Kid is doin’ thangs. Thank you.
With the calendar soon to turn to April, the NHL lumberingly rounds its corner into the true home stretch, with this Blackhawks season mercifully coming to an end in just 16 more games. As a general rule, the post-deadline undead period for those teams who have stripped the roster for parts such as the Hawks should in theory offer a look at some of the youth that has been toiling in the AHL for 6 months now. But as has been apparently for years now, the Hawks don’t necessarily follow conventional wisdom. The only forward worth giving a shit about, Lukas Reichel, is being artificially held back for contract purposes, as exceeding 9 games in the show will allow his first pro year to slide til next year, and if this team were going to be competitive, it could sort of be understood. But there is a very real chance that we are all also observing the final games of the franchise pillars in Hawks uniforms, and Alex DeBrincat certainly has no reason to stick around beyond next season if they don’t. Add to the fact that none of the defensemen that had ARRIVED last season under Coach Jeremy Bevington can seem to break the lineup here even beyond the trade deadline and with Connor Murphy hurt, and things are beyond desolate. There is literally no reason for Connor Murphy not to be shut down after being knocked out cold, or for pending UFAs Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson to be on the ice anymore, yet the general public is subjected to them on a nightly basis because Derek King and his Sith Master Marc Crawford are laboring under the delusion that they could be brought back for next season. Which is to say that this is an entertaining product and can’t-miss television.
Game Time: 7:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
The Pegulas Are Vile – Die By The Blade
Given the slow-motion Armageddon that has been the past two calendar years and the commensurate scheduling considerations, this will be the Sabres first visit to the UC since 2019. And for them, not much has changed other than sending their malcontent captain Jack Eichel to Vegas for Alex Tuch and some magic beans. To be fair, the Hawks are probably about the same level of bad as they were at that time two, but it’s been a far more eventful and circuitous path getting there. To their credit, LOCAL GUY Don Granato at least has this team playing hard even if they don’t do anything particularly well, and will occasionally jump up and bit a contending team in the dick as they did outdoors against Toronto, or just this past week against both Calgary and Pittsburgh while needing extra time to do so. The Sabres are finally getting something out of the lumbering and unfortunately named Tage Thompson, who originally came over in the Ryan O’Reilly deal and is likely to hit 30 goals while currently sitting on 27. It of course remains to be seen if this is something he can sustain at the NHL level or this is merely a function of SOMEONE having to score on a bad team. Former #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin is still here and doing well enough to apparently make the all star game, but again, it was mandatory the Sabres be represented. LOCAL GUY Craig Anderson will be 41 in May and somehow he has the most starts for the Sabres at 22 (along with Dustin Tokarksi), and has 12 of the Sabres 23 wins. He played yesterday afternoon against the Rangers so who knows if he’ll get one last hometown start or not, but it’s no guarantee he’ll be done after this year either. These are two evenly matched bad teams, so it’s likely they pull off an improbably entertaining game this even as has been the case with the Hawks all year, but it means nothing to either team.
Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Bienvenidos A Miami – Litter Box Cats
The Cats probably spent the most capital to fortify themselves for a long cup run in acquiring both Ben Chiarot from the Habs (for what reasons is anyone’s guess, he’s never been anything more than A GUY), and landing the prize of the deadline in prying Claude Giroux away from the Cold Ones about 10 seconds after his 1000th game with the club ended. Since the trades they’ve gone 2-1, most recently losing in Tronna to the Leafs 5-2, but beating the woeful Habs and Sens. While obtaining both of Chiarot and Giroux are nice additions to an already potent offense, they do nothing to address the two biggest issues that would preclude a deep Cats run – 1) how healthy is Aaron Ekblad going to be, and 2) will Sergei Bobrovsky shit himself again in the spring or not?
Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Feel The Void: Raw Charge
Will Jonathan Toews give Brandon Hagel a tearful, emotional embrace at any point during the game, similar to any of the 45 times Frodo and Sam are reunited throughout the course of the Lord of The Rings? Tune in and find out! Do not tune in to find out if the Blackhawks will win or not, however, because they are not going to.
Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Evicted Dogs: Five For Howling
So the Arizona Coyotes are basically a Ponzi scheme organization who have been evicted from their current arena in Glendale come season’s end and will have to rent time out of Arizona State’s new arena, which seats approximately 4-5K. They have been a Troubled Asset Relief Program for years where teams send millstone contracts of elderly players who are effectively retired but only exist as basically a no show job on their roster, like so many retiree “residents” of the state. They have been willfully trying to lose for years on a minimal payroll in order to maximize the profitability of league revenue sharing and taking advantage of Gary Bettman’s seemingly pathological need to keep this franchise afloat and in Arizona despite every shred of evidence they need to be relocated. As of the time of this writing they have the exact same number of regulation wins (15) as the Chicago Blackhawks, whose previous GM made moves last off season thinking they were going to be in the playoff picture.
At last the long national nightmare is over. Coach Kelvin Gemstone/Vinny Del Colliton/Jeremy Bevington/Jeremy Trestman/Alpo Colliton/Jeremy Prinze, Jr./Cool Youth Pastor and his throbbing brain filled with defensive schemes so elaborate he forgets to even bother thinking about in game deployment are gone. It was about 18 months overdue, but the important thing is that it’s over, and with all of the other shit that happened two weeks ago in a cleansing fire, there’s actually finally a new prism to view this team through rather than utter nihilism. Interim GM Kyle Davidson was as forthcoming as anyone with an interim label could possibly be in his remarks after Colliton’s dismissal, saying that the message simply wasn’t getting through and correctable things weren’t being corrected, both of which are tremendous understatements but accurate nonetheless. Basically it only took him a week and a half of watching this disorganized and disinterested horse shit to see enough to get Stan’s golden child the hell up out of here and bring in Pigs bench boss Derek King.
King’s coaching resume is limited but had a pretty lengthy NHL career in the mid 80s and 90s (plenty will remember him being not a bum on Sega), but he at least had enough common damn sense to understand to tell these guys to just go out and play and not worry about adhering to some galaxy brained man-on-man high pressure SYSTEM. It’s well worn territory here, but the dirty secret in hockey is that it’s not exactly like they need to run elaborate blitz packages and disguise coverages on defenses in hockey. Puck side defenseman pursues and goes into the corner, weak side stays in front of the net, wingers on points, help if it comes up the wall, and ass on the boards at the hash for a breakout pass. This is what everyone who’s played hockey for any length of time just instinctively knows in their bone marrow and is what is just a default even when at an 11:45 on a Tuesday night rat hockey. Which is why having the D chase and stay with their checks everywhere in the zone was so counter-intuitive and the results clearly bore that out. Furthermore, in his post game comments, King remarked that he wanted to prioritize matching up Carpenter against Sissons on Sunday, and also had Erik Gustafsson barely play at all. So while he might end up ultimately proving himself A Moron, he’s at least got a baseline of common hockey sense that seemed to so elude his handsome predecessor, and all of the sudden the Hawks find themselves with actual winnable games on the docket.
Game Time – 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Ben Roethlisberger Retire Bitch – Pensburgh
So after missing the first 7 games of the season with a wrist injury, Sidney Crosby came back for one game against the POWERHOUSE New Jersey Devils, was a -3 with no points, and promptly returned to Sick Bay with a mildly symptomatic case of Covid. With him being out and Evgeni Malkin out for a few more months still, things have gone about as well as could be expected with this last-gasp Penguins group, which is to say it’s barely .500-ish with a 4-3-3 record in 10 games, which is good for 11 points and the ass-end of the Metro division. When Danton Heinen is leading the team in goals and points at any juncture of a season, it’s probably safe to say that things aren’t particularly optimal. Most recently the Pens to the first place Wild (huh?) to a shootout on the road and ultimately ended up losing the Hog Shit Snarfing Contest, but Mike Sullivan still has the team playing relatively hard even if they’re pretty outgunned most nights without their franchise pillars. Tristan Jarry has at least been pulling his weight in a starter’s workload even after every Yinzer wanted to toss him into a variety of rivers last spring, with a .945 save percentage 5v5 and .925 overall. This is a team that has to play with structure and discipline because it can’t get away with skill right now, and one game with Derek King isn’t magically going to have the Hawks be able to counter that, even if on paper the Hawks’ current lineup does have more spice than the Penguins right now.
Game Time – 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio – ESPN+, Hulu, WGN-AM 720
Kyrsten Sinema Is A Goblin: Five For Howling
The Coyotes are the only team in the league worse than the Hawks right now, and really it could be argued that they shouldn’t even count because not only are they willfully trying to be bad on the ice, but the entire franchise is basically a money laundering front/shell corporation for the league right now, and they’re going to get evicted out of their building at the end of the season anyway. It’s tough to say whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that this game is an online exclusive- on one hand if this was a game ESPN/Hulu earmarked as being a selling point for the platform and ad dollars, they were catastrophically mistaken. On the other hand, it’s almost a public service that no one can accidentally find their way to this imminent disaster, one would have to be a true sicko to go out of their way to find and watch this game. But it will at least be the first time it’s been Hawks red vs white Kachina in like 15 years.
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.
Look, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a far superior team to the Chicago Blackhawks. There is little debate about that. And looking at the box score, it would appear that the Hawks put up a valiant fight despite being hopelessly outgunned even if Kucherov and Stamkos didn’t play. But that would be the incorrect conclusion to draw, and once again a pants shitting was on display from top to bottom given how the game actually played out and the circumstances in the standings surrounding it. In the end, however, water finds its own level and this was yet another shining example of just how far away from being actually competitive the Hawks are, no matter how FUN they were for 10 minutes two months ago.
It wasn’t so long ago where the Hawks were on the flip side of the story with what transpired in Tampa over the weekend; where they’d be able to keep a team at arm’s length and hold them by their own forehead as they impotently flailed and swung away, never landing a single punch. The Bolts did exactly that to the Hawks over the weekend, leaning on them when it was necessary and never having to exert even the slightest bit more effort than was necessary, and walking away with two regulation wins in the process. March was always going to be a reality check for the West Side Hockey Club, and with their season series against Tampa nearly complete with a 1-5-1 record (compared to Tampa’s 6-0-1, leaving only a single shootout point on the table), the results are now lining up with the process.
Game Times: 7:00 (3/4, 3/5), 1:30 (3/7)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (3/4, 3/5), NBC (3/7), TVA-S (3/7), SportsNet (3/7), WGN-AM 720
Bottomless Seas: Raw Charge
After spending the majority of February floating above the detritus of the makeshift Central Division by virtue of MVP and Calder/Vezina caliber performances, the Hawks now begin March on the West Side finally facing again a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has not slowed down since dongwhipping the Hawks in the opening series, or even their playoff run in the bubble last year. “In Like A Lion”, indeed.
Well this started out about as generously as could be expected given the how wide the gulf between these two teams currently is. There were extended stretches of both games where the Bolts were seemingly just playing with their food, rope-a-doping the Hawks into tiring themselves out and then immediately capitalizing on the slightest miscue and creating odd-man rushes going the other way with a single stride. This team is still favored to win this makeshift, slapdash division without Nikita Kucherov for a reason, as Andrei Vasilivskiy in particular barely broke a sweat in these two games, looking as locked in as he ever has. Of course, when Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter are the ones just tossing prayers in your direction, it’s certainly easy to look that way.
That’s about it for now, the Hawks visit old friend Joel and his Cats tomorrow night for their season opener as their first two games against Dallas got banged due to PESTILENCE. Maybe these games will be closer or the Hawks might win one, but don’t bet the stimulus check on it.
Game Times: 7:00PM (1/13) & 6:00PM (1/15)
TV/Radio: NBCSN (1/15), NBC Sports Chicago (1/15), WGN-AM 720
Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%: Raw Charge
Despite every indication that this shouldn’t be happening from both the world at large given that pestilence still ravaging this country, and the fact that the league itself has said that they’d probably be better off simply NOT playing, the NHL regular season (such as it is) begins tonight. And the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their championship banner in front of no one while an already decimated Hawks team looks on at a vague reminder of what once was and now seems so desperately far away.