Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 4-6-3  Sharks 4-10-1

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE BUBBLE BURST: Just follow @ItWasThreeZero, but it’s a little blue

I bet you didn’t think that a month into the season, we’d be sitting here with the Hawks with more points than the Sharks. And yet, that’s where we are. It has all gone pear-shaped on the Teal, while this is pretty much what the Hawks are. Is this what the Sharks are? They’d better hope not, because they have a lot of money committed to not be.

There isn’t one clear reason that the Sharks are currently using circles of paper. They tried to solve their goaltending issues from last year, which were some of the worst on recent record, by simply hoping that Martin Jones would become what he had been the previous three years through simply kindness from the gods. That has not happened, as he and Aaron Dell have been just about as bad as they were last year. But this time around, that’s not the only problem.

While the Sharks are one of the better teams in the league in the amount of attempts they give up, they’re one of the worst in the types of chances they give up. Quite frankly, their defense is Cottonnelle-esque. You might not be down in their end all that much but when you are you can get to the prime areas easily and fire away.

On top of that, the Sharks just aren’t generating nearly as much as they were, both in terms of attempts and chances. Erik Karlsson isn’t the engine he was, either through age or injury or still trying to find him the right partner. And the Sharks’ depth has eroded. It wasn’t just the departure of Pavelski. Valuable seat-fillers like Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist also made for the exits, and the kids that have come into replace them just haven’t lived up yet. They’ve needed more from the likes of Marcus Sorensen and Melker Karlsson and they haven’t got it.

That doesn’t mean their vets are off the hook. Logan Couture has been woeful, Joe Thornton can only do so much, and their half-court shot of bringing Patrick Marleau back has only revealed that he might not have a pulse. If Evander Kane and Kevin LeBanc weren’t scoring, they’d probably already be done. On the back end, they’ve missed Justin Braun, which is probably akin to missing Connor Murphy. Good player, adds to your team, shouldn’t pivot around him. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic is doing a fine Seabrook impression these days and is on the third-pairing.

What they can do about it is questionable. They obviously need a goalie if they’re going to make anything of this season, but by the time they can identify one they can have they might already be toast. They’re all the way capped out, so how they’d cram in a veteran goalie and/or a forward or two is a mystery. They’d have to get Martin Jones off the roster as a starter, but the line of teams willing to pick up a goalie who now resides in a bucket and has to be put there via damp sponge isn’t all that long. They don’t have much else to shift.

This is a team built for now, and the now is passing them by. Look for a big move, even beyond firing coach Pete DeBoer, if this continues much longer.

To the Hawks. They were mostly ok against the Ducks, so you can probably look for the same lineup aside from Crawford swapping in for Lehner, The former had his first really good game against the Kings, and even still that saw him give up four goals. The Hawks will need to get both goalies going at top speed if they’re going to make a run, or just turn to Lehner full-time which is another headache they don’t need.

The Sharks are one of the few teams that can’t leave severe windburn on the Hawks. They used to be able to dominate them by just having the puck all the time, but they aren’t doing that either right now. Both teams let you get wherever you want in their defensive zone, so this one will have chances and likely goals. The only known threat from the Sharks right now is the Hertl-Kane axis, so if Jeremy Colliton wants to get cute he can keep changing on the fly to get Kampf out there against them. But that might be a bit adventurous for the first week in November.

It might not have been pretty, but if the Hawks can get this one that’s five points on this trip which is one below the max. And that would be good, even if a total mirage given the method. They need anything they can build on right now. And right now, the Sharks are a very fragile team that you can fill with head-goblins early in the game. Then again, the Sharks probably think the Hawks are the slump-buster they need. Catch the fever.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 3-6-2   Kings 4-9-0

PUCK DROP: 9:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BLEW INTO TOWN ABOUT AN HOUR AGO: Jewel From The Crown

We’ve remarked on it the past couple years when these two met, but it’s hard to believe that in just over four seasons, these two went from playing possibly the best and highest-paced seven-game series in recent NHL history to a game the rest of the league laughs at and scalpers take the night off. These have been two of the worst teams in the West, two of the worst in hockey, and they’ll get together tonight to do…something at Staples Center. The league is probably delighted this will take place in the dead of night and in the weird shadows where no one might just happen by it.

First the Hawks, who will at least be having a New Toy Night. Adam Boqvist will make his NHL debut, and the Kings are about as soft of a landing as you could ask for one. Many have remarked that there’s at least least an air of desperation about his promotion, if not a full-blown air-raid siren. And there is. But the thing is, the Hawks have to be desperate. Were they two whiff this road trip, the season might be over before Veteran’s Day. And while there might be one or two other d-men in Rockford who can provide more mobility (then again, any glass blower regularly makes products that would) and skill to the Hawks’ blue line, none of them have anywhere near the upside that Boqvist does. None are going to give you anything more than a third-pairing boost. If all the stars were to align for Boqvist, he can be so much more.

He could also be so much less. We don’t know, they don’t know, but the Hawks have played themselves into Hail Mary territory. That doesn’t mean that Jeremy Colliton can’t throw one in the wrong direction or take a sack, which he seems intent on doing with his lineup from practice yesterday. Keith is hardly a babysitter type, and asking him to clean up Boqvist’s messes won’t go well, and it’ll go worse if it has to go the other way. He has two, left-sided d-men who are perfect free safeties for a player like Boqvist in de Haan and Maatta, and has decided to pass on that for what’s behind Door #Stupid.

It gets better, as Patrick Kane is now a third line player and we’ve of course never seen him turn his nose up at such an assignment, and rightly so. The thing is this set-up isn’t too far from being pretty good, if Dach and Shaw were slotted up with Kane and Kubalik-Kampf-Caggiula can be a hybrid 4th line/checking line. We might get all that by the 2nd period.

Anyway, Brent Seabrook is back, and you can probably expect him to be until Connor Murphy returns. What that pairing with him and de Haan is supposed to do besides be an informercial for windburn balm…well, you figure it out.

Luckily for the Hawks, they’ll be playing as big of a mess as they are, if not bigger. Coach Todd McLellan called out his team after they got clubbed by the Hawks last weekend, and they responded by giving up 49 shots to the Canucks and their four players. So yeah, not great. They’ve also had a reshuffle, and McLellan tried to put everyone on notice by scratching deadline fodder Tyler Toffoli. He’s back, probably reminded he’s trying to cash in a big check next summer. Which will make his reaction to Ilya Kovalchuk‘s blank expression and koala-like effort something worth watching.

Despite their shit record, the Kings have actually pushed the play pretty ok this year, as McLellan teams do. They haven’t gotten a save from either Quick or Campbell all season, which has undone whatever good work they’ve produced. And considering the hair ball the Hawks just coughed up and how they’re being aligned tonight, don’t be surprised if the Hawks lose this possession battle. And badly. And if they don’t get some saves from Crawford that they did get from Lehner the past two games… well, you can probably start the foreboding organ music.

Saturday night’s all right for fighting…is it all right for whatever this is?

Everything Else

I mean, take your pick. The hockey hasn’t been terribly enjoyable, there’s yet to be a good game, both fanbases would do the world a favor by leaping into Sarlacc, no matter who wins we’re all going to be sick, and add to that the narratives or stories around these teams are so stupid and wrong. The feeling of relief when this is over will be akin to  the stiff shit that takes five minutes to get out. A metaphor more apt than we should take too much time to consider.

With Zdeno Chara unlikely to make the bell tonight (and I’m still convinced it doesn’t matter much other than numbers), you can be sure Blues fans are going to be pumping that their HEAVY style is the reason the Blues are where they are and very well may pull this off. It’s been what they’ve been pushing for…oh, 25 years now? 30? Their entire existence? I’m not sure, but the Blues have always had to define themselves by how much they make their stained-jersey wearing fans snort and belch and cheer itchy trigger-fingered cops. Never mind this team is actually built on its speed and newfound finish and creativity, because that doesn’t fit into how St. Louis has to portray itself and the hockey media is all too happy to go along with because it’s either too lazy or too drunk to do much else.

And to be fair, it’s the same for the Bruins, who got here thanks to sublime goaltending and having the best line in hockey, along with a very mobile defense that the Leafs, or Jackets, or Canes simply couldn’t catch enough or force into mistakes because they always find space.

So let’s review, because it’s going to come up during the broadcast the next two or three nights. Here is the list of “victims” for the Blues and their supposed torturous style:

Erik Karlsson – carried a groin injury since February that caused him to miss 26 games that got worse, wouldn’t you know, by playing every other day in the most intense form of the game for a month straight.

Tomas Hertl – Illegal hit to the head

Matt Grzelcyk – Illegal hit from behind

Zdeno Chara – puck to the face

So yeah, the Blues GRITHEARTSANDPAPERFAAAAART had exactly zero to do with any of this, unless we’re counting illegal and dirty hits as an actual tactic now. Which they very well may be in St. Louis. I suppose the real fear is with Tom Wilson getting a ring last year, teams are just going to sanction whatever nutters they have on their team to make a couple runs at someone per series, and they’ll deal with the consequences as long as the other team’s defenseman misses time. After all, you have more forwards than they have d-men. And before you shrug that off as an impossibility, remember this is hockey and anything can happen, and the dumber it is the more likely it is to.

Physicality is part of playoff hockey, no one denies this. Sorry, let me get that right, NO ONE DENIES THIS! But seeing as how everyone is trying to be physical and shrink time to make plays and cause turnovers and mistakes and get the puck back deep in the offensive zone with everyone out of position, it’s not really a “strategy.” The defining part is how you cash in when you get those turnovers, or how you set your team up to avoid them. The forecheck and physical play is a given. It’s like saying in football that having five offensive lineman who will definitely try to block people is a strategy (unless this is the Cutler-era Bears, who definitely didn’t have that nor try to do that).

The attrition of playoff hockey has always struck me awkwardly (then again, what doesn’t? I’m gawkier than the ace of spades!). I know the length and “Wreck Of The Hesperus” nature of it makes it a true test, and what a lot of people love. Which is fine. Still, if the playoffs are all that matter, and we’re using this to decide who the best teams are (which it doesn’t always but whatever not the point), it would be a truer test if these teams were closer to full-strength. Depth is certainly part of the hockey equation, no doubt. But I don’t know that having these things settled by third liners and eighth defensemen is the best showcase of the sport. And we have 82 games to test depth as well, including when top players simply go through slumps.

There is no answer of course other than shortening the season (I can’t stress my 76-game schedule when Seattle arrives enough, knowing it will never, ever happen), which is a nonstarter. So we’ll just have to live with this, as wrong and misguided as it may be.

 

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 20-24-9   Oilers 23-24-5

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: WGN

EdMo Dee: Oilers Nation

The Hawks conclude this post-break, three-game road trip in the NHL’s “Beyond The Wall,” the hellscape that is Edmonton, Alberta (I assume). And when I say hellscape, I really mean the team that you’ll find there. Though a city that cold can’t have that much going on, no matter how much oil money flows or freezes in the streets. I’m sure the Hawks will thank the schedule makers for a five-day trip that spans three timezones and a collective temperature of “go fuck yourself.”

You may have heard about the Oilers, Biggest laughingstock in the league, despite having two more points than the Hawks. If the Hawks were to win tonight most Oilers fans would take being level on points with them as rock-bottom, just to give you a clear vision of what the Hawks are right now. Have the best player in the league as well, these Oilers. Can’t seem to make that count. Recently fired their addled GM two years too late. Now everyone is waiting with giddy excitement to see what drunken, near-sighted clown they hire next. He’ll almost assuredly have played on the Oilers in the 80s, because the one time they tried not to do that they ended up with Peter Chiarelli and his bent vision of reality, which basically involved whatever signing caused him to grab his groin aggressively. So clearly they have to go back to what didn’t work before. God bless this organization.

On the ice, the Oilers have center-depth and literally nothing else. Run CMD, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are by far their three leading scorers, and at various times this season have played with each other. Now they’re all back at their natural center positions, but when you look at what surrounds them it’s enough to make your food turn septic in your digestive track.

Milan Lucic is “skating” with McDavid, except you can’t call what Lucic does skating anymore so much as “thrashing about as the air currents push him ever so slightly.” Alex Chiasson is a second-line winger. Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian are somehow on a NHL third-line together instead of loading up on Skittles at a truck-stop somewhere during an AHL bus ride. “Putrid” doesn’t even come close to starting to describe this, and now you know why they are where they are. They’ve broken Jesse Puljujarvi, if he was anything to begin with, and he’s skating with Kyle Brodziak and Brad Malone in a chilling vision of what the future as a tomato can will look like.

It’s not any better on the back end. This is a team that traded FOR Brandon Manning, remember. And he plays. Adam Larsson is parading around the top pairing with a Kings castoff. Darnell Nurse will occasionally flash the modern-Pronger bit we thought he was destined for, and then remembers he’s spent almost all of his career with Kris Russell and retreats into sadness done in blue and orange again. Andrej Sekera wanders the arena looking for whatever fell off of him this week. It’s bleak.

And when the Oilers have threatened to be good in the past, it was because Cam And Magic Talbot could bail them out. He hasn’t this year, and this is where they are. They’re trusting Mikko Koskinen, a 30-year-old whose flights got crossed up and ended up signing here from the KHL rather than try and figure out how to rebook. In Chiarelli’s final act of lunacy, he re-signed Koskinen for three years to kind of just stand there, which is what he does. But his .908 is better than Talbot’s .893.

The Oilers tried to salvage this by hiring Ken Hitchcock midseason, because his track record of success is so blaring over the past 12 years. They’ve gone 14-14-4 with Hitch, a massive improvement over the 9-10-1 they managed with Todd McLellan. You know it’s bad when Hitch is longing for Jay Bouwmeester and Alex OrangeJello again. He gave up his Civil War reading for this?

This is maybe the biggest mess in the league, and whatever stooge they install as GM is going to find it nearly impossible to extricate. There’s barely any money coming off the books in the summer, really only Talbot’s $4M+ hit. And this team has no wingers. Lucic is in Seabrook territory at this point, and Kris Russell isn’t far behind. That is if the Oilers were inclined to move Russell, but they still seem oddly infatuated with him, mostly to sneer at most of the hockey world pointing out he sucks.

And really, that’s all the Oilers have been for nearly three decades now. Most of the hockey world has been pointing out they suck since 1991, and they still point and gloat about five Cups won before most of you could form a sentence. They’re convinced that run that started 35 years ago still makes them ahead of the game and won’t hear otherwise. This organization has accomplished exactly dick since their glory days, save one goofed Final appearance the first year of the lockout when nothing made sense and is something Chris Pronger clearly erased from his memory (the Blues traded him for Eric Brewer, by the way. Take a moment to think about that).

Anyway, tonight’s challenge is simple enough. Hitch will throw McDavid out against Keith and Seabrook as often as he can, unless he still thinks it’s 2013, and he might. Failing that, Forsling and Gustafsson will be similarly tortured. If the Hawks can somehow keep McJesus on a leash, they should have a good chance at this one. The Oilers recently gave up four power play goals in a game, so the Hawks’ PP should barely be able to keep from slobbering when they get their chance.

As for the Hawks, no word yet on who starts but one would hope Delia gets wheeled back out there. Ward’s had two decent starts in a row though and we know Coach Cool Youth Pastor will shit himself if he has to tell any veteran other than Chris Kunitz anything bad, so you never know. Perlini should stay in ahead of Kunitz, but that’s about it.

As we said at the weekend, the schedule is pretty shitty now, so if the Hawks are insistent on chasing playoff spots that don’t really matter, this is where they’ll make their run. With the Canucks and Wings at home next, they could actually put together a substantial winning streak. Then again, this is just about the same outfit that got worked by the Wings at home last year. The Hawks have lost to the Oilers twice already this season, but hey, they’re both under .500 so maybe they’re not good enough to beat anyone three times.

We’re in this together.

 

Game #54 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built