Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 21-20-6   Canadiens 20-20-7

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

GREAT BAGELS THERE: Habs Eyes On The Prize

Hey did you hear the Hawks took a train from Ottawa to Montreal? Crazy, right? I mean, who does that? A train from city center to city center without dealing with an airport that neither town has near downtown? Other than like, every East Coast team between DC and Boston? Who ever heard of such a thing? Geniuses, these Hawks.

Anyway, now that everyone apparently has survived this galaxy-brained tactic of taking, y’know, a train between two cities, the Hawks will use that advantage to take on their mirror image in a lot of ways in the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are also an O6 franchise that can’t seem to get its dick out of a knot, are staring down their third-straight playoff-less season, and don’t seem to have any particular direction. Fuck, they even employ former Hawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin, who has done pretty much nothing since getting there 48 years ago or so it feels. But hey, he speaks French and everyone says he was a funny guy back in the day, so here he still is, serving up tepid stew as a hockey team once again.

The difference is that the Canadiens actually do things well with no stars to make it count, where the Hawks don’t really do anything well amongst their skaters but their stars barely keep them relevant. Metrically, the Canadiens are one of the best teams around, as Claude Julien teams tend to be. If you go by Corsi-percentage, or expected goals percentage, or just attempts per game for and against, or expected goals for and against per game, you’ll find the Habs top-10 in all of them. They keep the puck and they create the better chances more often.

What they can’t do is finish them. Les Habitants are bottom-1o in SH% at even-strength. Combine that with the fact they’re only getting middling goaltending from Carey Price this year, and they just can’t seem to turn these numbers into wins. Even a rise in SH% from their current 7.4% to just 8.0% would see eight more goals for them at evens, which can be six or more points in the standings. That would have them right on the wildcard hunt and breathing down the necks of Buds All Day for the last automatic spot in the Atlantic. You can’t miss the bear, people.

The Habs are also pretty damn fast, even without Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher as they’re currently injured. This is a team that can feature Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on its third line at times. It just doesn’t have what you’d call front-line scoring. That’s why Ilya Kovalchuk is now here, hilariously. Tomas Tatar is on the top line. Phillip Danault is awesome and has a serious case for the Selke this year, but he’s also not a top line center as the Canadiens have to use him. The hope would be that Nick Suzuki becomes that one day, but that’s a hell of a stretch.

You used to think of Montreal as having a plodding defense behind these gnat forwards, but that’s not as much the case anymore. Ben Chiarot is at least an upgrade on Karl Alzner, and Cale Fleury and Victor Mete (which you have to pronounce as Jonah Jameson even if you have to mispronounce “MEH-te” as “MEAT”) on the third pairing certainly upgrade the mobility scales. Weber and Chariot have been great together, and Jeff Petry always makes it work despite being 198 years old (somehow he’s only listed as 32 but I’m sure that’s a lie).

Price is only sporting a .908 this year, but the Habs have yet to locate a suitable backup for him so he’s playing too much and not all that well. If they were getting Price of four years ago, they’re almost certainly a playoff team. But they’re not, which leaves them seven points adrift and having four teams to leap to get there. Sound familiar? It’s like looking in a mirror…only…not.

For the Hawks, the only change we should see is Corey Crawford starting in his hometown again, where he’s generally been brilliant. Crow carries a lifetime .954 against Montreal anywhere, and his last five appearances in the Bell Centre have seen him give up four goals total. Clearly he likes it there.

The Hawks will be up against it on the back end of a back-to-back here, given how fast the Canadiens can play. A good time to remind everyone that though they won their last trip there in March, they also gave up 48 shots to do it and Crow got them all. Best not to repeat that. A track meet wouldn’t suit the Hawks here, though they could end up finishing more chances than the Habs do even if they give up more. Play this one a little more simple.

It’s a busy end to the pre-bye schedule, as the Hawks will close with three-in-four after this, making a total of five games in eight days in four cities. And they need most of the points on offer if not all of them. This is what happens when you back yourself into corners like this. Allez.

 

Hockey

Drew Doughty – It won’t be long now before this turns into the worst contract in the league. Doughty is already on the decline and no longer carries the play the way he used to, nor does he really much care to, and he’ll make $11M until the planet collapses in on itself. For some reason, the Canadian media is desperate to turn his “rivalry” with whatever garbage Tkachuk boy it is up in Calgary into Hagler-Hearns. But these are two players the hockey world has already declared they don’t care much about on two teams they definitely don’t care about, as one is just an entitled rich kid who’ll manage the same empty trophy case his pappy did and the other is a rapist. Doughty might even get to Seabrook-sized soon. At least you’ll have someone to laugh at.

Kyle Clifford – Perhaps no better example of how the Kings learned all the wrong lessons from their last Cup. Clifford has always been a fourth-liner who should have been discarded for a younger model years ago. But because the Kings still believe their stinky breath was the reason they won, he’s been given something of a cult hero status even though he’s slow and his hands are made of gravel. He’s if Andrew Shaw was carrying around a 50 lb weight belt and had his hands cut off.

Ilya Kovalchuk – Man he’s good at cashing a check, though.

Everything Else

Jesse Cohen runs the “All The Kings Men” podcast, and you can follow him @KingsMenPodcast.

Much like the Hawks, how do the Kings rebuild with this much bad money around? They can’t buy out everyone, and they can’t trade most of it either. 

I’m not sure there’s much the Kings can do but hope the contracts aren’t as bad as they seem. I don’t think there’s going to be a ton of interest in most of the players deemed to have “bad” contracts. Dustin Brown was considered one of the worst contracts for a few seasons but rebounded nicely.
Let’s say they have….   9 “bad” contracts? (oh god it hurt to write that): Kopitar, Brown, Kovalchuk, Carter, Toffoli, Doughty, Martinez, Phaneuf, Quick
I could see a scenario where they buy out one (Phaneuf), trade 1 or 2 (Quick/Kovalchuk), get moderate on ice value for three (Kopitar/Doughty/Brown…   don’t fight me on this one), get reasonable on ice value for 2 (Toffoli/Martinez).
BUT it’s a lot of “ifs”

Is there anyone under 30 on this roster worth caring about?

Under 30? Like presently in a Kings uniform? I think Carl Grundstrom has some interesting potential as a second liner? There are some decent role players but anybody like an Elias Petterson? No.

Are we far away from Jonathan Quick ceding the starter’s role to Jack Campbell or someone else?

The Quick issue comes down to other teams interest. If someone out there is willing to pay what the Kings want my guess is they’ll have no problem turning the net over to Cal Petersen if there aren’t any takers then I think we’re all Ride or Die for Jonathan Quick

Would Jack Hughes solve all the problems here?

Jack Hughes MIGHT solve ONE problem. Whoever they draft in the first round is for the future not the present.  Whether or not that would go any distance towards solving other problems… well… I kinda doubt it but I’m a pessimist.
*Smash cut to Jack Hughes lifting the Stanley Cup in LA next year as I am proven an idiot once more.*

 

 

Game #78 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Kings 5-11-1   Hawks 7-8-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

NO MORE CALIFORNIA SONGS: Jewels From The Crown

It’s ok if you mourn the end of the Hawks Era. It can be a tough watch at times, especially when the memories of what a fine, oiled machine it was still so fresh. No team ever exits the spotlight gracefully, or at least it’s pretty damn rare. The fall is always painful. Especially in the callous world of the salary capped NHL, the tumble comes quick and the tide always wins. Maybe it was an impossible task set ahead of the Hawks, even without the mistakes they’ve made.

Then again, they could be the Kings.

It’s an interesting record. Since the Hawks last Cup win, they have three playoff wins. The Kings have one in the four seasons since their last win. They’ve missed the playoffs twice. And whereas the Hawks have tried to dance around their rebuild or collapse, the Kings have fallen face-first into theirs this year. Those days of Kobe and Kershaw wearing Kings’ jerseys are over, because this is a mess only identifiable by dental records. And given that it’s a hockey team, even that’s dicey.

They may provide a lesson in what happens when you cling too tightly to things that have past. The Kings for too long still tried to be a roving horde of barbarians that they thought won them two Cups, and watched as their team got slower and dumber while the league got faster and more skilled. Seriously, this outfit traded for Milan Lucic once. Firing the GM and coach is nice and all, but not if you’re not going to try anything new.

They also bought into fortune-stained results as reality far too much. Last year’s playoff berth was simply due to a magnificent Jonathan Quick season, which is not the norm or anything you should count on, and Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown shooting the lights out. No matter how much their fans bitched and whines that Kopitar should have been the MVP simply because no one stays up late enough to watch their dog-assed team, he was never likely to replicate that. And if he didn’t, he wasn’t taking Brown with him either. That’s what’s happened.

Jeff Carter is 33 now and looking it. Ilya Kovalchuk‘s style of impersonating waiting for a bus until a pass comes was never going to improve the team much, and it hasn’t. Beyond whatever this top-six is, and that’s clearly still very much a mystery, there’s simply nothing on the bottom-six. It’s more of the Kyle CliffordTrevor Lewis Axis Of Yuck that it’s seemingly been forever.

The real treat is at the back of course, where Drew Doughty got his money and seemingly doesn’t care anymore. He’s playing with something called Derek Forbort, not that it matters. Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin are starting to look like the remnants of that Big Mac you left on the coffee table at 3am last night and discovered this morning while guzzling gatorade. Dion Phaneuf is even more of a monolith than he was, which shouldn’t be possible but hey, L.A. is the land of fantasy and dreams!

Quick isn’t around to bail this out, which he’s only capable of once every four or five years. He’s out for a while. So is his backup Jack Campbell, which means they’ve brought Statler and Waldorf in to play goalie.

Robb Lake the GM seemingly has recognized all he’s built here is kindling (too soon?), and the sell-off might already be under way. This week he sent Tanner Pearson to Pittsburgh for Carl Hagelin, with Hagelin a free agent after the season. Whatever isn’t battened down should probably be sold at auction, so Muzzin, Martinez, Forbort, and Toffoli could and should be on notice. They’re the only ones whose contracts aren’t an atrocity.

For the Hawks, Marcus Kruger returns to the lineup after Brandon Davidson was informed that he’s hurt, replacing Dream Warrior on IR. SuckBag Johnson will sit. Alex Fortin remains out in favor of John Hayden. Sure. Corey Crawford will attempt to ride the momentum of Wednesday’s shutout, and against this decidedly broken squirt-gun of an offense you’d think that wouldn’t be too hard.

I don’t want to put too much on the Hawks, but there’s really no excuse to not get a regulation win tonight. The Kings are already getting the white flag out of the closet if not waving it already. They’re on their third-string goalie, maybe fourth. They’re slow and dumb, and the Hawks have done all right with the rare slow and dumb opponent you see in the NHL these days. As long as you don’t do anything too stupid, the Kings can’t really find a way to score enough to beat you. Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.

 

Game #20 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We really have to reach into the depths for our Kings Q&A. It’s best if you don’t know. Just know that he’s truly warped. 

Boy, your lot really sucks, huh?

Last Saturday, Sportsnet flashed a graphic that the five leading scorers on the Flames had more goals than the Kings have scored all season. In the two games since, the Kings have added one goal to their total of 34, which is also the season total of the quartet of Kane, DeBrincat, Toews, and Saad combined.

You mean Ilya Kovalchuk and his five goals weren’t the answer?

Where would this team be without its leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk? The answer is in exactly the same spot standings-wise, and possibly the same place points-wise, depending on how a theoretical Knifey Spoony against Lundqvist and three friends turned out. If you pretend the Kings have two additional Kovalchuks? Well, they would break the salary cap by over $12 million, but also finally pull into a tie for 30th in goals with Anaheim. The only unrealistic part of this scenario is imagining the Kings bringing in multiple players in one offseason.

Anze Kopitar has six points. What’s the deal there?

And only three of those six points were at evens, where his most common wingers are Alex Iafallo, and since his return from injury, Dustin Brown. Playing around with sortable categories on Natural Stat Trick, one notices that his current numbers are still above 50% (hovering around 52-53% for Corsi and Fenwick). However, they are mostly below either his rookie 2007-2008 season or his broken wrist 2016-2017 season. He’s 31 and it has become easier and easier to concentrate on just shutting his line down. But I bet if Eastern Conference writers stayed up to watch him play more often, he would have at least eight or nine points by now.

Does Rob Blake have any idea what he’s doing?

He knows exactly what he is doing: firing everyone under him before people realize this team is going nowhere. Was it really John Stevens’ fault after just 95 games?

What does the immediate future hold? What should it hold?

The immediate future holds rooting against any hot streaks that pull them ahead of other bottom-feeding teams, or convince upper management not to make more drastic changes. Everything with a pulse should be traded, but the team’s most liquid asset is Carl Hagelin, whose best case scenario is being flipped for a fifth-rounder to a team looking for #SPEED. Their youngest defenseman, Paul LaDue, is 26. Dion Phaneuf is still signed until 2021. The immediate future does not look great, even with a big lottery win, so maybe it is time to revert to planting drugs on albatross contracts.

 

Game #20 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

You’re getting a twofer today, as we look to get back on schedule. There’ll be another one somewhere this week. Am I gonna tell you when? Sure won’t!

Ah yes, the other fallen dynasty. The team that made missing the playoffs after being a Cup contender the year before a trendy thing to do. Those Los Angeleans, always setting the trends. The Kings returned to the playoffs last year, except no one knows why. They didn’t want to be there, played like they didn’t want to be there, and were home before anyone noticed anything was amiss by them being there. They got a revival season out of both Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar, which are the only reasons they did anything anyone might notice. And they’ll probably need both to do so again if they’re not going to drown in anonymity behind LeBron and of course, Jimmy Butler (in his own mind).

Let’s take a look at the silver and black, because we honestly might not talk about them ever again.

2017-2018: 45-29-8 98 points  239 GF 209 GA  50.0 CF% 48.0 xGF%  7.8 SH% .930 SV%

Goalies: See that last mark up there? That was fourth-best in the league, and the major reason the Kings were able to come in from the cold, come down from the wire and make the playoffs. Quick had his best season in five last year, with a .921 SV% overall and a .926 at evens. He was certainly helped by a nuclear October where he went for a .942, but he backed that up in February and March with a .928 and .926.

The problem for the Kings is that all of his marks last year were above his career norms, which despite what crusty old white guys tell you have always been just about average. Quick won the Kings the Cup in ’12, this much is so. He was along for the ride in ’14. And he’s been along for the ride most of his career. In a season where he’ll turn 33, it’s probably ok to expect him to return to his career norms, which are just about league-average. And that won’t get it done for this squad.

Looking to back him up is Jack Campbell. You may remember him from such films as “Once Was A US World Junior Goalie” or “Was Gonna Save The Stars Five Years Ago.” It never happened for Campbell, and this could be his first dip into full-time NHL waters. The Kings don’t really have much of a net if Quick either gets hurt or is just some guy. Some guy named Quick.

Defense: After the Leafs threw all the money at John Tavares, there really wasn’t much of anywhere Drew Doughty could threaten to go if the Kings didn’t sign him. So they signed him until he finally goes to prison hopefully, for $11 million a year. Doughty is just about still one of the league’s premier puck-movers, and had his best year points-wise and possession-wise last year. He’s going to have to do it again. Because the rest of this blue line is covered in ants.

Jake Muzzin has always been a product of whatever Doughty could do, which somehow got him a Team Canada spot once upon a time. Alec Martinez is losing his fastball, and spent most of last season getting his head caved in. I don’t know what an Oscar Fantenberg is, but I do know that I don’t have to know what an Oscar Fantenberg is. Do we really need to go over Dion Phaneuf again? If you insist…he’s awful and terrible and slow and bad and stupid and ugly and expensive and slow and bad and did I say stupid already? Yeah, sucks. This team needs to put Kale Clague and his dumb name on the second pairing yesterday, but won’t because the Kings are SO TOUGH AND GRINDY AND YOU EARN IT HERE LOOK AT HOW BIG WE ARE WE EAT STAPLERS HARF HARF HARF.

Forwards: As you probably can guess, I cannot wait for this Ilya Kovalchuk hail mary to go balls-up by January 1st. He’s 35, hasn’t played in this league in years which in the meantime got a whole lot faster and I’m fairly sure he’s here to soak up the sun and cash a check. This is the hockey version of Michael Anthony. Oh sure, he’ll probably still score 30 goals, maybe even more, maybe even a lot more. A majority of them will come when the Kings are already trailing 3-0 late in the 3rd. It’s gonna be fucking special.

Anyway, Kopitar still rips. Jeff Carter does too, when he’s healthy, Which he never is and now he’s gonna turn 34 during the season. They probably expect Dustin Brown to shoot the lights out again. Dustin Brown will return to putting his left skate on his right foot this season. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli are still here to do whatever it is they do.

The bottom six however…woof. This would lose your entire security deposit. And I think they’re all named Alex. Kyle Clifford? Nate Thompson? Trevor Lewis? Aren’t these all the same guy? Does it matter? I’m sure it does not.

Outlook: There was a brief time, at the beginning of last season, when John Stevens looked to bring the Kings out of the deep, dark cave they had lived in under Darryl Sutter and actually try and play some hockey that wouldn’t be considered narcolepsy. Then he quickly realized they couldn’t do it as well as about half the teams in the league, and they went back to dungeon hockey and hoping Quick could save enough shots and Kopitar could make enough along with Doughty to squeak them by. It worked once. It’s unlikely too again, and this team is not built to deal with a league getting faster and younger.

Most likely Quick has a small regression, Kopitar does too, and there just isn’t enough scoring to eke out the 3-2 wins they used to specialize in. This blue line spends most nights getting tire tracks implanted on it by the likes of Vegas, San Jose, and even Calgary and Edmonton could do a number on them. And given the age of the roster, it could be a long trip into the abyss for them.

Can’t. Wait.

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

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New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Everything Else

With the Summer Doldrums officially in full effect thanks in no small part to the League taking its sweet ass time to announce an agreement for Olympic participation in Sochi this coming February, and as a result its own regular season schedule, it’s time to take a spin into a couple matters beyond the Blackhawks.

But one local matter needs to be addressed first.

Everything Else

Well, that turned into a bit of a crazy day from nowhere, huh? As you probably know by now, Ilya Kovalchuk has “retired” from the NHL to go back to Russia, where no one really doubts he’ll sign with St. Petersburg again and for more salary than he was getting from New Jersey. That’s why all this “Oh what a man he walked away from $77 million for his family and I think I’m getting moist…” hokum is just deliriously funny. And yes, that is the first time I have ever used the word “hokum.”