Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-8   Jets 28-23-5

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

QUEEN ELIZABETH IN THEIR LIVING ROOM: Jetsnation.ca

It’s at points like these that you can understand Jonathan Toews’s frustration with the schedule of the NHL. There’s no logical reason that instead of spending consecutive Sundays in Winnipeg, with having to swing out to Western Canada in between, the Hawks and Jets couldn’t play just two consecutive games against each other and keep everyone more comfortable. But that’s not the world we have, so the Hawks will begin and end this vital road trip in Winnipeg. It’s even more of a bitch because you have to bus in every time, because they don’t have an airport as you know.

However it’s laid out, the Hawks can shape the rest of their season with this trip, both good and bad. The Hawks enter tonight three points back of the last wildcard, but with three teams to leap to get there. But the next five games are all against teams around them. Even if the Oilers and Canucks are a bit separated, it’s not hard to see how either or both could slip right into range over the coming weeks. Given how the Pacific can’t seem to stop stepping on a rake this season, any and all combinations out of there are possible.

The Jets come in having beat the Senators yesterday at home, and have also clubbed the Blues twice in the last week while also taking the Predators or OT. They’re three points ahead of the Hawks, but have played two games more. So you can see why this is a pretty big game for the Hawks. It’s your customary four-pointer.

The story remains the same with the Jets. They are woeful structurally, and do their best to try and outshoot and outscore it with their wealth of top line talent. It’s been harder for them this season, as the defense has been truly wretched with the departures of Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien. They haven’t been helped by injuries, but through the combo of that and general helplessness they’ve played 10 different guys. Morrissey and Pionk have been the only constants, and the only ones they can even dream of counting on.

Connor Hellebuyck has combined with their top tier scoring to keep them afloat, with a SV% of .920 while being under siege most nights. He didn’t start yesterday so he was saved for the Hawks, which makes you think the Jets think they need this one badly too.

As for the Hawks, they’ll be something of a lineup shuffle, at least as much as there’s been of late. Adam Boqvist will be given a little more time to heal his shoulder made of cardboard, so Nick Seeler will make his Hawks debut. Don’t expect much, and if you get a game where you barely notice him, so much the better. He’s slow, he had a tendency to be dumb, so this might be Connor Murphy’s biggest project of the season. They’ll be paired together tonight. Matthew Highmore will also come back in for Alex Nylander on the fourth line.

Three points is a bigger gap than it sounds in this everybody-gets-a-trophy NHL, but it’s also not insurmountable. The Hawks have to not get buried on this trip. 3-2 is probably the minimum they need, though 2-2-1 probably won’t kill them. But none of these teams on the schedule are monsters. The Hawks have already beaten the Jets twice, and soundly, and outplayed them for long stretches of their OT loss to them. The Oilers, Canucks, and Flames can all lay an egg on any given night, and the Hawks have wins against them this season.

This is supposed to be where it gets fun. The Hawks can make it so.

Hockey

Is it desperation? Is it just a recognition the Hawks have a serious speed and skill deficiency? Is it just to distract from the Seabrook drama? All of it? Who the fuck knows, and who the fuck cares, because we get to see the most fun toy the Hawks have in the organization (outside a fully engaged Patrick Kane, which we haven’t seen this year yet). Earlier today, the Hawks called up Adam Boqvist.

The need for Boqvist, or the idea of Boqvist at least, is quite obvious. The Hawks have no d-man who can skate himself out of trouble. They have no defenseman who can get them started in transition by himself. They have no puck-movers, ever since Erik Gustafsson suddenly lost the limited skill he had to be that. Their power play sucks, and is in desperate need of movement and creativity.

Can Boqvist do all this? Yes, someday. Now? Certainly not all at once. And it would be utter lunacy to have #27 doing anything above a third-pairing role to start. Which is probably why the Hawks will do it. They could be that desperate. In 12-15 minutes a night, Boqvist is not going to be able to turn games or change them. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and if they really think something is going to come of this season, then you need to start the process of getting him there as quickly as possible.

Boqvist can do things about the power play. The Hawks need power play goals. They’re not going to go anywhere without them. They’re not good enough at even-strength, and they’re not going to be unless they find one or two more Boqvists than they have. They simply have to win the special teams battle. They’re getting completely turked on them now. Boqvist isn’t going to help the kill, but he can help the power play.

So no Kirby Dach shit and not have him out there even if he’s a rookie. Fuck, put him on the #1 unit ahead of Gustafsson. I don’t care. Knock it off with this goddamn drop pass at center ice. Have Boqvist threaten it, but then skate through two people and create chances off the rush. With Boqvist’s speed and skill, he can actually back people up at the blue line. Gustafsson can’t, which is why no one takes his rush up before that drop pass seriously. They’re just waiting for Kane to get it.

How does it affect the lineup? My first guess would be it sends Dennis Gilbert back to the muck where he came from and belongs. I would not be surprised if it actually knocks Gustafsson out of the lineup, simply because if you have Gus and Boqvist in the lineup at the same time, your penalty kill would only have four d-men on it. Although the Predators do that. So do a couple other teams. You can get away with it if those four D-men are good. Maybe when Murphy is healthy again (for the limited time things stay that way), you can get away with Murphy, Keith, de Haan and Maatta killing penalties, I don’t want to think about it.

Ideally, your pairings by Thanksgiving will be:

Murphy-Keith

Maatta-Boqvist

de Haan-Gustafsson

That’s almost representative!

I would imagine Gustafsson will be traded at some point this season, just because he’s not earning a contract right now in free agency and if he eventually does, the Hawks can’t or won’t afford him. Maybe Seabrook will be too now, who knows?

Anyway, the now. Are there going to be shifts and whole games where Boqvist looks terrible? Absolutely. There are going to be shifts and games where he’s the best show in town. A lot of these are going to cross-over into the same game. But the Hawks need it.

The Hawks have made it clear the next three years are what matter here. Dach is here to stay. Boqvist is up. The movement to the next generation has started. Ride the snake.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Coyotes 1-4-0   Hawks 3-0-2

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

YOUNG GIRL THEY CALL THEM THE DESERT DOGS: Five For Howling

Well, tonight got a touch more interesting, didn’t it?

No point in waiting around. Tonight marks the return of one Corey Crawford to the Hawks crease, and he’s bringing all sorts of actual hope and expectation with him. While the start for the Hawks has been tremendous fun, it hasn’t carried any feeling of a sea change or entrenched positive vibes/hope. It’s just been kind of empty entertainment. But the return of Crawford makes all of that a real possibility. Don’t fool yourself, he is that good and he is that important.

That’s if he’s full-strength, and the worry or skepticism of that is basically in a blinking-sign-over-the-Kennedy stage. At camp it was suggested he might need a game or two in Winnebago County to knock off some ring rust. That has been scrapped, either by how good he’s looked in practice or by need or by both. We still don’t know that a stiff breeze or any kind of contact isn’t going to put him back on the shelf, and if he goes back on the shelf there’s a real worry that it might be for good. And of course, it’s been 10 months since he’s played, so even if he’s sharp and even if he’s completely clear of his brain injury problems, there has to be some feel to be gained back. He’s not going to be Crow just yet, unless it’s by some miracle or he’s Wolverine.

There’s also the question of how Crow is being handled. There’s been an odd and uncomfortable back and forth between he and the team for months now. I want to say that since camp opened they’ve let Crow call the shots here, but just yesterday you had Quenneville saying, “We’ll see how he feels in the morning but we expect him to play.” Is that because Crow expects that or because they do and he’s going along with it? With the Hawks it’s hard to know. You don’t want to feel like the team is pushing him back at a slightly faster pace than he would like, but you can’t say for sure they aren’t either.

On the other side, and this has only ever been a theory of mine, but with this type of injury and recovery I wonder if you don’t know if you’re 100% until you get out there. Like, he’s been dealing with stuff for so long that marked improvement could be mistaken for total improvement, just because it’s better than where you’ve been. Again, Crow and the Hawks might not know until he gets out there and tries. That’s what happened with Jonathan Toews many years ago when he was dealing with this. He came back for the playoffs, he thought he was fine, and then admitted later he didn’t really feel all the way back until the summer. We’ll all find out together.

It may seem like a soft-landing for Crow to debut against the Coyotes, but looks can be deceiving. Yes, the Yotes only have one win. Yes, they haven’t scored an even-strength goal yet. But it’s not the process’s fault. Arizona has simply crushed the opponent in every game, possession-wise. In every game they’ve carried at least a 54% Corsi-percentage. Their expected-goal percentage over five games is 52.3%. But like a night with far too much whiskey, they can’t finish. Like, at all. They have three goals in five games, two on the power play and one short-handed.

At some point though, all that possession and chance-generation is going to count. This isn’t a team completely bereft of scoring touch, though the injury absences of Alex Galchenyuk (The American With The Russian Name Who Used To Be a Canadien) and Christian Dvorak aren’t helping. Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome are where you’d look first. Derek Stepan is starting to get up there and was never what he was billed as but he’s far from helpless. Michael Grabner has gotten very rich off scoring 25 goals that no one can remember. It’s hardly a murderer’s row, but again, they’re doing most things right.

And they should get goaltending. Antti Raanta has had a slowish start to the season, but has been marvelous the past two seasons when healthy. There were even some stumping him as a dark-horse, boxcars-paying Vezina candidate. Might want to pump the brakes on that, but he will improve from his current. .903 SV%.

The defense has been good too, as the Yotes have only surrendered 11 goals in five games. Jakob Chychrun is out injured, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jason Demers, our lost son Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Kevin Connauton make for a competent at worst unit.

As for the Hawks, aside from the Crawford apparition the lineup stays the same. They only threatened Brandon Saad with a scratch, but he stays in. If he is a ghost tonight, then he might be staring at the pressbox for one or both of the games this weekend. So don’t do that. Everything else is as is.

Perhaps this is the beginning of something real. Perhaps it’s just a false dawn. But it’s definitely more lively than a normal tilt against Arizona in October would have been.

 

Game #6 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

I’ve seen people in some circles complain that we had to wait nearly a full month into the Stanley Cup Playoffs to get a Game 7. None in the first round and all that. Me? I love it.

Game 7s should be the thing you never want to get to. The “Please Don’t Make Us Do This” level. The absolute last resort. The “We’ve tried everything else and now this is the only way we can reach a conclusion. This is our only path to catharsis.” They should only happen a couple times per spring, to keep them special.

Because if you get a spring full of them… most of them turn out to be pretty disappointing. Rarely do you get November 2nd in Cleveland (and I still would have happily taken an easy, 6-3 Cubs win and been just as happy thank you very much) or Seabrook’s shot tipping off Kronwall’s stick and over Jimmy Howard or… well, we won’t mention that other Game 7 at home.