Hockey

BOX SCORES

Game 1 / Game 2

Natural Stat Trick

Game 1 / Game 2 

 

I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Nah, fuck that. I’m pretty mad too. With the Hawks early playoff points cushion all but erased by the butthole puckeringly difficult month of March, what was once just another series on the calendar suddenly took on a whole new level of importance to the team’s playoff future. During the coaching tenure of Jeremy Colliton, any time there came a game that took on an extra level of importance the Hawks routinely biffed the landing, typically not only losing that game but the next few following it. Would this series against the Preds be any different?

NOPE.

The Hawks, despite the triumphant early return of Kirby Dach (fresh off his broken wrist back in December at the World Juniors) managed to shit all over themselves this series with backbreaking turnovers and some fluky goals by the Preds. The Hawks complete inability to solve the heavy pressure of the Preds forecheck led directly to 4 of the 6 goals surrendered by the Hawks.  Instead of making adjustments as McClure mentioned on Sunday night, the Hawks just continued to try the same shitty breakout of their own end with absolutely predictable results. If it were not for Alex DeBrincat deciding “Fuck it, I’ll do it myself,” the Hawks very easily could have scored a single goal in both games.

Nashville now sits tied with the Hawks for the last playoff spot in the division, with the Jackets nipping at their heels 3 points out. While the Hawks still have 5 more games against the Preds to undo this mess, I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope that happening after watching just how easily Nashville dismantled them in the 4 meetings thus far.

 

Numbers Don’t Lie

 

-If the Hawks ultimate goal for Calvin deHaan is to have him playing well enough that the Seattle Kraken decide to snag him in the expansion draft, Stan Bowman needs to find every video copy of this series and destroy it. He had an absolutely miserable time, directly contributing to 3 of the Preds goals and assisting on another one. Granted not all of this is entirely his fault, as the defensive “system” the Hawks play can’t entirely be quantified by any known metric, but he certainly didn’t do himself any favors. On the first Preds goal Saturday night (video here), deHaan has decided to go on walkabout, inexplicably choosingto go pressure Eeli Tolvanen along the half boards, leaving Adam Boqvist to pick his poison between Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. He choose poorly, and Johansen had a clean shot at the top shelf. On the third goal (video here), deHaan intercepts a pass and instead of playing it up the boards, he tries to fire a pass up the middle that’s immediately tipped then picked off. One pass to Granlund later it’s 3-1 Preds and the game is over.

-David Kampf didn’t cover himself in glory either (video here). He did the same thing deHaan did on the 2nd Preds goal, snagging an errant pass and without a single Nashville forechecker within 5 feet of him, he tries a home run pass up the middle that’s picked off by Rocco Grimaldi and ripped top shelf on Kevin Lankinen. All of these turnovers born of the fact that the Hawks had no plan or answer for the forecheck of Nashville. Panicky plays like this are made when there’s no structure for a zone exit and the defenders have less and less time each play.

-If the lack of adjustments weren’t damning enough, Colliton proved just what a Brain Genius he was by not calling a timeout with :46 seconds left in the 2nd game and the team with the goalie pulled and a draw in the Preds zone. No, he saved that timeout until there was .7 seconds left in the game so he could draw up his grand plan to win the draw and fire in the game tying goal in less time than it takes for a hummingbird to fart. BRILLANT.

-Malcom Subban had a pretty solid game, as only one of the three Nashville goals went in off the blade of a stick. The first was a bank shot off of (who else) Calvin deHaan’s skate after the Hawks D was pressured by the Preds forecheck (seeing a pattern here?) after a misplayed puck by Subban and then promptly losing a board battle. The 2nd was kicked in by the skate of (YOU’LL NEVER GUESS) deHaan after a shot from the dot by Jarnkrok snuck through about 3 people and in. He definitely played well enough to win, but so it goes.

-Kevin Lankinen, while not the victim of the bad luck of Subban, was the victim of his own defense. He really didn’t have a prayer on any of the 3 Nashville goals, as two of them were absolute snipes top shelf, and the other was a tap in after more terrible D in front of him. He actually kept the Hawks in the game a lot longer than he should have, making some excellent saves on some in close chances from the Preds after (DRUM ROLL) turnovers behind him due to forecheck pressure.

-Kirby Dach seems pretty healthy as within 5 minutes of his return he danced through 2 Nashville defenders for a pretty sweet chance that he was unable to put home. He also made a backbreaking turnover that lead directly to a Preds goal, so take all this with a grain of salt. He’ll get better once the rust shakes off.

-Alex DeBrincat was unstoppable in game 2, putting the whole offense on his back and tying the game single handedly with a Herculean effort. The 2nd goal was particularly awesome, as he lowered his shoulder from the blue line in and muscled past Fabbro like he was made of crepe paper, then deked Pekka Rinne down and out to tie the game at two. Top Cat really is a pleasure to watch, and he’s put the struggles of last year deep in the rearview mirror.

-Nashville has now won 7 of their last 8 games to come roaring back into the playoff race after being left for dead at the end of the first week of March. While none of us believe that this is entirely sustainable, it’s nevertheless an issue for the Hawks as they’re being pressured from pretty much everyone but the Red Wings now.

-March ends for the Hawks this week with two more games Our Sweet Boy Teuvo and the Canes, before another game against the Preds. Things aren’t gonna get any easier, and when you’re fighting not only the other team but your own system as well, it can feel like you’re trying to skate uphill. Every game now takes on added pressure, and the Hawks under Colliton have routinely puked all over themselves in games like those. If they’re gonna flip the script, taking two out of the next 3 is almost a must do.

Let’s Go Hawks

 

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

– Just put his fucking number in the goddamn rafters already I don’t fucking care. As predicted, the series went through Crow. He stopped 43 of 45, including eight fucking power play shots against the best power play in recent history. He locked everything down from the second period on despite huge pressure, and if not for a plush bounce off the end boards in the second period, he may have only given up one. Don’t forget that Crawford did this coming off a COVID-19 diagnosis.

We do not deserve Corey Crawford. No one does.

– The penalty kill was complete fucking nails tonight. We all thought it was fucked following DeBrincat’s terrible boarding major, but they managed to hold on. For all the shit we’ve given Olli Maatta his entire tenure, he was a big part of that unit (not as big as Keith, Murphy, Kampf, or Carpenter, but still), so good on him. We successfully Motherfucked the Oilers PP tonight, which went 0 for fucking 5.

– Though the Toews line got horsed for most of the night in possession, they scored two of the Hawks’s three goals. Saad’s wraparound off a rebound is exactly the kind of power move we all have gross dreams about. Kubalik’s GWG is worth the $6 million they’ll have to pay him. And both of them came off an initial Toews touch. As this line goes . . .

Duncan Keith can still fuck. He logged more time than anyone on the pivotal PK and managed to not only get his shots through on net all night but also set up yet another Matthew Highmore goal. To be a fly on the wall when he powerbombs Coach Nathan For You through a table in the middle of his post-playoff-series-win speech.

– If it felt like the Hawks stole one tonight it’s because they did. Only three of them were above water in possession (Dach, Kane, and Maatta[!!!]), even when you adjust for score. The Hawks scored all three goals off bad Edmonton turnovers. They don’t have to be art.

That’s fucking all. Corey Crawford is a legend and they should retire his number. The end.

Avalanche or Knights next. We’ll worry about it in a couple days. For now, enjoy your 2020 Chicago Blackhawks playoff run.

Just like they fucking said.

Booze du Jour: Maker’s and High Life

Line of the Night: “You gotta be hard and sure.” –Eddie O.

 

Hockey

So far, we’ve generally argued that given the weirdness of these play-ins, the relative depth of the forward corps, and Corey Crawford returning from COVID-19, the Hawks could squeak out a win in this series-that-shouldn’t-be against an extremely top-heavy Oilers squad. But if you’re looking for an abandon all hope kick in the crotch, you’ll find it in the special teams matchup.

Oilers Power Play and Penalty Kill

PP%: 29.5 (1st)

PK%: 84.4 (2nd)

Edmonton has the best power play percentage among all NHL teams by far. They’ll typically ice McDavid and Draisaitl on the first unit, along with RNH, Alex Chiasson, and Oscar Klefbom. Athanasiou and Yamamoto feature on the second unit, with Nurse, Bear, and James Neal.

We’re sort of at a loss for words about what a hot bucket of enema-induced diarrhea this matchup is going to be. The thought of McDavid and Draisaitl finding ice time against Slater Koekkoek or Olli “Buyout” Maatta is dreadful. There likely isn’t a faster or more offensively talented two PP units in the game. I guess we can rest assured we likely won’t see much of the second unit?

The Oilers penalty kill was also close to the top of the league. The PK units themselves aren’t anything to write home about, with Klefbom, Riley Sheahan, Nurse, Bear, the enormous Jujhar Khaira, and Josh Archibald taking primary PK responsibilities.

It’s their goaltending that’s done the heavy lifting on the PK. Sike Mmith has managed to put up a better save percentage on the PK (91.8%) than at 5v5 (90%). What an asshole. Mikko Koskinen is no slouch on the PK either, boasting a strong 90.1%. So, even if the Hawks can find a way to enter the zone (and they won’t), they’ll come up against the best PK goalie tandem in the game. Joy.

Hawks Power Play and Penalty Kill

PP%: 15.2 (28th)

PK%: 82.1 (T-8th)

The Hawks power play is and always will be a drooling dog’s sore dick. There’s little point in getting wound up about it anymore, but you can bet your ass we’ll be red and nude when we see it. They’re going to look foolish and will likely give up at least one shorthanded goal, and it’ll probably be to James Neal, who will score it by barreling into Crawford, whose head will then fall clear off and float down the Rogers Place River.

If there’s anything the Hawks can hope for, it’s that some combination of Toews, Kampf, Carpenter, Saad, Murphy, and Keith can minimize any damage McDavid and Draisaitl will set up. The true nightmare will be Murphy tweaking his groin, de Haan not being able to shake off the rust, and the top PK minutes going to Maatta.

As with 5v5 play, David Kampf will need to play an outsized role in shutting down McDavid if the Hawks will have any hope at keeping Edmonton’s PP at bay. Any extended time on the PK will also eliminate the slight depth advantage the Hawks have at forward, with Toews and Saad typically taking second unit duties.

Advantage: Oilers by a mile

It’s simple: If the Hawks find themselves on the PK any more than three times in a game this series, they will lose that game. On average, the Hawks found themselves shorthanded slightly under three times a game during the regular season. With a sizeable speed disadvantage, along with four months of rust, don’t be surprised to see the Hawks marching to and from the box more often than they did in the regular season. If that happens, they’re fucked.

Forwards Preview

Defense Preview

Goalies Preview

Coaching Preview

Hockey

The 2020 play-ins and playoffs will more closely resemble preseason hockey than any sort of competitive matchup between in-rhythm teams at the peak of their production. In these situations, raw talent typically beats systems. Given the alleged system that Jeremy Colliton runs—which often includes such scenes as “Connor Murphy chasing at his own blue line” and “developing 2-on-0s at the top of the circles despite the Hawks icing five guys in their own zone”—you might think this bodes well for the Blackhawks. And it actually might in terms of forwards.

Oilers forwards and potential combos

Nugent-Hopkins–McDavid–Kassian

Ennis–Draisaitl–Yamamoto

Athanasiou–Sheahan–Archibald

Neal–Khaira–Chiasson

In their heyday, the Hawks focused on speed to overpower opponents. Though that ship has sailed for this iteration of the Hawks, it’s clearly found safe harbor in Edmonton.

Connor McDavid is not only the best player on the planet but also the fastest. Draisaitl—who won the Art Ross and is in the running for the Lindsey and the Hart—also fast. Yamamoto? Fast. Joakim Nygard (if he plays coming off a broken hand)? Fast. Athanasiou? Really fucking fast. With at least one burner on each line in the top 9 for Edmonton, the Oilers will have a North–South advantage.

On top of speed, the Oilers have two guys who can do it all by themselves in McDavid and Draisiatl. Yamamoto’s emergence as “the guy Stan Bowman wished Alex Nylander were” gives the Oilers matchup options for when Coach Nathan For You shows us yet again that he has no idea how matchups work. RNH was having a strong year for himself and was on pace to put up his best point-per-game total of his career. Even Zack Kassian potted 15 goals and James Neal came close to 20. There’s a bit more depth to this forward corps than meets the eye.

But it’ll boil down to speed and the fact that the Oilers have two 90+ point scorers on the ice for at least two-thirds of the game. That’s a tough hump to get over.

Blackhawks forwards and potential combos

Top Cat–Toews–Saad

Nylander (Christ)–Strome–Kane

Kubalik–Dach–Caggiula

Carpenter–Kampf–Highmore

This is as close to the classic Hawks 3–1 forward makeup as we’ve seen in the Colliton era, even if the second and third lines are half baked. If there’s a bright spot to how this play-in will work, it’s that Jeremy Colliton can get away with his only useful move: icing Patrick Kane for 30–35 minutes a game. On three months of rest and with nothing to lose, Kane by himself could at least make this series interesting, even if Crawford can’t go.

The big story out of camp has been how good the Kane line has looked with Nylander and Strome. It’s always fun to hear about how good Alex Nylander looks in practice and watch him score slick goals when the Hawks are up by three or four. When shit matters, he’s a ghost, but you can bet your bottom goddamn dollar Colliton is going to keep trotting him out there. Kane and Strome have a ton of proven chemistry, and though it’d probably be wiser to slot Kubalik over Nylander, there’s no use in asking a giraffe to change its spots at this point.

The most interesting line will be the Dach line. Though Kubalik is decidedly not a third liner, and neither is Dach, putting these two together makes sense. Dach’s hands and vision coupled with Kubalik’s speed, shot, and willingness to GET IN DA DIRTY CORNERS DARE MY FRENT could expose the Oilers’s soft underbelly. Patrick Kane will be the one keeping them in contention, but this is the line that will win it for the Hawks, if they’re going to win.

Everyone who’s seen Dach in Magic Training Camp II says he looks faster and stronger than ever before. Whether that’s per se or simply because he’s skating with a collection of rusted jalopies is the question, but given how he really started coming into his own late last year, we buy it. Pairing him with Caggiula makes sense in theory, as Caggiula would be the primary go-get-the-puck guy. But with his concussion history and the massiveness of Edmonton’s fourth line, he’s vulnerable to another serious head injury out there.

You figure the Kampf line will try to shut down McDavid while the Toews line works Draisaitl et al. Kampf had success against McDavid the two times he saw him during the regular season, and he’ll need to repeat that if the Hawks are to have any hope of not giving up six goals a game. The real question will be whether Toews and Saad can handle Draisaitl and Yamamoto.

Forward advantage: Hawks by an asshair

The Oilers have better top-end talent but slightly less depth than the Hawks. For as fast as Athanasiou is, that’s all he really is. So, if Colliton can find a way to match the Dach line against him, they’ll get some opportunities. The Hawks will need Dach and Kubalik to continue outperforming expectations to hang with this squad, but it’s doable. If the Toews and Kampf lines can hold serve against McDavid and Draisaitl—especially if DeBrincat can shake his rotten shooting luck—the Hawks can at least make a run.

Lotta ifs, though.

Hockey

Cleaning up some stuff before the back-to-back gets going tomorrow night.

-It’s clear to everyone that the power play has become an issue. Well, that’s been obvious to everyone for a while. Now it’s become a blot on society. Last night was one of the worst performances we’ve seen from it in years, and that includes some of the Quenneville power play incompetence. Not only did it not produce anything but actually was a detriment in that it gave up a ton of chances against. The reasons for that are clear, but we’ll circle back.

For me, the power play issues haven’t been as big as some might think because the PK has been so good. There’s a theory out there, and one Quenneville almost certainly believed in, that if your PP% and your PK% add up to 100, then you’re fine because you’re breaking even and you can win the games at even-strength. Which you should do if you’re a good team. This is why Q never really gave a shit about the power play (it was bad for most of his time here even with the wealth of talent on it) because his PK was always very good and the team was very good at even-strength. That’s what mattered. The Hawks only have 25 goals with a man-advantage, but they’ve only given up 26 shorthanded. So essentially, they’re even.

However, we know that the Hawks aren’t a good even-strength team, and they need to be better than just even if they’re going to go anywhere. I might wish for them to be a good ES team, and that would be the ideal outcome, but as last night was Exhibit AAG or whatever they’re just not going to be.

It’s particularly frustrating that the Jets had this so well clocked, because one, they’re one of the worst PK teams in the league and two, Paul Maurice is one of the bigger inattentive dopes behind a bench in the league. So the cat is obviously clearly out of the bag.

The whole league knows what the Hawks want to do, and the Jets last night were even content to let the Hawks enter the zone. Because they knew how it was going to go down. There would be the drop pass to Kane, who would gain the line and then spray out a chipped pass to Toews on the boards and on the rush. You feel like this should be a good thing, as scoring off a rush on the power play is allowed and the Hawks should try and do it more. But the Jets were also clear that Toews having the puck outside the circle wasn’t really a threat, and as long as they closed off the passing lanes to the middle and had one forward behind him for the bump-back to the point, they were covered. Not only were they covered, but when the puck was turned over the Hawks would have at least three, if not four, skaters ahead of the puck, whether that turnover was along the boards behind Toews or a blocked pass to the middle that same forward trailing Toews could pick up the pieces to. That’s an odd-man rush every time the other way.

Without Adam Boqvist, this is hard to change. Erik Gustafsson, though he thinks he does and can occasionally miracle his ass through a couple checkers, does not have the speed to weave through the neutral zone. The fix, or one solution at least, is obvious and we’ve been screaming for it for a while. Boqvist, and only a handful of times, needs to fake that drop pass to get the first PK’er behind him, and then take the line himself. Given his skills he should be able to find space amongst three opponents, or even two if he can beat one with his feet (which he should). This should back up all four penalty killers after a short time, so that the long-loathed drop pass to Kane has the effect desired of him attacking four guys basically standing still. It also opens up those wings a bit more, so Toews isn’t blanketed when he gets the puck along the wall.

Freeing up Boqvist is about more than the neutral zone, though. He doesn’t shoot enough when the Hawks are set up, and for a while the Hawks should be looking to open him up, not doing everything in service to the cross-seam pass from Kane to Top Cat that teams figured out months ago.

The Hawks have the right set-up right now, as Dach, Boqvist, and Top Cat give Kane three-right handed options looking at him from the right wall. This is what you want. But the Hawks are too consistently placing Dach at the net instead of the high-slot, or having Toews in the corner and no threat of going to the net because Dach is taking up that space or his reluctance to simply try and slam it home. They’re not making that PK’er low on that side make a decision. He can simply leave Toews alone and block up his passing lanes. Toews also hasn’t really been the guy in front much, but it’s in his locker and would be more valuable bouncing between there and the corner than Dach abandoning the high slot to go down low as well.

The other option is to let Dach run stuff from the other wall with Kane, Gustafsson, and Toews looking at him from those spots, with maybe Strome down low? But that’s just a mirror of what we’re talking about. That could leave you with a second unit of Boqvist, Top Cat, Saad, Kubalik and Idiot du Jour which is better than what they’re rocking now.

It’s really not that far away from being threatening. But they have to make these changes.

-Lots of talk recently about how DeBrincat can’t seem to buy a bucket, and he was especially awful last night. His turnover on the PP led to the shorthanded goal which changed the game, and the whole night he just seemed like his gloves were filled with rubber cement. Rough nights happen, whatever.

Still, and this is more of a product of my unmatched skill of being unobservant, I only noticed today that the DeBrincat-Kampf-Strome line is starting just 33% of its shifts in the offensive zone. Which really doesn’t add up. The temptation is to rant and rave about Colliton, and he is the one making the decisions. But it’s kind of another example of the misshapen nature of the roster.

You want to use Kampf as a checking center, because that’s what he does. But the Hawks don’t really have the wingers to go with him to do that and have a “3+1” model that I think they’re shooting for. Smith is too slow, Highmore too inexperienced and bad. Nylander? Forget it. So you have Kampf and Carpenter and that’s about it.

The urge is then to say that Kubalik-Toews-Caggiula should take some more defensive starts to get Strome and Top Cat up the ice more, but we’ve remarked the past two seasons that Toews isn’t really a do-it-all guy anymore who can push the Hawks into the offensive zone from the defensive one consistently. So if you started the top line in their half more often, you just might lose out on some of the scoring they’re providing right now.

Top Cat’s line needs to start up the ice more, but there is no perfect solution.

-Another weird number: Maatta’s and Koekkoek’s metrics being so in the black (52.4 CF%, 55.1 xG%) while only starting 40% of their shifts in the offensive end. Maybe this is a way to juice Top Cat’s line a bit, catching the right matchups and seeing if they can’t get up the ice more. Maybe it’s all an illusion. But the Hawks need to try everything at this point.

Hockey

Whenever the job-reaper comes for Jeremy Colliton, be it the middle of the season, in the summer, or never, he’s going to try and mount some defense if only to make himself more attractive for another job down the road. He doesn’t want to be Trent Yawney, y’know? And the first thing, maybe the only thing, he can point to as something that’s improved markedly from his first year to his second is the penalty kill.

The Hawks currently are in the top-1o on the PK, which is a drastic improvement on the historically bad unit that befouled arenas and our TV sets last year. Now it would be easy to dismiss this improvement as merely and improvement in goaltending, and you can’t ignore that.

This year the SV% on the kill is .892, third-best in the league. Last year it was .842, which was sixth-worst in the league. So yes, that’s a big difference. But it’s not only that.

Overall, there are other improvements however. This year, the Hawks are giving up 97.4 attempts per 60 on the kill. Their xGA/60 on the kill is 6.33. Last year, those numbers were 104.5 and 8.1. Now, it’s hard to visualize or really understand those numbers, but a 25% reduction in expected goals against certainly is noticeable. The attempts against moves them from third-worst last year to middle of the pack this year, even if a reduction in attempts of merely 6% doesn’t really register.

If it helps, the Hawks have gone from giving up 63 shots per 60 minutes on the kill to 56 now, which directly mirrors the attempts they’re giving up. So it’s not like they’re blocking shots that much more often, they’re not even giving the lanes to shoot. Which is good.

On an individual level, there’s been improvement both in new players brought in and an uptick from those that were already here:

xGA/60  This Year/Last Year

Connor Murphy – 6.35/7.89

Duncan Keith – 7.62/8.94

David Kampf – 7.4/9.54

Jonathan Toews – 6.00/8.96

What has also helped is the players who weren’t here. Where Brent Seabrook led the team in shorthanded time-on-ice last year, that’s been replaced, or was, by Calvin de Haan. Ryan Carpenter in for the declining Marcus Kruger. Olli Maatta has replaced Carl Dahlstrom and Seabrook, and the one thing Maatta has been good at is on the kill.

Speaking of Seabrook, it’s time to be mean.

86.1/101.3   5.06/6.76

Those are the differences in the Hawks PK’s CA/60 and xGA/60 after and before Seabrook was put on the shelf for the season. It’s only been 14 games, and any special team can go on a run for 14 games. I’M NOT SAYIN’ I’M JUST SAYIN’….

So yeah, the goalies certainly have made a difference, but Colliton can claim to improved the overall system on the kill, and they certainly aren’t giving up shots from the middle nearly as much and are pushing things to the sides at a slower pace so they can get in the lanes. That’s something. It’s not enough but it’s something.

Some others…

37 in 37 (in a row?)

That’s Jonathan Toews the past 37 games. We almost forgot that he only had two points in the first 11 games, where we really started to worry if he’d lost a step. He definitely was a half-step behind the play more than we’d ever seen before. And now he’s been averaging a point-per-game for nearly half a season, and is on pace for 66 points which would be just about what you’d expect. If he were to continue to be a point-per-game, it would be 73. And it’s surprising because A) he’s not lighting it up on the PP like he was last year and B) he hasn’t really been playing with any offensive dynamo. Saad and Kubalik are certainly not bad players, but they aren’t the dynamic forces that Kane or DeBrincat can be. So yeah, we’ll never worry again…until next October, obvi.

 

Hockey

It was a game they had to win, so of course they lost. I don’t want to hear anything from the organ-I-zation about how there’s a lot of hockey left, and there’s still half a season to go. Fuck that noise. If they actually wanted to do anything about the playoffs then literally every game from here on out matters, and their record needs to be absurdly good to have a chance. Instead we get absurdly bad shit like this one, where a first period in which the Hawks completely shat the bed was enough to sink the entire night. And then to really give us the finger, Pekka fucking Rinne scores a goal. You read that right. Let’s get through it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–So as mentioned, in the first the Hawks were disjointed, messy and seemingly confused about what they were supposed to do and where they were supposed to be. And I don’t mean that in the existential sense of, “oh they suck at hockey,” although a lot of tonight’s roster certainly does. I mean it quite literally, in that there were defensive breakdowns everywhere and guys just looking at each other not knowing what to do. What’s really bizarre is they were barely beaten in shots in that period (12-10), and they led in possession at 5-v-5 (55 CF%, lots of 5s right there). This may lead you to say that it was Corey Crawford‘s fault, and I can assure it wasn’t, although I would have liked to have seen his glove side a little tighter. On the second goal, Adam Boqvist just got out-muscled and that’s the one Crawford needed to stop, but it’s not exactly his fault that his diminutive defenseman got drop kicked by an oaf, and said oaf was then left completely alone just above the crease. John Quenneville also demonstrated why he’s completely useless on Matt Duchene‘s goal, where he basically just watched the puck go by him like a spun Phish fan watching a glowstick (trust me, I know). All the way around it was exactly the opposite of what the Hawks needed to do.

–To cap off that terrible period, the Hawks took yet another too many men penalty, which I could have sworn was their 15th of the year. Mark Lazarus on Twitter had the actual data and it’s in fact 7 total for the Hawks, which isn’t worst in the league as I snarkily opined, but it’s the 3rd such penalty in basically the last week. I can’t think of anything that sums up poor coaching and a tuned-out team better than that. I get it, math is hard, but even I can count to 5.

–There are plenty of issues with personnel on this team, which have only been exacerbated by injuries, meaning there isn’t a huge pool of talent to work with right now. However, that makes decent coaching and decision-making even more important, and again Colliton isn’t even close to getting a passing grade. For example, why is John Quenneville on the top line? One could ask why he’s playing at all, while Dylan Sikura sits in the press box (and I will ask that–why the fuck is Sikura in the press box? Did he run over Colliton’s dog or something? It’s ridiculous at this point). For god’s sake Quenneville was on the power play–what does that tell you about where this team is at?

Another example: if you’re missing key players and working with less, why put two of your best centers on the same line? Having David Kampf on a wing is just foolish, since he’s the best defensive center they have, and Kirby Dach can hold his own as the 2C no problem. And if you’re not going to put Toews and Kane on a line, even though all logic says they should play with Kubalik, then at least get Patrick Kane OFF THE FUCKING THIRD LINE where he’s centered by Ryan Carpenter who is OK but not actually good, and Alex Nylander who can’t pass, shoot or do anything that plays to Kane’s strengths (or anyone else’s, for that matter). For what it’s worth, Kubalik-Toews-Kane did finally get a look in the later stages of the game (and had an 83 CF%, by the way), but the fact it took nearly the whole game, and the fact that they still only got under 5 minutes of ice time together when it was woefully obvious his first concoctions weren’t working, shows how clueless Colliton really is.

–So what did work? Well, for one, Dominik Kubalik. His goal was off a beautiful wrister and he was showing off his speed, which we know is a rare thing around here. He finished the night with an 58 CF% at evens, yet remains Colliton’s most hated player aside from Dylan Sikura. Alex DeBrincat scored on the power play, so that was nice too.

–And to be honest, the Hawks played better in the third period. I would hesitate to say “well” because they fucked up about three odd-man rushes that should have resulted in at least one goal. However, they certainly made a game of it and piled up 14 shots in the third, but this is also what’s maddening about this team. Flip the first and third periods and the outcome may have been different. It’s definitely a give-a-shit meter thing, but also the general confusion and poor coaching mixed with the lack of enough good players. Quite a situation.

–And ‘Ole Shit Hip not only gets the win, he got a fucking goal. What a time to be alive. Yes it was an empty netter, but still…

The game was closer than the score, but in the end it doesn’t matter. They had to have two points here and couldn’t even keep it even. I can only hope that every one of these types of losses brings Jeremy Colliton‘s tenure closer to its end. Onward…

Line of the Night:Zack Smith needs help from Olli Maatta.” –What you hear from the broadcast when your team is composed of bad players.

Beer du jour: Moon Man by New Glarus Brewing

Hockey

The Blackhawks were leading in shots, they led in possession, they had Corey Crawford in net who’s been stellar of late…and they managed to get completely outplayed and have their asses handed to them at home. And Duncan Keith is out with a groin injury, so all around a rough day. Let’s get to it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–This game showed, in no uncertain terms, that the Hawks are not fast enough to handle elite teams. And I’m using “elite” in a very broad sense because the Avs aren’t REALLY an elite team right now because of all the injuries to their lineup. As the broadcast pointed out, they have about 5 AHL players on their roster right now and STILL managed to be faster and more skilled. It happened right out of the gate, with the Avalanche going up 2-0 less than 5 minutes into the game, and as you can see by the score, they didn’t really stop. They didn’t dominate in possession either—as Sam pointed out earlier, they’re not a possession team and they didn’t surpass a 40 CF% until the 3rd period, yet it didn’t even matter. They moved the puck up and out, burned our slow-ass defensemen time and time again, and they finished. Even Valeri Nichushkin finished. They were just better than the Hawks.

–Adding insult to injury (literally) is the fact that the Hawks only gave up 23 shots. They managed 36 themselves, and normally that would be something to celebrate—not only did they lead in shots but the Hawks gave up fewer than 4,728 in a game! But it was for nothing, as Crawford definitely did not have his best day, although the slow-ass defensemen just mentioned are more to blame than Crow. Yes, I’m always going to defend Corey Crawford and yes, he should have had a couple of those, but he was largely left hung out to dry by his teammates just watching faster players skate by them. And it wasn’t even just the defensemen. David Kampf, who normally is really reliable, let some pucks get by him at his own blue line. Patrick Kane ‘s give-a-shit meter was about -3 until late in the second and he lazily let pucks go multiple times. No one was tight defensively today. But hey, Kane’s point streak is still alive.

–And Duncan Keith apparently has a groin injury, which would explain at least partially why he got absolutely smoked a few times. (Erik Gustafsson doesn’t have this excuse, but that’s a larger problem that was in evidence today.) Obviously no one wants Keith to be hurt and it’s not going to help this lineup to have him out, seeing as he hasn’t been bad lately. But, if this does open the door to get Adam Boqvist back up here I’m going to try to focus on the glass being half full. If there is one takeaway from this game, it’s that they need faster skaters and puck movers and gee whiz where could they possibly find one?!

–Speaking of youngsters, Kirby Dach also had not-his-best-game and got stupidly demoted for it. Listen, he’s 18, he’s going to pass a few too many times, he’s going to lack confidence sometimes to shoot, and demoting him to the 4th line to center two oafs is NOT going to help that confidence or make him a better player. Meanwhile, Ryan Carpenter who is a fine bottom-sixer, should not be centering Kane and DeBrincat. Everyone had a rough afternoon. Everyone played like shit. This is no reason to fuck with the lines and ignore the basics of personnel and the talent you’re dealing with. It’s another symptom of Colliton being in over his head. My only hope is that Dach is back on the second line tomorrow and adds some fuck-you to his game so he doesn’t get demoted again while Strome is still out.

–It also should be noted that Alex DeBrincat muffed about 3 or 4 chances today. Granted, he had assists in his last couple games but he’s not scoring at the level we need. Sure, everyone was shitty today but if he had buried even one or two of those it might have been a different story.

–Erik Gustafsson had a terrible, very bad, no-good day. Two stupid-ass penalties, one of which led immediately to Cale Makar‘s goal, he got completely burned by Nichushkin on his goal, and made more turnovers than I care to count. You already know how I feel about this guy and his future on this team, so I will say no more. But he sucks.

–Speaking of guys who suck, Andrew Shaw is a useless tool. He dropped the gloves in the first once the Hawks were down 2-0, and because their first goal came sorta-kinda close to that, the broadcast was all over him with the tired, worn-out trope that a fight changes momentum and makes a team better. It does not, and it did not today. A good forecheck by Ryan Carpenter is why they scored their first goal, not Shaw’s dumbassery. And then at the end of the game he tried to fight a guy who just had plates and screws surgically implanted to put his face back together and was wearing a shield! But please, tell me again about his energy and how it helps the team.

OK, so they pulled their Jekyll & Hyde routine today and we were on the wrong side of it (was it Jekyll who was bad? Or Mr. Hyde? I can’t remember nor can I make thoughtful literary references right now). But they’ve got a chance to bring Boqvist to Denver, throw Lehner out there, and hopefully bounce back against a team that they can obviously shoot on. Or so we can hope. Onward and upward…

Line of the Night: “The Hawks having some problems in their own end.” —Pat Foley, in the most-heard refrain of the game.

Beer de jour: Good Behavior IPA, Odell Brewing

 

Hockey

vs

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN+, WGN-AM 720
Bills Mafia: Die By The Blade

What just a week and a half ago looked like it might be less exciting Sunday night counter-programming to The Beloved on the west coast has suddenly become a potentially fun matchup between two teams still trying to find their place in the primordial ooze that is the first quarter of the NHL season.

Hockey

After watching this game I had to sleep on it. And get an extra hour. There’s another one of these tonight, not to mention a Bears game, so let’s just get to it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The story was supposed to be Adam Boqvist‘s debut, so let’s address that right out of the gate even though his performance wasn’t all that exciting. In fact, his numbers with Duncan Keith weren’t great (37 CF% with Keith) but there were flashes of what could be future brilliance. On his lone SOG, he had a lovely maneuver in the second period that was set up by a Kirby Dach pass, showing that there may be hope after all with the next generation. Boqvist didn’t quite finish that attempt but it still left everyone’s pants a bit tighter. Overall he was fine, he at least tried moving the puck, but the possession situation was an issue. At one point he and Keith spent a full three minutes pinned in their own zone because neither they nor Kampf could get control of the puck. Luckily Crawford bailed them all out but whether or not he stays paired with Keith, Boqvist needs to at least get the puck before he can move it up the ice.

–And that really gets to the larger issue in last night’s game, which was the Hawks’ general inability to be functional. Should we be losing our minds over a kid’s shitty possession numbers in his debut game? No. But the complete lack of control by the entire team was downright disturbing. Letting this awful Kings team keep the puck for minutes on end, giving up 49 shots on goal (yes, you read that right), taking endless penalties, being completely incapable of exiting their own zone—these are still major problems this team has to deal with, and no excitement over a couple of rookies can mask that. Not anymore, at least.

–And the reason all this mediocrity didn’t result in the Hawks getting completely embarrassed was…wait for it…the goaltending. Duh, of course it was. In an odd bit of theater, the officials made Corey Crawford leave the ice early in the first period for concussion protocol after he took a shot off the facemask. This was immediately after the Kings’ second goal in less than 5 minutes, so it briefly seemed like Coach Cool Youth Pastor was pulling him (which would have been dumb because he got hung out to dry defensively on both of the first two goals, well, actually on all of them). I guess it’s a nice gesture to have “concussion spotters?” Who knows what level of vigilance that actually entails. But, Robin Lehner came in and made 5 saves on 5 shots in 5 minutes. While I love the numeric synchronicity, can we stop and ask why the fuck they’re GIVING UP A SHOT PER MINUTE? To one of the league’s worst teams? It’s mind-boggling.

Crawford then came back in and proceeded to be lights out, with the very unfair exception of the overtime winner that just dribbled behind him and he didn’t realize it after making an initial save. The barrages he faced in the second and third periods could have put the Kings up by a touchdown. So the good news is he wasn’t concussed apparently, and he found his groove after the unexpected break. He and Lehner are truly a ridiculous duo this team gets to put out there—a level of talent that this organization doesn’t really deserve.

Dominik Kubalik looked damn good and was key to the first two goals, scoring the first and assisting on the second. David Kampf didn’t look so good, and that was disappointing because if Kane is going to be on that line, Kampf needs to be defensively competent. I realize that if you look at the box score, you’ll see Kampf scored that second goal on the assist from Kubalik, and yes that was pretty much the highlight of the game. Jack Campbell did his best imitation of break dancing late in the first and made a save on a nifty Toews move. He tried getting acrobatic again while playing the puck and Kubalik stole it and set up Kampft. So it’s not that Kampf sucks, it’s just he had a 28.6 CF% at evens and couldn’t get out of his own zone. Kane and Kubalik have a share of this blame too, of course, but we need Kampf to be leading the way on that.

–But the lines got all scrambled by the third anyway, so who really knows or cares? Just showing CCYP has no real answers.

Slater Koekkoek sucks, OK? He just sucks. You already knew that, but watching him fall on his ass as Michael Amadio scored was performance art at its best. And let’s not forget that Andrew Shaw getting beat along the boards led to that third goal. But tell me again about how Shaw’s energy helps the team. While we’re at it, can we stop with the nonsense of playing Dach with oafs and bums? How playing with Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith is going to help his development is beyond me.

–Hey, Jonathan Toews was sorta back to a semblance of his old self! The tying goal was of course huge, but he had a couple other good chances including the break-dancing-inducing one in the first. This team needs offense, so if Toews is going to show that this first month has been just a temporary slump, there’s no time like the present.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying last night…the Hawks were just bad except for Crawford and a few flashes from others. If this is them making an effort, then it’s going to be a long rest of the season. We knew that anyway I guess, but…onward and upward?