17 will be in Tampa. You wouldn’t be shocked by a charge up the standings before New Year’s.

To the Hawks, who could or could not be with Andrew Shaw tonight. He didn’t practice yesterday so they’re going to see how he shows up tonight. If he doesn’t go, the Hawks will dress all seven d-men as they don’t have an extra forward at the moment with Drake Caggiula in a dark room somewhere (my whole life is a dark room…). Every time in the past the Hawks have tried the 7-D look it has gone horribly, and everyone bitches to high heaven about it after. I still think it should be something they try more often and with Boqvist involved, if only to shelter him and Seabrook better. It also provides extra shifts here and there for Kane, Toews, Saad, Dach, DeBrincat, which is a good thing. But what do I know? I’m just a drunk in the rain. Corey Crawford will be your starter.

The Hawks got embarrassed twice by the Lightning last year, though no scoreline truly reflects it. This was the opponent that put up 30 shots in a period on them at the United Center last time around. Quite simply, the Hawks aren’t built to deal with this kind of skill and speed. And really, neither of those things have changed.

The difference, albeit small, between what the Hawks saw on Tuesday and what they’ll get tonight is the Lightning defense isn’t as consistently mobile as Carolina’s. Sure, Hedman and Kirk ShattenKevin are, and Sergachev and Cernak are too. But Sergachev can get wayward when under pressure, and whether it’s Schenn or Rutta joining him that can be exploited. So can Ryan McDonagh on the second pairing. Whereas the Hawks couldn’t get behind Carolina’s last line, they can on this one.

Which means some other d-men besides Connor Murphy have to get the puck out of the zone as quickly as possible to get the defense to back up, which in turn will give everyone more room to breathe. As we saw last year, when the Hawks try their 17-pass breakout, the Lightning’s plus-plus speed at forward and on the forecheck swallows them whole and spits them back out inside out. There just isn’t time for that, at least not until you back them up by proving you can and will stretch the ice.

It’s a rough part of the schedule, as the Hawks again get one of the better teams in the league, whatever the standings say, before two with the hottest team in the league and then two with maybe the best team in the division. But if you want to go somewhere, you can’t always take the path of least resistance.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Evolving Hockey

The Hawks continue to ride the shooting percentage snake. Tonight was also about as well rounded a game as they’ve played. Let’s clean it up to put a nice feather in a good weekend’s cap.

Kirby Dach, you are our huckleberry. Dach’s been aces over the last few games, and tonight was the exclamation point on his current hot streak. We all knew that Dach had slick hands before he even got here, but the big question mark was how he would look skating at NHL speed. Tonight provided an emphatic answer. Just look at how badly he fooled Jack Eichel on his first goal.

Eichel’s caught flat-footed as Dach explodes through the neutral zone, then redirects Dach’s backhander right past Hutton. Credit A Little Bit of the Kubbly for threading that pass right past the forlorn Henri Jokiharju, but it’s Dach’s effortless stride that’s the star of the show.

On Dach’s second goal, it was almost the exact same play, just going in the opposite direction. Zack “You Actually CAN Spell Party Without Arty” Smith weaved himself into the offensive zone, swept himself into the slot, then dinked a pass to Dach, who once again outskated Eichel for a backhander. The speed-and-hands combo is going to be a nightmare for opponents if he can do that consistently, and it’s looking like he can. He ate Jack Eichel alive all night.

Kirby Dach is extremely good. He may be the cornerstone of the future for the Hawks’s forwards.

– Another game, another brilliant performance from Corey Crawford. Outside of a bad turnover behind the net that nearly led to a Sabres goal in the first, Crawford was about as flawless as could be. For once, the Hawks weren’t vastly outshot by an opponent (34–27 this time around), and they kept most of the Sabres’s attempts to the outside. There’s little more to say about how important Crawford (and Lehner) has been to this team so far.

Patrick Kane has a nine-game scoring streak with his PP-scramble goal. That creep can roll.

– Dominik Kubalik had a quietly good game tonight, which makes the fact that had just above 12 minutes of ice time in ALL situations a bit puzzling. Yeah, I get not changing shit when it’s working. But I can’t get away from the idea of Saad–Toews–Kubalik and the damage that line could do on both sides of the puck. That line’s missing a finisher, and Kubalik has the shot to be that guy.

– Speaking of Saad, he led all Hawks forwards in ice time tonight, and rightfully so. He and Nylander had three or four 2-on-1s that they just couldn’t make work, whether because of a rogue Nylander pass or Saad’s lack of finish. Those two were so close to making their possession chemistry click that I get keeping them together with Toews, but it might be worth pushing Nylander down in the lines. He’s had success when the stakes aren’t as high. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Back to Saad, his highlight tonight came on Toews’s goal. After a bad Ristolainen turnover on the near boards, Saad crashed the net and, per usual, got stuffed. But he stuck with the puck and found a wide-open Toews in the slot. A quick flick of the wrist and it’s 4–0 Hawks.

Connor Murphy looked good tonight with several key breakups. His sweep check on Lazar in the first prevented an odd-man rush. He had a strong block after a Crawford save on the PK in the third that prevented an open chance. When he’s healthy, he’s everything that everyone wants Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan to be.

– De Haan was entirely at fault for the Sabres’s only goal, with an unforced giveaway to Jack “My Father Is Younger Than Me” Eichel. His entire third period was piss, but that goal was the only mistake that cost him. Something to keep an eye on, because it was out-of-character bad for him in the third.

– I’m done with Andrew Shaw, friends. Yes, he got an assist on Dach’s goal, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he can’t stickhandle for shit and his skating fucking sucks. The best example of this was at the end of the Hawks’s PP in the second. He had an unforced turnover in the offensive zone that he parlayed into a totally unnecessary neutral zone hooking penalty that put Buffalo on the PP. The Hawks killed it off and all, but this kind of shit would get most guys scratched. Shaw did end up toward the bottom end of the TOI mix, so maybe Coach Kelvin Gemstone’s brand is on the rise.

Taking nine of their last 10 points available is fun. The way they’re doing it is fun. Let’s enjoy this fun for as long as it lasts.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: High Life

Line of the Night: “He’s trying to get off really hard.” Konroyd on Dach

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 7-7-4   9-6-3

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW TRAILER: On The Forecheck

You probably didn’t expect, after that complete shellacking two weeks ago in the same venue, when these two met up again the Hawks would be only three points behind the Predators. And with a win tonight in regulation, the Preds would be feeling hot giardiniera breath on their necks. Such is reality, which is what happens when various parts of your team rotate going haywire for a couple weeks.

The Preds have lost five of six coming into this (a couple in extra time), while the Hawks have sucked up 10 of 13 points in the meantime. Which is how you get this standing. That doesn’t mean these teams are just three points apart in quality overall, and you saw that the last game these two played. The Hawks haven’t been rolled like that since the Suhonen or Yawney days, and perhaps was the start of the process that got the Hawks to change their ways…however minor or major that actually was.

So what’s up with the Preds? Why has it fallen out of gear for them? Well one, the goaltending has been terrible. Pekka Rinne has only had one good start since that October disaster (for the Hawks), and it came against the Red Wings which barely counts. In his other three starts his SV% is .797. Saros has been better in the meantime, though he couldn’t stop that nine-goals-of-fun the Avalanche hung up on them.

The offense hasn’t been all that consistent either. They managed one goal against the Sharks, and one goal against the Rangers in this streak. When they have gotten goals, Rinne has employed the Roger Dorn defense in net.

Is that what the Preds are overall? Probably not, though they’re not an unholy force either. Their Corsi-percentage is just at tick over even. Their expected-goals is just a tick above that. Which is a tad strange for the Predators. And digging a little deeper, it gets a touch confusing.

In terms of attempts, the Preds give up a lot of them. Bottom-10 in the league. They also generate a fair amount for themselves. But when it comes to chances, it’s the opposite. They keep teams to the outside for the most part, but they also don’t get to the prime areas enough themselves. There’s a lot of noise in the Predators’ game right now, in that there’s a lot of stuff happening but not a huge portion of it really means anything. Still, when Rinne is off to the Kerry Wood Memorial Zoo then those half-chances and winged-hopes from the outside are still ending up in twine.

It’s generally not a good sign when your two leading scorers are d-men. One you can get away with. The Preds have a clear line from their top six to their bottom six and their top pairing to their bottom pairings. When Josi and Ellis are on the ice, good things happen and the Preds are on the right side of the ice. Same goes for either Matt Duchene‘s or Treat Boy’s line. But when Nick Bonino or Kyle Turris is the center, again, the Predators back up.

That’s probably why the Preds have made no secret they’d like to move Turris’s ass along, in another brilliant David Poile move. He’s currently centering their fourth line for the rate of $6M a year. They could also probably use another puck-mover on the second or third pairing. Didn’t they have one once? I seem to remember they did. He was pretty good, right? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Another factor the Preds might want to keep an eye on is that they’re currently shooting over 10% at even-strength, which leads the league by nearly a full percentage point. That is likely to come down, and then where will they be?

Turning to the Hawks, who will get Connor Murphy back tonight. While no team should need Connor Murphy this much, the Hawks do and he’s simply been their best d-man last season and the brief time he was around this one. At the moment he seems slotted on the third pairing, as Colliton doesn’t want to mess up what he’s got going with Keith-Gus and de Haan-Seabrook. This won’t take more than a period to change, given the mobility the Hawks need to counter the Preds.

Robin Lehner will be in goal, and he’ll probably need to perform a few miracles like he did last time in Nashville just to keep the Hawks from getting embarrassed. Hopefully this time if he does that it’ll result in points.

This will be something of a test of the Hawks new, aggressive, Loyola-Marymount ’89 ways. Then again, so was Vegas. The Hawks simply couldn’t deal with the Preds speed at forward last time, and they were turning the puck over before they knew they had it. This meant the Preds defense could pinch and move up in the zone to their hearts’ content, as there was no threat the other way.

If the Hawks are still serious about getting behind the opponent’s defense, while risking their defense and center being outmanned down low in their zone, they might get the Preds’ defense to back up. At least it could provide a quick outlet for a defense that’s going to be under serious pressure from the off, even if it’s just laying it out into the neutral zone and causing races back. But going back is where you want the bottom four D of the Preds. It hasn’t worked out well for them lately. The risk of course is that furious Preds forecheck will have even more fun with even less manpower and options for any puck carrier below his net or deep in his zone for the Hawks.

You’d think there’d be a measure of pride for the Hawks here as well. They were made to look like a high school team their last visit. That will still be fresh in the memory banks. Pekka Rinne was basically laughing at them in the postgame. The Hawks still like to think they carry the most pedigree in any matchup. It’s fading, but they still cling to it. Perhaps now would be the time to show it.

Hockey

Not that I think Connor Murphy‘s injury will turn out to be a Wally Pip moment, because nothing really ever is. But it does open a window for the Hawks to try and get started on their future. And their future wears #27, at least on the blue line.

I’m sure the Hawks won’t call up Adam Boqvist to take Murphy’s spot. They’ll call up Dennis Gilbert because he’s the loyal foot soldier, and they can play him 12 minutes a night without scrutiny to not do a hell of a lot on the third pairing for three weeks. We’ll get more of Fetch Koekkoek, because he’s the new Rundbland and Stan is going to prove he knows what he’s doing no matter how much closer it brings us to the first instance in history of a goalie breaking his stick over his own d-man’s head on the ice. I know this, you know this.

But last night, as encouraging as it was at times, once again showed the speed deficit the Hawks have when it comes to the best teams in the league. If they red-line and play as if their pubic hair was on fire, they can almost keep up. But you can’t do that for 82 games. You can’t play that hard and that desperate, because you’ll be puddles and goo by February. You need more baseline speed.

And that’s what Boqvist is. And the defense, as strange as it might sound, could absorb him right now. Whatever they do, the clear answer is to move Calvin de Haan up to play with Duncan Keith, as de Haan can mostly emulate the safety net Murphy provides (though without most of the mobility). At the moment, that leaves Seabrook and Maatta together, which is still getting crushed even if Maatta has been better than we thought, and Gustafsson and Fetch for shifts that will have all of us walking funny and carefully to the bathroom.

Maatta and de Haan have definitely stabilized a defense that really had no other direction to go, as well as the Murphy-Keith pairing you just lost. But all it is is just defending. The Hawks don’t get up the ice any better than they did. They still need help with that. The only candidate for that is Boqvist. They need transition.

Pair him with Maatta. Let Seabrook and Gustafsson be on the third pairing, which as ugly as it might sound is better than the alternative. Maatta’s form this season at least allows for the possibility that he can be the free safety for Boqvist’s flaming guitar solos (there’s some mixed metaphors for you). It’s what the Hawks need.

We know thanks to DeBrincat’s bridge contract that the Hawks have basically zeroed in on the next three-four seasons–the length of Daydream Nation’s collective contract. Boqvist’s is already running. No waiting around. Let’s go.

-Which also means keeping Kirby Dach around. Does that mean he’s ready? No, it doesn’t. But I also don’t need too much more than the two games we’ve seen to know that he’s beyond the WHL too. And seeing as how Rockford isn’t an option…

One thing Dach is going to have to do better is get his legs pumping. NHL forwards basically spring for their entire shifts, and so far Dach has gotten caught gliding a little too often. That doesn’t mean he’s a loaf, as it’s probably more to do with him calculating what’s going on around him and then reacting instead of those two things folding seamlessly into each other, which they will. He’s going to have to map things out while moving full speed.

Dach being a bigger guy, it’s always going to look like he’s playing at a slightly slower speed because he’ll cover ground that much easier. His style is just going to look languid even if it’s not. I don’t need his legs to look like Road Runner, but they do need to move a touch more.

Still, the hands and vision and instincts are obvious. And if the Hawks are patient, I can’t see how after 30-40 games he won’t look like he belongs. And 30 games in the NHL have to be more valuable than 60 games in the WHL beating up on children because he’s that much more talented. That won’t really get him to move at higher speeds. So keep him here and get moving on these next three seasons. Let’s go.