This week we discuss the Hawks lack of activity at the deadline, more gobbledygook from Stan Bowman, Henri Jokiharju’s place in the organization, and other mishegas.
RECORDS: Flames 26-13-4 (1st in Pacific) Hawks 16-21-7 (6th in Central)
PUCK DROP: 7:30
TV: NBCSN Chicago
FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY’S: FlamesNation.ca
It’s a cruel world, this NHL. After the Hawks played what was maybe their best game of the season in Pittsburgh last night, outplaying the hottest team in the league, their reward is to wheel it back out there again tonight against another first-placed team who has been waiting for them. And one that’s already beaten them twice this season. It ain’t all waitin’ on you, as Sheriff Tom Bell’s brother told him at the end of No Country For Old Men.
All seems pretty right in the world for the Calgary Flames, who are at least almost all of the way pivoted to David Rittich in goal, which was their biggest issue. The top line has gone absolutely bonkers, with all of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR….) Lindholm in the top-20 in scoring in the league. Matthew Tkachuk is having quite the free agent hear with 49 points his own damn self from the second line, where Mikael Backlund continues to beat anyone about the head and face possession-wise. They even get contributions from the bottom-six, even if James Neal will soon require a Hazmat treatment to be around.
The defense is the real key, where Mark Giordano‘s normal Norris-worthy year has been joined by a rebound from T.J. Brodie, and a bigger rebound from Travis Hamonic on the second-pairing. They’re even letting child Rasmus Andersson freewheel on the third-pairing, and he’s got wheels for days (and you got ass for weeks yeah yeah yeah).
Earlier in the year, the Flames were having defensive issues, even with that personnel. That seems to have cleared up a little, as only the Sharks give up less attempts per game at evens, and they’ve improved to middle of the pack in xGA/60 from near the bottom where they were. Any middling goals-against numbers are mostly the result of having Mike Smith and his arms that don’t work on the roster, and insisting on playing him any other time than when Rittich has the plague. As with most Bill Peters led teams, their metrics are glowing and this all appears to be real.
Whether the Flames can negotiate their way far in the spring depends on if Rittich is the real deal when it really counts, and if they can finish top of the division. Do that, and you only have to beat one of the Knights or Sharks to get to the West final. Don’t and you have to go through both, and that’s going to be a real trick.
As for the Hawks, they’ll turn to Collin Delia tonight, and you’d have to imagine given the Flames firepower he’s going to be awfully busy. In his limited NHL experience, this is about as good of an offense he’s seen, barring the uncaring Jets at the end of last season. Sure, the Avs have their top line but the Flames have that and then more. So this will be an interesting test, especially behind a tired team.
Shouldn’t be any other changes. Would expect Chris Kunitz to stay in the lineup after not being a toxic waste dump last night. Henri Jokiharju did fly back to Chicago last night and could play but I think Wednesday is more likely. They’d want at least one practice or morning skate, if only to figure out where exactly he slots. But you never know. Other than that, Drake Caggiula makes his home debut.
If the Hawks are going to get anything out of this one, they’ll need the special teams just like they did last night. The Flames aren’t a great PK team, and their power play is not as good as you’d think given what they have on it. A power play goal or two are close to a requirement.
Game #45 Preview Suite
Well, changing coaches hasn’t worked yet. Jumbling around the lines didn’t really either. Though Jeremy Colliton has his first point, a return of one out of six probably isn’t what management had in mind. Or maybe it was and they didn’t tell us?
Whatever it was, tonight was nothing we didn’t know. The roster is short, and there a couple veterans not carrying their weight. This team was probably calibrated on the hope that they would. I don’t know why you’d calibrate it that way, but here we are. At least I don’t have another explanation. If you do, feel free to share.
All right, let’s clean this up and get on with our lives.
The Two Obs
-Not sure where to begin, so I’ll unfairly begin with Duncan Keith again. While his glaring gaffe (alliteration, people) took place on the penalty kill, so I should probably just dismiss it as him getting the inevitable goal against out of the way early so the Hawks could get back to even-strength.
At some point this season, if Jeremy Colliton accomplishes nothing else this season but convince Duncan Keith that he’s no longer DUNCAN KEITH, I’ll call it a success. We went over this on Saturday. Duncan Keith was paired with Henri Jokharju to take that aspect of his game off his plate. It was meant to streamline his game, and keep him more efficient with what he can do. He didn’t listen. Maybe he can’t fight it, maybe it’s been too long.
Pairing him with Seabrook was only going to enforce that feeling, I guess. So there he was, chasing Andrei Svechnikov outside the circles, pretty well contained out there. But Keith can’t get there anymore. And Svechnikov, a budding monster, is going to walk him every time. He did it later in the game as well, So did Aho. But this is the one the Hawks paid for. Svechnikov has a clear path to the net, forcing Seabrook into basically Sophie’s choice. He could maybe do a little more than just amble over there while leaving a passing lane to Michael Ferland, but here were no good options.
Someone get Keith in front of a video screen with nothing but how Ryan Suter plays these days. It’s a super-efficient game, where Suter lets the game come to him and picks his spots when to get outside the normal parameters. Keith is still chasing the game and trying to bend it to his will, He can’t do it anymore. And the Hawks keep paying for it.
-That goal was off a Henri Jokiharju penalty where he braced for a hit at the expense of getting the puck. These are the kinds of mistakes we would normally live with, but now is about the time they have to stop. Hey, The HarJu isn’t going to survive too many hits in the NHL with the puck. But his hands are quick enough to move the puck along before getting hit. Chalk it up to the learning curve.
-Which will bring us to Nick Schmaltz. We generally like Schmaltz around here. Fine player. Clear problems. The refusing to shoot is getting really annoying. And Eddie correctly lit him up for ducking out of a puck battle/hit with Justin Faulk (though Schmaltz did cause a turnover a second later, but still).
And that kind of thing keeps happening. And it’s a tough sell to your fanbase and everyone else when you’re saying you basically did nothing in the offseason to keep your powder dry in big part to re-sign Schmaltz. Because he keeps looking like a second-line player, whether that’s wing or center. You don’t build around second-line players. I don’t want to know what kind of deals Stan turned down that included Schmaltz.
Schmaltz still has 60 games to turn it around and look like a real piece. But it’s year three now, you kind of know where he is. Are you tossing $6 million at this? Or are you hoping he keeps doing shit like this and we’ll have to agree to a bridge deal? And shoot the fucking thing already.
-Brandon Davidson and Jan Rutta got themselves in a tangle when the Canes were on a change and there was literally no forechecker in the zone and they couldn’t manage to pass between each other in the 2nd period. I can’t really sum the third pairing up any better than that.
-Other than the penalty, Goose and The HarJu weren’t a complete disaster, to the tune of a 68% and 64% share on the night.
-It’s nice that the Hawks fourth-line was so effective. But to review, when your fourth line is your most effective, that’s a problem.
Ok, that’s enough. It’s a point. Maybe it’ll be better to snap it against the Blues. Somehow, I doubt it.