Hockey

The Dizzying Highs

The Top Line: We don’t usually split this but what’re you gonna do? It’s hard to talk about Jonathan Toews without Domink Kubalik, considering they piled up 15 points and eight goals in just four games together. Toews especially has been delirious, with 42 points in 39 games. That doesn’t mean his possession-dominance has returned, but when he’s piling up the points that seems a bit nitpick-y. And he definitely domed whatever the Leafs threw at him on Saturday, which is always nice. Reports of his demise, some of which were authored by me in October, were obviously greatly exaggerated.

Kubalik is yet another showcase of the Hawks’ European scouting, and hopefully this time they don’t cash him in for a plodding, third-pairing d-man. Kubalik’s success of course makes the offseason even trickier, as if he does get to 30 goals then you can’t just hand him $2.5M and tell him to take it as they were probably hoping, even as a restricted free agent. But we’ll save that for May and June and whatever. No, he’s not going to shoot 30% for the rest of the year as he has this week, but it’s clear he is something of a ruthless finisher and also has a sense of how to get open.

The Terrifying Lows

No One? – It’s hard to pick someone out when you go 4-0 during the week and do it to the tune of 18-7 in the aggregate. So yeah, Drake Caggiula’s four penalties last night weren’t ideal, but who cares? Kirby Dach could be scoring more, but then he goes and does that last night and you see what might be possible down the road very quickly. The power play still hasn’t really chimed in yet, and the hope was Boqvist would goose it a bit more. But when you’re killing every penalty and finishing at evens at the rate the Hawks are, it’s not a big deal. That’s why Quenneville never really cared about the power play.

So maybe we’ll set it at the hype for tomorrow night’s game, which we’ll cover in-depth tomorrow. You know it’s going to get a little out of hand, but the video package is probably going to bring a tear to everyone’s eye. And frankly, I’m crying too much these days (though usually out of joy thanks to Gini Wijnaldum).

The Creamy Middles

Corey Crawford – While the headline has been how good the Hawks goaltending has been, the truth is that most of that has been Robin Lehner. Corey, who I will always defend and root for and am basically going to be the leading voice stating he should be the one kept and not Lehner next season, has only been all right at best. He flashed the form we know and love earlier in the season, but that went away. And even with these two great performances in Montreal and Toronto he’s only at .910 for the year, which is not the standard he’s set. And maybe he can’t get there again, but I don’t necessarily believe that.

I had thought he was still adjusting to splitting starts. But he got a row of them when Lehner had a bit of a knee-knack, and his performance against Detroit and Nashville were…iffy. Earlier in the year when he got a stretch of starts for the only other time, he was much better in Vegas and in Pittsburgh. Maybe he still hasn’t quite come to terms with the gaps between appearances. Now he’ll likely go two or more weeks.

Still, the Hawks will need him. And they’ll need him to be really good. It’s still there. I know it. And it’s more satisfying when we see it from him.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Canucks 9-3-3   Hawks 4-7-3

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY FILMED DEADPOOL THERE: Canucks Army

We’ve had to do this the past couple years now. Whenever the Hawks meet up with the Kings or Canucks, we have to do something of a “Remember when these mattered?” comment. This used to be the the fiercest rivalry in the league. That stopped some seven years ago. With the Kings and Hawks, there just isn’t much more to discuss because both teams are lying face down in the muck. Sadly, that might not be the case for the Canucks anymore.

The Canucks find themselves one point out of the lead for the Pacific Division, behind the Oilers and one ahead of the Coyotes, just to let you know how backwards everything is and how many different teams seem to have better ideas than the Hawks right now.

Is it real? The numbers suggest it might be. The schedule does not. The Canucks have seven regulation wins, and they’re over the Sharks at home (some teams can do that, in fact a lot of them have), the Kings twice (some teams do that), the Red Wings twice, the Rangers, and over the Panthers at home. Only the last one is a team that’s probably good and playing well at the moment. But hey, you can only play whom the schedule says you do, and the Canucks have made hay against that.

And they haven’t just squeaked by, as their metrics are pretty glowing. They’re one of the best teams in the league in terms of Corsi and expected-goals, and they’re doing some explosive work in the offensive end. Most of that comes from the top line of WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?-JT Miller-Brock Boeser. They’ve combined for 52 points in 15 games, with Elias Pettersson on track for a 109-point season. That’ll play.

Coach Travis Green has taken the training wheels off this line, starting them in any zone against any opponent, and pretty much doing the same with his second line centered by Bo Horvat. This has freed him up to put his plugs in more advantageous spots, which is maybe why you’ve seen scoring spikes from the likes of Brandon Sutter and Tim Schaller. What a time to be alive…to cut yourself.

That doesn’t mean Lady Luck isn’t waving her ass a bit at the Canucks, too. Again, the soft schedule helps, and they’ve ground up the chuck they’ve been served (is that how that works? Let’s just go with it). But this is a team with a 102 PDO that’s getting a .918 from Jacob Markstrom and a .938 from Thatcher Demko. The latter has been the hope for the future for what feels like 17 years now, but he’s not a .938 goalie. The Nucks are also shooting at a team-rate of 9.4% at evens, and while Pettersson and Boeser are most certainly top-level scorers, the rest of this outfit most certainly is not.

That said, they’re a top-10 specials teams outfit on both sides, with an excellent penalty kill, and with the possession they’ve gotten at evens and what they’ve done with it, you can’t really ask for any more.

And they have hope on the blue line. Somehow, and this for sure won’t last, Tyler Myers has been a possession-driving monster, with a Corsi of 56.5% while just shading most of his zone starts in the defensive zone. Should you expect that to continue? Cue Russell Westbrook:

Still, nice to have for now. That has freed up Quinn Hughes, who is going to be a thing, to take easier assignments, and he’s dinging opponents upside the head to the tune of a 57 xG% while getting third-pairing minutes and 67% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Must be nice to be able to bed in a young, dynamic d-man like that so easily. We’re looking longingly at Vancouver, folks. Eat Arby’s, puke it up, and then eat that.

Right, the to Hawks. Corey Crawford will rotate back in to the starter’s net after Lehner once again did enough to keep the Hawks from getting utterly embarrassed. This is starting to be like the end of “Little Miss Sunshine,” where Paul Dano is trying to convince Toni Collette that she has to keep Abigail Breslin from getting embarrassed by the actual pageant girls. I think Lehner is Collette in this metaphor, but I’m not entirely sure as the Hawks have basically broken my brain.

Coach Kelvin Gemstone, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to scratch one of the Hawks’ best two-way and fastest forwards tonight in Dominik Kubalik to give us more Zack Smith. Because all the kids out here with their skateboards and backwards hats have been demanding more Zack Smith. The world needs more Zack Smith. Zack Smith is the key to salvation…

…I’ve just had a brain bubble.

Everything is fucked.

Anyway, the Canucks can do pretty much whatever they want here. They can try and out-skate the Hawks, which they can. They probably have the defensive structure to use the “advanced trap,” that the Sharks used to strangle the Hawks into paste, which is just a trap but ahead of the red line. Or anything in between. And the Hawks will probably still try and dump the puck in and get it back with their not-fast-enough and not-strong-enough forwards.

I’m going to go look for a strong tree branch. You folks enjoy the game.

 

 

Hockey

We’ve been setting you up bit by bit for the season, but we haven’t gotten a chance to muse much. And musing is what we do best. So before the Hawks have their dress rehearsal tonight, thought we’d go through some things (that weren’t covered on the podcast, which was most things, which you can find here).

-I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while, and it’s Stan Bowman’s take on Kirby Dach. Now, everything that follows is obviously moot if Dach can’t ever actually suit up due to concussion, and it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be tonight. On the ground, he’s going to Europe but probably isn’t going to play in the exhibition game in Berlin or in the season opener. Which is fine, as this weird schedule opener will actually give the Hawks an additional 3-4 practices before the home opener against the Sharks on the 10th. So there’s plenty of time to acclimate Dach for whatever audition he’s going to get.

And the gist of this piece is that he’s going to get it. Stan even hints at keeping him longer than the nine games even if he proves to need more time in the WHL, though that would be kind of silly. The beauty of the schedule here is that after this Euro opener, the Hawks next seven are at home. Which means seven games that Coach Cool Youth Pastor, if he even realizes he can do such a thing, can put Dach in the right spots and keep him away from tricky matchups. Obviously, you can’t go through a season doing that, but it would certainly give us an idea of what Dach can do and what he can’t when set up for success.

Whether Dach sticks or not will be an indication of what exactly the Hawks want out of this season. We’ve been debating this for two years without any answer, because whenever they deign to actually answer a question about what the goals are here it’s always some mealy-mouthed argle bargle trying to halve the line of competitiveness and development. We still honestly have no idea if the Hawks think the playoffs are a must this year, or if their eyes are really on next year and the one after when Dach, Boqvist, and Ian Mitchell are for sure on board. And we won’t, because transparency isn’t something they can spell over at 1901 West.

It would seem to me a third straight playoff-less season would mean everyone is fired, but we’ve though that before. And considering how much it feels like they’ve eaten through their season ticket base, that would be the factor applying the most pressure. They didn’t really have this last year as they remained competitive, but if they’re out of it in March I wonder how many patches of red seats we’ll be seeing in the stands (or won’t be seeing thanks to NBCSN Chicago’s spelunking-like filters).

So if the goal has to be playoffs, then Dach is here. Plain and simple. You’re not as worried about development, and he could walk in right now and be a better third center option than Anton Wedin or David Kampf. Put him between some two-way conscious wingers, and you might have something. If the Hawks send him down, then you have a pretty good idea this season isn’t the priority (and it might not have to be). That is unless he looks completely lost, which I heavily doubt he will.

Dach is a little awkwardly fit because even at home, Dylan Strome also needs sheltering. Ideally, you could trust Strome to not have to be coddled with hammock shifts every time, but we’re not there yet. If he could be, you could start Dach exclusively in the offensive zone and you’d probably have something.

I wonder if some of this Bowman thinking isn’t really hoping that Dach comes up, absolutely kills it, and makes the Strome negotiations in the summer easier. If Dach looks like he’s going to be a #2 or even #1 center by the end of the season, and Strome is knocked down the depth chart, well you’re not so eager to just hand him $6M or $7M are you? It’s definitely a factor.

Either way, Bowman sounds a little more aggressive with this prospect than he has about ones in the past. Part of that is he has a coach who won’t have his own agenda this time around, but I think he knows he’s got something here and he’s not going to get in Dach’s way.

-And when I say putting Dach between two two-way conscious wingers, I’m looking straight at this Saad-Kubalik combination. The Hawks seem intent on making Alex “Fetch” Nylander happen, so he’s with Toews tonight and Kane is going to have ya-ha time with The Hounds Of Justice (well, “The Shield” line was Perlini with DeBrincat and Strome but we’re keeping it). Putting David Kampf between the two of them makes for an effective checking line, and saw Saad control play from a third line spot last year, but there’s more they could be doing.

I am kind of happy Colliton has already decided to see Andrew Shaw in a 4th line role, though it’s probably already knowing what he can do in the top six and give someone else a look. Still, if this is any indication that Beto O’Colliton is a little more infatuated with what Drake Caggiula can do than Shaw, man won’t this be a fun season? This was one of our complaints about the Shaw trade, is that if Caggiula is healthy and fully blown out he kind of does the same things, though maybe not with the hands. Watch this space.