Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-6   Wild 23-22-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ONE GOOD DOSE OF THUNDER: Hockey Wilderness

The Hawks will conclude their mini-trip out of the bye week in St. Paul tonight, before returning home for all of one game and then heading back out where they came from for another five games. That’s some brilliant scheduling if you ask me! You can feel Toews’s rage without much effort. But the Hawks won’t have a lot of time or cause to bitch, because every point is valuable and though the travel schedule might not make much sense the opponents on offer are certainly gettable. That for sure describes the Minnesota Wild these days.

While the Hawks are certainly in the thick of the playoff race, mostly because it came back to them, they aren’t really away from anyone. The Preds and Jets are right there with them. The rest of the division is pretty much out of touch out ahead in the distance. Except for the Wild, whom the Hawks can kind of put out of their misery tonight. That sounds silly to say with 29 games left after this one, but a regulation win would put the Wild five points in arrears and that’s a massive gap. Not that it’s one the Hawks couldn’t cough up, but let’s say it’s unlikely. And the more teams you can cull from the chase the better off you are.

It’s not hard to pinpoint where it’s gone wrong for the Wild. While Bruce Boudreau continues to conjure up his magic potion of not really being a great Coris team but an excellent expected goals team – i.e. the Wild are content to give up attempts but don’t give up good chances–that doesn’t really matter if your goalies can’t stop a sloth in the sand. The Wild give up the least amount of xGA/60 and scoring chances per game in the league, but their SV% is bottom-10 with both Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk especially facing the wrong way and identifying cloud shapes most of the time. That’ll torpedo most teams, and so it has done with the Wild.

Which might just be enough to torpedo Boudreau out of a job come April.  It would be a second-straight playoff-less season, and the team probably needs an overhaul, and there’s a new GM on board these days in Bill Guerin and his weird face. It might not be totally fair to Gabby, but dem’s da breaks. The Wild certainly score enough to be better than this, at 3.06 per game, and their defensive structure has kept the task to a minimum for the goalies. But they haven’t been up to it, and if you were to swap goalies with the Hawks the Wild most definitely would be in the playoff picture if not up among the top three in the Central. Also when your goalies suck it’s hard to have anything near a decent penalty kill, and the Wild very much don’t, second-worst in the league. They’re not good enough to outscore teams by two or three at evens.

Which is saying something for Gabby, because the Wild feel like they’re short on frontline talent once again. Zach Parise these days is a tweener between a first and second line player, and the advanced age of Eric Staal might make him that as well. Mats Zuccarello has always been that, as has Jason Zucker (and he’s missed a fair amount of time this year as well). Kevin Fiala might actually be proving to be something more than sarcophagus filling with 28 points, but he’s not providing what Mikhail Granlund used to (but certainly isn’t now). That Rask-for-Nino trade was such a disaster that Rask is a healthy scratch tonight. There isn’t a lot here, and you can’t say Boudreau isn’t maximizing it.

The blue line is still very solid and finally healthy, as you can do a hell of a lot worse on a top-four than Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, and Dumba. That’s how the Wild keep things pretty limited in their end, even if it is all getting undone by the men in the mask.

No changes for the Hawks other than it looks like Lehner will get the start with Crow getting the slightly tougher assignment of Patrice And The Pips tomorrow night. New boy Nick Seeler, who is neither loose nor tight, won’t make his debut against his former team tonight and let’s just hope he’s ballast for the rest of the season. You don’t want this rockhead taking regular minutes, believe us.

The key tonight for the Hawks is getting to the middle of the offensive zone. The Wild are more than happy to let you putter around the perimeter and try and thread a needle through to the net from there. Suter and Brodin especially play economical defensive games where they let things come to them and simply prod you back outside the dots or behind the net. So players like Kane and Dach and Strome and Top Cat, the ones who can conjure something out of nowhere will have to, and players like Toews, Kubalik, and Saad who can get to the middle through power will need to do some of that as well. If you can get the shots, the Wild goalies will give you goals.

It’s a big ask to get four of four with the Bruins waiting tomorrow, though they’ll also be on the second of a back-to-back, on the road, the Hawks have been great with those all season, and they’ve caught the Bruins napping before this season. Still, these two points seem pretty vital before that road trip that is going to determine the rest of the season. They’re right there, so take them.

Hockey

There are few teams around that I can definitely say the Hawks will finish ahead of. And there’s only one in the division I can be certain of, and it’s this outfit. Or. to put it more accurately, if the Hawks don’t finish ahead of this collection of used rags and grill scrapings, everyone is fired. Let’s look in on this fine mess…

20180-2019

37-36-9  83 (!) points

2.56 GF/G (27th)  2.84 GA/G (12th)  -23 GD

50.9 CF% (11th)   54.1 xGF% (5th)

20.3 PP% (14th)  81.7 PK% (7th)

Goalies: So here’s a thing that Minnesota can’t seem to wrap their frozen brains around — their goalies were bad last year, and Devan Dubnyk has been kinda bad for a while now. Sure, .913 doesn’t look all that bad from Doobie on the surface. Except he had the best expected SV% in the league thanks to Bruce Boudreau trying to do everything he can to shield him. And he had the third worst difference at evens between his expected save-percentage and actual, behind Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones. That’s not a neighborhood you want to be putting down roots. It was the same the season before, and Dubnyk is 33 so he’s probably not going to jump forward at this point. The Wild got the best out of him, and now they’re going to have to smoke the resin.

Stalock wasn’t any better, and if the Wild are hoping for a .915-.920 that he’s spasmed out a couple times as a backup in Minny and San Jose, they might be looking down the tracks for a very long time. What’s so weird about the Wild is that even with this roster, Boudreau was able to keep them getting the majority of attempts and chances and severely limit what their goalies had to do. And they couldn’t do it. And there’s little reason to think they will now. Combine that with a distinct lack of finish and you get…well, make your own whoopee cushion sound.

Defense: It’s the same crew as it’s been, though they will get Matt Dumba back after he missed more than half the season last year. That’s not insignificant, and along with Jared Spurgeon that’s all the Wild’s get-up-and-go from the back. Dumba was on pace for his second-straight 50+ point season before a torn pectoral ended things prematurely. Spurgeon’s influence started to slip a bit last season. He was still ahead of the team rate on his metrics, but not by the wide margins he used to be. Perhaps having to cover for Dumba hurt him and they can set that right now. Ryan Suter is getting up there but can still economize his game to remain effective. Once again, Jonas Brodin will be solid but not much more. The third pairing will be some concoction they pull out of a steaming cauldron of Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt and whatever other eye of newt they find on the ground.

Forwards: And here’s your big problem. There isn’t a first-liner anywhere to be found, so they’ll have to shove Eric Staal, the eight minutes Zach Parise‘s back isn’t a puppet show, and Mats Zuccarello up there. Or Jason Zucker and however he’s decided to pronounce his name this season. Or they’ll have to force-feed Kevin Fiala, the first version of Eli Tolvanen, trying to prove the Preds wrong in that he can be a genuine top six forward in the league. Can they conjure another miracle out of Ryan Donato? His 16 points in 22 games after being acquired for Charlie Coyle suggest there might be something there. But doing it in 20 games that don’t matter and over a full 82 are different matters. Mikko Koivu is 187 years old and wasn’t good enough when he was 27 to do the things the Wild needed him to. Ryan Hartman somehow has ended up here, though St. Paul tends to be the last stop for the bewildered and lost. No matter what kind of magic and voodoo Gabby cooks up to keep the Wild in the right end of the ice, there’s not nearly enough here to make it really count unless a couple players get some spirits to conjure shooting-percentage spikes.

Prediction: It’s funny how the Hawks season is being viewed as some springboard to better and the Wild seem truly and deeply boned, and there was one point between them. Yet the Hawks do have some youth and growth on the roster and in the system. The Wild have lottery tickets like Fiala or Donato. With the goaltending heading south, there just isn’t enough scoring, or close to it, for the Wild to get around a playoff spot. Maybe if it’s truly awful they can start over, which they’ve needed to do for about two seasons.

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Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Wild 17-15-3   Hawks 13-20-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

VIKING HORN SOUND: Hockey Wilderness, Zone Coverage MN

The mini-Christmas break is over, and the entire NHL is kicking out the cobwebs, stretching it out, processing a big yawn, and getting ready to get back to the grind. And thanks to the CBA and the players’ union strange request, tonight is filled with games where the road team flies in day of and never looks like it’s all working together. You’ve seen some of them get really fed on this day, but the Hawks haven’t gotten this day right much at all over the years. Last season they got an extra night before shitting it against the Canucks in Vancouver. The year before that that they were nowhere against the Jets, and the year before that they laid an egg against Carolina. So just because the Wild are in the air as we speak doesn’t guarantee much.

Let’s start with the Hawks. Collin Delia looks to be getting the start, which should be the case until there’s a back-to-back (weekend after next) or Corey Crawford comes back. Cam Ward showed his true Cam Ward colors on Sunday, or should I say is true technicolor yawn, basically gifting the Panthers a couple goals and ruining what was a decent enough start from the Hawks. While he played well in a couple wins before the break, he still has a terminal case of being Cam Ward and we all know exactly what he is. Delia at least comes shrouded in mystery and some hope, and right now that’s good enough for the Hawks.

Other lineup changes see John Hayden slot in for Chris Kunitz, who sadly wasn’t banished to a sawmill in the country during the break. Dylan Sikura is dropping to the fourth line, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I guess Brendan Perlini has played well enough for a promotion? Whatever. I don’t think it matters at this point.

To the Wild, who are only five points ahead of the Hawks but have played four games less. They have been tumbling down the standings like Martin Sheen off a roof for the past few weeks now. First it was Devan Dubnyk having a month-long sneeze in November, and while that’s corrected their scoring has gone completely agoraphobic and they can’t get anywhere near the opening between the posts. Since the middle of last month the Wild are shooting just 6.4%, fifth-worst in the league. Which betrays their metrics, as just like last year they create far more good chances than they let up even if the attempts are more or less evenly distributed. But that doesn’t really matter if you can’t bury them, and if your goalie goes through a streak where he can’t stop them.

Further dampening the Wild attack is that Matthew Dumba is basically done for the year, out three months with a pectoral problem that required surgery. He was one half of all their push from the blue line, with Jared Spurgeon the other (it’s not really what Ryan Suter does anymore). This has forced both Nate Prosser and Greg Pateryn into the lineup, which is a place you want to be in less than a bus station at 3AM. Without Dumba, you can expect the Wild’s metrics to go down.

Up front they’re juggling things again, with Charlie Coyle doing his regularly scheduled shift from wing to center where he can flatter to deceive there as well. Jordan Greenway has got himself punted to a wing where he can watch Mikko Koivu wheeze and belch as Father Time leaves another counting the lights. Zach Parise was hot there for a minute but has cooled off, and Mikael Granlund couldn’t hit an elephant from five feet at the moment. The lack of a true front-line scorer is once again biting the Wild in the ass, just as it has for the past…well, existence.

I guess in the Hawks’ mind, not yours or mine, if they’re going to push anything out of this season they have to start now. The schedule is pretty light from now until their bye in January, with only one back-to-back and three-in-four stretch with two of those at home. We’ll see what they make of it, which won’t be much.

 

Game #40 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN National, WGN-AM 720
Strictly Leakage: Hockey Wilderness

After going above and beyond the call of duty in dispatching with the dreadful Senators last night in Kanata, the Hawks turn right back around for a RIVALRY NIGHT game against the divisional opponent Minnesota Wild, who are currently tied with the Hawks, but have played more games and have fewer regulation wins. What a time to be barely alive.

Everything Else

 vs. 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Paisley Park: Hockey Wilderness

After a brief and suprisingly victorious jaunt to Manitoba on Thursday, the Hawks return home tonight having now had a couple days worth of rest, and will face of against the Wild, with whom they are tied, who played last night, and are beat the hell up by injuries.

Everything Else

The Wild suck so hard that they’re the only team Bruce Boudreau hasn’t coached to a division title when he’s had a full season behind the bench. And really, if you don’t get that basically meaningless bauble out of our favorite Haagen-Dazs slathered bocce ball, then what’s the point at all? You’re still going to get a coach with both hands around his own throat in the playoffs but not to get to raise a silly banner aloft. Well, the Wild probably aren’t going to win the division this year, and they’re probably not going to get out of it in the playoffs. It’s almost if Brucey is now just in an abyss of meaninglessness. Which is how most people feel about the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota Wild

’16-’17 Record: 49-25-8  106 points (2nd in Central, out in 1st round to STL)

Team Stats 5v5: 49.3 CF% (20th)  50.5 SF% (14th)  52.6 SCF% (3rd)  9.2 SH% (1st)  .925 SV% (11th)

Special Teams: 20.9 PP% (9th) 82.9 PK% (8th)

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 11:30AM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness

Late season, weekend matinee games suck out loud regardless of the two teams involved. The thought process behind having them is clear, with both college and pro football shuttered for their respective seasons, and baseball yet to move north from Arizona and Florida, there is a void that can be filled by the Winter Tenants for viewership when there’s really only Law & Order: SVU reruns on elsewhere. But the vast majority of hockey games are played at night, and professional hockey players, like all athletes, enjoy their ya-ha time after a game and generally keep later hours. There is always at least a 24 hour break going into them so it’s not totally cutting into physical recuperation the way Thursday Night Football does, but circadian rhythms are still fucked with, and now past the deadline there are many teams who are just playing out the string. Couple that with the overall quality of the league due to a flat salary cap, and it’s left an absolute dogshit product on the ice on par with Thursday Night Football by any absolute or relative measure. And on top of that Daylight Savings just kicked in, so now two teams who at least on paper who are still jockeying for the top spot in the Central and the West, are effectively facing off at 10:30AM local time, all for the sake of courting viewers that the NHL is never going to grab. Nice work everyone.

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA-S, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness

And so it is now here, the most important regular season game in the history of the sport…at least until the next one. The Wild are still playing .900 hockey and have three games in hand on the Hawks, and a regulation win tonight should effectively salt the division away for them, and there’s nothing more that Bruce Boudreau likes than the taste of salted divisions. And the entire hockey world, such as it is, will be watching, as this is the only game on the docket tonight.

Everything Else

Ben Remington covers the Wild for ColdOmaha.com (I love that name). You can follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. Bryan Reynolds, on the other hand, is just some lunatic who won’t leave us alone so we toss him this bone every so often to make him go away. But it never works. Anyway, he’s on Twitter @BReynoldsMN.

We’ll get to the tough one first. The Wild are on pace for their best regular season ever. They should win the division for only the second time. Is it a mirage or is this for real?

Remington: From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to not say that it’s for real. As usual, some of the fancy stats point to regression, but others bear out that this team has been very, very good so far this season. Even the players that are ‘slumping’ are having decent seasons, and we’ve seen monumental steps up from young players that have been underachieving for most of their time here. Dubnyk is still the key, and him continuing to play well will be the difference between them winning the conference or not, but even with a noticeable regression to the mean recently, his January was just average, not bad, and he could catch fire again. 

Reynolds: I’m a Minnesota sports fan, and I’ve learned that nothing happens faster than a Minnesota sports team imploding. In this case, I’m calling them a mirage right up to the moment Mikko Koivu grabs the Cup from Commissioner Gru’s tiny Trump hands and gives Gary the steely eyed death glare and maybe mutters, “I can’t believe Pantera made a song for the Stars.” I have no idea what that last part even means, but no, I don’t trust this anymore than I trust the Oilers to select a defenseman in the draft.

Everything Else

evil empire at wildthings

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Commit This To Memory: Hockey Wilderness

Before beginning the preview in earnest, first a public service announcement for Halloween weekend.

Under no circumstance is going out in black face acceptable. Yes, it’s 2015 and it’s fucking preposterous that these statements have to be made, but such is the state of affairs. And it’s a particularly gross trend among hockey players. It is your responsibility as a human being to tell anyone even thinking of doing this that it’s a bad, at best colossally ignorant idea. Do not be like these assholes.

hawksblackface

raffi torres

tyler bozak