Hockey

VS

 

Records: Hawks 14-9-5 / Panthers 17-5-4

Puck Drops: Saturday and Monday 6:00 PM

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

Swamp People: Litter Box Cats

 

OLD FRIEND ALERT: The Hawks travel to the tip of America’s Penis to take on the Joel Quennville-led Florida Panthers over the weekend. The last time the Hawks ventured this far south during the season opening road trip the Panthers dong whipped them up and down the ice, dropping 10 goals on them in the two games they played. Since that time, the Swamp Cats have been one of the more consistent teams in the league despite getting lower than average goaltending out of their high priced free agent, Sergei Bobrovski.

While Bob has played much better of late, winning his last four starts has only brought his save percentage up to a cool .903 to prop up his 3+ GAA. He’s also been splitting way more starts than the front office of the Panthers probably would’ve liked, only starting 2 more games than his “backup” Chris Driedger (.920 sv/2.44 GAA).

This blip in Bob’s goaltending stats hasn’t prevented the Cats from racking up the points, however. The Panthers as a team average the most shots per game in the entire NHL, and as a whole are shooting an even 10%. They also have a fairly deadly power play unit (though not currently as deadly as the Hawks), scoring just over 26% of the time, which does not bode well for our men of the four feathers.

The majority of the Panthers offense flows through Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the team with 32 points (which puts him 7th in the league, 4 spots behind Kane’s 40). Huberdeau is a monster at controlling the puck at both even strength and the power play, averaging a 56% CORSI for this season while keeping the ice tilted in the Panthers favor. He also racks up the points on the power play, and kills penalties. So he’s…kinda good.

After Huberdeau comes another possession beast the Hawks D will have to worry about in Aleksander Barkov. Drafted 2nd overall by the Cats in 2013, Barkov has lived up to the hype despite playing on some absolutely dogshit teams the past 8 years. A big boy at 6-3″ 220, Barkov has the legs and wingspan to create space in the opposing zone, as well as the finesse to finish off his shots. Much like Jonathan Toews, he was expected to do everything at the beginning of his career. From running the power play, to killing penalties and taking defensive zone draws. Now that the Panthers have a more well rounded forward corps, he’s been used more appropriately as a purely offensive weapon. The switch paid off handsomely, as in 2019 he topped his previous career high in points by almost 20 with 96. He’s found a quality running mate on his line with Carter Verhaeghe, who’s potted 9 thus far with Barkov centering him.

On the back end Keith Yandle is still here. He’s had a minor resurgence this season offensively with 17 points to his credit, but has been less than stellar on the defensive end. This is probably why Coach Q has him start almost 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone. In addition to Yandle’s points, the Panth have been getting excellent production out of Aaron Ekblad thus far this season, and that’s with him picking up the slack of Yandle’s offensive zone starts. In addition (just because you knew Coach Q had to have THAT ELEMENT on the team), professional asshat Radko Gudas is here, taking runs at people and generally being a boil on the taint of hockey.

For our Men of the Four Feathers, they come off a split series against the Stars that saw them get completely owned on every spot on the stat sheet except the one that counted in the 2nd game. Managing to score 4 goals of 8 shots in 2 periods isn’t something that you want to depend on going forward. The powerplay seems to have come back to earth a little bit, though they were able to notch a goal in the second game against Dallas with a nifty shot by Top Cat combined with a quality screen by Carl Soderberg.

Not much in the way of lineup changes in this series, though I would most likely expect Kevin Lankinen to get both the starts as Malcom Subban looked urpy again in his last game. The Hawks still haven’t found a way to get consistent pressure on the opposing team during 5 on 5 hockey, so they’re going to have to rely on their transition game more than any team probably should. Good thing Domanik Kubalik (who’s very very good at this) only gets about 12 minutes a night. If the Hawks can get any traffic in front of Bobrovsky they’ll have a decent chance at putting a few past him. He’s been playing better, but not THAT better. Overall, they need to stay out of the box since the penalty kill has melted from a mountain of ice down to the dirty ass snow puddles left in the gutters.

If the Hawks want to keep their grip on the #4 playoff seed strong, they’re going to need a point or two out of this series. The Panthers are good, but I still think they’re a shade below the Lightning and Hurricanes. The goals are there if the Hawks can get enough pressure. 2 is nice, but 4 is preferable.

Let’s Go Hawks

Hockey

Box Scores

Game 1 / Game 2

Natural Stat Trick

Game 1 / Game 2

 

This series was a perfect microcosm of the Blackhawks season thus far, showing exactly what happens when the team:

A) Does or does not get excellent goaltending and

B) Is or is not able to create offense via the power play

Game one showed us very clearly what happens when the Hawks get mediocre or below goaltending (much like the last Detroit series) and is not able to cash in on powerplay chances, and game 2 was the exact inverse of it. Watching game 1, it was pretty clear the Hawks “Give A Shit” level was next to zero, as they were dominated by Dallas almost as soon as they stepped out of the team hotel. While in a 82 game season you’re always going to get games like that (especially in February and March), the wonkiness of this year doesn’t provide much cover for stinkers like those. It’s magnified by the fact that the Hawks are attempting to put as much distance between themselves and the Stars as Dallas attempts to climb out of it’s own grave.

Game 2 continued the season long trend of the Hawks thumbing their noses at advanced stats, getting dongwhipped in CORSI up and down the scoresheet. Yet as he has done most of the season Kevin Lankinen stood tall and kept the Stars off the board until the 3rd period, allowing the Hawks offense to build up an almost insurmountable 4 goal lead (not that they didn’t try and allow the Stars back in the game, more on that later). While not in the area of a “Must Win Game” for the Hawks just yet, it might have been for Dallas. Keeping the Stars exactly where they were before the series started was the bare minimum for our Men of the Four Feathers, so in this aspect game 2 (and the series, I suppose) was a success.

TO THE BULLETS!

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

-I really might need to come up with a new subtitle and image there, as the Hawks have changed their season motto from “One Goal” to “Advanced Stats Can Eat Shit.” More often than not the Hawks are getting nuked in the possession metrics, yet rolling on to victory. Game 2 was the penultimate example of this, as in the first two periods Dallas had an even strength CORSI of 75% and 70%, and a shot advantage of 22 to 8 and yet the Hawks led 4-0.  Anton Khudobin had a cool .500 save percentage before he got yanked in favor of Jake Oettinger, which I’m being told is not very good for a goalie to have, but great for a team to have shooting percentage wise.

-Seriously, just look at the Gameflow chart from last night. If you had no idea of the score and saw that, you’d assume that the Hawks were the team down 4-0 and not the other way around. It boggles the mind. If the Hawks were a baseball team, they’d have a BABIP of about .654.

-As long as Kevin Lankinen continues to keep the Hawks in games like he did, the Hawks have enough weapons offensively to continue to get points. If that well dries up anytime soon, things are going to get itchy as far as the playoff race is concerned. Honestly, the Hawks entire postseason hopes rest on his shoulders because the team is a clown rodeo in it’s own end. On the first Stars goal last night there were not 1 but 3 different Hawks below the goal line. I don’t know if that happens due to a lack of communication, lack of defensive structure, or some other deadly combination but it cannot continue.

-Speaking of things that need to stop, Dominik Kubalik got a whopping 12:30 of ice time last night despite scoring a goal 2 minutes into the fucking game. What exactly does he need to do to get on the ice more? He’s 3rd on the team in both goals and points behind Kane and Top Cat, and yet he plays on average 40% less than those two. Meanwhile Kampf, Soderberg, Janmark and Carpenter all played at least 3 more minutes than Kubalik. Those four guys are nice players, but none of them can even come close to doing what Kubalik can do with the puck. THIS HAS TO STOP, but we all know it won’t.

-Adam Boqvist is going to be a world killer someday, but these last few games he’s shown just how unrefined he still is on the defensive end. His ill-timed jump into the play and subsequent confusion as to which man was his after Duncan Keith played the puck carrier lead directly to the Stars first goal in game 1. He was also one of the 3 Hawks defenders below the goal line leading to Roope Hintz (who’s name can be rearranged to spell Zither Poon) being all alone in front of Lankinen. Once he can fortify this part of his game he’s going to be pretty unstoppable, because his offensive abilities are otherworldy.

-Carl Soderberg might not be the second coming of Thomas Holmstrom, but as long as he continues to park his ass directly in the opposing goalie’s line of sight on the power play I’ll take it. His screen of Khudobin on DeBrincat’s power play goal in the 2nd was picture perfect, and it’s probably the most underrated part of his game.

-Game 1 was a mess, and the less said about it the better. Kane’s 1,000th game was only memorable for all of the video tributes shown throughout, highlighted by a message from The Captain himself, Jonathan Toews. I’m not going to speculate on what he’s fighting with, but I was very glad to see and hear from him again. The Hawks could definitely use his experience at the dot, as they got smoked at the faceoff circle 61-39 and 54-46 in the series. Get well, Cap.

-The split in the series puts the Hawks at 14-9-5 (33 points), putting them 7 up on Columbus after they farted away a 2 goal lead to the Panthers last night. They’re also 12 points up on Dallas, which burned through 2 of their games in hand.

-Next up for the Hawks in their stretch of difficult March games is Coach Q’s Panthers, the team 5 points ahead of the Hawks in the standings. If the Hawks can take half the possible points in each series for the rest of the month, it’ll be hard for anyone behind them in the rankings to catch up. Let’s hope Lankinen’s joints are up to the task. No pressure.

Let’s Go Hawks.