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.

Everything Else

Some teams leave with a wave, and some leave with a warning. That’s what the Colorado Avalanche want you to believe, and it very well may be true. It feels like they’ve been gotten this time, but will be right back here again and again in the years to come, and moving on even farther. They certainly do look poised for that given the age of all their important players and they might have the second-best player in the league in their ranks.

Then again, the Duchene-O’Reilly Era Avalanche sure looked poised for bigger things. They never won a series and they’re both on their second team since. Then there was that revival in Patrick Roy’s first year, the one that everyone told them couldn’t last. Avs fans didn’t want to hear it, we didn’t know the truth they claimed, couldn’t understand the INTANGIBLES Roy brought. They were never heard from again. I’m not saying the Avs cry “Wolf!” a lot, I’m just saying…

Sure, it could have gone on longer possibly if the Avs captain, Gabriel SapsuckerFrog, had gotten his lazy ass off to the bench sooner. Maybe a 2-2 tie spring the gremlins in the Sharks’ heads again. Then again, 15 shots in the 3rd period weren’t enough to get even, so really, where were the Avs going? Home, that’s where. The Sharks thank you for bringing Martin Jones back from the land of wind and ghosts.

So the Avs have a summer to ponder and add to a core that looks pretty tasty in MacKinnon, Rantanen, ThreeYaksAndADog, Makar, Barrie, Girard, and whatever else they might unearth. Or maybe this will be the same team it’s been the past two years, with a canyon-esque gulf between its top line and the rest of the roster. Sometimes a Colin Wilson and a J.T. Compher is just that. a Colin Wilson and a J.T. Compher.

It’ll be another season of convincing themselves Erik Johnson has anything to offer, even though he spent their first second-round series in a decade getting his head bounced around like a basketball by whatever teal-clad opponent had the pleasure of facing him. Hey look! I think Nikita Zadorov just ran out of position again to miss a hit! Sure is tough though!

There’s a ton of cap space, and other than Rantanen there aren’t a ton of must-keeps here. But $35M is just about what it costs to keep Stan Kroenke in wigs, mustache wax, and bribe funds to get him into whatever Hollywood party wouldn’t let him in. The Avs best hope is that Arsenal supporters murder him.

You forget because of the novelty of a team immediately being the league’s cream of the crop upon arriving in a new city all those years ago, but the Avs were/are well on their way to being Mountain Islanders. Four series wins in the past 16 years, no conference final appearance in 17 years. You don’t think of the Avs has basking in faded glory, probably because you don’t think of the Avs. But they were. And maybe they still will, which would be pretty funny.

It’s all there for them. The Jets and Preds are falling apart. We know the Blues will always find a way to get in their own way, even if it hasn’t happened yet this spring (and it will). But isn’t Denver built upon a society of people saying, “Eh…let’s just have a beer and then go hiking?” Don’t know where you find inspiration where everyone is content to just hang out in the back yard with their dog. And nor should you.

We’re wary of the threat, Avs. But you can only scare people with the ghosts of Sakic and Forsberg’s elbows for so long. You’re going to have to do something eventually. Trucking a fragile and short Flames roster isn’t really it. Neither is stretching a Sharks team without its captain to seven games. Better make it quick.

 

 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Calgary tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in Calgary Saturday, 9:30

Game 3 in Denver Monday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver Wednesday, 9pm

At the top, this one seems the most cut and dried of the West. Then again, we said that about the Jackets and Lightning, and even though that might still turn out that way after a blip, this is hockey after all and rarely does anything work out as it appears it should. It is the unruly toddler of sports. And the Flames have the one crack that can make any series turn goofy, and that’s goaltending, or lack thereof. The Avalanche’s time is next year and beyond, but are certainly good enough to walk through the door if Mike Smith keeps opening it and kicking them in the direction. Our last preview, let’s go.

Goalies: Phillip Grubauer was pulling a mini-Jake Allen for the first half of the season, as the Avalanche wanted him to have the job but he just wouldn’t take it. He and Semyon Varlamov were kind of Duck-Season-Rabbit-Season’ing it for the schedule’s first half. And then right about the time the Avs ruined the Hawks playoff hopes the first time, Grubauer finally relented and accepted, and he’s been brilliant ever since. A .955 in March would certainly qualify as that.

The problem for Grubs is he’s been here before, a year ago exactly in DC. And he hacked up a hairball, Braden Holtby took over, and you know the rest. Maybe that experience steels him for this. But until you do it in the postseason, everyone’s going to ask if you’re the guy or not. So he’s got some history to shed.

The history Mike Smith has to shed is much more recent, and much worse. He’s been a bitchy, wandering suckbag most of the season, and that’s when he could be bothered to actually be in the net. And the leash will be short, which probably will only make him even more of a malcontent. Considering how hard the Avs forecheck, he’s going to fuck up with the puck once in the first two games, but of course it won’t be his fault. This is the first team Smith has played on that mattered since 2012, and we all remember what happened then. But that was a long time ago with a much younger man. No amount of dives are going to save him this time.

If he fumbles it, or more to the point fumbles more than the Flames are already expecting him to, David Rittich will get tossed into the fire as a savior but with no safety net. Rittich faltered badly in the season’s back end after screaming to get the job full-time in the first portion. The Flames might just be Cup-worthy everywhere else, but they are depending on a moody dipshit and an untested rookie to navigate these seas. Hey…the 2010 Hawks did it?

Defense: The Avs defense will be good, possibly better than that, when Cale Makar and possibly what they add in the draft with Ottawa’s pick arrive next year. I still remain unconvinced of this one. Tyson Barrie rules, and beyond that I just can’t see it. Erik Johnson has made a career out of being fine and really unable to be picked out from the scenery. It’s not that it’s a bad defense, it just doesn’t distinguish itself, even if the numbers are middle of the pack to slightly better. At some point, tossing Ian Cole (BAYBAY!) over the boards consistently has to end in paper cuts and stains.

The Flames on the other hand have this year’s likely Norris winner in Mark Giordano, even if it’s more of a lifetime achievement award than for a career season (though it is that offensively). Going back to play with Gio has revitalized T.J. Brodie, which is a huge shock I’m sure. Travis Hamonic has had a bounce-back season. The third pairing is either some very green kids in Andersson or Kylington, or some very puce (sure?) vets in Fantenberg or Prout. But you can hide a third pair in the playoffs if you have to.

Forwards: The Avs are getting Mikko Suave back, and they’ll probably keep him on a line away from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel LaxativeLog. I doubt that lasts long. The Avs are still one line, no matter that J.T. Compher looks like the lovechild of Rick Tocchet and Jim Brown against the Hawks. Carl Soderberg…whatever. That line can do a whole lot of things, but it’s probably going to have to do them all in this series if the Avs are going to pull the upset.

The Flames have no such problems. They have two to three lines, assuming they’re still not trying to make Michael Frolik feel like the dog who just left a puddle on the floor. Gaudreau and Monahan are as good of a combination as you’ll find, and you’ll have to silence your cellphones, hold your applause, and shut your damn mouths to WALK WITH ELIAS. Whether Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk get Frolik as a third or not, that’s still the most dominant possession line in hockey with some of the worst zone starts. In the playoffs, that should be an enormous weapon. The Flames fall off after that, and if they don’t come out of the West this will probably be the area they address immediately after goalie. Sam Bennett is a useful third center, who doesn’t have to do the checking things because Backlund does. Garnet Hathaway has been a contributor. Mark Jankowski as well, but as third lines go you’ll see better in the playoffs.  But it is more than the Avs have.

Prediction: The Flames goaltending can overturn them at any time. And one bad game at home could see a pretty young team with little playoff experience get jittery in a hurry. And yet this team amassed 107 points without a goalie. Against a more sustained attack, it would be a bigger problem. But the expectation is that Giordano and Brodie can play MacKinnon to even close to a standstill, and from there the Flames are just better with more weapons. Their goaltending may get them. It’s just not going to be here.

Flames in six. 

 

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Avalanche 25-24-11   Hawks 26-26-9

PUCK DROP: 6:30 (for some reason?)

TV: NBCSN Chicago

COULDN’T GET MUCH HIGHER: Mile High Hockey

It’s at the top that I’m supposed to tell you this is an awfully big weekend at the United Center. The Hawks will have two games with four points on offer against direct rivals for the wild card spots. Win both, and you’re entrenched in the race. Lose both and you may have lost touch before March even hits. Split them in some fashion and nothing is solved and the current feeling continues. In that context, yes, this shapes up as a pretty exciting and important weekend.

But this being hockey, and this being us, and this being these Hawks, it’s hard to remain in just that context. Because though this is a playoff race, it is only so because the competitors are standardbreds and not thoroughbreds. They are the fan chosen to be inhaled by The Freeze in the middle of the 5th. It’s the JV. And you can choose to enjoy the silliness of it, which we are, but even that intrude on the heaviness you want to project onto these two games. It’s hard to treat something as important when you know that at the base it’s kind of absurd (says the wrestling fan?).

Either way, the Hawks and Avs are tied with Arizona, one point behind the Wild, who last night couldn’t get the Rangers to accept the two points they were desperately trying to foist upon them in their quest to make the biggest splat at the end of the season. Whoever wins tonight vaults back into the wildcard spots (depending on what the Wild do in Detroit tonight). So whatever we may feel on the outside, those inside the ropes will ignore the absurdity and treat this as a four-pointer.

For the Hawks, the only change appears to be that Brent Seabrook is still a no-go, and thanks to Carl Dahlstrom being sick, Henri Jokiharju has been recalled. No word on whether he’ll play, but fuck, he’s here, and how much worse can he be than the plastic vomit you’ve been tossing out there anyway? The Hawks did give up 10 combined goals to the decidedly waddling Senators and Red Wings. The Hawks should paw at any dangling straw or piece of Laffy Taffy when it comes to their defense. Collin Delia appears to be getting the start, perhaps in the thought that he’s beaten the Avs twice before and maybe seeing their silly logo will trigger something within him. Or you don’t want to keep sending Ward out there for fear he’ll turn back into Cam Ward with more and more rolls of the dice. Or you don’t want Delia’s last NHL experience of the year to be getting pulled against the Senators. Whatever. The normal 4th line rotation will continue, and it doesn’t really matter how it shakes out.

The Avs have sunk to these depths and unlike the atmosphere around here, they are not pleased that they are still merely “in it.” On December 19th, the Avs were 19-10-6, and at least running into the penthouse of the Central to steal the appetizers from the Jets and Predators. Then they lost to the Hawks, and look what that did to them: they are 6-14-5 since, watching the Stars and Blues wave as they fall by, and for a brief moment, were marooned at the bottom of the Central.

The reasons aren’t hard to identify. While the top line of Mikko RantanenNathan MacKinnon-Gabriel SapsuckerFrog didn’t exactly go “cold,” they weren’t being intergalactic warriors as they were before. They were just “very good.” But “very good” ain’t gonna cut the mustard when there’s almost nothing else on this team to back it up. On a given night, Carl Soderberg, or J.T. Compher, or Alex Kerfoot might hint at being legitimate secondary scoring. And on the next three you wouldn’t be able to find them with body-heat cameras. When the top unit isn’t doing magic tricks, the show is closed. That’s why you’ll see that troika split up tonight, as they’ve been put on three different lines the past two games. Which the Avs have won by a combined score of 10-1, so they roll in here with some confidence.

Combine that with both goalies going into the shitter for a bit. Semyon Varlamov tanked in December and January, and when given the chance to usurp the top job, Phillip Grubauer fluffed his lines. Varlamov has recovered in February with a .919, and even just that might steady the ship enough for the Avs to recover and hold on loosely for the last spot in the West. Assuming their three big guns continue to BIG GUN.

The task in written form is easy for the Hawks tonight. Find a way to keep the Avs’ top three players down. It’s not easy when they’re now on three different lines, but also their collective dangers is watered down. Start with Mac K and work out from there. You can try to that through the Fight Fire With Fire method and use Toews’s line to do it. Or you use Marcus Kruger to do it, though if he’s centering the fourth line it’s clear that Coach Cool Youth Pastor has already made his choice. Colorado still does ok metrically when those three aren’t on the ice, but they have a hard time converting it into tangible results. Keep the MacRaLog from going for two or three or more, and you’ve basically got it.

It may not be heavy or important, but it is fun. Here we go.

 

 

Game #62 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 14-20-6   Avalanche 19-13-6

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

HOW HIGH? SO HIGH I COULD TOUCH THE SKY: Mile High Hockey

The Hawks continue whatever this little streak of barely managed competence means by a second trip to Denver in eight days. But hey, is there anywhere else you’d rather go twice in a little over a week? Yes, yes there is. But you don’t get to decide those things. So there. Enjoy all the fucking breweries, dipshit.

Since beating the Avs right before the Christmas break, the Hawks have sent the Avalanche into something of a tailspin. Though to be fair, the Avs weren’t playing all that well before, either. They’ve lost their two games in the interim, both on the road, to the Coyotes and the Knights. That gives them an unsightly December record of 4-7-1, which has seen them drop off the pace a bit of the Jets and Predators, which they were keeping up with. Then again, no one was really expecting them to tussle with the glitterati of the Central all year.

The main problem for the Avs is that their one, gushing source of goals has dried up. They only scored once against the Knights last out. Same thing again with the Coyotes the game before that. As you remember they came up with only one goal against Collin Delia the last time these two flamenco’d. None of this is a huge shock, as when the Avs were surging to the surprise of the league in November they were shooting 13.8% as a team. That’s never going to last. December’s 7.8% is actually pretty normal, but well below what they had been doing.

Which probably means they’re getting a market correction against the Hawks, right?

When the Avs aren’t pouring in an inordinate ratio of goals to shots, their defensive shortcomings come to the fore. They are not a great possession team, or defensive team, as Samuel Girard (the big dog is always right!) and Erik Johnson are the only pair you’d trust with anything. They have gotten better goaltending of late from Phillip Grubauer, who has only given up nine goals in taking the last four starts from Semyon Varlamov. He may have permanently usurped the starter’s role, but we’ll see what they do tonight.

Obviously, with the Avs the whole story is how you deal with the top line of Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. They’re still putting up boxcar numbers, and if you can’t get them on a leash you’ll lose. The Hawks kept them off the scoresheet last time by some miracle or witchcraft, and that’s the order of the night again. Do that, and the Avs struggle with support scoring. Only J.T. Compher and Carl Soderberg have more than nine goals beyond that, and Soderberg hasn’t scored in his last 10 games. It’s not really what he does anyway.

The Avs will get really good when their kids like Tyson Jost or Alex Kerfoot start cashing in on their promise and they can beat you from various angles. Until then, it’s what the top unit can do and nothing else. So far, that’s been more than enough to secure a playoff spot.

For the Hawks, there shouldn’t be too many changes, if any. There’s utterly no point in going back to Cam Ward tonight, whether the Hawks still think they have something to play for or they’re already into their development for next season, other than some whacked “Gotta be fair to Holly, dude” nonsense. Collin Delia is the better option no matter how you’re looking at it. Don’t overthink it.

Lineup-wise, the Hawks have been better with Brandon Manning‘s and Chris Kunitz‘s ass stapled to a chair in the pressbox, so no reason to change that either. Maybe Martinsen comes in for Hayden or some such meaningless garbage, but that doesn’t matter. We’d like to see Perlini and Dylan Sikura switch back to where they were before, but again this is nit-picking.

Again, the schedule isn’t too daunting to the bye and All-Star break. Weird things happen in outdoor games, and then there’s a fair amount of New York teams on the schedule in January, who all suck. It’s also pretty light, so head coach Cool Youth Pastor will get some practice time to implement whatever it is he’s supposed to implement. If the Hawks think there’s something to be saved from this season, and they do even if it’s deluded beyond all belief, this is the stretch to do it.

Game #41 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We traveled deep into the jungle, past his many followers who eyed us warily, to find the warlord Anthrax Jones. He was kind enough to grant us this, and we had to exit quickly before being disemboweled. 

 

Game #38 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Few teams have ridden the roller coaster as hard as the Colorado Avalanche. You probably remember them best as the ruptured polyp in the direct center of the Blackhawks’s asscrack over the past five years, when, no matter how bad they were, they always seemed a little bit faster than the Hawks. You’ll certainly remember Patrick Roy swinging his shit-filled diaper over his head like a slingshot night in and night out as he slobbered the 2013–14 iteration of this team to a 112-point first-round bounce, only to have the entire team fuck off to the land of wind and ghosts over his next two years because he’s a gigantic horse’s ass.

This team has been Jared Bednar’s for the last two years, and after finishing dead last in his first year, they spasmed a playoff appearance last year on the backs of Nathan MacKinnon and noted woman beater Semyon Varlamov. Word around town is that they have playoff aspirations this year as well, so let’s see if there’s enough oil in this buggy to get them there.

2017–18

43 W, 30 L, 9 OT, 95 PTS

257 GF, 237 GA, 22.0% PP, 83.3% PK

47.59 CF%, 10.5 SH%, .917 SV%

Goalies: For as long as they’ve mattered, the Big Foot has relied on stellar goaltending to keep them afloat. And credit to Joe Sakic for understanding that this is now a goaltender league, because on top of having an NHL-caliber piece of dogshit in Varlamov, he went out and got a 1A goalie in Philipp Grubauer. The idea is to keep Dogshit at around 50 games, which is typically where he’s done his best work. Last year saw Dogshit post a strong .923 SV% at evens and an outrageous 90.7 SV% on the kill, which went a long way in jettisoning the Avs to the fourth-best PK slot in the league.

With Grubauer backing Dogshit up for when he gets hurt or arrested, the Avs managed to get even better in net. You’ll remember Grubauer as the guy who started for the Caps early in their playoff run last year when Braden Holtby started to run out of gas. Grubauer’s regular season numbers at evens were outstanding, with a .931 in 35 games. His short-handed percentage sat at a pedestrian .870.

Barring injury, this is where the Avs are going to thrive, because even if Dogshit gets hurt, they have one of the best backups you can ask for in Grubauer. When your backup is tossing a .923 in all situations, it’s hard to worry.

Defensemen: Now this is where it gets dicey. Professional golf-cart crasher Erik Johnson will lead the Avs with his milquetoast interpretation of hockey defense, and he’ll be mostly fine doing it. Last year saw him pairing primarily with Nikita Zadorov in a shutdown pairing role, with the two of them posting 5v5 CF%s of around 48% while spending most of their time in the defensive zone. Also of note is young Grease Lightning Sam Girard, who at just 20 years old looks to explode on the scene this year. He potted 20 points in 68 games as a 19-year-old last year. When you think about how defensemen in the NHL will look in the next decade, Girard is probably as fitting a prototype as you’ll find. He can move the puck, has good vision, and his skating is legitimately artistic. The only real knock against him is he’s a bit light in the ass at 5’10” 160, but we’ve seen before that with the right skill set, size doesn’t matter much. And Girard has that skill set. He’s likely to pair with Johnson on the top pairing this year.

After that though, you look at the Avs blue line like a loogie dangling from the ceiling of the Blue Line. Ian Cole was brought in to do whatever it is that Ian Cole does, which is be a defensive defenseman? Tyson Barrie will continue to get to the wrong spot really, really quickly, and yet be a nightmare on breakouts. If Patrik Nemeth, Mark Barberio, or Mark Alt do anything for you, see a doctor. Overall, the blue line is a Hot Pocket, simultaneously ice cold and scalding hot and never quite cooked even.

Forwards: The first line for the Avs is insane. Nathan MacKinnon isn’t even fucking 25 yet and was arguably the best centerman in the West last year. Now that Patrick Roy isn’t spreading his GET MEAN diaper rash to Gabriel Landeskog, he can focus on everything else he does well, which is really everything. Mikko Rantanen scored 84 points as a 21-year-old last year and could be a 30-goal scorer if he keeps up his 15–16% shooting rate (do you remember laughter?). You’re looking at 200–250 points from this top line.

After that, it’s much less robust. Alex Kerfoot projects to anchor the second line on the left wing. His 43 points as a rookie last year were impressive. Tyson Jost could never quite put it together last year, which is exactly the kind of player you want centering your second line. JT Compher is fast and nothing more. Sven Andrighetto is the same person with a harder to spell name. Their shutdown line of Matt CalvertCarl SoderbergMatt Nieto will be a sandpaper lullaby. The Avs are high on their first-round pick Martin Kaut, and it’s possible he’s called up mid-season, depending on how the Avs shake out. Kaut is touted for his offense, which is precisely what the Avs will need down the stretch, given their hot-potato possession tendencies.

Outlook: The Avs are a get-up-and-go team. They do not give a fuck about possession, and with all the offensive firepower on the first line coupled with rock-solid goaltending, they really don’t need to. If Kerfoot and Jost put it together and Kaut manages to make the team down the line, the Avs will have a bit more cushion to work with offensively. You can see them squeaking into the playoffs again this year.

And they’ll also have the best shot at Jack Hughes in the upcoming draft, with Ottawa’s farcical leadership’s complete inability to do anything right ever keeping this year’s pick so they could draft Keith Tkachuk’s other garbage son. Come this time next year, the Avalanche might be a legit contender.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Everything Else

We’ve never liked Joe Sakic. Oh sure, all-time great player. The center the Hawks could never have, the player Jeremy Roenick could never be. But it was always him standing in the Hawks’ way in the mid-90s. He who scored that goal in Game 4 in ’96 that prevented the Hawks from taking a 3-1 lead (while Chris Chelios’s leg was numbed by his own team’s doctor). He had 65 points in 55 games against the Hawks. It felt like it was 174.

So we rejoiced when he was hired as GM of the Avs in 2013. Surely this was just a move to placate an eroding fanbase, give them a name they recognize and would give the most amount of leash because how would anyone in Denver ever be mad at Joe Sakic? Another rock-headed former player being used to insulate an ownership no one really cared for.

It all started so promisingly, as the entire franchise bent to the will of Patrick Roy, a vapid bullhorn come to life. They goofed one division crown, and then tried to chase that for three more seasons. They signed Jarome Iginla, which they didn’t have a need for. They signed Francois Beauchemin because Roy wanted a big, bruising d-man while ignoring he couldn’t catch anyone. They jerked around Tyson Barrie. It was going so swimmingly to keep the Avs in the toilet for eternity. The dream was almost real.

Then Sakic fired Roy, or at least got him to quit, which is just as good. He went outside the Old Boys Network to hire Jared Bednar. They didn’t flinch when they had a historically bad season last year. All the while, he drafted Rantanen, Greer, Jost, Makar. They traded Ryan O’Reilly and got J.T. Compher. They finally cashed in on Matt Duchene and got a huge haul out of it. They’ve straightened out Gabriel Landeskog, and put something in Nathan MacKinnon’s food. What the fuck is going on here?

And now the Avs look set to rise out of the muck. No longer will they be an after-thought with weird colors. Can you imagine how obnoxious this will get when the Denver hipsters catch on? It’s going to be awful.

Your ass used to be beautiful, Joe. And now you’ve gone back to our nemesis. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

 

Game #79 Preview

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Avalanche 35-24-6   Hawks 28-30-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

DISPENSARIES AND BREWERIES: Mile High Hockey

As they will spend the rest of the season pretty much, the Hawks will gaze across to the other bench and see a team they used to barely give a thought now playing for the things they want, i.e. a playoff spot and a future. While the Avs always gave the Hawks fits even when the Hawks were dominant, at least we could laugh those losses off as something to be washed away in the irrelevance of regular seasons. Not so much anymore. as the Avs are right in the thick of a wild card chase, with an MVP candidate in their midst, a couple other kids worth watching, while the Hawks can only try to mind-meld with the sand in the hour glass, forcing it into the bottom chamber faster.

How the Avs have got here is basically saddling up on Nathan MacKinnon and running him until he stops. Mac K has the best point-per-game mark in the league, and if he hadn’t missed seven games he’d be running away with the Hart Trophy discussion. Writers are going to bend themselves in all sorts of directions and binds to keep it from him should the Avs miss out, and Taylor Hall winning it sure would have Brooks-ian levels of comedy to it. But no one has played better than MacKinnon, and he’s caused a Gabriel Three-Yaks-And-A-Dog revival as well as kick-started the career of Mikko Ratanen.

Beyond that though, if you’re getting a hint or whiff of 2014, when the Avs were good because they shot the lights out and got Varlamov’s Vezina year and actually weren’t all that good and were quickly exposed in the playoffs, you’re not entirely wrong. Because it’s not exactly easy to point to what this team does well other than “have Nathan MacKinnon and his career-doubling SH%.” They’re not a good possession team, or a terribly good defensive one, They give up a ton of attempts but are better at limiting the quality of those, as their expected goals-against per game is 11th in the league.

The one thing they do well is kill penalties, third in the league, and you’d think with all that speed that would go hand in hand. So if you don’t give up many power play goals and can just win things at even-strength, you’ll be ok. The Avs have done that, mostly thanks to their top line.

There’s a touch more to them than that. Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot on the second line portend to a pretty nice future if they continue to evolve. Nikita Zadarov on the blue line has been effective in his first season as a top-pairing guy. Tyson Barrie has the points but not the possession numbers he’s put up in the past.

And they stop the puck. At even-strength, this team has the fifth-best save percentage as both Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier have been excellent this season. Their overall numbers of .913 and .914 aren’t exactly inspiring, but they’ve combined for a ,925 adjusted at evens for the Avs. You’ll win a lot of games that way.

For the Hawks… I mean I don’t know that it matters anymore but it will be interesting to watch Keith and Murphy have the last change and get thrown out there against MacKinnon every shift so we can see how Murphy deals with that. He’s certainly looked ok in the role in the two games in Southern California. Other than that, I don’t really know what to tell you. More of Eddie O telling us how much they like Matthew Highmore and Pat Foley slowly turning into Caray and Piersall circa ’79? I’m not sure any of you hate this team more than Foley does right now.

Could be an ugly week for the Hawks. Then again they pretty much all have been since January. They face two teams scrapping for wild card spots in Colorado and Carolina, and then a home-and-home with somehow the second best team in the league in the Bruins. So that’s a good time for everyone.

Eat Arby’s.

 

Game #67 Preview

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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)