Hockey

The Hawks continue to suck out loud and for some reason we all continue to watch this team limp slowly toward the finish line that is the end of this season. Despite a faux reprieve from offensive terribleness on Friday with a double hat trick win against the disastrous Devils, it was bookended with two horrible losses against actually contending teams, the Panthers and Blues, successfully washing away any optimism that could possibly surround this team.

The real news around these parts is that they ripped off Kyle Davidson’s “interim” tag like a Band-Aid to name him the permanent GM over Mathieu Darche and some shmuck from the Cubs (hey, how about you fix my baseball team’s on-field product before you try to switch sports?). People are justifiably skeptical about the whole situation, which is understandable, but personally I’m still thanking God that Peter Chiarelli is not the Blackhawks GM—what a scare. Davidson has been able to take a deeper look internally at what this team is missing over the past four months, something the other two GM candidates haven’t been able to do, and theoretically this means he won’t fuck things up come the trade deadline.

In case you were trying to block it from your mind, the Hawks have needs in a lot of areas: drafting, prospects, goaltending, any amount of offense at all, way less infinitely replaceable clones that can only play bottom-six positions, a permanent head coach, and maybe a better player development department as Kirby Dach becomes a giant red flag to more and more people. It all begins at this year’s trade deadline at the end of the month, where any amount of wheeling and dealing could be done by Davidson that could make us see the departures of Kubalik, de Haan, Fleury, Strome—honestly fuck it, who isn’t available at this point besides Kane, Toews and the Cat?

Anyway, we have some games this weekend to preview, and it’ll probably end ugly.

3/2 vs. Edmonton

Game Time – 7:30PM CT

TV/Radio – NBCSCH / WGN 720

It Is Better to Live One Day as a Lion Than 1,000 Days as a Lamb – Copper N Blue

The Edmonton Oilers have briefly taken a stop off of the Hot Mess Express ever since Dave Tippett got canned for letting his team get beaten by…well, the Hawks. Since his firing, the Oilers have gone 7-3 in their last 10, clinging to dear life to the final Wild Card spot they currently hold for the West. Oilers fans shield their eyes and pretend not to notice they were able to harvest wins from crappy teams such as the Islanders, Sharks, Kings and struggling Ducks, whereas nearly all of their matchups against contending teams in this stretch have led to losses. It’s mostly because Oilers GM Ken Holland has quite possibly ruined everything by not signing a competent goaltender. Once again I must assume that this team might try to make something work out to bring Fleury to Alberta, though why Fleury would want to go there is beyond me.

In other news, two of the greatest Hawks defensemen of all time, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith, return to the United Center tonight in what will likely be an emotional affair. Had things worked out differently and if the front office hadn’t completely soiled the legacy of the 2010 team forever, the place would be packed and there would be positive vibes abound. Understandably, some fans may not want to see or hear tribute videos to anyone associated with that era, but I am personally pushing some of that aside for now as there hasn’t been a negative story about Niklas Hjalmarsson since I’ve been following the team. The man was a shot-blocking legend, a minutes-eater, and probably one of the best defensive defensemen of his era. His recognition is well-deserved and he seems like a good guy.

Keith will be honored in a smaller own way tomorrow, though he’ll be on the opposing team with the Oilers. Keith is my favorite Hawk of all time—he literally sacrificed seven teeth in the name of the sport, of winning the Stanley Cup, and whether or not you think that’s something worth sacrificing, you have to respect his dedication to the craft. That dedication has made it so he is still playing in the NHL at 38 years old, and he’s not doing so terrible, no matter what you may hear from Oilers fans. He’s having better numbers in Edmonton both offensively and defensively than he had with the Hawks last year; take a look at Natural Stat Trick.

Of course the great Boomer Gordon’s theory about ceremony games meaning automatic losses to the home team will probably come true, so expect a Blackhawks loss.

3/5 at Philadelphia

Game Time – 2:00 PM CT

TV/Radio – ESPN+, ABC / WGN 720

It’s Like When I’m Doing Good In The Game, I’m Doing Good In Life. – Broad Street Hockey

The Flyers are doing much, much worse than even the Hawks are at this point of the season, at find themselves in the basement of the Metro and continuing a similar aimless march toward the trade deadline. In this city, it is longtime captain and center dot staple Claude Giroux on the chopping block. Giroux, as old as Patrick Kane, is still a team leader in goals, points, even-strength goals, OPS and faceoff percentage. Trading him away would be…well, how much worse could it get? They’re also trying to deal Keith Yandle, who is at a team-worst -32 for the year and his other defensive metrics are just as terrifying, so good luck with that.

Flyers fans are probably excited that Carter Hart has had a bounce-back goaltending year from last season, although that just means he’s been putting up a middling .912 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. For the Flyers, however, it’s better than the alternative, as Martin Jones has lost his last eight starts to teams like Buffalo, San Jose, LA and the Islanders. He also hasn’t started since February 22, but considering their schedule he might be in the crease against the Hawks just to give Hart some rest between games against more talented teams like Minnesota and Vegas.

3/6 vs. Tampa Bay

Game Time – 6:00 PM CT

TV/Radio – NHLN, NBCSCH / WGN 720

Are You Really Sure You Want To Watch This Slaughtering? – Raw Charge

Tampa Bay is once again really goddamn good, currently atop the Atlantic Division with 76 points, good for 3rd in the league. The Lightning are also currently on a 5-game win streak and considering they only have to play the Penguins and Red Wings before facing the Hawks, it’s very likely that streak will be extended to 7 when they arrive at the United Center on Sunday.

Despite the Lightning not being offensive analytic darlings like their cross-state rivals the Panthers or the even teams like the Avalanche out west, they allow the second-least shots in the league because of their solid defense and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one of the league’s most reliable goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes every night.

The Lightning are also finally healthy, as it seems only Zach Bogosian is on injury report list, and he won’t be missed too much. Steven Stamkos at 32 is also top on the team in goals, points, powerplay goals, the whole nine yards—as usual. Nikita Kucherov is 9th on the team in points so far this season after he spent nearly all of last season on IR, but that’s fine with Lightning fans since he usually pops off in the playoffs when the games matter most. The Hawks are outmatched and outclassed up and down the lineup against this team, and I do not have high hopes for this game by any means.

Hockey

A successful, if unspectacular stretch of games for the Hawks this Valentines’ week as they were able to bookend two wins in Canada with an absolute turd of an effort down in The Lou for the middle frame. During all of this actual hockey being played (how many people were actually playing attention with the Olympics going on and the Bulls being awesome is anyone’s guess), news leaked out that the Hawks were looking to get an insane return from teams inquiring about the services and availability of one Brandon Hagel. The return in question (according to Frank Seravalli in the Daily Faceoff Rundown podcast) is apparently a first round pick and a top prospect, which to me is absolutely mind boggling.

Look, don’t get me wrong. Brandon Hagel is a very solid young player on a Very Not Good team. Were he to be traded to Colorado or Vegas at the deadline he would be a very solid 3rd or 4th line player. Teams don’t trade first round picks and/or top prospects to fill out their 3rd line, no matter how young and cap friendly he may be. At 23 years old (24 when next season rolls around), is he the kind of player you build around for the future? His 27 points in 46 games is a nice addition, but if the Hawks are turning down 2nd and 3rd round picks for a guy they essentially picked up off waivers when the cupboard is completely bare is asinine to me. Not having a permanent GM at the trade deadline is also extremely asinine, but the Hawks aren’t one to be told what is dumb and what isn’t.

Anyways, TO THE RECAP:

 

2/9

Hawks 4 – Oilers 1

BOX SCORE

Natural Stat Trick

 

Guess signing Evander Kane wasn’t the kick in the pants the Oilers thought it would be, eh?

The Hawks jumped right into the Oil’s shit from the get go, with Patrick Kane firing a nifty cross ice feed to DeBrincat, who ripped it right past Professional Crybaby Mike Smith giving the Hawks their first of two power play goals on the night. It was all set up by the hard work of Sam Lafferty, who drew the tripping penalty after outworking Nugent-Hopkins. A minute later the aforementioned Brandon Hagel doubled up the Hawks lead when DeBrincat saucered a cross ice pass of his own during a 3 on 2 rush.

The 2nd period was all about Marc-Andre Fleury, as the Oil emptied everything in the chamber at him. Edmonton dropped 20 shots on MAF in the 2nd, with only Leon “Why So Pissy” Draisaitl’s power play tally sneaking past him. As expected, the Hawks got absolutely annihilated in CORSI in the second period to the tune of 75% to 25%. They supposedly had 6 shots in the period but I can’t honestly remember any of them. Predictably, Edmonton folded like a cheap tent after Strome put one past Smith in the first minute of the 3rd, with Fleury in no serious danger the rest of the way. Shit, even Kirby Dach scored a goal, which tells you everything you need to know about the state of hockey in Edmonton right now. Good win.

 

2/12

Hawks 1- Blues 5

BOX SCORE

Natural Stat Trick

 

This game fucking sucked. The team clearly didn’t give a shit from word go, and they got smoked in every facet of the game up and down the ice. Even Marc-Andre Fleury had the “Not Interested” sign hanging from his helmet. The Blues exposed the Hawks every weakness as a team, and capitalized on every mistake. When the Hawks needed a push in the 3rd to try and get back in the game, the Blues dominated CORSI 82%-18%. It pains me to say it, but they’re just better than the Hawks at everything, and it’s gonna be that way for a long while.

 

2/14

Hawks 3 – Jets 1

BOX SCORE

Natural Stat Trick

 

They can’t all be edge of your seat thrillers. Sometimes during an 82 game marathon, there are just going to be games that are flat out boring. Through the first half of this one, that’s exactly what happened. Just ask Ben Pope:

Really, nothing of note happened until Patrick Kane used a screen by Kirby Dach to rifle one 5 hole on Connor HellBuick. After that brief moment of excitement, things went quiet again until Mark Scheifele tapped in a puck that hit approximately 32 people on the way to the cage off the stick of Nate Schmidt six minutes into the final period. Then Alex DeBrincat decided he’d had enough of this bullshit and gave the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t give up with this absolutely disgusting snipe:

https://twitter.com/NHLBlackhawks/status/1493437331008901123?s=20&t=vAoJOVViVfq06HVVi2B8Rg

Stan Bowman did a lot of dumbass shit while he was here, but drafting Top Cat was definitely not one of those things. Anyways, shortly thereafter, Fleury helped himself out by shooting an outlet pass to Kane who tapped it up to Hagel for the ENG, thus bringing the game to a close. You really can’t complain about the win, but this game was exactly what you’d expect with two bottom of the table teams dry humping their way through 60 minutes of hockey. The Jets won the possession battle 54-46%, but they don’t have DeBrincat or Marc-Andre Fleury, so fuck em. Moving on.

Hockey

After Rocky’s pants-shitting at the town hall the other day, my give-a-shit level about this team has reached “Patrick Kane in Late February” territory. Yet still here I am writing about them, so I don’t quite know if that says more about me than Rocky but whatever. Some hockey is better than none I suppose.

These first 3 games out of the gate post-All Star break feature 2 Canadian reschedules bookending a trip to the Purina Factory down in St. Louis. After the aforementioned town hall shenanigans it’s probably best that the team opens up on the road so they can attempt to concentrate on just playing hockey and not dealing with the fallout of their evil Keebler Elf owner’s tirade.

With Alex DeBrincat’s solid showing at the All Star festivities in Vegas, the Hawks look to start the back half of the season out on a high note. Standing in their way are two underperforming Canadian teams and one offensive juggernaut from St. Louis. Here’s hoping the time off did Toews and Kane good, as the Hawks are desperate for scoring from wherever they can get it.

 

2/9 @ Edmonton 

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

#FreeMcDavid: Copper N Blue

 

Man, shit has been rough in Edmo since Christmas. With a 5-8 record after Boxing Day, the Oilers spent the entire month of January getting their skulls cracked in, culminating in the amazing press conference where Canadian “hockey journalist” Jim Matheson asked Leon Draisatl why he was “being so pissy” after having to sit through his idiotic questions.

Oh, and they signed Evander Kane after the Sharks got rid of him before the Vegas Good Squads came to kneecap him and leave him for dead in the Nevada desert.

So things haven’t been very rosy for the Oil since the calendar flipped to 2022. They managed to string together a few wins before the Knights completely ethered them 4-0 heading into the all star break. What type of team the Hawks will see is anyone’s guess, but with 2 of the best players in the multiverse on their roster (even if McDavid has a wonky knee right now) Marc-Andre Fleury will have to be on his game to keep them off of the scoresheet. Regardless of how the game goes, Edmonton may end up with the last laugh if the Hawks brass continues to shoot themselves in the dick and hire Peter Chiarelli as their new GM.

 

2/12 @ St. Louis

Gametime: 7:00 CST

TV / Radio – NBCSN, WGN-AM 720

Wretched Hive Of Scum And VillainySTL Gametime

 

This game will not be pretty. We’ve reached the point where the Blues are simply a more “put together” team than the Hawks are, and outside of Alex DeBrincat and maybe Patrick Kane (if he gives a shit) the Hawks just don’t have the firepower to keep up with STL. Jordan Kyrou continues to tear a hole in the atmosphere with his play, and fresh off his first All Star appearance I’m sure he’ll be looking to continue that trend.

It’s not just Kyrou the Hawks have to be aware of, however. While the Blues still can’t completely get away from their special brand of Stupid, they’re definitely a more high powered team than we’re used to seeing. They have 7 skaters with double-digit goal totals, and Vlad Tarasenko has regained the form he lost after missing a shitload of time with multiple shoulder surgeries. Between him, Kyrou, Barbashev and Buchnevich there’s just too much to have to pay attention to.

In net, Jordan Binnington hasn’t been setting the world on fire with his .900 save percentage and 3+ GAA, but Ville Husso (yet another Finnish goalie. Suomi!) has more than picked up the slack with his .940 and 1.91 GAA and is pretty close to claiming the top spot in what has suddenly become a tandem effort.

Also Brandon Saad is here, which hurts me to my core.  *sad trombone*

 

2/14 @ Winnipeg (AKA North Grand Forks)

Gametime: 8:00 CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Middle Of Nowhere: Arctic Ice Hockey

 

I’ll never forget how much my buddy Matt hated people from Winnipeg when I went to college in Grand Forks. He was a bartender, and despised working the one weekend a month when they all piled into their RV and drove south to GFK to shop at Walmart (because the Canadian dollar was more valuable at the time) because they didn’t tip for shit. This preview is for you, Matt Hammond.

Anyways, the Jets suck slightly less than the Hawks do. As of right now they sit 6 points up on them with 3 games in hand but are 7 points out of the last wild card spot. Which in Gary Bettman’s NHL may as well be 40, with Loser Points for everyone. Kyle Connor has officially turned into “a thing” as the 2015 1st round pick of the Jets has done nothing but rake at the NHL level since being drafted and may end up being the Jets best choice of all time.

Unfortunately for The Peg, it’s him and Mark Scheifele and not much else. The Jets are mired in the bottom 3rd of the league with the Hawks for 5 on 5 goal scoring despite being 10th in the league in CORSI for. While some of that may be due for a market correction (the team as a whole is top 10 in most advanced stats, but bottom 3rd in shooting percentage), it may simply just be a bad luck year for the Jets forward corps. With Connor HellBuick having a merely average year, most nights the Jets don’t score enough to run with the higher level teams in the west like the Avs and Knights. What they have will most likely be enough against the Hawks, however. Though that’s not exactly something to brag about these days.

 

Hockey

I mean, 4 points is 4 points…right?

 

Sometimes your hockey team gets completely outplayed in 3 straight games, and yet somehow comes away with wins in 2 of the 3. When that happens, all you can really do is shrug your shoulders and just say “hockey is dumb sometimes.” You could also say “Marc-Andre Fleury is a dope motherfucker and he does dope shit” and you wouldn’t be wrong, especially on Sunday night.

Historically the Pacific NW corner of this landmass has been a house of horrors for the Hawks, especially around this time of year. Even though the circus no longer calls the UC home around Thanksgiving, it just so happens that the NHL schedulers decided 2021 would be a good time to revive a portion of that road trip. With still 1 game remaining in Calgary, this mini Circus Trip should be considered a success with .500 the bare minimum before the team heads home to face off against the Blues and Sharks.

It hasn’t been pretty, but at this point in the season any and all points for a team attempting to claw it’s way back into the playoff picture should be considered a plus…especially when it was accomplished during regulation.

 

TO THE BULLETS!

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

November 17th, 2021

Hawks 4 – Krak 2

Box Score / Natural Stat Trick 

 

The Hawks actually came out in the game a house of fire, pressuring the Kraken in their own zone and holding the lions share of the possession for the period (64% CORSI share). Sometimes owning the majority of the possession time doesn’t create the results you would normally expect, but this was not one of those instances as Seth Jones got his 2nd goal of the season off the rush with a sick tic tac toe play from Kane and DeBrincat to put the Hawks up 1-0.

DeBrincat put the Hawks up 2-0 just 2 minutes into the 2nd period after the entire Kraken defense fell asleep when Riley Stillman won a board battle in the corner of the Hawks zone (where Gufstasson was also inexplicably located, but that’s another story) and kicked it over to Kirby Dach, who saucered a sick pass to a streaking DeBrincat. After this goal the ice tilted severely in the favor of the Kraken, who began to pour the pressure on the suddenly underwater Blackhawks. The Kraken owned the posession time the rest of the way to the tune of a 73% share. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Kraken might have ended up winning this one by 4.

As it was, the Krak made another sloppy mistake that resulted in your standard “Kane Roofs A Backhand On Transition” kinda goal to make it 3-0 Hawks. Then it was all Krak the rest of the way, pulling within 1 goal before Jake McCabe managed to pot an empty netter from 400 feet away. As was mentioned on the podcast by McClure, the “just go out there and play hockey” style of management from Derek King works when the team is trying to score goals, but not so much trying to protect a lead. It’s a process, but at least it feels like the ship has a rudder again.

 

November 20th, 2021

Hawks 2 – Oilers 5 

Box Score / Natural Stat Trick 

 

Connor McDavid is the best hockey player in the multiverse right now, and it’s not even close. Not covering him is a recipe for failure, and not surprisingly he ended the game 10 minutes into the 1st period after Seth Jones got his pocket picked behind the Hawks net, and Kirby Dach decided he was gonna try and fly the zone for a Paul Kariya breakaway instead of putting a stick on McJeebus as he sat alone in front of poor Kevin Lankinen. Shortly thereafter the Hawks gave the Oil an almost 2 minute 5 on 3 PPG where Tyson Barrie put one in. A Yamomoto SHG and a Ryan McLeod rebound a few moments later and it was 4-0.

The Hawks tried to make a game of it with a couple of DeBrincat goals, but a terrible dump in by Toews on a PP in the waning moments of the 3rd turned into the Oil’s 2nd SHG of the night with Draisatil depositing the 5th goal of the night behind Lankinen.

This game was over 10 minutes into the first, but credit to the Hawks forwards for not realizing it until the 3rd. Lankinen really only had a chance on McLeod’s goal, so he’s not entirely to blame. Honestly the Oilers are just the better team and it showed. Moving on.

 

November 21st, 2021

Hawks 1 – Nucks 0

Box Score / Natural Stat Trick 

 

Sometimes you just need your goalie to save your bacon. For the longest stretch, Cory Crawford was the guy between the pipes keeping the Hawks in games they had no business being in. Last night it was Marc-Andre Fleury’s turn. Luckily he’s been doing shit like this longer than any other active goalie in the business right now. 40 shots and 0 goals later, and the Hawks sneak out of Vancouver with a 1-0 victory in a game that saw the Nucks pour 30 shots on goal in the first two periods vs the 13 the Hawks were able to muster against Thatcher Demko.

Yet there it was, 4 minutes into the 3rd period with Brandon Hagel (who has looked excellent in his return from injury) screening Demko and catching just enough of the puck to deflect it into the back of the net, giving the Hawks a lead Fleury wouldn’t allow them to cough up. The Nucks carried a 60% CORSI share for the entire game, and yet come out the losers here (shame, that). When the heat map looks something like this, you know your team done just got goalie’d:

What is interesting about the Hawks lately is despite the lack of shots being generated by the offense, the high danger scoring chances haven’t really gone down at all. Obviously this is a result of Derek King’s laissez faire approach towards directing the offense, but I can’t tell if it’s a conscious effort from the forwards to hold off for better shots instead of firing the puck at the net. The Hawks PDO since King has taken over has been in the triple digits in every game (except Edmonton, obvs), whereas only twice in the 12 games Colliton was in charge. It’s a small sample size, but it’s encouraging for sure.

As far as shoring things up defensively, the Hawks can’t continue counting on Fleury to stop 71 of 73 shots in two games. The forwards are going to have to start helping out down low, but it’s a process adjusting to playing pickup hockey after Colliton was trying to get them to split the atom in their own zone. Let’s revisit this before Xmas and see if there has been any improvement.

Moving on.

Hockey

We’ve got some late games coming up as the Hawks are heading out on a west coast road trip this week. And perhaps thanks to the sugar rush that comes after a coaching change, the Hawks find themselves having won their last three games and looking ahead to some surprisingly gettable opponents (except Edmonton of course).

Despite the three-game win streak, the Hawks’ underlying numbers haven’t looked very different than they did before Colliton got the axe. The past three games, the team has been at or below a 50 CF%. The Penguins game gave them a paltry 30 CF%, their lowest of the season. Once again, this team is getting bailed out by good goaltending and just enough offense to get them through. We’ll see if their luck will continue.

Additionally, it sounds like Caleb Jones is making the trip. With the incoming return of both him and Wyatt Kalynuk, it’s pretty safe to say Erik Gustafsson’s days as a Hawk are once again coming to an end, God bless. Derek King has been attempting to bury him with as little ice time as possible in the meantime, but it will be interesting to finally see Jones the Younger get his chance.

11/16 at Seattle

Game Time – 9:00 PM CST

TV/Radio – TNT, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720

Swept Out Through the Cracks Beneath the Door – Kraken Chronicle

The Hawks will play the Seattle Kraken for the first time in the team’s history, visiting their shiny new Climate Pledge Arena with their double scoreboards and intentions to be as energy efficient as possible. Unfortunately, the Kraken as a team have been underwhelming at best, not getting off to the same start we saw Vegas get to in their first year as an organization. The Kraken seem to be incredibly defensively porous and aren’t getting the goaltending they need to cover that up. Philipp Grubauer’s numbers took the nosedive of a century as he, like Marc-Andre Fleury, is having trouble adjusting to a team that can’t play defense. His .880 save percentage is the worst in the NHL among goalies with five or more starts. In addition, this team can’t score on the powerplay, going 5-for-46 so far this season—only the Penguins have a worse powerplay percentage.

The Kraken are on a three-game losing streak and after playing the Hawks their next five opponents are the Avalanche, Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers. If they don’t get a win here against the Hawks, things will look pretty bleak for this team. I assume they will give all they have on home ice tonight against the Hawks, but hopefully the Hawks can continue their winning ways with the newfound confidence they’ve found under King.

11/20 at Edmonton

Game Time – 9:00 PM CST

TV/Radio – NBCSCH, WGN-AM 720

Better Believe It’s ‘Berta Beef: Copper n BlueOilers Nation

The Hawks will visit Edmonton for the first time since Duncan Keith sailed off into the horizon to move as far north as possible just before the entire organization here fell from grace. Though many thought the Keith trade was a disaster for Edmonton—and we did win out on that considering we didn’t have to eat any of his salary—he has been serviceable playing second-pairing minutes with Cody Ceci, where he likely belongs. The two find themselves together on the 1st PK unit and continue to take a majority of their starts in the defensive zone.

Luckily for Keith and Ceci, the Oilers still boast two of the most electric goal-scorers in the league on their top line, and so the Oilers find themselves at the top of the division with only three losses so far this season. It’s been Leon Draisaitl so far leading the league in goals and points, though Connor McDavid certainly isn’t too far behind him. Perhaps this team’s biggest question mark is whether or not their AHL-level goaltending can hold up for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Perhaps they’d be interested in Fleury at the trade deadline?

11/21 at Vancouver

Game Time – 7:00 PM CST

TV/Radio – NBCSCH+, WGN AM-720

We Still Hate Raffi Torres Around Here – Nucks Misconduct

Unlike the Hawks, the Canucks are only a disgrace on the ice, not off. But boy do they really try to outdo us anyway, as they have recently reached a crisis point from an organizational perspective that culminated in a series of recent hush-hush meetings between their owner and GM. Canucks fans are calling for the heads of their coach, GM, and likely just about everyone in the front office except for their beloved Sedin twins who are now Special Advisors to the General Manager (really giving off those Assistant to the Regional Manager vibes).

The Canucks are also in a four-game losing streak and off to their worst start in over fifteen years. They’ve been giving up goals left and right—19 goals in three games, to be exact. Thatcher Demko starts between the pipes just about every night and has a .898 save percentage so far this season, killing fantasy owners everywhere. They also have the worst penalty kill in the league, giving up 20 goals in 53 chances, and give up some of the most high-danger chances in the league. The Hawks will hopefully take that to their advantage as they attempt to get their powerplay out of the freezer—they’ve only scored one PPG in the last five games despite 17 opportunities. What could go wrong?

Hockey

We close our position-group previews for the upcoming Hawks-Oilers play-in series by visiting the most important position in the game. In spite of all the star power up front for both teams in the likes Patrick Kane or Connor McDavid, it’s quite possible that this series comes down entirely to the two men standing in the crease. It’s well-established now that goalies are capable of stealing or throwing a series entirely on their own, and considering the goalies playing in this series and the circumstances around them of late, it certainly seems like either of those options are equally on the table. Let’s dig in.

Oilers Goalies

Probable Starter: Mike Smith

On Roster: Mikko Koskinen, Stuart Skinner

The Oilers are still playing the typical hockey unknown game in terms of who will be their starting goalie for the series with the Hawks, but given his history with coach Dave Tippet and overall experience, I think it’s safe to say Mike Smith is the favorite to get the job overall. Smith’s numbers in the regular season were somewhat strange, as he had a fairly respectable 2.95 GAA but a sub-optimal .902 save percentage in 39 appearances. He was even worse at 5v5 with an even .900 SV%, and when you check the venue- and score-adjusted 5v5 stats he finally dips below the Goalie Mendoza Line to a .899 SV%. His goalie play is no longer what it was in his prime (which was not that great anyway) but worry not, as he is still a giant shitbaby.

On the flip side, Mikko Koskinen had a much more impressive regular season, posting a 2.75 GAA and .917 SV% in 38 appearances. And continuing his trend of being opposite-of and better than Smith, Koskinen’s stats improved at 5v5; he posted a .924 SV% at evens, and it drops only slightly to a .922 when adjusted for score and venue.

If this “playoff” series were happening in the immediate aftermath of a season, Edmonton would be incredibly dumb to start Smith over Koskinen. However, it’s been more than four months since anyone played a hockey game that meant anything, and four months since either of these goalies took the crease, so the Oilers’ decision is going likely going to be based more on their restart camp and exhibitions, making it a toss-up. Regardless, I don’t think either goalie is especially impressive or intimidating, but neither should be discounted either.

Blackhawks Goalies

Probable Starter: Corey Crawford

On Roster: Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen

In a vacuum, there would be no question that Corey Crawford would be in the net for the Hawks when the puck drops on Saturday. Unfortunately, this is not a vacuum, and thus we have many questions that need to be answered before this season starts. Crawford continued his reign as one of the best goalies in the NHL – still without the proper recognition or appreciation, of course – with a 2.77 GAA and .917 SV% in 40 appearances this year. That save percentage jumped to an eye-popping .926 at 5v5, both in raw numbers and when adjusted for score and venue. Without being too disrespectful to the other goalies on the roster, Crawford is probably better than the rest of them combined and in normal circumstances if he were to be benched in favor of any of them it would be a travesty.

But again, this is not a vacuum and these are not normal circumstances. Unfortunately, Crawford recently recovered from testing positive for COVID-19, which kept him in Chicago longer than the rest of the Hawks; he just returned to the team and practice last Saturday, giving him just a week to get back into game shape after four months off *and* dealing with the virus. This does create something of a question in terms of if Crawford will be fully ready to play come Saturday. Should the answer be no, my guess is the crease would go to Malcolm Subban, who was once a top goalie prospect in the game but has never really reached his potential. He barely played after being acquired in the Robin Lehner trade – he got into one game for exactly 1:10 – and he posted a .890 SV% in 20 appearances for Vegas. That is not great, so if Crawford cannot play, this could get even uglier for the Hawks than even the ugliest scenario you’ve envisioned.

Advantage: Hawks…. maybe?

If Crawford plays, there is no question that the Hawks have the advantage here, even if the Oilers start Koskinen. Crawford being able to play, and doing so in top form, is the Hawks’ best chance of winning this series, let alone anything beyond that. Quite frankly, I have my doubts that they can really do win even with Crawford playing, but that’s a different conversation. If Crawford cannot go, though, the scale tips in Edmonton’s favor. If Crawford cannot play, this could really become a 3-game sweep for the Oilers.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

It got a little more itchy than it needed to, but the Hawks were ultimately able to hang onto what was a comfortable lead tonight against the Oilers, and grab their fourth win a row to keep their minuscule-but-still-existent playoff chances alive. Let’s discuss:

ADAM BOQVIST AND KIRBY DACH ARE GOOD

– The first period was an encouraging and entertaining frame, as the Hawks did a nice job trading possession and chances with the Oilers, and ultimately netting the first goal of the game. While I loathe agreeing with anything Pat Foley ever has to say at this point, he was correct in pointing out after that period that the shot total from the two teams was a lot lower than it felt it should have been. But with that said, the Hawks were able to escape with a lead after a beautiful play by Dylan Strome set up Patrick Kane for a great scoring chance that he converted after showing some nice patience.

– The second period was all Blackhawks, as they notched a 76.67 (!!!) CF% in the middle frame and out-chanced the Oilers 12-4. It all started right away when Drake Caggiula went into full on hustle-play mode to win a rush and gain possession before a little kerfuffle in front of the net led to a Jonathan Toews wraparound chance that went in off a skate. Later on, Alex DeBrincat was able to cash in on two excellent chances with a little help from Caggiula parking his husky ass in front of Mike Smith, who was promptly pulled from the game after DeBrincat’s second and the Hawks fourth, only to throw a huge pissbaby tantrum while his paraded down the tunnel. In other news, I will be uploading the video of that tantrum to every adult video site known to man for your pleasure. I am a man of the people, after all.

– Let’s talk a bit about DeBrincat’s two goals, as I don’t have much to say about it but do want to touch on it specifically. Mostly I just want to say, damn it felt good to see the man get a pair tonight. It’s been a rough season for Top Cat due to getting hockey BABIP’d to high hell all year, but having those two go in had to feel good for the kid. If the Hawks do have any chance of going on a miracle run and making the playoffs, he is gonna have to get off his shnide a bit, so hopefully this was just the start to that.

– Staying with Top Cat but for a different reason, I cannot figure out for the life of me why he is still standing in front of the net on the PP1 unit. There is no way that is effective in the way it is intended to be, if Coach Smooth Brain is hoping that a few pucks bouncing off his legs and into the net are going to unlock his scoring touch, well that just confirms that his brain is smooth like a half melted piece of ice.

However, I have done Colliton’s job for him (someone has to) and developed a solution to this that is quite simple – swap Top Cat and Kirby Dach‘s respective roles on the PP1 and PP2 units. Put Dach on PP1 with Kane, Toews, Kubbly, and Keith, and let him park his big ass in front of the net where his size is actually useful but he still has the skill to actually make something of it. Then put DeBrincat on PP2 with Saad, Strome, Boqvist and whoever else, and let him work a half wall where is actually a legitimate threat with his quick release. Yes, I know this is too logical for Coach Gemstone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant. You know it is.

– Overall, despite the itchiness of the third period, this was an encouraging performance from the Hawks against a team that is more than likely to be in the playoffs. Now all they have to do is string 10-12 more performances like this over their final 15 games. Easy enough, right?

– Hawks go next tomorrow night in Detroit, which should be a layup win. In some ways, that could be the real litmus test here – if they lose that one, you know they’re pretenders and should just pack it in for the draft pick. But winning, while it should be expected, would still mean they can be in because they are at least completing the bare minimum task of actually beating the teams they should. Until then.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Oilers 36-23-8   Hawks 30-28-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SO VERY COLD: Oilers Nation

I suppose this is something of the pivot game for the Hawks. You would assume, though that could be a very silly thing to do, that they’ll get the win in Detroit tomorrow night that’s on offer for everyone. Another embarrassing effort against the Blues waits on Sunday (there’s been three already). But the Hawks can turn that into something of a free hit with a win over the Oilers tonight. That would also be four wins in row, with a chance of five in Michigan, which would allow the Hawks to say they’re “charging.” That’s if you buy into all this.

Also, the Oilers aren’t a flu-ridden Ducks team missing its top three d-men (who then went on to beat the Avs in Denver last night, because hockey is here to prove your rules are for shit).

That doesn’t mean we can tell you what the Oilers are. We have no idea. We were sure they would have collapsed by now. We thought Mike Smith would sink them. Or McDavid’s injury. Or a complete lack of forwards. Or just being the Oilers. And yet here they are, not only entrenched in the playoff race but only two points behind the Knights for the Pacific lead with a game in hand. Perhaps it’s just the Pacific Division that makes you question the rules you followed.

So what are they doing here. Special teams, special teams, and special teams again. The Oilers power play is clicking at 30%. They have the second-best penalty kill in the league. They have 56 power play goals, and 30 power play goals against. When you win the special teams battle pretty much every night, you don’t have to be that good at even-strength. And don’t you worry, the Oilers aren’t really.

Then again, it also helps to have two MVP-worthy players centering your top two lines.

The Oilers finally separated Draisaitl and McDavid this year, and have watched Draisaitl carry the team in McDavid’s absence and become the front-runner for the Hart himself. He leads the league in scoring by 13 points…over McDavid. He’s on pace to blow by Kucherov’s 128 last year, which we thought was a number that came from the moon then. And McDavid is McDavid. Seeing as how they’re going to the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opposing blue line that would be looking forward to this challenge.

The Oilers sought to shore up their pretty sad forward situation at the deadline by bringing in Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, who apparently that guy who plays for all teams at pickup games in any sport. Raise your hand if you knew Ennis was still in the league. He wasn’t, he was in Ottawa. Anyway, he’s currently getting the sweetheart spot of playing alongside McDavid.

Which puts McDavid in the strange spot of being the line you don’t worry about as much. Since RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have been put together they’ve kicked a hole it he world. Athanasiou is currently being used to give the bottom six anything resembling a pulse, so it’s a stronger outfit than the Hawks couldn’t overcome last time they met. And that one didn’t have McDavid, which kicked off that horror show Western Canada swing.

No changes for the Hawks tonight, and nor should there be. CCYP is making noise about starting Crawford in both halves of this back-to-back, but you’d think there couldn’t possibly be a softer landing for Malcolm Subban to make his Hawks debut than against former-Scum.

The Hawks couldn’t deal with the Oilers power play last time, so it will be imperative to stay out of the box as much as possible tonight. No one can deal with this power play. But hey, the Preds stayed out of the box pretty much against this team on Monday, and they gave up seven even-strength goals. So yeah.

But if the Hawks want to claim they have one last charge in them, and they’re on it now, they have to get this one.

Hockey

You won’t believe this, but everything being overblown and exaggerated just because it takes place in Toronto spreads beyond its NHL team. You probably knew that, because no Leafs fan every shuts the fuck up about what’s going on with the AHL’s Marlies. Remember when Mark Arcobello was all that was needed to get the Leafs from merely playoff attendant to Cup winner? The Rays don’t talk about their AAA team an eighth as much and that actually produces shit for the big club!

It’s like that every goddamn year with them, because everyone in T.O is under the delusion that everyone else cares about their entire system. He’s in Germany now, by the way. It was the same with Josh Leivo or T.J. Brennan or Carter Ashton or a host of others Leafs fans were convinced were NHL-worthy simply because they were in the Toronto system/area code who turned out to be tomato cans.

It’s apparently the same with with coaches. Except the Leafs have somehow exported that blurred vision of the world elsewhere.

Dallas Eakins is on his second job, and it’s hard to get a good read on what he is. The Ducks roster he has here is shit, John Gibson hasn’t played well, but it’s not like this team is overachieving or anything. Metrically, they’re about the same as the Hawks, and we know what a problem that is. But unlike the Hawks, there really isn’t a star on the roster besides Gibson, at least one that can stay healthy. Getzlaf is past it, Lindholm is just under that border, and the rest have flattered to deceive or are mere seat-fillers to plus seat-fillers.

But it wasn’t so long ago that you simply had to have Eakins as coach. He was the hot name because…he took the Marlies to the Calder Cup Final once? So it seems. Every second intermission on Hockey Night in Canada had some hockey wag breathlessly reporting that one of a dozen teams was all over Eakin’s ass. Most of the current crop of players that make the Leafs what they are now came after him, and/or skipped the Marlies altogether. Still, that was in the bloodstream, and the Oilers axed Ralph Kreuger to get Eakins even though the former had a surprising season with the dish-water talent that usually exists in EdMo. Well, Eakins won 36 of his 113 games in charge up there and was out on his ass in 18 months.

Of course, he’s not alone. Paul Maurice was able to parlay one season behind the Toronto bench to a job with the big club, which went exactly nowhere. He’s still getting work despite clearly demonstrating his head is filled with barf. Sheldon Keefe followed that same path as Maurice, just 15 years later or so, and he’s currently struggling to make the the playoffs with one of the more gifted sets of forwards in the league. Good stuff there. Clearly the Marlies are the start of a golden road. Or shower.

Eakins recovered to take a job with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego, where he worked with some of the kids they hope will turn this ugly-ass ship around sometime soon. The Ducks and their fans have been bleating about Sam Steel and Max Jones and Max Comtois for a while now, without actual tangible results at the top level. Trevor Zegras was picked last draft and Isac Lundestrom came up for air briefly this season. Maybe they’ll be the ones who the Ducks got right.

Still, this is where Eakins is now, watching this dreck every night. Eakins did all right work with the Gulls for a couple seasons, taking them to the conference final last year with Steel, Jones, and others. But he never proved to be the genius that Toronto fans told everyone he was. Which is how things work around there all the time.