Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Many of you dear readers have far better things to do with your Saturday night than watch the Blackhawks play the Stars in Dallas, and for that I sincerely envy you. I truly did not expect much from this game between these two teams, but this one turned out to be pretty intense despite the lack of scoring. I still have plenty to say about it and a few thoughts coming out of it. Dive into my mind:

THE BULLETS

– About 10 minutes into the game, there was still no score, but it felt like the Stars should’ve been up by 4. The night never really changed from that kinda feel, either, and in the end Dallas probably should’ve won something like 6-1. It never really should’ve gotten to a shooutout, let alone overtime. The Stars had notable whiffs on wide open nets from from Jamie Benn and Corey Perry, along with a few other missed opportunities – they registered TEN High Danger Chances in the first period but came away with just one goal. Those coupled with another strong game in the crease from Robin Lehner really kept the Hawks in a game they didn’t really deserve to be in.

– Kind of riffing off that first bullet as well, while the Hawks dominated the attempts in the second period and controlled most of the play, all that work still only resulted in six total scoring chances and just two of them being High Danger. All those shot attempts basically amount to empty calories if you’re not generating opportunities from them.

– I’d like to give a special nod to Coach Mayor Buttigieg for giving Erik Gustafsson and Brent Seabrook 16+ minutes of 5v5 ice time in spite of the Stars eating them up for breakfast lunch, and dinner. Those two finished with CF%’s of 39.29 and 38.46 respectively, which is impressively bad. Gustafsson also had an embarrassingly bad turnover that led to the open net chance I mentioned earlier that Perry whiffed on.

We are to the point with Gustafsson that each game it is getting more and more predictable that he is going to have a costly turnover, and he is finding new ways to turn the puck over each time. I really don’t want to become a broken meatball record with this dude, but he has to be gone. Soon.

– Let’s stick with Mayor Pete Colliton, though, because if the performance and playstyle of the team in the first month of the season wasn’t enough to get him fired outright, there were moments tonight that might be the final straw. The Hawks took bench minors for Too Many Men twice tonight, once in the third period and once in overtime. Those are just backbreakingly stupid penalties to take, especially in those moments, and the Hawks were lucky that *those* mistakes weren’t the ones that finally cost them. And maybe you can chalk the OT one up to a twitchy whistle from the refs on a change, but that still comes back to coaching and knowing when to send your fucking players onto the ice.

For all the talk of how fun the Hawks were in their winning steak when they went back to new-old system so that the skill players could open up the ice a bit more, we haven’t seen those efforts come to fruition in the last three games. The Hawks haven’t been playing terrible, but they’re still getting boat raced at various moments in games, which is just not something you can ignore. And with Toews all but calling Colliton a fucking dumbass for playing seven D against Tampa a few days ago, it’s still clear that the locker room is not a fan of this guy. It has to end.

– Hawks are off until Tuesday when they get a rematch with these Stars at home. Until then.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 9-9-4   Stars 13-8-2

PUCK DROP(S): Tonight and Tuesday at 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago Saturday, NBCSN Tuesday

TEXAS FLOOD: Defending Big D

It’s a bit strange that almost two months into the season, the Hawks have only played three divisional games. They haven’t seen St. Louis, or Colorado, or Minnesota, or Dallas yet. That will change over the Thanksgiving holiday, as the next five are within the Central and four of them will be amongst home-and-homes. It kicks off tonight with the first saunter of the campaign down to Texas, where the Hawks will start two against the hottest team in the league.

It’s been a miniature version of last season for the Stars, who won one of their first nine and now have ripped off 12 of their last 14. But whereas last year Jim Montgomery switched gears midseason to go all Trotz/Lemaire to shoot the Victory Green up the standings and into the playoffs, this year he’s loosened the reins a bit to give his team a little more freedom. But basically what both seasons boiled down to is either Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are scoring or they’re not.

Montgomery even pulled the same switch as the owner last year, calling out his two stars in the press. He walked that back immediately, because he knows they’re the reason this team will be good or not, especially with John Klingberg out injured (again). Not that it didn’t work, as Seguin has piled up eight points in six games since and Benn seven. These two were playing well before of course, just weren’t getting the bounces.

It also helps that THE BISHOP has started flashing Vezina form again, which is the real strength of the team. Whatever the Stars do he is the backbone, and a .942 in November will backstop just about any system or teammates Montgomery would choose. The Hawks will duck Bishop tonight by the looks of it, but will probably see him on Tuesday in the return. Not that Anton Khudobin is some easy task either, as he also has a .942 in four November starts.

The Stars are a bit beat up, as Klingberg is a big miss and Roope Hintz being out erodes some of their depth as well (both returned on Saturday and both scored last night, so it’s pretty much the full strength Stars now). Miro Heiskanen has made up for a lot of what Klingberg would do, and has even inspired Jamie Oleksiak into some form of competence, which is a true upset.

That doesn’t mean the Stars are without depth. Joe Pavelski has gotten used to being in green and not teal of late, and is dovetailing with Alex Radulov on the second line. Even shit-demon Corey Perry has chipped in on the bottom six, and you know what Andrew Cogliano (NBA Jam voice: COGLIANO!) can do to the Hawks (and Fifth Feather’s little cartoon hearts).

Perhaps the main feature of the Stars forwards is they can adapt to a variety of styles given their IQ and speed. Montgomery certainly hasn’t shied from trying just about everything.

To the Hawks, who shouldn’t see too many changes from Thursday aside from putting the seven d-men plan into the freezer for good. As we’ve said, in a vacuum it makes sense and would make more with Adam Boqvist around. But this isn’t a vacuum, the players clearly hate it, and we likely won’t see it again for a while unless Colliton has a point to prove tonight. Certainly Dominik Kubalik has no business being scratched other than he’s the lowest hanging fruit to do so being a rookie. Enough of that shit.

The Stars are almost already out of touch for the Hawks, six points ahead though having played a game more. Still, the Hawks aren’t going to climb the standings if they can’t get wins within the division, and if they fall on their face in the next five they could be season-boned as it is. The Stars aren’t quite as stout as they insisted on being last year, but their goalies are so the Hawks will need a big performance from Lehner tonight you would think. And probably Crawford again on Tuesday. Montgomery might sense that without a puck-moving d-man, the best route for the Stars is to back up for these two and just trench the neutral zone and see what the Hawks can do about it.

The most familiar rivals for Thanksgiving. Isn’t it that way for everyone?

Hockey

We, and many others, have long lamented that NHL coaching and GM hires seem to come from the same shallow and brackish pool they have for decades. Once you get one job in the league, you get 17, as comrade McClure is often fond of saying. And with that, there’s always going to be a lack of new ideas and creativity. The league just keeps rehashing the same ol’ shit.

Of course, it would help if when the new blood do get a chance, they didn’t prove to be a complete pillock. David Hakstol flamed out in Philadelphia pretty hard. You’ve seen what Jeremy Colliton can do, or can’t. Guy Boucher was an original hire a while ago. He proved he could only trap and that worked for one season. David Quinn is currently fucking with every young kid’s head in New York.

So perhaps we should take some satisfaction that the one in Dallas, Jim Montgomery, has found a path to success. Whether it involves any original thinking is up for discussion, and we’ll get into that forthwith.

Monty came in with about as much pedigree as you can get outside of the league and paying your dues as an assistant or slogging in the AHL. He turned a good U. of Denver program into a power, with two Frozen Four appearances, one NCHA conference championship, and an NCAA one to cap it off. Denver did it with a swarming, up-tempo style, which he had hoped to bring to the Stars.

It didn’t quite work that way. The Stars were a middling team last Christmas, right around .500 and just kind of treading in the fetid water of the bottom rungs of the Central and West. From there until the end of the season, the Stars went 25-16-3 to get into the playoffs, where they then upended the Nashville Predators in the first round before taking the Blues as far as you can go without winning.

Sadly, Montgomery had to do that by turning the Stars into the most boring outfit around. From Christmas on, Dallas was the most defensively tight unit in the league. They had the lowest goals-against at even-strength, top-10 in expected goals against, all the while eschewing offense as they also had the lowest goals for at even strength. They were dull as shit, trapping the will to live out of everyone but their own players and fans. Which is all that matters, really.

But when you have one of the league’s best goalies in Ben Bishop, and really a plodding defense behind John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, and really only one line of offense, what else are you supposed to do? Montgomery fit the system to the parts, which must be really nice.

When a coach goes the Mourinho route, generally you’ll get results for a year because limiting things means you can get a coin to land on your side more often, and when you’re reducing chances and goals you’re basically turning more and more games into coin flips. Or more likely, teams in the middle of an interminable regular season just aren’t going to want to work through you, and you are more desperate because you need the results more. And then good results start to pile up, the confidence and belief in what you’re doing grows, and there you go.

But after that, players really don’t want to work that hard without the puck for very long. Not without at least getting to play a bit more and try and score a bit more and make games easier. You can only work in the gulag for so long before you spirit breaks.

It would appear Monty figured that out, too. The Stars started the season horribly, and stood at 1-7-1 after nine games. They’ve gone 12-1-1 since. And check out their expected goals numbers as the season has gone along:

They have opened things up, and traded a little security to allow Seguin, Benn, Radulov, Pavelski et al some more space. They’ve scored 49 goals during this 14-game spree, or just about 3.5 per game.

Now it’s not all that simple. Some is just luck. Tyler Seguin has been Tyler Seguin, but only bagged two goals in the season’s first month due to just rotten luck. Ben Bishop has posted a .942 in November. Heiskanen has eight points in his last four games. Players get hot, players get cold. But the Stars have also had to negotiate around injuries to John Klingberg and Roope Hintz, two big pieces. Maybe it evens out.

It at least feels like Montgomery knows which buttons to push and when to maximize what he has. And we look on with longing eyes…

Hockey

There seems to be this misconception that the Stars made it back to the playoffs and to the second round of the playoffs last year because of a dynamic young roster playing entertaining hockey. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as coach Jim Montgomery authored a second-half charge by boring the utter shit out of everyone and trying to copy what Barry Trotz was doing with the Isles. They got a Vezina-finalist worthy season out of Ben Bishop, which was the main catalyst. So which way does Montgomery play this now? Stick with the effective but limited, and coma-inducing, style that got the Stars into the playoffs? Or retry finding something more expansive that might be harder to pull off but leads to bigger rewards down the line?

2018-2019

43-32-7  93 points (4th in Central, out in 2nd round)

2.55 GF/G (29th)  2.44 GA/G (2nd)

48.1 CF% (23rd)  50.2 xGF% (15th)

21.0 PP% (11th)  82.8 PK% (5th)

Goalies: The Stars get to return both halves of their duo this year, and it starts with THE BISHOP! Whenever Bishop is healthy, you get Vezina-level play from him. The problem is that remains a huge “if.” Bishop only made it to the post 45 times last year, and the Stars probably are going to need more from him this time around. Even if he is healthy, they’re probably not going to get .934 from him again, though they can still expect mid-.920s.

Anton Khudobin finally found success outside Boston last year,  flourishing behind the heavy shielding he got from the Stars and their system (expected save-percentage of .925 at evens). Still, Khudobin’s .923 SV% was by far the best he’d managed in five seasons, and to expect him to get back to that, no matter the defensive shielding, is kind of pie-eyed. He’s also 33, so going up from where he was last campaign is probably not a probability either.

The goalies will be good. Bishop always has potential to be great. They definitely provide a floor for the Stars that they can’t fall through, which is around the bottom of the playoff picture.

Defense: Perhaps the reason Montgomery opted for the Mourinho approach to hockey was that he ended up pairing his only two puck-movers in John Klingbergy and Miro Heiskanen. That left him with only pluggers and punters on the next two pairings, so better to just ask them to do what they do best, i.e. roadblocks. The two Finns are wonderful players and really do push around most everyone they come across when together.

It’s pretty much the same crew now, though they added Andrej Sekera just in case he isn’t clinically dead (he is). Stephen Johns started camp with the Stars but started feeling his post-concussion problems again, and one might have to suggest his career is over. Jamie Oleksiak will sink to the third pairing where he belongs, to make room for any Esa Lindell growth. But it feels like we’ve been hearing about that one for a while now and still haven’t seen it. At 25 and in his fourth season, it’s definitely a “shit-now” kind of season.

It’s a fine collection even if it’s really only the two Norris candidates in Klingberg and Heikanen at the top. If Montgomery wants to show any adventure in the team, he’ll split those two up. If they’re together, we can probably guess it’s going to be more three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust hockey, if we can keep mixing our sports metaphors (and I can, it’s my fucking blog).

Forwards: The name in lights here is Joe Pavelski, whom Dough Wilson deemed surplus to requirements at the price and age he was. Which should give everyone a second of pause. At 35, Pavelski’s days in the middle probably should be over, but it’s hard to spot a center who can maximize his still top-tier finishing ability other than Tyler Seguin, who already has his wingers. Or Pavelski could play there and Jamie Benn can not-munch his way to 50 points on the second line, but again, same problem.

As it always is with the Stars, the rest of the lineup is littered with products of the system who serve merely as foot-soldiers and insurance-carriers. It would be hard to convince me that Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark aren’t all the same person that the Stars have just cleaved in half a few times and watched them regenerate into two. They’re also throwing Cory Perry to the wall to see if the slime he’s made of sticks, which it won’t. Between him and Sekera the level of zombification in the dressing room is certainly over quota.

But everyone below the top line are capable of carrying out the specific tasks that Montgomery sets out, which is keeping things tight and preventing goals. It feels like they’ll be doing that again.

Prediction: You could roll out Bishop and Khudobin by themselves and probably guarantee 85 points. So the question is whether the Stars can add much to it. Pavelski adds some juice to the offense, but there’s no Logan Couture or Tomas Hertil for him to play off as there was in San Jose. If he plays on the top line, it’s probably a little more offense than Benn would get you there now but the problem of support scoring is still there. There’s just not a lot of goals here, although there doesn’t have to be considering the goalies and defensive ways. The division hasn’t taken too many steps forward. If the Hawks had made improvements, I would say the Stars’ spot is the one they can aim for. But they haven’t. Around the 8th seed is more than possible for them again.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

Colorado

Everything Else

A loss in double overtime in a Game 7. There is supposed to be glory about it. A beautiful death. Honorable defeat. Going out on your shield. Something to earmark and build upon. A loss, but one you can still hold your head high after when the cloud of shock and disappointment clear.

The thing is, that kind of glow requires that you actually try to win the game in the first 60 minutes, not have five Buddhas out there grinning childishly sitting on their collective ass while their goalie is fending off all sorts of threats and creatures by the minute. But that was the Dallas Stars method, who both tried to rope-a-dope and be-a-dope method last night and then were beaten by perhaps the biggest dope on offer, Pat Maroon.

It was all there for the Stars, whose entire style is basically push the dude over after he punches himself out. And there is no more push-over-able dude in the league than the St. Louis Blues. Game 7 at home and finding every way to not score, you could feel the DrinkScotch/Enterprise/Blue Live Matter Center accept their fate. They were going to lose after more than doubling the Stars in shots and almost tripling them in attempts. This was the way it had to be. This was nature. They could barely lift their arms anymore, struggling to breathe as most of their fans do.

But the push never came, as the Stars became so infatuated with short shifts they didn’t bother to do much other than just change on the fly. One player would hop over the boards, maybe get get to within touching distance of the middle of the ice, and then go fleeing back to the bench like a small child seeing how far away he can get from mom before he gets yelled at. Oh sure, they had their chances to win, but that’s the buy-in from the Blues.

So even in a double-OT Game 7 loss, you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything else about the series, the Stars playoff run, or the Stars as a whole. I’m fairly sure their coach is bald. That’s about all I can tell you. Because the Stars essentially became the energy vampires of the Western Conference and happily so. They straight up admitted to copying Barry Trotz’s system and then removing all the whimsy from that.

I guess this is what you do when your GM has had six years to get secondary scoring and has come up empty each time. Perhaps by sheer dumb idiot luck secondary scoring has landed on him through Dickinson, Zuccarello, and Hintz, but let’s not be too hasty. There are a raft of names before them that flashed being able to finally support the top troika of Radulov, Seguin, and Benn and his case of reverse-fear of heights. But they all slink back into the ether, unrecognizable from the other, trailing in Jason Spezza’s apologetic and wheezing wake. Which is how you end up with four goals in 10.5 periods over the last three games and packing for the summer. Which is pretty much how the Stars wanted it, fearing crossing the red line as if it was No Man’s Land. Happy in our trench are we, sang the green-clad throng.

Speaking of Jamie “The Retort To The Downward Spiral” Benn, you have to whisper this because he’s earned such gravitas with the hockey world thanks to always looking like the garbage bag busted all over his kitchen floor, but he’s starting his slide into Future Lucic state. Two goals in 13 playoff games, 53 points in a souped-up league, the lowest amount of shots in eight seasons. He’ll turn 30 over the summer, and the aging curve for power forwards looks akin to drunk dick. The cliff is coming for Jamie, and we know how he feels about going down. Soon he’ll have no choice. Dive for the crevice, Jamie.

The Stars will be confident is being right back here next season, with their hopes built in the sand of a 6-6 goaltender with various hip and leg problems who hasn’t taken a full slate of starts in four seasons. Seems real sturdy, that. Radulov will be 33, and even Seguin is starting to slide out of his prime years.

None of this might matter, as Jim Montgomery continues to abandon his principles to play a system that’s essentially singing campfire songs in a bomb shelter. The margins become so thin, and any long-term injury to THE BISHOP! can undo it all. The Stars could change this if they had any puck-movers on the back end…oh I know what you’re going to say, but it can’t be long before Monty’s system and Texas itself kills the spirit of Klingberg and Heiskanen. Didn’t they fire Hitchcock for this very reason?

This is about as good as it’s gotten for the Stars, and probably as good as it will. Two playoff series wins in 10 years, and both followed by Game 7 spit-ups. One conference final appearance in 20 years. Even the Blues have more, Dallas. Think about that for a second.

The Stars will continue their seeming never-ending journey to/occupation of the middle, that team you stumble upon on NHL Center Ice on a Thursday night and are surprised you haven’t checked in on in a while. Then after 10 minutes you remember exactly why that is. You will merely be intermission acts for Luka Doncic from here on out. Just like you were for Dirk. Maybe you can drop Hintz’s stretcher one day to get anyone to take notice of you.

It was there for you, Stars. Next time, try.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in St. Louis – Tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in St. Louis – Saturday, 2pm

Game 3 in Dallas – Monday, 7pm

Game 4 in Dallas – Wednesday, 8:30

I said it on the podcast, but I’ll say it again. If you have literally anything else to do, do not watch this series. The Stars are boring as fuck, and on purpose because it’s how they hang, and the Blues don’t have the speed the Predators do and that series was its own energy vampire. I’ll be shocked if any team gets to four goals in any game this series. Cue the 5-4 series opener tonight, of course. Let’s do this together.

Goalies: Perhaps the biggest reason this is going to be a tough watch. Ben Bishop threw a .945 at the Preds and sent them home, including a couple 40+ save outings. He’s a Vezina finalist for multiple times for a reason, and carries a career .930 in the playoffs. He also has the added spice of being from West East St. Louis, and playing against a team that gave up on him long ago (I watched Viktor Stalberg light him up in a Presidents’ Day matinee live in St. Louis, once, and believe me everyone hated him there).

On the other side, Jordan Binnington wasn’t that great against the Jets. It was enough, but a .908 probably isn’t going to get it done against the complete opposite of Winnipeg, a team that’s only interested in playing defense. He was kind of all over the map, with three really good games, two bad ones, and a meh one that didn’t matter because the Jets had already quit. He’s unlikely to see a ton of shots here because that’s just not what the Stars do, but there will come a game or two where he’s probably going to have to make a lot of saves and rob the likes of Benn and Seguin on big chances. Let’s call us skeptical still that he’s ready to do that. Edge here for the Stars.

Defense: On the sheets, the Stars are better off here. Somehow a child shall lead them, as it was Miro Heiskanen that led them in ice-time against the Predators. Klingberg and Lindell were actually marvelous against Nashville’s top line, and that’s at least equivalent to O’Reilly-Schenn-Tarasenko. No matter how many draws ROR wins and the broadcast won’t shut up about. Still, Roman Polak is here and playing significant minutes and when that happens calamity is never too far under the surface. Same goes for Ben Lovejoy. Still, with Heiskanen and Klingberg, that’s two better puck-movers than anything the Jets could boast, including the very disinterested and bloated Dustin Byfuglien.

We’ll never buy into the Blues blue line. Alex Pietrangelo is overrated. Colton Parayko was turned into sawdust and vomit by Mark Scheifele. Jabe O’Meester is a zombie that isn’t particularly interested in eating brains. Vinnie Dunn might be something one day, but not yet. Still, they turned back a deeper crop of forwards than the Stars can dream of. The task will be awfully different here, as the Stars are going to dare them to carry or pass their way through a barbed-wire filled neutral zone, and there’s no one on the Blues who can do that. And if they force it and turn the puck over more, that’s what the Stars are feeding on right now.

Forwards: Same drill as with a lot of teams now. The Stars are one line. It’s a hell of a line, but that’s it. There were flickers of light of a second line between Hobbit Zuccarello, Roope Hintz, and Jason Dickinson, and if that can continue they’re on to something. But the top line has to score and it has to score a lot. Good thing the Blues don’t really have a shutdown pairing.

The Blues will tell you they have depth. And they do if Jaden Schwartz builds off his series-clinching hat-trick. We’ve already talked about the top line, they seem to believe pretty heavily in Oskar Sundqvist (whatever), and they have foot soldiers like Maroon and Thomas and Perron who might chip in a big goal or two. Overall, the Blues do have a deeper set here. They just don’t have the top.

Prediction: Again, this will be cruel and unusual. But the Blues simply are not built to bust through a trap consistently. And even if they do, it’s a much better goalie waiting playing better. And the Stars have just more of a top end. Because of how awful this will be to watch, you know it’s going the route. Which screams a Bishop shutout on the road.

Stars in 7. 

Everything Else

We’re getting to the business end of the 1st round, and thankfully most of the bullshit and cock-holding has started to fade a bit. Some things will get decided this weekend, so it’s time to focus on what really matters. Here’s where we stand.

Toronto vs. Boston (2-2)

You hear less moaning and whining from Toronto now that Tampa won’t be waiting in the second round after spending a week filing their nails, as we all thought would happen. Still, you can easily see a scenario where the Leafs finally vanquish the Bruins, are overjoyed with their first series win since the Model-T was in fashion, and then get atom-smashed by the Jackets in four or five games. I’m almost kind of hoping this happens.

Anyway, this series has been as close as 2-2 would suggest and neither really finding anything to exploit on the other. The Bs really kicked around the Leafs in Game 2, and the Leafs kind of did in Game 4 without getting the result. Sometimes the other guys makes 38 saves.

For the most part, whether home or road, Patrice Bergeron has been matched up with John Tavares, and has gotten just this side the better. You wouldn’t expect that to change tonight in Boston. And much the same, the Matthews-Krejci matchup has been a standstill, though if you had to bet Matthews is the slightly better bet to pop off. But where this might get decided is the Bruins bottom-six has been getting devoured possession and chance-wise by Toronto’s, and if Nazem Kadri weren’t a galactic moron he’d be odds-on to make that count instead of his replacements. Still, that’s what I’d watch for the next two or three.

Avalanche vs. Flames (Avs 3-1)

This one doesn’t take much science. The Flames don’t have an answer for Nathan MacKinnon, even though by some miracle the goaltending has essentially been equal. It’s just that Mike Smith has faced 108 shots the past two games. Giordano and Brodie are getting blistered, and I can’t talk about what’s happening to Hamonic and Hanifin without asking any children in the room to leave.

On the other side, Sean Monahan hasn’t come close to answering what MacKinnon’s line is doing, and if that continues the Flames here are toast. Bill Peters, or Pill Beters if you prefer, at home tonight has to get Backlund out against MacK every chance he gets. Yes, Backlund had a nightmare end to Game 4, but he’s still one of the best checking centers in the league and there doesn’t seem to be much option. Still, no one on the Flames is carrying an xGF% over 45% except Tkachuk. That’s a big one, that’s a bad one.

Stars vs. Predators (tied 2-2)

If you haven’t watched this one, good for you. It’s been like watching the DMV. The Stars have turned into Trotz Ultra, and the Predators don’t really have the firepower to easily get through it. They play just enough defense to usually be ok, except when they don’t bother to show up as they did in Game 4. With Bishop and Rinne, and the way the Stars play this, the margins are awfully thin and this one could easily be decided by something hitting someone’s ass and going in. Just don’t cut time out for it, you’ve got better things to do.

Blues vs. Jets (Blues lead 3-2)

It’s rare you see a team try and out-Blues the Blues, but we live in strange times. The Jets, who I’m convinced have been trying to get Paul Maurice fired since November, had it in their hands last night. Up two goals at home and the Blues really doing nothing. But because they stopped playing defense long ago in that attempt to get their coach canned, they let them back into it. Also having an aging and even more-uncaring Byfuglien out there will lead to messes on the rug, evidenced by Oskar Sundqvist walking around him like he was roped off by caution tape for the equalizer last night. Jacob Trouba seems intent on costing himself money by the day, and the Jets are a mess.

This is still the Blues though, who also had the series in their hands and then kept tossing Colton Parayko at Mark Scheifele. This has truly been the debate of Mooseylvania, where each keeps pushing the the win back toward each other.

Hurricanes vs. Capitals (2-2)

It’s funny, but basically the Canes have kicked the crap out of the Capitals for most of this series and can’t seem to solve Holtby. only Game 4 was close in terms of possession or expected goals, and the Canes carried a 57% share in that one anyway. Again, as we’ve said with the Canes for years now, as fun as they are and as much right as they do, the lack of premier firepower is costing them. With it, and this one might already be over.

Still, it’s the former champs and you’d trust Braden Holtby more than Petr Mrazek, even though Mrazek has been good for months now. The Canes have to continue to dominate possession to make up for the snipers they don’t have, stay out of the box, and they can pull the upset. Oshie is going to be a big miss here, because his kind of finishing is the difference between these teams. Without him, that difference becomes smaller. And you know Aho is going to go off in one of these games.

Sharks vs. Knights (Vegas leads 3-2)

This one’s simple enough. When the Sharks get any saves whatsoever, they win. When they don’t, they don’t. They haven’t been outclassed or dominated for any stretch here other than maybe Game 3, but in the middle three games whatever chances the Knights got went in and the Sharks were always chasing. Jones played well last night, the Sharks won relatively easily, but that was also the case in Game 1 and then he went to the zoo for three games. There’s no margin for error now. Fleury has only been ok in this series, but he’s only had to be ok. Vlasic’s return also clearly makes a difference.

You’ll know by the 1st period on Sunday if this one’s over or not. If Jones hasn’t crapped out a chicken, the Sharks have every chance to get it back to Cali for a Game 7. If he has, pack up the cats.

Everything Else

Last year, we attempted to sum up every playoff night with like, real analysis. But let’s be real, you can’t watch five games at once. It’s hard enough to watch three games in a night. So this year, we’re just going to give you the quickest possible thoughts on the previous night’s happenings. 

Blue Jackets vs. Lightning Game 1: What the fuck?

Penguins vs. Islanders Game 1: What the fuck ever.

Blues vs. Jets Game 1: Fuck, but also fuck the Jets.

Dallas vs. Nashville Game 1: Fuckin’ Stars!

Knights vs. Sharks Game 1: Fuckin’ Sharks!

That’s all.

Everything Else

vs.

Schedule

Game 1 in Nashville tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in Nashville Saturday, 5pm

Game 3 in Dallas Monday, 8:30

Game 4 in Dallas Wednesday, 7pm

The only series that might become more staccato than the Penguins and Islanders is this one. The Stars are going to have no interest in making this open or fast, considering their lineup is filled with soldiers of The Foot after their top line and top pairing. And while the Preds boast three or four trap-busters on the blue line, they also don’t have much beyond their top line, thanks to injuries and every deadline acquisition they made being an utter flop. If the Jets are vulnerable, then the team that couldn’t put them away until the final day of the season in the division isn’t much surer of a bet either. Smells like a real upset possibility.

Goalies: This one’s about health. If THE BISHOP! is healthy, then the Stars do have something of an advantage. Bishop is the Vezina candidate behind Vasilevskiy, and also comes with playoff pedigree as he has the same single Final appearance to his name that Rinne does, along with another conference final the following season. But still, health. Bishop is slated to go tonight, but he’s returned from injury a couple times in the second half and then had to go back on the shelf again. He did start the last game and didn’t die, but missed time at the end of March and in February. If he’s playing and upright, it’s hard to see him giving up a ton.

There are teams over which that would give the Stars a bigger advantage than Nashville, though. Pekka Rinne recovered from a midseason wobble to close with a .927 in March and a .935 in April. While we seem to be the only ones to point out that aside from 2017, Rinne has been a playoff pothole, no one else cares. He was good until he wasn’t last year, and then the Predators went home. There isn’t going to be much margin for error here, because the Stars just aren’t going to give up much with a healthy Bishop. If it’s not 2017 again, the Preds might have to turn to Saros or be in serious trouble. Rinne can’t get away with being fine here.

Defense: And this is where the Preds’ big advantage is. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are awesome, but that’s about all the Stars can boast. And they don’t really take the hard assignments, and if you trust the likes of The Circus Bear and Esa Lindell and Ben Lovejoy to quiet Forsberg and Arvidsson, then you see more good in the world than I ever could and I envy your view. If Jim Montgomery can get cute and get those two and his top line out against the softer underbelly of the Preds, maybe they play them even. But that’s no given, especially without home ice.

This has been the strength of the Preds for a while now. The only complaint you might be able to lodge against them is that Ryan Ellis hasn’t looked great against harder competition, but that’s nitpicking. And as much barbed wire and landmines the Stars will plant in the neutral zone, the Preds just keep rolling out guys who can get through it like Josi or Subban or this new asshole Fabbro. At some point they can find a weakness, and then it’s just up to the clods on their bottom two lines to actually convert those opportunities. That’s up in the air.

Forwards: If the Stars had slightly more depth, I’d be tipping them here. They have Radulov-Seguin-Benn, and Hintz has actually allowed them to slide Benn down a bit. But Jason Spezza is basically metamucil now, and even with the return of The Hobbit Zuccarello, they’re still short. Jason Dickinson is playing second center for this team, and you didn’t know he existed until right now. Much like last year’s first round, once the Preds figure out how to keep the opponent’s top line from light flares, they’re almost all of the way there.

Not that the Nashville group is all that impressive. If it proves that way, Seguin could make Treat Boy’s life hell, and Kyle Turris is nothing but a bemused expression. Granlund, Simmons, and Boyle have failed to do anything since donning yellow. But with Craig Smith and Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons and one or two others, there’s just slightly more depth in piss yellow than victory green.

Prediction: You know I desperately want to pick the Preds to spit it here, as their organization’s and fanbase’s piousness combined with their claims to still be adorable have both proven full of horseshit and tiresome. And Bishop is a goalie capable of doing it himself. That’s the only hope for the the Stars here though, as they have pretty much the same holes as the Preds do, just bigger. They’ll make it awfully difficult though with a healthy Bishop. This one feels like seven home wins.

Preds in seven. 

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