Hockey

OK, so it certainly wasn’t dull. That’s one thing I can definitely say about this home-opener-legit-season-opener since the Prague game felt like a weird extra preseason game. There were goals, there were changes to the lines, there were shameful defensive breakdowns—a little something for everyone. But at the end of the day, the Hawks lost to a struggling team they should have beat. Let’s jump in, shall we?

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

–There was a lot to unpack with the forward lines here. First of all, Saad-Kampf-Kubalik looked outstanding in the first period and Kubalik opened the scoring while in total that line had 11 shots. They had the puck constantly when they were on the ice together—an 87.5 CF% at evens. So everyone was thrilled and of course Coach Cool Youth Pastor had to go changing it up by the second period, moving Kubalik to the top line. Now, Kubalik played really well and he replaced the hapless Alex Nylander (more on him later), but once that happened Saad and Kampf basically went dark. They had precisely zero shots in the second period and not much more than that in the third. So while I understand the desire to stack the top line, there is also the “if-it-ain’t-broke” side of things to consider. And messing with what’s working so suddenly may not have been the mark of true leadership.

–Also, can we just have Top Cat-Strome-Kane on a line please? The give-and-go that they had on the fourth goal was a thing of beauty. It does not take a hockey genius to see this. And the argument (if there was one) for keeping Kane and Toews together is backed up by nothing. They had a 14 CF% together and generated no shots. Seriously. If CCYP is going to shake up the lines reflexively, then he should at least follow the empirical evidence with the second line, maybe keep Kubalik with Toews and put Shaw with them. Of course there may be better answers but it’s not some great mystery the world can never solve.

–So back to Alex Nylander for a minute, who didn’t make it past the FFUD over/under of being on the top line through the second period. Essentially he just sucked, I’m not really sure how else to say it. He gave up turnovers in the defensive zone and at his own blue line, he whiffed on a wide open shot in the high slot, his passes were off the mark, and to top it all off, he brought DOWN Saad’s and Kampf’s production. He was like the Cone of Ignorance around Bart Simpson. I realize we may be subjected to watching this fool for a while longer but it’s going to be really cruel really soon, especially given the state of the defense, which is acquisition only worsened. Switch him out for Brendan Perlini—equally lazy, can’t be any worse?

–And yes, Andrew Shaw scored two goals. And yes, the crowd loved him and cheered wildly during the pregame. And yes, he took dumb penalties and no I am not convinced he’s worth the money or will actually help the team. All that “scrappiness” the broadcast likes to go on about didn’t score at the end of the game when he had a point-blank chance and couldn’t finish. I know, I’m motherfucking this guy into a 100-point season and if that’s the case, so be it. But he’s not “my guy,” despite what my esteemed colleagues may say.

–The defense was…what we both feared and expected. Erik Gustafsson and Slater Koekkoek on a pairing should be a war crime, and it led directly to the Sharks’ winning goal as Gus practically stared at the puck while it was being taken from him, and Koekkoek was somewhere out in the boondocks near where I live, that’s how far he was from the play. Beyond that, most everyone was bad anyway, the lone exception being Connor Murphy who was above 50% in possession and had a few key break-ups of passes. Ya know, playing defense, as is his job description. Yet, he managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for a deflection that led to one of the Sharks’ goals, so even though that’s not his fault (he was in position in front of the net), that’s how things went. Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook were, shall we say, not the top defensemen that they were made out to be in the preseason. The argument (if there was one) against having Boqvist up here is looking flimsier by the minute.

–Honestly the Sharks weren’t that good tonight, but it’s pretty damn sad when a guy older than me can score multiple goals on you. Just sayin’. What they were able to do was convert on their power plays, which is just another way of saying the Hawks’ PK is as putrid as where we left it last season. They managed to kill off one penalty! This is where we’re at.

–On that note, the Hawks got nothing on the power play and they were mostly just chaotic. Granted they only had two chances, but their first one was nothing but bad passes, an offsides on a messed-up zone entry, and not pulling the trigger when a shot was open. So it wasn’t their typical issue with standing still and waiting for Patrick Kane—it was more of a clusterfuck that came to nothing.

Corey Crawford had an .853 SV% tonight, which is not exactly inspiring, but honestly a number of those goals can’t be pinned solely on him. Still, he should have had at least the fifth one. His team didn’t play well enough in front of him and you know I’m not going to throw him under the bus, but it would be nice to see a stronger performance.

Well, we’re underway for real now in 2019. There were flashes of brilliance, potential for things that will actually work, and there were cringe-worthy mistakes. Pretty much like we thought there would be. Buckle up for the rest of it. Onward and upward…

Beer de jour: Odell Oktoberfest

Photo credit: NHL.com

 

Everything Else

This is our last night before the great circus begins. And maybe we can only hope for it be as entertaining as a circus. More likely, it’ll be just like when you realize how unhappy all the animals are in a circus and you kind of wish they’d go away forever or all just be like, Cirque de Soleil. A few thoughts before we dive headfirst into our normal coverage of the Hawks and the NHL tomorrow.

-I’ve been meaning to get this for a while now. If you haven’t seen Scott Powers’s “scouts breakdown” of every player on the Hawks, I encourage you to do so.

I think you’ll find the Brandon Saad section awfully interesting reading.

I’m not going to attempt to defend Brandon Saad. We’ve looked at the numbers, and made our peace. And yet the more I think about his last season, and reading these comments…boy, you can see it, can’t you? The trade looks awful now of course, but when it was made I don’t think many of us thought it would. When we last saw Artemi Panarin around here, he was floating around, waiting for Patrick Kane to hit his tape from the other wing. It was very Patrick Sharp. And you can still rack up a ton of points that way if you’re skilled, as Panarin is and Sharp was. And Kane will always find your tape. No one anticipated Panarin scoring 80+ points without Kane after that. Whoops.

But this has always been the knock on Saad. It’s nothing physical. If you were to design what a power left wing would look like, it would probably look like Saad. Unbelievably strong, quick on his skates, with plus offensive-skill and defensive awareness. The tools are there.

And yet…you can’t close your eyes and see him dominating that many shifts, like the way Marian Hossa did. You know what that looked like. You can still see it now in your mind (hopefully without the tears, but that’s hard to do). Can you see it with Saad? Or do you see a guy just being equal on his shifts, who gets his points really though natural gifts?

The part about playing with lesser players got me, too. Because my initial reaction was, “Well of course he’s going to fucking balk when stuck with SuckBag Johnson and David Kampf.” But that’s not what a player does, is it? This is where I want to say his first three years were spent playing with prime Toews and Hossa, and of course that’ll skew how you see linemates and teammates, It can’t really get better than that.

But that’s horseshit, isn’t it? You play with who’s out there. Not that I’m a fan of when this happens, but when Kane downed tools at times last year because he was playing on a dogshit team and at times with balloon-handed teammates, you could see where it was coming from. That didn’t make it right or excusable, but explainable? Yeah, just a touch.

But Saad doesn’t have that pedigree. Saad has proven to be an above-average NHLer, but nothing more. He flashes being a star at times, but they’re only flashes. He’ll look good with good players, but did he ever really stand above them for more than a handful of games here and there? He’ll play to the level of those around, it seems like.

And the thing is, the Hawks knew this about him. That’s why, though they may have been reluctant, they were willing to trade him when his contract demands got above what they deemed economical. Throughout his first three years here, there were whispers that some in the front office just didn’t think he had “it.” “It” being the determination to fight through defenders every shift and every night to become, essentially, Max Pacioretty. And physically, Saad could be near Patches or Blake Wheeler. If he wanted. But some in the Hawks organization doubted he wanted.

So I’m not sure what changed in the two years before they brought him back. Did their scouts see something in Ohio? If they did, the Jackets’ sure didn’t. And this could lead into another discussion about the Hawks borderline-woeful pro scouting.

This is a huge year for Saad, whatever the Hawks do as a whole. Not in terms of his future, because he’s cashing $6 million for the next three years regardless. But is he going to finally stand up and take games by the collar? Because he can, and I don’t think anyone doubts that. The Hawks certainly need it. Or is he content with that check and his 55 points? Does he care what people think about the latter? Do his teammates think that? This will be worth watching all season.

-With the pieces about to move, my biggest fear about the Hawks is that even after being skated out of the building a lot of nights last year, they’re still slow. That’s how it looked in the preseason, though some of that could be the veterans simply not caring. But then again, the veterans are the ones who are slow.

My fear is that the front office and their scouts haven’t redefined what fast is to them. The Hawks used to be one of the fastest team in the league. But thanks to their success, that threshold changed. Teams got as fast and then faster than what the Hawks were to beat them. I wonder if the Hawks aren’t still working at the same standard.

Because they told us Dylan Sikura’s size wasn’t a problem because of his quickness. But he doesn’t look all that quick in this league. They told us that Victor Ejdsell’s skating would be just enough to find space in this league. They’re both in Rockford, and that could change but you wonder. When he was healthy, did Gustav Forsling really look like he had game-breaking speed to you? Or did he look like he would be fast on a 2012 team?

I think this is changing, because Boqvist and Beaudin and Jokiharju do skate at 2018 levels of speed. But that won’t help much now. The jury is very much out on Dominik Kahun and Luke Johnson (“SuckBag” to his friends), who are here because of the Hawks claims about their speed.

Anyway, whatever it’s going to be, let’s kick this pig.