Hockey

This sucks.

There’s not a lot more I can say really. This is what the beginning of a rebuild really looks like, and we’re going to be stuck here for years to come. And personally, I’m not sure how many more free Lankinen rebounds my frail heart can watch. Rebounds for everyone, everywhere, as many as you can scoop up. And the Hawks defense are not scooping very many of those rebounds up at all. Still waiting for those Beaudin and Mitchell call-ups, by the way. Literally any day now.

In all seriousness, a sincere congrats is in order for Pat Foley in his upcoming retirement. The man has been the voice of the Hawks for as long as most of us can remember, and he will be the hardest voice in hockey to replace. I couldn’t tell you a damned thing about Chris Vosters, the new play-by-play announcer, as the merry-go-round of TV auditions from this year has made all the new people a blur. Next Sunday, Foley and the man himself, Dale Tallon, will be broadcasting their final game together in what will likely be an automatic loss to Dallas. Buckle up for that one, folks.

The good news is that baseball starts this week, so everyone in Chicago can turn their attention towards their respective baseball teams and grumble about everything that’s wrong with those two franchises. Add onto the misery, why don’t we?

Monday 3/28
Hawks 5, Sabres 6
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks have spent years of our collective lives getting bailed out by their goaltenders, most recently in Marc-Andre Fleury. Now that era is over, and we get to watch garbage teams like the Sabres score four unanswered goals on the Hawks to tie it and two more within seconds of each other win the game. Granted, the Hawks defensemen weren’t doing Kevin Lankinen any favors throughout—Erik Gustafsson continues to take years off my life standing in front of the net and doing absolutely nothing to defend multiple Sabres goals, in one case kicking it into his own net. Without elite-level goaltending between the pipes, this team is an utter tire fire.

The Cat was responsible for a powerplay goal over halfway through the 3rd that put the Hawks back on top, but the momentum was all Buffalo’s starting really in the 2nd period, and two more Sabres goals late in the 3rd sealed the fate of the Hawks. Kane had a few solid chances near the end of the 3rd, but he wasn’t able to convert on any of them. The Sabres’ tying goal was a result of the Hawks defensemen being on one side of the ice and Alex Tuch on the other, receiving a pass to shoot at a pretty wide-open net—Tyler Johnson didn’t stand a chance defending that one. Jeff Skinner nearly scored seconds later but a Dylan Strome trip disallowed the goal and put Strome in the penalty box. The Sabres’ winning goal was entirely the fault of Lankinen, and something that an NHL-level goaltender shouldn’t allow. It cost the Hawks a point and the game, but luckily this team has nothing to play for down the stretch.

Thursday 3/31
Hawks 0, Panthers 4
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

I mean, I’m not sure who actually expected a Hawks win out of this game, but it was still tough to watch our (like it or not) captain Jonathan Toews look like he was having a genuinely horrible time during his 1,000th NHL game. Every eye and metric test imaginable against these two teams show the Panthers as the vastly superior team. This game became another look at how far the Hawks will have to climb to be relevant again. It will be a game and a season that Toews will likely want to forget as his legacy is called into question, fairly or not, after his reaction to the Beach allegations, the trade deadline moves, and other whathaveyous. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who wished for a happier outcome for the Captain tonight.

In other news, this game was dreck to watch. Sergei Bobrovsky completely shut the Hawks down, stopping all 37 shots he faced. On the other end of the ice, Collin Delia, who is not an NHL-caliber goalie, got scored on five times, although a mercy kick-in ruling of Barkov’s goal 40 seconds into the game made it only four goals against. Rebounds, five-holes, and a porous defense (Riley Stillman still sucks) meant the Hawks got lit up all night long.

Friday 4/1
Hawks 2, Lightning 5
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Nothing like a shellacking on one night to prepare you for another shellacking the next night. The Lightning may not be playing like the impenetrable force they had been over the last month, but once again the gap between the Hawks and actual Stanley Cup-contending teams was well on display tonight. Not to mention it became a Brandon Hagel revenge game when he scored an empty netter in the dying seconds of the game, which I’m sure made Toews incredibly angry.

The Hawks at least scored in this one, the first goal coming from an unexpected source as Calvin de Haan blasted one home from the point in a play reminiscent of Duncan Keith. The other goal was scored by the Cat (who else?) to tie the game, though it certainly didn’t last long as the Lightning made quick work of the game over the 2nd and 3rd periods. And Tampa Bay’s penalty kill (9th in the league) thwarted the Hawks’ multiple powerplay opportunities almost every time and occasionally leading to an odd-man rush the other way. I truly felt bad for Lankinen—how can you possibly ask him, another fringe NHL goalie, to save some of the plays the Lightning produced?

Sunday 4/3
Hawks 2, Coyotes 3 (Coyotes win despite not having their shit together)
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

At least this was an overtime loss, but it was still a loss to the Coyotes, the league’s true albatross. The skill level of the opponent compared to the previous two matchups were considerably lower, and the game got to be a bit chippy throughout. Defensive structures for both teams fluctuated from “none at all” to “let’s go six minutes straight without a shot on goal as we fool around in the neutral zone,” which leads to wacky hockey.

Dylan Strome was able to score just a minute into the game to give the Hawks their first lead in who knows how long. And the Hawks didn’t look so bad for the 1st period either, although I must again reiterate that the Coyotes are the league’s albatross. Arizona took over in the 2nd period, however, scoring two goals thanks to an Amy’s Youngest clearing attempt gone terribly wrong, and Calvin de Haan and Jake McCabe both getting pantsed by some guy named Travis Boyd. Not a good look.

Despite Kane tying the game up in the 3rd, the Hawks were unable to put it away in overtime. Instead, it was Shane Ghost Bear who was credited with a goal that actually went in thanks to the skate of Amy’s Eldest, a fitting end to the clown show this week of games has been. Speaking of Ghost Bear, I’m amazed he hasn’t been sent to the land of wind and ghosts considering he took a puck to the throat and a stick to the face this game. That’s hockey, I guess.

Hockey

I was hoping for at least one Hawks win this weekend, but that became too much to ask when the team flubbed it against the Blue Jackets Thursday night. Once again a lack of offense, a powerplay sucking at loud, and Patrick Kane not giving a shit in February did the Hawks in. Recap time, I guess.

2/17
Hawks 4, Blue Jackets 7
Box
Natural Stat Trick

On the front end of a back-to-back and with the Blue Jackets being one of the more terrible teams in the league, it was time for Fleury to take a seat in favor of young goaltender Arvid Soderblom. He was able to stop an onslaught of chances from the Jackets in the first seven minutes of the game, but unfortunately he showed his greenness when he gave up a goal on a rebound thanks to a Blue Jackets powerplay opportunity. And then a second goal just seconds later (shoutout to the horrific Erik Gustafsson giveaway that could’ve been prevented). He gave up five more goals, including a Patrik Laine hat trick, before the game was over. A flurry of them were his own fault, though many were the result of the Hawks being incredibly lazy when it came to defending their own zone.

The Hawks got goals from Philipp Kurashev, Ryan Carpenter, Mackenzie Entwhistle, and The Cat (most offensive-minded players were taking the night off). But the real story that came from this game is what the future of the goaltending for this team should be. No way Fleury stays, and it’s become incredibly clear the Hawks can’t trot out Lankinen and Soderblom or whoever as the starters next year. (Lankinen’s contract ends this season anyway.) You’d think they’d be on the market for a goaltender, but then you look at the 2022 free agents available and…well, ah jeez.

2/18
Blackhawks 0, Stars 1 (Stars Win Absolute Snoozefest)
Box
Natural Stat Trick

The morning of this game, the Hawks announced a flurry of roster moves. Fearless leader Jonathan Toews, although spotted Friday morning at the optional practice and on the ice, was placed on IR retroactive to his head injury on Jan. 26 and The Only Sure-Fire Prospect in the Entire Organization Lukas Reichel was called up yet again for the Hawks and placed right on the top line with Kane and Hagel.

Reichel’s game wasn’t terrible for his 3rd NHL game; he was hustling, winning board battles and generating chances in the 1st period before getting rocked over the visiting boards and getting himself stripped of the puck by Alex Radulov of all people in the 2nd. The Hawks had a surprisingly high CF% in the 1st period at over 70%, and Kane’s give-a-shit meter even seemed to be up higher than usual for the entire 1st period before things seemed to drop off for him. The Cat’s defensive skills were also great to see, as he kept pucks in and set up plays for Strome and Kubalik.

Unfortunately, none of these chances ended up in any goals scored, which is more of the usual for this team despite the “burst” of offense we saw from them the night before. And even though they had some good chances at the end of the game, the Hawks don’t have any finishing power and were lucky to pick up a point at all. It was mostly because of the heroics from Fleury in net—what else is new?

After an entertaining overtime and six rounds of a shootout, Jason Peterson won it for the Stars, despite Fleury doing all he could to drag this team to a win. Maybe you shouldn’t choose Jake McCabe in a shootout situation? Just a thought.

2/20
Hawks 2, Panthers 5
Box
Natural Stat Trick

Despite starting out horrifically with Kirby Dach allowing a Panthers breakaway seconds into the game because he didn’t have his stick on the ice, the 1st period saw the Hawks outshoot and out-posses the Panthers 8-3 and 66%-33%. Although the Panthers struck first on only their 3rd shot of the game thanks in part to Patrick Kane not feeling like playing defense, Kane decided to make up for it with just a few seconds left in the period by scoring from below the goal line, the puck bouncing off the back of Sergei Bobrovksy and into the back of the net.

The Panthers must’ve gotten absolutely and rightfully berated during the 1st intermission, because the 2nd period was much more what we expected out of both the Hawks and the Panthers. With the Panthers dominating the possession game, they were able to take the lead thanks to a shot from the blueline in which Fleury was screened by both Seth Jones and Calvin de Haan together. Sam Lafferty had a similarly Laff-able period, filled with multiple turnovers and a missed shot on a wide-open net.

It didn’t take long for the Panthers to get their commanding 3-1 lead thanks in part once again to Dach tipping the puck in past Fleury with his own stick. (This will certainly be a game Dach will want to forget as much as we will.) Fleury made as many saves as he could in the 3rd to keep the Hawks in it, and he had some help from a coach’s challenge to keep it 3-1 in the 3rd, and a surprise goal from Amy’s Youngest made the game seem close for a minute or so. But then two empty-net goals at the end of the period cemented the Hawks’ fate. This outcome is about what we expected, especially considering the Panthers are the NHL’s top offensive team and the Hawks are…well, basement-tier.

My parting words for the weekend? Fuck Radko Gudas.

Hockey

Box Scores Game 50 Game 51
Event Summaries Game 50 Game 51
Natural Stat Trick Game 50 Game 51

As if the previous week and a half wasn’t enough to seal it from an intellectual and emotional standpoint, the Hawks losing both games to the Panthers this weekend has them on the brink of mathematical elimination as well, and are only spared by having scraped their way into OT on Thursday with the net empty. But if nothing else, these two games were ideal outcomes – some kids put more on tape (for both good and bad), and the glaring flaws both behind the bench and with the roster are also put on a display in a competitive game against an obviously better team that they lose. Obviously wins are more fun, but when the process matches the results. This team cannot afford to risk learning the wrong lessons with the complete dope behind the bench they’ve got currently.

Hockey

VS.

 

Records: Panthers 32-74-5 (69) (Nice) Hawks 22-22-5 (49)

Puck Drop: 7:00 Thurs/Sat

TV/Radio: NBCSN / WGN720

Mouth Of The South: Litter Box Cats

 

Welp. We’ve reached the point of the season that seemed unthinkable 6 weeks ago, yet suddenly seemed inevitable 3 weeks later. The Hawks are all but eliminated from playoff contention, and now will be looking with an eye to the horizon to next season and beyond. The next few weeks, however, will be without the services of Adam Boqvist who had his wrist broken in a collision with human meat tree Erik Cernak in the loss to Tampa on Tuesday night. As former maven of the program Sam Fels pointed out on twitter:

While this is not a great development, Boqvist made progress enough this season and his loss should be the gain of people like Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin and Riley Stillman. Playing time should be plentiful for all of the younger players here on out, as the Hawks need to decide which of these guys will be pieces for future playoff runs. In a perfect world, these tryouts would also include Nikita Zadorov being stapled to a recliner in the press box, but I doubt we will be so lucky.

As for the Swamp Cats, they currently sit one point ahead of the Bolts for 2nd in the division with Tampa having 2 games in hand. The Panth have managed to go 6-3-1 in their last 10, despite losing their best defenceman in Aaron Ekblad to a fairly disgusting-looking knee injury approximately a month ago.

In response, Panthers GM Bill Zito went out and got Brandon Montour from Buffalo for a middling return (which seems to be the motto of the Buffalo Sabres front office). On the surface, Montour doesn’t seem like he would be able to fill the gaping hole left by Ekblad, but Montour’s numbers are probably better than you’d think. He’s racked up 6 goals and 9 assists, and played solid defense on the PK to boot on an absolutely moribund Sabers team. He’s not Ekblad, but with the way the rest of the D has been playing he doesn’t have to be.

On the forward end, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau continue to punch a hole in the universe offensively with 18 points between the two of them in the last 5 games alone. They score at evens, they score on the powerplay, and they score shorthanded. The team as a whole has scored 36 goals in the last 10, and have owned the possession edge at a 54% clip up to this point. They push the play up the ice like it was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and will put constant pressure on opposing defenders in their own zone, which we know the Hawks don’t handle well at all.

In net, the Panthers big acquisition of Sergi Bobrovsky has very slowly started to pay off the last month. After a terrible January and February, Bob has gotten his save percentage above .900 and his goals against below 3. That being said, he’s had a couple rough outings against Nashville this week which didn’t help his case to keep those numbers there. He’s had issues with his groin in the past, and seems to be having difficulty going post to post this season, which Kane and DeBrincat could definitely take advantage of.

In the Hawks net, Kevin Lankinen seems to be running on empty as evidenced by his getting yanked before the 2nd period Tuesday night against the Bolts after giving up 3 in the first. Unfortunately Malcom Suban didn’t fare much better, as the Bolts dropped 4 on him in the 2nd and 3rd combined. It’s probably a toss-up as to who gets the starts here on out, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give a few of them to Colin Delia. With the possibility of Subban being sniped by Seattle in the expansion draft, Delia’s services may be needed going forward unless Stan has an idea of maybe signing a 1A to have Lankinen’s back next year. Perhaps someone along the lines of a Devan Dubnyk or James Reimer could fit the bill if the price was right. Though these games don’t statistically matter for the Hawks anymore, they will go a long way to see how Coach Smoothbrain handles giving playing time to audition the kids for next year.

At the end of the day, while expectations for the Hawks this season were low, we allowed ourselves to feel a little hope and were inevitably let down by this team’s inability to win a game with any type of playoff implications. We’re back to square one, waiting to see what some of these admittedly intriguing pieces might be able to bring to the table. While it’s enough to pique my interest, it’s just not what it could’ve been…and that kinda sucks.

Let’s Go Hawks?

Hockey

Box Score: Game 33 | Game 34
Game Logs: Game 33 | Game 34
Natural Stat Trick: Game 33 | Game 34

 

Yes, I am covering my ears and refusing to hear anything you’re saying about Alex Barkov being out, rendering these wins meaningless. The Blackhawks HAD to get points this weekend and they did. Let’s celebrate that and hope that this series gives the Hawks the confidence to continue playing good…ish down the stretch.

We all recognized the things the Blackhawks needed to do to succeed against the Panthers this series: solid defense, good goaltending, Patrick Kane back on the offensive, getting the powerplay going again and not taking dumb penalties. They were able to do a solid 2½ of these things. Let’s take a look at what went down. To the bullets!

  • As we are all aware of by now, Kubalik has not been getting the minutes he deserves. But I like his play on the second line with Brandon Hagel. They had a really nice goal on Tuesday, with Hagel able to make a pass through a defender to Kubalik in front of the net, who was able to slip it past Driedger. If you enjoy statistics, the Hagel-Kampf-Kubalik line leads the team in expected goals percentage by a bit of a margin at 68.4%. More please.
  • With the Blackhawks’ solid win on Tuesday, it was no surprise they won the possession battle there. They dominated in the 1st period with a 60 CF%, and then stayed slightly under 50% possession in the 2nd and 3rd periods to end the game just edging out the Panthers in this metric. Tonight, however, the Blackhawks went back to their loveable old selves, getting completely skulled in possession throughout the entire game. The Panthers are a top-10 possession team in the league, so I’m just glad we got out of this series without too much damage.
  • Numbers-wise, theoretically, Chris Driedger is one of the better goalies in the league. Of active goalies who have started 10+ games in the NHL this season, he’s 10th in the league in goals against average and 6th in save percentage. Bobrovsky’s numbers push him much further down the list. Neither goaltenders looked spectacular this series against the Hawks, exposing this team that obviously finds success in outscoring their goaltending woes. With their top scorer in Barkov out and Lankinen playing on his head, it just seemed to be a little too much for Florida. They have a playoff spot all but locked up anyway and Barkov should be back soon, so this will probably just be a series they will quickly forget.
  • As long as Nikita Zadorov is on this team, you can subtract as many months off my life expectancy. I have truly had it with this oaf. He had an assist Tuesday but at this point I do not care. He took two penalties tonight, the second one a truly magical hit that laid out Patric Hornqvist and gave the Panthers a critical powerplay chance in the 3rd. Oh, and Zadorov skated completely out of position to take this hit, because WHAT IS DEFENSE.
  • One of the things the Blackhawks needed to do in order to get back into the win column was getting Patrick Kane to show some life. He had two points total in the four games prior to this series (though he was trying his best to get something going with 16 total shots on goal during that time). Kane boasted 4 points in the series and has continued to create chances for others, becoming the assist king as of recent. Thanks for sharing the wealth, Kaner.
  • The Hawks did a good job limiting their penalty kill time in Tuesday night’s game, and it definitely paid off. They only took two penalties and only allowed one powerplay goal from the Panthers. (To compare, in the series from hell against Tampa last week they took six total penalties and allowed two powerplay goals.) Progress? I guess. Thursday’s game was certainly another story, however, as stupid penalties (and calls) were had by all. However, the Blackhawks were able to kill the whopping six penalties thanks to Kevin Lankinen playing at an elite status.
  • Speaking of Lanks, he did a good job of keeping the Blackhawks in it Thursday after a Duclair crossbar reignited the Panthers’ offense for a time. He also made some big saves towards the end of the second after getting clunked in the head. And he also saved a three-on-none chance because again, WHAT IS DEFENSE. The takeaway here is that Kevin Lankinen saved the day, stopping 41 shots. His rebound control still occasionally makes me cringe, but hopefully that will…improve with time?

The Blackhawks get to face off against the Nashville Predators this weekend, who just crushed the Detroit Red Wings and had some guy named Rocco Grimaldi score a hat trick in the 1st period of the game. The Predators are vying for the fourth playoff spot and dropping this series against them would tie us in the standings. Even splitting the series would bring the Predators too close for comfort to the fourth-place spot. It’s going to be another sweep-or-bust situation. Let’s go Hawks.

Hockey

VS

 

Records: Panthers 20-7-4 (44) Hawks 14-13-5 (33)

Puck Drops: 7:00 Both Nights (Tue/Thur)

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

You Sure Do Got A Purdy Mouth, Boy: Litter Box Cats

 

Not much has changed for these two teams in the week that’s passed since they last met, other than the Panthers racking up 2 more points and the Hawks attempting to divide by zero. The Swamp Cats split with the Preds, and then lost a one shot against Tampa Bay on Sunday, giving up 3 goals in the 3rd when they’d had them on the ropes in the first two periods. The loss Sunday puts the Panthers 4 points behind the Bolts in the division, back with Carolina.

Sergi Bobrovsky was in net for both losses, as he continues his streak of uneven play. The win came on the shoulders of a 2-0 Chris Driedger shutout of Nashville, which while admittedly not a difficult thing to do, is still more than Bob has been able to accomplish of late. While the numbers between the two tenders continue to drift further apart, Coach Q still seems reluctant to turn the reigns over fully to Driedger, content to let Bob work things out on his own.

On the forward end of things, after I wrote about Aleksander Barkov last week, he proceeded to drop 9 points in 5 games, so at least for once it seems like I knew what I was talking about. 6 of those points came against the Hawks, who seemed completely unwilling or unable to do anything at all to slow him down in the slot, and he absolutely did not miss his chances.

The line centered by Barkov continues to be an unholy terror since Q added what apparently was the missing link in Carter Verhaeghe. The trio of Barkov, Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair has been carrying the play at even strength at over a 63% clip. Add in a total of 19 points over the last 5 starts and you can see why Q is a fan. The speed and creativity that Barkov possesses compliments the North/South games of Duclair and Verhaeghe. Once they’re in your zone, they’re extremely hard to remove, especially when they’re backed up by Mackenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad on the blue line.

As for the Hawks, they continue to get beat down by the March schedule, dropping both games in Tampa last week. They couldn’t solve Andrei Vasilevskiy, and much as they’ve done all season the Bolts capitalized on every mistake the Hawks D made. Both Kevin Lankinen and Malcom Subban were given the chance to right the ship, but neither were able to do so, both being aided and abetted by the D in front of them. That brings the March record to an unsightly 2-6-1, and into a standings tie with Columbus, who’s managed to take 2 in a row from Carolina in the last week.

The reason behind the points drought is more of the same, as the Hawks are unable to carry the play for any extended length of time at 5 on 5 (with the 1st two periods last Saturday being the exception, more on that in a bit). When the power play suddenly runs dry and the goaltending has regressed to the mean this is what you get. We’ve spoken at great lengths about where the deficiencies lie with this Hawks team, and with Kevin Lankinen no longer able to paper over the possession issues things become even more glaring in the light of day.

As grim as it seems now, the Hawks are almost out of this Hell Month, and critical games against the Jackets, Stars and Preds await on the other side. We’ve reached the spot in the season where pretty much every point is desperately needed by the Hawks. They’ve allowed their lead to slip to the point where there’s no more margin for error at all, and for a young team like this we will really get to see what they’re made of. There’s definitely a spark there that shows at times what this team could really be.

There was a period in the game against Tampa this past Saturday when the Hawks looked like the possession monsters of old. The advanced stats bear this out, as in the 1st period the Hawks topped the CORSI list with a 58% share, and then went hog wild in the 2nd with a 69.57%. Sadly, Vasilevskiy was up to the task, and the Hawks entered the 3rd down 3-0. It’s something we haven’t seen since the 2nd game in the 1st series against the Jackets where the Hawks ended up with almost a 59% share for the entire game.

There have been flashes this season of the Hawks being able to carry the play for extended periods of time against higher quality teams like Carolina and Tampa. They key here is doing it on the regular against all of them. If a majority of the beat writers are correct, and this young team truly is “buying in” to what Colliton is selling then they’re going to have to show it now. Florida is a solid team from the blue line out, but Bobrovsky has been mediocre at best. If the Hawks can keep the play in their end at all, he’s ripe for the picking. We know that the Hawks D is paper thin, so the forwards absolutely have to convert when they get the chances. Time is running out, show us what you got.

 

Let’s Go Hawks

 

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

Game 1 Box Score / Game 2 Box Score

Game 1 Natural Stat Trick / Game 2 Natural Stat Trick

 

While this series was different in form and function from the other Florida series, the end result is the same: the Hawks got broomed out of the building (and the state) without a win to their name. The offense was less offensive to the eye this series, but the defense and goaltending continued to be eye-meltingly bad, with Nikita Zadorov impressively the worst of the bunch. Colin Delia and Kevin Lankinen did nothing to settle the argument over who should be the poor soul forced to take the reigns and handle the majority of the starts going forward, and honestly if I was one of them I’d probably already have PTSD from the amount of rubber thrown their way. On the plus side, the Hawks now have 1 out of a possible 8 points. Yay?

To the bullets:

 

-Let’s get this out of the way at the start: If the purpose of this season is to fail, but in a way that the supposed future core of this team is learning from it, then they should probably BE ON THE FUCKING ICE to fail and learn from it. Kubalik, Kurashev, Mitchell and Boqvist being on the ice for less than 15 minutes each while Patrick Kane gets as many minutes as Duncan Keith (20) accomplishes less than nothing. Ian Mitchell and Boqvist not even seeing the ice in the 3 on 3 OT is borderline criminal. Then trying to throw the scoreboard operators of the COVID Coliseum under the bus as to why everyone’s ice time looked kinda low is almost stunningly ballsy. McClure had it summed up perfectly:

-This team is not built to win games, but it’s also not built to lose them in a way that creates future winning opportunities. It’s just…there. None of the signings that StanBow acquired this off-season are going to be anything the Hawks want on their team long term, nor are they the kind of players that teams are going to be clamoring to trade said young talent for at the deadline. It’s like he just walked into IKEA and asked for the “Mark” collection of forwards because, ya know, they practically build themselves. Trading Brandon Saad to the Avs for the hockey equivalent of an Easter Island statue on skates and not getting anything else AND having to retain salary is mind boggling. The absence of a plan is what’s most frustrating about all of this. Say what you want about the White Sox and Rick Hahn, but you could always see what the end goal was and it made the suffering a little easier to take. Looking to the horizon now, all you see is the volcanic mountains of Mordor.

-Speaking of the human obelisk, Zadorov’s play in these first 4 games shows clearly why the Avs were more than willing to rid themselves of his services. Night one featured the following from him:

That’s Zadorov at the middle of the left circle after he plowed through the crease from right to left, taking out his goaltender and Adam Boqvist. This is after he followed Boqvist’s man (along with Boqvist) into the corner. His lack of positional awareness is bordering on performance art, and I really need someone to explain to me how he not only has a spot on this roster, but is worthy of the 2nd highest ice time on the team. GALAXY BRAIN.

-On the positive side, the Hawks have finally discovered what the Caps and Ovechkin figured out a decade ago: creating a shot lane for your best snipers (Kubalik and DeBrincat) by moving the puck laterally and letting them bomb away actually is a successful proposition. Not having Duncan Keith firing rubber into the shinpads of the point defenders or holding the puck on the half boards with Kane seems to be working. More of this please.

-Despite not cracking 15 minutes of ice time with Coach Smoothbrain, Dominik Kubalik is already proving that last season was not a fluke. His shot is filthy, and he has the speed and hands to create the space that makes him dangerous. But hey, gotta find those minutes for Ryan Carpenter to do whatever it is he does.

-Kevin Lankinen showed some flashes last night, most notably whenhe was left to deal with a 3 on 1 in overtime and he stoned Weegar after a nifty passing sequence. I don’t know if he’s the answer going forward, but with Colin Delia and Malcom Subban pretty much known entities at this point, you may as well throw him to the wolves night after night.

-Next up is the rekindling of the old rivalry against the Red Wings, which might actually provide the Hawks the opportunity to get into the win column. The Hawks and Wings should be battling it out for a lottery pick this season, though none of us should feel comfortable about how Stan Bowman would use such a boon. Moving on.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 28-28-8   Panthers 33-25-6

PUCK DROP: 5pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

60% OF THE TIME IT WORKS EVERY TIME: Litter Box Cats

The Hawks wrap up this funeral dirge/death rattle of a road trip in South Florida this evening, before returning home to either an indifferent but possibly more cantankerous home crowd next week. They’ll find a Panthers team right in the middle of the East playoff grinder, trying to chase down both a wildcard spot or an automatic spot in the Atlantic if it’s there. The former sees them having to leap three teams, the latter only the Leafs who seem intent on making that a possibility. Oh, and the Hawks former coach is still on the other bench.

The story with the Panthers has changed a little since just about a month ago when they were at the UC. They’re still one of the higher scoring teams in the league. And they still get mediocre-or-worse goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky (OH BOB! YOU CAME AND YOU TOOK OUR MONEY! AND NOW YOU CAN’T SWAT PUCKS AWAY! OH BOB!). This is not a metrically sound team either, as you would have expected out of a Quenneville-led outfit with this much talent on display. They outshoot their problems for their record, which they can do with Huberdeau having a career-year and Barkov his usual brilliant self, along with My Kaufmann a line lower.

So as he is wont to do, Dale Tallon made some changes at the deadline, and some changes that take some figuring out. Vincent Trocheck certainly had issues staying healthy, but he was a genuine #2 center. But Tallon moved him out at the deadline for useful, bottom six pieces in Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula. Some Panthers observers had said Trocheck’s defensive game wasn’t what it was, and Wallmark and Haula especially should bring more of that. The Cats probably need that if Bob isn’t going to bail them out regularly. And Eetu Luostarinen is considered something of a prospect, so maybe the numbers make it a better deal than it looks at first. Given Tallon’s recent history in Sunrise though…

You sort of wonder if Tallon shouldn’t have been looking for blue line help now instead of down the road. Ekblad and Weegar (I almost forgot my fellow babies…) have been effective on the top pairing, but pretty much everyone else has been going backwards. We know what Keith Yandle can’t do, and Anton Stralman is turning odd colors in the sun at this age. Mike Matheson is certainly rich, but anything beyond that is a mystery.

The race between the Panthers and Leafs for the third spot is certainly entertaining, as both teams attempt to stake their spot without really any goaltender they can count on between them. The wildcard chase is no less dense, though you’d have to figure the Rangers will eventually sink away and the pixie dust for the Jackets has to run out sometime. That leaves the Panthers tussling with the Canes, who also don’t have a goalie at the moment (almost literally). It would be a big disappointment for the Cats to miss the playoffs, given the investments in Bobrovsky and Quenneville and their recent history. Hoffman, Dadanov, and Haula are all free agents after the season, and the first two are in line for sizable raises. So will Weegar as an RFA. This might be as good as it gets for the Cats, which isn’t good enough.

As for the Hawks, not much to report. One would think that Crawford will finish out the road trip to build off his win in Tampa, and that Subban could possibly make his debut against the softer landing of the Ducks or with the back-to-back against EdMo and Detroit next week. Shouldn’t be too many, or any, other lineup changes with Strome back at center and Koekkoek back on the third pairing. Possibly Nick Seeler back in for Carlsson or Boqvist to waster all of our time.

Note: This seems to have fallen at a place on the calendar when all of us have schedule conflicts. So there might not be Twitter or a recap for this one, though we are currently efforting that. Sorry, just one of those things. 

Hockey

Let’s let our friend @Petbugs13 start this one for us:

 

We couldn’t do it any better.