Hockey

vs

RECORDS: Blues 17-5-6   Hawks 10-11-5

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

GOOD GOD DON’T GO THERE: St. Louis Gametime

Like any adversarial relationship, or really any relationship that goes for a long time, there are different phases to it. The Hawks and Blues have had theirs. They were scraping for bottom of the barrel rewards in the 80s together. They were playoff rivals in the early 90s, each with hopes of breaking through the post-Oilers scene (never did). Both were hapless background pieces to the Wings, either in the mid- or late 90s. Both have been unequipped batting practice for the other at times, for instance the Pronger-era Blues were far ahead of the Hawks and obviously what came before here not so long ago. Both have been mud people at the same time.

We thought we’d permanently left them behind this decade. That’s the arrogance that comes from multiple championships. But you can never leave something like this behind. It’s always there, even if you have to squint, and it’s always a reminder of what you truly are. It feels like getting hit with a large fish in the face when you realize that, but here we are. Last spring was a reminder that some things are always like this, no matter how it might look.

And now it’s reversed. The Blues are in the sunshine, seemingly clicking everywhere, seemingly have figured out when everyone had assumed they never could. That it would always be that way. And the Hawks are the ones with their shoes tied together, valuing all the wrong things with an inability to take any step forward. Oh sure, maybe it’s only been two seasons like this, instead of the seven or eight we enjoyed laughing at the unwashed down I-55. But it’s gone now, isn’t it? Oh yes, yes it is.

So the Blues will show up for the first time this season tonight, with their unfathomable champions pedigree and their first place standing now and the added arrogance not just of having done all that, but of having done it when no one ever thought they could. These aren’t the Blues you remember, and it’s likely they will never be again. We’ve lost something. They’ve gained something, and that is truly world-shattering. They’re 15 points ahead of the Hawks.

The Hawks are 15 points behind, five points out of a playoff spot, and one point ahead of the basement of the entire damn conference. Has anything moved forward? Does it feel like it will anytime soon? Aren’t the questions all the same as they were before? The lack of answers sure are. This is supposed to be them. It was them. And we figured it would be them forever. Because it felt like it would be, when it was and we weren’t. We had all the answers before there were questions. And then in a flash it reversed, and now we’re the laughingstock in the relationship. “Look at how far behind they are,” they crow, and rightly. The gap is bordering on a gorge.  Cruel world.

Anyway, on the ground, the Blues are in first but in some ways they’re a lot like the Hawks. They’re not a great possession team. They get great goaltending and they’re getting some fine finishing from more sources than the local outfit. They’re still pretty good defensively, in that they hold down attempts, shots, chances among the better teams in the league. They don’t create much, but with the way Jordan Binnington is playing they don’t have to. The more you suppress shots and attempts the more games come down to a moment or two. And when your goalie is better most nights, you’ll win most nights. When you allow chances and attempts to flow like and Elvin-conjured river, you make it more likely that results will match what the teams are. That’s how you get the Hawks, no matter how good the goalies are.

Of course, the Blues are here without their main sniper in Vladimir Tarasenko, who might not play again in the regular season. They’re also without Alex Steen, which doesn’t mean much these days, and Oskar Sundqvist, which is somewhere in the middle. In their absence, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Brayden Schenn have fucked off just like they did last spring that landed us in this mess. Alex OrangeJello seems intent on having a true free agent year, and Jayden Schwartz is actually healthy. Imagine what happens when Justin Faulk actually gets comfortable. Fuck this life.

Anyway, to the Hawks, who will be without Duncan Keith, Dylan Strome, and now Robin Lehner as well as Andrew Shaw tonight. Lehner has the flu, which is a strange code for telling his teammates they suck on the bench and being given a day or two to calm down, even though he’s right. Without Keith, and he really shouldn’t matter this much, the Hawks roll out an AHL defense behind Connor Murphy. And we already said Connor Murphy shouldn’t matter this much either. Oh, did we mention they’ll have to do the same against the best line in hockey Thursday? On the road? ONE GOAL.

Because of all of this, the Hawks will skate one player short due to cap constraints, with the recalling of Kevin Lankinen putting them up against it. Real tight ship, here. A cap team that’s one point above the West basement. Everything’s fine. They have a process. They know what they’re doing. Everything is on course.

It won’t take more than four minutes for Pat and Eddie to comment on the Blues “grit” and the forecheck the Hawks apparently want to emulate without realizing what they’re actually talking about. The Blues can get in your shirt because they’re actually really quick. It’s not just about dressing psychopaths, which used to be their M.O. They upgraded the speed, and with Pietrangelo, Faulk, Colton Burpo, they’re mobile enough on the blue line to not worry if their forwards occasionally get beat. They defense can just step up behind it. The Hawks d-men can’t. So you get what the Avs did to them, which is streak to an odd-man whenever they felt like it. And failing that, they could just wait for that moment when four Hawks were trying to find the Big Dipper in their own zone and tralalala their way down the slot. The Blues are no more stupid than the Avs are.

The season is almost certainly already toast, but it’s for sure going to be if the Hawks don’t ace December. They can rant and rave all they want about where the Blues were on New Year’s Day last year, but that team was built to contend and needed to fire a coach who was clearly a moron and everyone knew it to get where they were supposed to be (say there’s an idea). This might be where the Hawks are supposed to be. Starting the month off with the two Finalists isn’t exactly cherry. The rest of the slate isn’t either.

The difference between the two might not any clearer after tonight, or at the end of the month. You’ll just have to wait for the day when the relationship shifts again. It might be a long way off.

Everything Else

You would think that if you brought David Perron back once, you would learn your lesson. But this is the Blues, this is St. Louis, and “learn” is a word akin to “fornicate” down there. So it’s a third time ’round the Imo’s for our intrepid “Belette de Quebec.”

Oh, we get it. On the surface, Perron looks like a good dash of support scoring. 46 points in his first return season on the wrong side of the river in ’16-’17, and then 66 points last year while partaking in the communal ass-inserted-horseshoe in Vegas. For $4 million a year, it almost seems a steal.

But everyone should know better by now. One, Perron isn’t going to do anything when it matters. He had 1 goal in 15 playoff games last year. Which is a touch better than his no goals in 11 playoff games with the Blues the year before. Or his three goals in 31 previous career playoff games before that. Because as everyone has learned, when the lights are brightest, the cockroaches scatter for the shadows.

And that’s what Perron is. He’s still a dirty shit, who’s going to take penalties that will leave fans and coaches alike with mouth agape and all sense of logic sounding alarms within. He never met a selfish, retaliatory penalty he wouldn’t take with glee, usually with two linesmen holding him and between him and whoever he’s punching in the back of the head. The last time he had less than 50 penalty minutes in a season was 2012, and that’s only because he was still recovering from a concussion suffered when running into Joe Thornton‘s beard.

And it’s not like he comes out ahead in the “pest” department. The most positive he’s been when weighing the penalties he takes over the ones he draws is four in a season. That’s four power plays for his team for 82, and that’s once. That’s the best he’s done. Why is that worth it? Why are these pests so valued if they hamstring you just as much as they give you an advantage? If you want an idea what a good number looks like, Connor McDavid led the league last year with a +21. Matthew Tkachuk, also something of a jackass like Perron, was at +17.

Perron only is making $4 million for the next four years, so it’s not a calamity of a deal. At least not yet. And on the third line with Tyler Bozak, he might even score a bit. If he does, the Blues are going to have three dangerous lines. If he’s intent on being a shithead, which is what happens in St. Louis, they’ll be the same Blues as always.

 

Game #2 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups And How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

In the end, what everyone hated or loved about the Vegas Golden Knights is that they were a mirror. When you watched them, you saw everything that this league is, good and bad.

On the bad side, the Knights exhibited for all that basically, no one knows shit and that it can be totally random. While those in the media were so quick to dub George “Tiger Punch” McPhee a genius–this being the same guy who hired Dale Hunter and Adam Oates in Washington, thus ruining a good three to four years of Alex Ovechkin’s prime–all he did was take advantage of a system that wouldn’t allow GMs to keep all the talent they’d drafted. And that system was in place because too many teams were too dumb to acquire a lot of talent. Sure, he was able to grift a couple GMs who had gone to cottage to huff white-out a bit early (hi Dale! Hi Bob! Say, why did all these guys used to work for the Hawks?), but it wasn’t he who conjured a .928 season out of Marc-Andre Fleury or a 25 SH% out of Wild Bill Karlsson (and we here eagerly await Karlsson’s 22-goal season next year with only 648 articles entitled “What’s Wrong With William Karlsson,” which of course no one will say the answer is “He’s William Karlsson, for fuck’s sake).

No, when you watched the Knights it became clear just how random the sport is. Find a goalie or two that spasm a .925+ SV% for no reason other than the gods enjoy a good chuckle now and then and a couple guys to shoot the lights out and you’re halfway there. Throw in some spice of being in a division where every goddamn team is built to be “tough to play against” (i.e. dumb and slow) and just skate by them and then anything can happen. A few bounces, a few one-goal wins, and suddenly you’re the most magical team this side of…. well, any MLS expansion team.

And if you can garnish it all with the fact that apparently no NHL player had ever heard of Las Vegas before, and every opponent showed up to your arena looking like Mia Wallace after she got into Vincent’s coat pocket and well, the sky’s the goddamn limit, isn’t it?

Watch the Knights long enough, and unless you were a fan of a certain few teams, you could see just how stupid your team was run. The Knights ran over the Kings, who are on their fourth consecutive season of trying to ice a rec rugby team, and then they could tell everyone they play rugby within the first three minutes of any conversation because that’s apparently what rugby players do in this country (and if you ever meet a rugby playing vegan, run for the hills, friendo). They got to show the Sharks just how old they are, as Pete DeBoer replaced their only young d-man with whatever wasn’t falling off of Paul Martin, and whatever was.

Then came the Jets, who actually rolled them for a fair amount but Fleury snorted an infinity stone or something and everyone chalked it up to “magic.” Of course, a series later and everything looked exactly as it did against the Jets except Fleury was doing a reasonable impression of muppet running an Iron Man (i.e. being Marc-Andre Fleury circa 2010-2016) and suddenly they’re getting their magical, Cinderella ass paddled (insert your Cinderella pansexual fanfic here).

And yes, even the architect of all this, Gerard Gallant, had his brain drip out his ear in the final round. Anyone who’s surprised by this must’ve never watched him play for the Red Wings, where during his 11-year career he actually touched the puck 12 times. But hey, this is the NHL, if you’ve got a leathered up face, were a grinder once upon a time, and have some sort of weird nickname, the press will slather you in their saliva. So there’s Jack Adams winner-elect putting out Ryan Reaves, not once but twice, as the extra-attacker when down a goal. Why? Because he had managed to rhino-hump his way into two goals into two games. I’m sure James Neal didn’t consider Marty McSorley-ing his coach at all during this stretch. He scratched David Perron, who granted really does suck but did manage to put up 66 points this year in a series where no one but the top line could do anything other than stare at the lights. And this is the best coach during the season. #EndHockey.

All of it led the hockey world declaring Vegas as the best new hockey market, and you’re not really a hockey town until Pierre McGuire declares “I haven’t heard a building this loud all spring…” and then NBC edits out the part where he concludes that sentence with, “…except for Mississauga last week when they were playing Sudbury!” Give the ash-white Canadian media three days anywhere where it’s warm and has running water, because wherever they’re from assuredly doesn’t, and suddenly you’re Hockey Mecca.

While the pregame antics were cute, much like every other Vegas act it’s going to feel camp real soon. Especially when this team has 92 points next year at best and Fleury’s SV% is .907. Sure, Vegas is going to be a free agent destination given it’s lack of state income tax and the climate. How’s that working out for the Panthers? Your glorious pre-game Knight stabbing some dude waving a flag (how tough!) is going to look a little different when it’s in front of 9,000 Flames fans and that’s it.

So thank you, Knights, for showing everyone what we all knew about the league and hockey all along. It doesn’t make sense, there is no system to it, and just about anything can happen. And it’s going to happen to you soon, like trading Karlsson for a 2nd round pick at best in two years.

Everything Else

There’s a lot of weirdness about this Hitchcock farewell tour and the planned succession to Mike Yeo. It’s all very Blues, and it’ll be even more Blues in the various ways it could go totally balls-up.

First off, we know Hitch grudgingly lets his team get up and down the ice, and would rather be coaching the All-Blacks and play that version of hockey. But look at this roster. Where exactly is his beloved jam? Backes and Brouwer headed for the exit, and in came in only David Perron and the only grinding with him is the one that produces smoke coming out of his ears when trying to do any sort of math problem. Lehtera, Tarasenko, now Yakupov, Schwartz (for the five minutes he’s in one piece), Stastny, Jaskin, Robbi Fabbry or Robby Fabbri, this team has much, much more skill than GRITSANDPAPERHEARTFAAAAARRT. Is Hitch going to open up the throttle on this? Doesn’t he have to to maximize what he’s got?

Everything Else

AltLogo at team_photo3421

Game Time: 8:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Keystone XL Pipeline: Copper & Blue

Tonight in the northern most professional sporting arena on the continent, the Hawks will reach the median point of their annual Circus Trip, having taken four of a possible six points so far. Naturally, they’ll catch the hosting Oilers in the midst of their most competent stretch of the year to this point, as if this team didn’t already give the Hawks issues.