Hockey

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Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Alpenglow Botanicals: Mile High Hockey

For the second time in a month, the Hawks and Avalanche will be playing one another for the second time in a week. And for the second time in a month, the Hawks will be looking to avoid getting blanked in earning any kind of points in the standings whatsoever. Maybe this time it will be different.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Avalanche 13-8-2*   Hawks 10-9-5

PUCK DROP(S): 3pm Friday, 8pm Saturday

TV: NBCSN Chicago for both

BUCKWHEATS: Mile High Hockey

*Wednesday’s game not included

The Hawks will try and help you shake off the tryptophan and dealing-with-family hangover this weekend with an old school home-and-home against the Avalanche. And with it, they may get a look at what might be the class of the division now, and certainly will be before too long. Seeing as how St. Louis is in Monday, the Hawks will definitely have some idea of just how far behind they are.

No team had more preseason buzz than the Avs. Nathan MacKinnon ascended to demigod status in last year’s playoffs, they finally got Mikko Rantanen signed, made a nifty trade with Toronto that brought them back a multi-faceted (though at times dunderheaded) Nazem Kadri, and most of all it is a full season of Cale Makar. And when the Avs have been fully healthy, it’s looked very boomstick. They started the season 8-1-1, scoring 40 goals in those 10 games.

But it’s been only 5-7-1 since, and a lot of that is injuries. Rantanen and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog have been out for a while now, though Dear Rat Boy could return this weekend. Depth pieces like Matt Calvert and Nikita Zadorov and Colin Wilson and others have missed time as well, thinning out what was a deeper team than before but not exactly deep either. Those are slowly returning, but they’ll have some ground to make up.

But the Avs can’t curse the gods for their fortunes totally, either. Their PDO is right behind the Hawks’, as they’ve gotten excellent work from their goalies at even-strength, with a .935 SV% overall, third in the league. But they’ve had real problems on the kill, where they have the fourth-worst save-percentage. And looking at their metrics while shorthanded, they’re only middle of the pack in the chances they give up while killing penalties, so their goalies just have to be better.

Clearly, the story with the Avs starts with Mac K and Makar. When they’re on the ice, and they’re on the ice together a lot, the Avs are nearly unplayable. It’s two of the two most dynamic forces in the league together, and yes Makar is already rocketing up to that status in just his rookie season. He’s going to walk with the Calder Trophy at this rate, averaging a point per game from the blue line and leading the rookie scoring race by seven points barely a quarter of the season in.

Still, the rest of the roster needs some tuning, and again when they get their full lineup this will help. Nazem Kadri has not been the possession and defensive monster he was in Toronto, mostly getting domed in possession. He’ll get help when Donskoi is allowed to slot down upon Rantanen’s return. They’re still waiting for a pop from Tyson Jost, and JT Compher hasn’t gotten to play the Hawks yet and pile up 17 goals. Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog’s return will definitely help with the depth scoring.

Another problem for the Avs is they’re just not a great possession team overall. While trading Barrie made sense given that he’s a year from free agency, it’s left Makar as basically the only true puck-mover from the back. It’s not Erik Johnson‘s game, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Samuel Girard‘s (THE BIG DOG IS ALWAYS RIGHT) game either, thought there’s room for growth there. They could probably use another one back there to really challenge, as right now Girard and Johnson are deployed merely as fire fighters.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t a huge headache for the Hawks, who only managed one regulation win over the Avs last year and lost the two big games against them when the playoffs were actually something worth discussing. Still, this was one of the opponents the Hawks did play even in terms of shots and chances, just didn’t get the goaltending the Avs did from Grubauer or Varlamov. That shouldn’t be a problem this time around.

It’s not like you need a big dossier on how to get past the Avs. Contain the explosive device that is MacKinnon into no more than a controlled explosion, and you’re half the way there. On Friday, Colliton will be tempted to use Toews to do that, but it should be Kampf. If you can do that it’s not a great defensive team, you just have to get past their goalies, which was a challenge for the Hawks last year. But the power play scratched on Tuesday against the Stars, and the Avs have been pretty welcoming in that spot this year too. That would help.

Huge stretch here for the Hawks, as the next four are against some of the best the league has to offer. They can’t afford too many dry stretches from here on out, even if we’re not to December yet. And get used to the Avs, as the Hawks will be seeing them four times in the next month.

So get your post-Thanksgiving shit in early, this one has a chance to be fun.

Hockey

There probably isn’t a team that will be checked in on Gamecenter by non-partisans more than the Colorado Avalanche. After sneaking into the playoffs and then pulling out the Flames’ organs one-by-one in alphabetical order before giving the Sharks everything they wanted, the Avs have added a genuine center and are going to have a full season of Cale Makar. But they’ve also lost Tyson Barrie, and Bowen Byram won’t get his audition until at least March or April, though likely next season. They seem poised to rise among the top of the Central. But are they?

2018-2019

38-30-14  90 points (5th in Central, out in 2nd round)

3.15 GF/G (10th)  2.98 GA/G (16th) +14 GD

50.0 CF% (13th)  49.8 xGF% (16th)

22.0 PP% (7th)  78.7 PK% (25th)

Goalies: Once again the reins will be handed to Phillip Grubauer, only this time the Avs are a little more sure of what they have. The first half of last year saw both Grubs and the now-departed Semyon Varlamov stake a claim to the job, and then hand it back about seven minutes later to the other one, and then the whole cycle would start all over again. But the second half saw Grubauer take the job by the throat and keep it. Grubs went .929 in February, .955 in March, .937 in April, and a .925 in the playoffs. It’s what the Avs had wanted from the get-go, and had they gotten it they wouldn’t have been messing around with the rabble like the Hawks until the season’s final week.

He’d better be good and healthy, because his backup is some Vaudevillian named Pavel Francouz, which is clearly a mash-up of the things the unwashed hate most to make a cartoon villain, and that’s the French and Russians. This sounds like something out of Bullwinkle. Needless to say, the Avs do not want to have to be counting on a 29-year-old journeyman with two games in the NHL for any length of time. It’s Grubauer, live without a net!

Defense: The headline here is a full season of Cale Makar, who stepped into the playoffs for the Avs and not only didn’t look out of place but ran the show at parts. He was clearly college hockey’s best player and the mind reels at what he can do behind MacKinnon’s line. Still, it’s a lot to ask for a rookie d-man to come in and dominate from jump street, so at least at the start of the season he’ll be sheltered somewhat with Golf Cart Titan Erik Johnson and others taking the more dungeon shifts.

And after the way it’s shaken out, this actually isn’t that impressive of a unit. There was a moment when they looked like they would roll with Barrie, Makar, and Byram on three different pairs to be able to push the play every minute of every game. Well, Barrie went to Toronto and Byram didn’t make the team, so now it’s only Makar as a genuine puck-mover here. That’s never been Erik Johnson’s game. Maybe Samuel Girard has more to show in that category, but it doesn’t really look like his game either.Maybe you keep Makar and Mac K separate and let the latter do it himself for the 20-25 he’s on the ice anyway. Maybe fellow neophyte Connor Timmins has it in him from a third-pairing spot? We know for sure it ain’t Ian Cole (bay-bay!).

This outfit could have had a lot of verve. Now it really doesn’t. Feels like they missed out on something here.

Forwards: But I can’t argue with the Tyson Barrie trade too much, because it brought back Nazem Kadri who is just about perfect for this team. Yes, he’s a raging penis at times who is a danger to himself and his team at his worst moments. He’s also a unique center in that he can take on the toughest assignments while still scoring 50-60 points. The Avs had nothing behind Mac K last year down the middle, and now they have one of the rare Swiss Army knives in the league.

That should leave Tyson Jost with some of the cushier shifts around, which he’ll need to produce more than the 25-odd points he got last year. They’ve also brought in Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to try and bolster the support scoring, which they were badly in need of. Donskoi always seemed like he flattered to deceive in San Jose, and probably isn’t much more than a water-carrier. Still, they bolster the ranks.

J.T. Compher will still score 17 goals against the Hawks this year.

They’re taking a flier on Valeri Nichushkin, who just could never get quite right in Dallas but seems to have all the physical tools to be a contributor. But no goals last year is no goals last year.

As always, it’ll come down to just how much of a star destroyer the top line can be, and they just brought Mikko Rantanen back into the fold for a cool $9.25M per year (Alex DeBrincat just passed out). They were among, if not the, best lines in hockey last year and there’s no reason to think they can’t match that. MacKinnon will benefit from having Kadri around to take the other teams’ top lines on, so he could produce even more if you can believe it. As if the 99 points last year weren’t enough or something.

The Avs will remain top-heavy, but not quite as much as they were. ;

Prediction: Even with just a full year of Grubauer playing well, this team would move on from the 90 points it delivered last season. I’m skeptical of the defense but if they can find someone other than Makar to move the play, they should be fine. Otherwise they’re basically what they were last year in this spot. Kadri is a big boost, and if a youngster like Jost pops or they can shake something out of Burakovsky the Caps never could, so much the better. They could have three lines instead of one and a half. Are they ready to roll out of the West? That might be a bridge too far, but then again the West doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite anymore. And the Central has its own issues. Easily can see them at least asking questions about winning the division.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

 

 

Everything Else

 vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-19-6   Avalanche 19-10-6

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago +

JOE WALSH SAID IT WAS COOL: Mile High Hockey

Complaining about the schedule usually seems on the petty side. Everyone has rough stretches and back-to-backs against a team that’s been waiting for them. They tend to even out. That said, the second of a back-to-back and in the middle of a three-in-four at altitude against an Avalanche team that didn’t play last night seems excessive. Maybe flying in late at night and playing straight away can be one of those things where you’re out before you notice the air is thinner. Anyway, complaint department closed. The Hawks try to keep this mini-streak of competence going against the best line in hockey. Joy.

There’s really no point in talking about the Avs beyond that top line. That’s what they are. Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog are putting up boxcar numbers, with Rantanen and MacKinnon especially on pace for things the NHL hasn’t seen in a long time. Not only are they highly-skilled and jet-heeled, they’re big and can play with an edge. They’re an absolute nightmare. They’re underlyings aren’t that great, but they don’t have to be. Much like we discussed with Patrik Laine when the Jets were the foe, this is a line that’s always going to outshoot whatever the numbers suggest they “should” score. So good luck, Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom, especially after both took one upside last night.

The problem for the Avs, such as you can call it that, is that they haven’t found much under that line. It doesn’t matter when they’re scoring at this pace, but it could be a problem down the road. Only one forward after the top three has more than 20 points, and that’s Carl Soderberg, who is pretty much here to make up the numbers. Tyson Jost or Alex Kerfoot or J.T. Compher have not grabbed the brass ring yet, and one day the Avs will need that if they’re going to make serious noise when it counts. Otherwise you just have some competent foot soldiers here, convenient as the Avs have a big foot on the shoulder patches, like Matt Nieto or Colin Wilson or Sven Thank You Very Much Andrighetto.

On the blue line, one of their bounties for Matt Duchene has come good, and that’s Samuel Girard (always listen to the Big Dog because the Big Dog is always right). He has combined with Golf Cart Hero Erik Johnson to give the Avs a genuine shutdown pairing. Something they haven’t had since…Obi-Wan was merely a trainee himself. Tyson Barrie continues to do just enough to make you think he could be doing more, and Ian Cole is still wildly overrated. It’s a better blue line than it’s been, but it still has some miles to travel.

Phillip Grubauer was supposed to grab the #1 role from the soon-to-be-departed Semyon Varlamov, but it hasn’t happened. Varly is in a contract year, so it figures he would not be so easily displaced. That said, he’s been woeful in December, to the tune of .886. Grubs was excellent against the Canadiens last out, and he might get the chance to back it up tonight.

For the Hawks, you doubt there’d be too many changes. But there were rumblings that Colliton might roll Cam Ward out again, which would be a mistake. The Hawks have something of a glimpse at Collin Delia, and they should take it. If he’s your guy of the future, get every look you can. If it doesn’t work, hey he was just an injury-fill-in and return him to Rockford. If he takes it and runs, well then, you’ve got yourself something. Also Ward is going to turn back into Cam Ward at any moment, so why push it? Fuck, give Delia the next two. Remember what you are, and that’s a team that’s seven games under .500. You’re not getting back into this, so find out what you have when you can.

It’s a challenge given they played last night. Let’s see how up for it they are.

 

 

Game #38 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

For Hawks fans my age, the Colorado Avalanche probably has an outsized presence in our psyches. It’s the scars from having them parachute that unholy team into the conference from Quebec at a time when the Hawks were probably icing their best team in a decade. And while we knew the Hawks couldn’t hang with the Wings, there was always a puncher’s chance in a series (1992 wasn’t that long ago then). But once the Avs showed up, we knew the Hawks were doomed. They couldn’t get through both, and promptly didn’t get through either.

Those two Cups the Avs managed in ’96 and ’01 seemingly have given them an outsized presence on the national stage, too. Because the Avs haven’t mattered in a very long time. In the past 10 years, they have the same amount of playoffs berths as the Panthers. They’ve won less rounds than the Coyotes. They haven’t won a game beyond the first round in 13 years. If it wasn’t for the Varlamov-inspired, PDO-from-hell season of ’13-’14, the Avs would be embarking on their eighth-straight playoff-less season. But we don’t put them in the same category as the Arizonas and Floridas of the world. Flags fly forever, I suppose.

Anyway, let’s get into this muck.

Colorado Avalanche

’16-’17 Record: 22-56-4  48 points  (dead ass last everywhere)

Team Stats 5v5: 48.5 CF% (23rd)  46.6 SF% (28th)  48.0 SCF% (26th)  6.2 SH% (29th)  90.6 SV% (30th)

Special Teams: 12.5 PP% (30th)  76.6 PK% (29th)

Everything Else

I don’t know where Anthrax Jones (@AnthraxJones) crawled out of. I rue the day I found out. But he’s a part of the scene now. So let’s all swallow hard and get through this together…

Half-decent start for the Avs so far, and it’s not even because of great goaltending or some other goof. What’s impressed you so far?

It’s hard to explain exactly how it comes across, but they seem like a more mature, level-headed team. Two games into the season, they had twice faced an early 2-0 deficit in each game, which would’ve meant Dead And Buried last season. They didn’t panic, they didn’t play like their hair was on fire, they chipped away and eventually won both games (against Dallas and at Pittsburgh, so not exactly schlub teams). It makes me wonder if, despite Patrick Roy’s mostly even-tempered demeanor during his tenure, they were a team playing tight because they were afraid of or intimidated by their coach.

Everything Else

images vs AltLogo

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, RDS, WGN-AM 720
Rocky Mountain High: Mile High Hockey

As the hockey world anxiously awaits tomorrow afternoon’s trade deadline even amidst the flurry of activity this afternoon (particularly in Anaheim), there still remain games to be played tonight. One of which will be the first time the Hawks will be indoors on West Madison in over a month to take on the ever irritating Avalanche.

Everything Else

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Game Time: 8:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN+, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
That John Denver’s Full Of Shit, Man: Mile High Hockey, JibbleScribbits

And so the second half of this shortened season begins same as the first, with the Hawks on the road. In this case, it’s not quite as far west as before, with the Hawks taking on their soon-to-be divisional opponent Avalanche in Denver on the tail end of a home-and-home.