Hockey

Time again for the good, the bad, and the surprisingly acceptable in the world of the Hawks.

The Dizzying Highs

Dylan Strome: This guy gets demoted to the fourth line and comes back and scores two goals against the Kings after that humiliation. And he had an assist. Alex DeBrincat could be here as well but we’re giving the nod to Strome—it may only be one bounce-back game but he earned this.

Robin Lehner: He’s been getting hosed by by his teammates and should have a much better record, but despite the frustrations of terrible defending in front of him, Lehner has been solid. He came into Sunday’s game against the Kings with a .922 SV%/2.44 GAA and proceeded to finish that game with a .974 SV%. I still say there’s no real goalie controversy here and Crawford isn’t at full-on backup duties (yet), but Lehner could play himself into a more clearly defined starter role, or at least make the contract decision coming later this season a lot easier on the front office. All of that is well in the future, and for now let’s just be happy he’s playing so well and giving the team a more-than-reasonable chance to win every time he’s in net.

The Terrifying Lows

The Power Play: In the midst of all the disappointment last year, people kept saying well, at least the power play is better. So much for that, at least thus far. The Hawks’ power play is currently ranked 26th at a miserable 10.3% and hasn’t notched a goal since Top Cat’s against the Blue Jackets on 10/18. All the credit Colliton got for turning around last year needs to be held up against the current results before anyone decides if he’s worth much of anything. For example, his inexplicable decision to play Nylander over Strome (and don’t think I’m just bad-mouthing Nylander here, keep reading) made no sense, because as Sunday’s game showed, playing Strome and DeBrincat together can result in goals! Strome isn’t going to solve all the power play’s issues, let’s be clear, but it’s just another symptom of a coach who appears to not know what he’s doing and a team that struggles to finish.

Brent Seabrook: OK, I’m seriously not trying to pile on here or be a dick about it. For this article I have to objectively look at the team and describe who and what are demonstrably bad, and it would be kind of disingenuous to ignore how bad ‘ole Nachos has been. He finally got benched for the Kings game, which means it was so bad that Coach Cool Youth Pastor had to locate his balls and tell Seabrook to grab a seat in the press box. And we know he’s been loathe to do that. But the decline we all knew was happening has only worsened, like we all knew it would. He’s got the lowest possession numbers at evens of any Hawks defenseman (44 CF%), his xGA is 5.6 (not the worst on the team but certainly not good), the team gives up way more high-danger chances than they get when he’s out there (HDCF% is 41 and HDGF% is even worse)…I can keep going with these numbers but why? We all know what we’re seeing.

The Creamy Middles

Alex Nylander: I have no desire to adjudicate between Sam and Fifth Feather and their bet over the Nylander-Jokiharju trade being a good thing, so know that I’m just reporting what I see here. And, for the record I’m still not convinced the Hawks will come out ahead on this one, but Nylander HAS been playing decently lately. He had an assist while falling down against the Kings, which was as entertaining as it was effective. His possession numbers have been well above water (65 CF% on Saturday, 52.6 CF% on Sunday, all at evens). He’s even had some decent defensive plays, and those are pretty damn hard to come by these days. So here’s to you, Alex Nylander, for not being as awful as I feared.

Everything Else

Tonight was a goalie win and this is why I love Corey Crawford. There were some other bright spots but the Hawks yet again gave up a ridiculous number of shots and Crow pulled not just his usual headstand in Montreal but a season-high and even a career-high in saves. Let’s get to the bullets!

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

– Crawford definitely recovered from his illness the other day, and he’s the reason the Hawks won this game. He stopped 48 shots tonight, and his saves ranged from the flashy highlight reel ones to workaday solid positioning. His rebound control was excellent. And while the Hawks defense was relatively decent through two periods and the start of the third (including a key penalty kill), by the second half of the third they crumbled and basically tried to do a performance art interpretation of their Wednesday night debacle. Even before that, Crawford repeatedly kept them in the game when they were scoreless or then clinging to a one-goal lead. Overall the number of shots he faced was absurd and a return to the bad old days like what  we saw the other night, after a few games of the Hawks giving up under 30 SOG which apparently was a lucky fluke. After the injuries and all the bullshit (and literal shits), Crawford is still god.

– The lines got shuffled at the end, but for the majority of the game the top line of Saad-Toews-Sikura was dominant. Together these three had a 65 CF%, and between them nine shots. Sikura continued to not score…and it’s becoming laughable and sad at the same time. He was excellent tonight overall, with four shots including one goalpost that missed by maybe a couple millimeters, and a give-and-go with Perlini at the end of the third where Perlini was trying SO HARD to get him the puck and passed it into Sikura’s skates instead of putting it on his stick. The kid had a 58 CF% on the night and was all over the ice. Either he’ll score 10 goals in one game, or he will never score one ever in his life (with the Hawks at least).

– Also impressive from the top line was Brandon Saad. Right at the start he had some nice takeaways and also straight-up burned Shea Weber, which is always enjoyable. He wasn’t as noticeable offensively after the first period but he was fast and smart with the puck all night. Jonathan Toews, on the other hand, must have run over the ref’s dog or banged his daughter or something because he got called for two bullshit penalties. Toews was fine for the most part but definitely not happy with the officiating. It was the second silly call that led to the penalty kill right at the start of the third, which luckily they got through, and then Perlini scored and they got some breathing room.

– On that note, Perlini scored again, so thumbs up to him hitting a hot streak at exactly the right time. And in the most festive aspect of the game on this St. Patrick’s Day weekend, our Large Irish Son scored the first goal! Connor Murphy played really well the entire night so it’s fitting that he got the go-ahead goal. Now, he and Slater Koekkoek didn’t exactly light up the possession numbers (a wretched 33 CF% for the pair and Murphy individually was no better). But in yet another case of the eye test and the numbers not matching up, Murphy’s positioning around the net was great and he had multiple clears that at least helped Crawford, which is more than can be said for some of the other jamokes. The possession leader on the defense tonight was Nachos with a whopping 45 CF%, so don’t let Murphy’s numbers fool you. He was good tonight.

– The power play has continued to go cold, which in a way is a course correction? Maybe? If I say it like that will I stop worrying so much? After being so terrible for so long and then so unstoppable for a stretch I guess it stands to reason that it would cool off a little. But I won’t lie—it would be encouraging if they could at least get one goal on the man advantage if they’re going to cosplay that they’re a playoff team. Did you know it’s been since the Anaheim game on February 27th that they got a power play goal? If you did, I’m sorry. If you didn’t, I’m even sorrier.

Two points are two points and they need every single one right now. Also lol Montreal, it’s great when we’re not the only ones who fuck it up when it matters. If the Hawks are really going to steal the last wild card they have to keep this going on Monday. Can they? At this point it’s anyone’s guess who shows up, but at least we know what Crawford is still capable of. Onward and upward…

 

Everything Else

Boxscore

Event Summary

War On Ice

Natural Stat Trick

In an opening week that has seen the Kings get absolutely rolled by the Sharks, Coyotes, and Canucks and see the Sharks roll through DC, it’s best to not make too much of  a 2-2 start. Throw in the fact that the last time the Hawks won a regular season game in Philadelphia, the Chili Peppers were on tour supporting One Hot Minute and Dave Navarro was the guitarist. Fuck, Dave Navarro was doing anything! It’s a testament to generally how focused the Hawks are to starting their season well that these sort of clunkers are a rarity in the season’s opening throes. But that’s what it was tonight for sure, where the Hawks were pretty much in “Eh, you fucking do it,” mode for the first two periods and found Michael Neuvirth up to their 3rd period rally. Obviously wouldn’t be complete if the Hawks didn’t fuck their own face on a 3rd period power play that could have gotten them back into the game. So let’s get to it all: