Hockey

There seems to be this misconception that the Stars made it back to the playoffs and to the second round of the playoffs last year because of a dynamic young roster playing entertaining hockey. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as coach Jim Montgomery authored a second-half charge by boring the utter shit out of everyone and trying to copy what Barry Trotz was doing with the Isles. They got a Vezina-finalist worthy season out of Ben Bishop, which was the main catalyst. So which way does Montgomery play this now? Stick with the effective but limited, and coma-inducing, style that got the Stars into the playoffs? Or retry finding something more expansive that might be harder to pull off but leads to bigger rewards down the line?

2018-2019

43-32-7  93 points (4th in Central, out in 2nd round)

2.55 GF/G (29th)  2.44 GA/G (2nd)

48.1 CF% (23rd)  50.2 xGF% (15th)

21.0 PP% (11th)  82.8 PK% (5th)

Goalies: The Stars get to return both halves of their duo this year, and it starts with THE BISHOP! Whenever Bishop is healthy, you get Vezina-level play from him. The problem is that remains a huge “if.” Bishop only made it to the post 45 times last year, and the Stars probably are going to need more from him this time around. Even if he is healthy, they’re probably not going to get .934 from him again, though they can still expect mid-.920s.

Anton Khudobin finally found success outside Boston last year,  flourishing behind the heavy shielding he got from the Stars and their system (expected save-percentage of .925 at evens). Still, Khudobin’s .923 SV% was by far the best he’d managed in five seasons, and to expect him to get back to that, no matter the defensive shielding, is kind of pie-eyed. He’s also 33, so going up from where he was last campaign is probably not a probability either.

The goalies will be good. Bishop always has potential to be great. They definitely provide a floor for the Stars that they can’t fall through, which is around the bottom of the playoff picture.

Defense: Perhaps the reason Montgomery opted for the Mourinho approach to hockey was that he ended up pairing his only two puck-movers in John Klingbergy and Miro Heiskanen. That left him with only pluggers and punters on the next two pairings, so better to just ask them to do what they do best, i.e. roadblocks. The two Finns are wonderful players and really do push around most everyone they come across when together.

It’s pretty much the same crew now, though they added Andrej Sekera just in case he isn’t clinically dead (he is). Stephen Johns started camp with the Stars but started feeling his post-concussion problems again, and one might have to suggest his career is over. Jamie Oleksiak will sink to the third pairing where he belongs, to make room for any Esa Lindell growth. But it feels like we’ve been hearing about that one for a while now and still haven’t seen it. At 25 and in his fourth season, it’s definitely a “shit-now” kind of season.

It’s a fine collection even if it’s really only the two Norris candidates in Klingberg and Heikanen at the top. If Montgomery wants to show any adventure in the team, he’ll split those two up. If they’re together, we can probably guess it’s going to be more three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust hockey, if we can keep mixing our sports metaphors (and I can, it’s my fucking blog).

Forwards: The name in lights here is Joe Pavelski, whom Dough Wilson deemed surplus to requirements at the price and age he was. Which should give everyone a second of pause. At 35, Pavelski’s days in the middle probably should be over, but it’s hard to spot a center who can maximize his still top-tier finishing ability other than Tyler Seguin, who already has his wingers. Or Pavelski could play there and Jamie Benn can not-munch his way to 50 points on the second line, but again, same problem.

As it always is with the Stars, the rest of the lineup is littered with products of the system who serve merely as foot-soldiers and insurance-carriers. It would be hard to convince me that Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark aren’t all the same person that the Stars have just cleaved in half a few times and watched them regenerate into two. They’re also throwing Cory Perry to the wall to see if the slime he’s made of sticks, which it won’t. Between him and Sekera the level of zombification in the dressing room is certainly over quota.

But everyone below the top line are capable of carrying out the specific tasks that Montgomery sets out, which is keeping things tight and preventing goals. It feels like they’ll be doing that again.

Prediction: You could roll out Bishop and Khudobin by themselves and probably guarantee 85 points. So the question is whether the Stars can add much to it. Pavelski adds some juice to the offense, but there’s no Logan Couture or Tomas Hertil for him to play off as there was in San Jose. If he plays on the top line, it’s probably a little more offense than Benn would get you there now but the problem of support scoring is still there. There’s just not a lot of goals here, although there doesn’t have to be considering the goalies and defensive ways. The division hasn’t taken too many steps forward. If the Hawks had made improvements, I would say the Stars’ spot is the one they can aim for. But they haven’t. Around the 8th seed is more than possible for them again.

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Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in St. Louis – Tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in St. Louis – Saturday, 2pm

Game 3 in Dallas – Monday, 7pm

Game 4 in Dallas – Wednesday, 8:30

I said it on the podcast, but I’ll say it again. If you have literally anything else to do, do not watch this series. The Stars are boring as fuck, and on purpose because it’s how they hang, and the Blues don’t have the speed the Predators do and that series was its own energy vampire. I’ll be shocked if any team gets to four goals in any game this series. Cue the 5-4 series opener tonight, of course. Let’s do this together.

Goalies: Perhaps the biggest reason this is going to be a tough watch. Ben Bishop threw a .945 at the Preds and sent them home, including a couple 40+ save outings. He’s a Vezina finalist for multiple times for a reason, and carries a career .930 in the playoffs. He also has the added spice of being from West East St. Louis, and playing against a team that gave up on him long ago (I watched Viktor Stalberg light him up in a Presidents’ Day matinee live in St. Louis, once, and believe me everyone hated him there).

On the other side, Jordan Binnington wasn’t that great against the Jets. It was enough, but a .908 probably isn’t going to get it done against the complete opposite of Winnipeg, a team that’s only interested in playing defense. He was kind of all over the map, with three really good games, two bad ones, and a meh one that didn’t matter because the Jets had already quit. He’s unlikely to see a ton of shots here because that’s just not what the Stars do, but there will come a game or two where he’s probably going to have to make a lot of saves and rob the likes of Benn and Seguin on big chances. Let’s call us skeptical still that he’s ready to do that. Edge here for the Stars.

Defense: On the sheets, the Stars are better off here. Somehow a child shall lead them, as it was Miro Heiskanen that led them in ice-time against the Predators. Klingberg and Lindell were actually marvelous against Nashville’s top line, and that’s at least equivalent to O’Reilly-Schenn-Tarasenko. No matter how many draws ROR wins and the broadcast won’t shut up about. Still, Roman Polak is here and playing significant minutes and when that happens calamity is never too far under the surface. Same goes for Ben Lovejoy. Still, with Heiskanen and Klingberg, that’s two better puck-movers than anything the Jets could boast, including the very disinterested and bloated Dustin Byfuglien.

We’ll never buy into the Blues blue line. Alex Pietrangelo is overrated. Colton Parayko was turned into sawdust and vomit by Mark Scheifele. Jabe O’Meester is a zombie that isn’t particularly interested in eating brains. Vinnie Dunn might be something one day, but not yet. Still, they turned back a deeper crop of forwards than the Stars can dream of. The task will be awfully different here, as the Stars are going to dare them to carry or pass their way through a barbed-wire filled neutral zone, and there’s no one on the Blues who can do that. And if they force it and turn the puck over more, that’s what the Stars are feeding on right now.

Forwards: Same drill as with a lot of teams now. The Stars are one line. It’s a hell of a line, but that’s it. There were flickers of light of a second line between Hobbit Zuccarello, Roope Hintz, and Jason Dickinson, and if that can continue they’re on to something. But the top line has to score and it has to score a lot. Good thing the Blues don’t really have a shutdown pairing.

The Blues will tell you they have depth. And they do if Jaden Schwartz builds off his series-clinching hat-trick. We’ve already talked about the top line, they seem to believe pretty heavily in Oskar Sundqvist (whatever), and they have foot soldiers like Maroon and Thomas and Perron who might chip in a big goal or two. Overall, the Blues do have a deeper set here. They just don’t have the top.

Prediction: Again, this will be cruel and unusual. But the Blues simply are not built to bust through a trap consistently. And even if they do, it’s a much better goalie waiting playing better. And the Stars have just more of a top end. Because of how awful this will be to watch, you know it’s going the route. Which screams a Bishop shutout on the road.

Stars in 7. 

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Stars 30-25-5   Hawks 26-27-9

PUCK DROP: 2pm

TV: WGN

FROM A DC-9 AT NIGHT: Defending Big D

It’s such a weird year. The Hawks lost the opening half of their showcase weekend, and yet that’s probably the best game they’ve played since…man, it’s hard to say. There have been periods here and there but overall, you could argue it was New Year’s Day. And they lost that one, too. But they don’t base the standings on aesthetics and who played better. All that matters is what you got out of it. The Hawks got nothing but a handful of themselves, which means they’d better get something out of this one if they’re serious about chasing until the end of the year.

From the Hawks’ perspective, they’ll get a couple of returnees. Brent Seabrook looks likely to return from his “abdominal” problem (and this is where we snigger about any trainer being able to find his abdominals), and Carl Dahlstrom should be over his case of the plague. Marcus Kruger also should be available after missing the third period on Friday. The first two mean that Henri Jokiharju will return to Rockford, and that’s a whole other discussion we’ll have soon at a podcast near you. So the defense will look like you’ve become accustomed to, and any change in the forwards is Perlini coming in for either Kunitz or Hayden or possibly Sikura, but that would be unfair to the kid.

Right, the Stars. Like any team stuck in this goo around the wildcards, this is not how they pictured their beautiful house. They’ve lost five of seven, and all of those without Ben Bishop who has been hurt. But he returned yesterday against the Canes, which means the Hawks will get Anton Khudobin today. Khudobin has been an excellent back-up this season, but having to take the main role broke his reserves, and he’s surrendered 14 goals in his last four appearances. Perhaps getting the break with Bishop back is all he needs to throw 35+ saves at the Hawks today, but let’s hope not.

The Stars are kind of like the Wild, in that they surrender more of the opportunities than they get but as you rate the chances better and better so do their numbers. So they create better chances than their opponents, and are happy to let them let fly from the hinterlands. Their problem of late as been they’ve been the anti-Motley Crue, they can’t get their heart kickstarted. They have a league-low 26 goals in the 1st period, and of late their stout defense has leaked first, which has them playing catch-up every game. As they were just playing some 20 hours ago or so, the Hawks would be wise to try and jump on them from the word go and see just how much they have in the tank to catch up again.

As always with the Stars, despite the bleating from their CEO, they’ll go as far offensively as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn can carry them. They’re on different lines at the moment, but no one else on this team is scoring. The Stars simply haven’t gotten enough from anyone else you look at other than John Klingberg, who was hurt for a chunk. Further complicating matters for Gang Green is that Alex Radulov was sick yesterday and missed out, and his status for today is up in the air. Without him, there is a whole lot of not much here.

It’s not that the Hawks would be charred if they don’t get a regulation win here, but the coals would be certainly heating up. But if they do get the win, the Ducks and Kings are lined up next, and that’s four points they’re begging you to take. You’re also getting a team on the second of a back-to-back that had to travel, while the Hawks were simply waiting around. Quite simply, this is a game you have to have. So go get it.

 

Game #63 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 11-19-6   Stars 17-14-3

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SOME WERE SHOUTIN’ “TEXAS #1!”: Defending Big D

I don’t know if a team rooted to the bottom of the standings, with the worst goal-difference in the league by open lengths, can have anything resembling “momentum.” Especially when it was only two games ago it gave up a touchdown and PAT while their goalie sank back into the abyss. But hey, the Hawks played what may have been their most solid game all season against the (admittedly beat-up) Predators. And though there isn’t much to make out of the rest of the season, they won’t feel that way. So hence, they will try to build on it in North Texas, facing the same confounding Stars team they always find there.

If you thought the Predators were injury-filled, wait until you get a load of these guys. The Stars have used 12 d-men so far this season. Now you may think, “Wait a minute, the Hawks have used 10! So is 12 really that much!” Well, the Stars have had to go through their entire organizational depth on the blue line because of injuries, not because they’ve populated it with a collection of fuckwits and jackwagons.

John Klingberg has been out for weeks, but he returns tonight, so that’s great for the Hawks. So has Marc Methot and Connor Carrick, though I leave it to you to decide if that means anything, or should. Stephen Johns hasn’t played a game due to concussion problems. Klingberg has obviously been the big miss, as he’s one of the best puck-movers and passers in the league. The Stars base most of their offense on what he can do, and he can’t do anything from the trainer’s room.

And yet, with all that the Stars have been a top-10 team in goals-against at evens and overall. A lot of that is THE BISHOP! having an excellent season. Some of that is Jim Montgomery being able to keep whatever defensive unit he has on a given night playing a tight system. Or maybe it’s still the frame of Hitchcock lingering around. Either way, the Starts have survived.

Up front, it’s basically Colorado-Lite. There’s a great top line here of Jamie BennTyler Seguin-Alex Radulov. While Seguin couldn’t throw a grape in the ocean right now, compared to his career shooting-percentage, these are three players over 25 points. The next forward on the list is Jason Spezza at 18, and he’s sick anyway and might not play tonight either, aside from being three days older than water. This has been the issue for the Stars for years, that they can’t seem to produce a second line, much less a third, that can support the top one. We go into this heavier in the Spotlight, but all the kids the Stars were depending on have basically gone flaccid.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom, or meh and feh as has been the Stars case. Rookie Miro Heiskanen is making everyone go weak in the knees, and will dovetail nicely with Klingberg as a support, second-pairing player. Taylor Fedun has been an analytic revelation filling in for the depleted defense. Which is a good thing, because when you’re rolling out Roman Polak with a straight face, you’re supposed to be in trouble. And we mean literally “rolling,” because Polak can’t skate. He’s basically what Donkey Kong throws on the ice now.

All that said, the Stars are still aimed for another 88-92 points season without a jolt somewhere here soon, the same kind of season that no on remembers when it’s over. It’s also the kind of season that doesn’t push a team forward. This is not a rebuilding team blooding a lot of new kids. They won’t be bad enough to get a real piece in the draft that can help in the next couple years. They’re not contending for banners. They’re just scenery right now, and that’s the absolute worst place to be.

As for the Hawks, you would think changes would be on the minimum. Cam Ward looks to start, which means Collin Delia gets to deal with Galactus’s playthings tomorrow night in Denver in the form of MacKinnon and Rantanen, which seems a tad harsh for a second NHL start. Given the defensive effort on Tuesday, one would imagine there would be no changes there. So Brandon Manning can continue to blame everyone else while munching popcorn. Marcus Kruger didn’t make the mini-trip, and SuckBag was called up yesterday and he’ll probably slot in ahead of Chris Kunitz, because no one wants to watch Chris Kunitz ever again.

This is where we usually try and include some sort of higher meaning to the game and streak the Hawks are on. There isn’t any. They were enjoyable to watch on Tuesday. Let’s hope they are enjoyable tonight.

 

Game #37 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

That’s probably not fair. Because for once, Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars didn’t do something in the summer that had every hockey writer falling off their chairs and onto a Timbo’s wrapper(s). That’s usually been the M.O. in Texas. Whether it was signing Ben Bishop or trading for Jason Spezza or Tyler Seguin or whatever draft pick it was this time, it felt like very summer they were telling us the Dallas Stars had “arrived.” Arrived at what exactly I couldn’t tell you, because they’ve won one playoff series in 10 years. At least no one is expecting them to do that again.

I’ll give them this, I’m really all for teams hiring coaches from outside the normal, old-boys, well-I-drank-with-him-in-an-airport-bar-in-Manitoba crew. Jim Montgomery turned Denver into one of the premier hockey programs in the country, clearly has a knack for developing players, and it’s worth a shot. Sure, it hasn’t gone all that well with David Hakstol in Philly, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try.

What’s he got in his team? Let’s do the scooping.

20170-2018: 42-32-8 92 points  235 GF 225 GA 51.0 CF% 53.5 xGF% 7.6 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: THE BISHOP! We was too late…

We’re only two years removed from Ben Bishop being a Vezina finalist, and deservedly so. But the intervening years have just kind of been “meh,”with a .910 split between Tampa and LA and a just a tick above league average .916 in Dallas last year. If he were truly special, one has to wonder if the Lightning would have been so happy to turn the job over to Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Bishop will turn 32 this season, so he’s not ancient. He’s had groin problems the past few seasons, which for a goalie who is 6-6 isn’t ideal. It’s very unlikely that Bishop will sink this team, and there’s still a chance that he finds that Vezina finalist form he’s produced on two different occasions. Though this isn’t the Lightning he’s behind, and it’s a pretty leaky defense, now that Ken Hitchcock isn’t prioritizing it.

Backing him up is Anton Khudobin, Khubes was more than serviceable as Tuukka Rask’s backup last year, and he’s actually the last goalie to not turn into masticated potatoes in Carolina, all the way back in 2014. He’s never been a guy you want to turn a whole season over to, but if Bishop gets hurt for a few weeks he can get you out of it. And he can certainly give you the 20-25 starts needed to keep the starter fresh through the season. Sadly, this is not the Niemi-Lehtonen Axis Of Confusion it was before at the American Airlines Center.

Defense: It’s the same defense as it’s been, except they added Roman Polak to it, which is not something anyone would do if you were trying to make it better. It will be anchored by Esa Lindell and John Klingberg’s moderately-poor-man’s Erik Karlsson act. It’s been a few years now where Klingberg has dominated possession and put up a fine collection of points, so we have to concede he is one of the league’s best even though you can go games without noticing him. His style is just kind of understated, and yet he remains perhaps the best passer from the back end in the league today.

Stephen Johns and Marc Methot will be the second pairing, at least until some part on Methot goes “TWANG!” which it always does. The underlyings haven’t been kind to Johns, but it is he who both Lindy Ruff and Hitch trusted with the tougher shifts than Klingberg, and Montgomery probably won’t be different. He provides the platform for Klingberg, much like Vlasic and Braun did for Burns in San Jose until this season. He’s also been paired with a collection of stiffs since he arrived.

The third pairing is where it gets ugly, and literally so, as that’s where Polak and youngster Dillon Heatherington reside. These are both monoliths, and in Polak’s case one that can’t move. If Montgomery is smart he’ll play the other two pairings 25 minutes a night and try and keep these doofuses off the ice as much as possible. But if Methot gets hurt, which he will, one of these heavy bags is going to have to take harder shifts with Johns, and that’s where it might go balls-up for this team.

It’s not a bad blue line, it’s just awfully thin. They have to stay healthy. And why isn’t Julius Honka part of this? If they replace one of the security guys on the third pairing with Honka and let him run wild, then this has a chance to be a real strength of the team.

Forwards: Montgomery is going to have the same problem the two veteran coaches had before him. There’s a great top line here in Jamie Benn (and his fear of all things southern), Tyler Seguin, and Alex Radulov. But below that there’s borderline mummy in Jason Spezza and a raft of younger players who have just been “not quite” their whole careers. Matthias Janmark, Radek Faksa, Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie are names we’ve heard for a while who promise to break through this time because now they get it, and then April rolls around and they all have 35 points and the Stars are out of it again. Let’s just say they have to prove it to be nice.

Valeri Nichushkin, who in his rookie year looked like he was going to tear the sky off the world at times and then just was kind of there, has returned from a sabbatical in the KHL. Injuries didn’t help him, as he missed a whole season in his first go. He didn’t really do dick in Russia either, so counting on him to be the secondary scoring the Stars have been crying out for for three seasons is probably folly.

Outlook: The Stars didn’t miss out by much last year. You can squint and see where things might improve for them. Maybe Bishop has one more brilliant season in him. Maybe being free of Hitchcock-shackles turns the defensive corps into more of a weapon, especially if Honka flowers. Maybe those kids just were too suppressed under Hitch (and you can easily see why). But they had their chance under Ruff too and never did quite enough.

The top line will score. Klingberg will be great. If they can get one or two others in on the fun, they could sneak back into the playoffs. If anyone important gets hurt, they’ll be sunk.

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Everything Else

Time to get down again. For those who are new to our deranged family, every so often I like to delve into what the end-of-season awards would look like if everyone actually paid attention to what was really going on during the NHL season. This will always remain my wish, but hey, it’s fun to dream and hope. So let’s get to it.

Hart – This one’s pretty simple. You hand it to Nathan MacKinnon, or Nikita Kucherov if you’re feeling spicy. I don’t think either is a wrong choice. You could even make a case for Phil Kessel, who has kept the Penguins afloat while they try and figure shit out and kick through some fatigue. MVP is still kind of easy to measure. Goals are how games are won, and whoever is scoring and creating most of them, with the least help, probably should get the award.

Vezina – Easy as well. Hand it to Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s got the league’s highest save-percentage, and the second biggest difference between his actual save-percentage and his expected. So he’s not benefitting hugely from a great defense in front of him.

Calder – Again, this isn’t hard. Mathew Barzal. He’s on pace to have the greatest rookie scoring total in over a decade. He’s made the Islanders relevant, and even interesting even though they can’t play defense worth a shit.

Selke – Ok, this is where the rubber meets the road. As we’ve previously stated, this award always goes to a center that everyone knows, who wins a lot of draws and scores a lot too and has developed a reputation as a defensive center simply because everyone says so. And that center is always Patrice Bergeron. And that’s not entirely wrong. You can make a solid case for him every year. You can for this one. When we looked at this in mid-December, we were actually making a case for Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry. Let’s see if that’s still the case.

For best defensive forward, we should really look at who is holding down attempts against and limiting chances against. When it comes to the top five in attempts against per 60, it’s still Lowry, Bergeron, Tanev, Backes, and Marchand. Strange that they all play on the same lines, eh? (except for Backes). When it comes to types of chances against, the top five in expected goals against per 60 at evens is Mikko Koivu, Lowry, Granlund, Tanev, and Jason Zucker. Again, all linemates. So let’s try and suss it out from who’s benefitting from playing on a great defensive team. Let’s get relative.

When it comes to best relative marks to their team in attempts against per 60, Lowry leads the pack again. He’s followed by Andrew Ladd, Koivu, Brandon Martinook (huh?) and Tanev. When it comes to relative xGA/60, your leaders are Lowry, Hagelin, Kase, Martinook, and Koivu. Again, it looks like Adam Lowry should be getting some votes here. As far as context, Bergeron plays much harder competition than Lowry, but Lowry starts in the offensive zone much less than Bergeron (40% to 60% for Bergeron, though that could be that the Bruins and Bergeron in particular are always driving the play into the offensive zone). Whatever, get original and give it to Lowry.

Norris – This one’s harder. You can’t just give it to the best defensive d-man because driving the play from the back has become so important in today’s game. But it’s gotta be more complicated than just handing it to the d-man with the most points, which would be John Klingberg. If you were going simply by who let up the least chances and attempts, you’d be handing this thing to Dan Hamhuis. Do you really want to do that? No, of course you don’t. If you were going by relative marks to their team in those categories, Hampus Lindholm would have that claim.

When it comes to total contribution, possession-wise, because that’s the entire job description, the leaders in CF/60 relative to their teams are HAMPUS! HAMPUS!, Giordano, Hamilton, Karlsson and Werenski. When it comes to relative xGF%, the only names you’ll see on both lists HAMPUS! HAMPUS! and Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton faces slightly tougher competition than Hampus, and both start in the donkey end the overwhelming majority of the time.

But neither are anywhere near the top of the scoring charts, so you can forget that.

 

Everything Else

Little bit of a departure for us this time, as we visit the baseball world for this one. Kate Morrison is one of the best baseball writers going, and you can find her work at Baseball Prospectus, FanRag Sports, and Brooks Baseball. She also happens to be a pretty rabid Stars fan, so we thought she might want to moonlight in our stupid little hockey world for a bit. Follow her on Twitter @unlikelyfanatic. 

The Stars have had something of the same wonky start that the Hawks have. Why hasn’t Hitchcock’s charms worked miracles yet (we’re not exactly Hitch fans, if you can’t tell)?
I mean, there’s a set of Stars fans who aren’t exactly Hitch fans, either. I was une petite infante when Hitch was last the Stars coach, so I can’t really tell you if this is more of the same. What I can tell you is that from my seat in the 300s in the American Airlines Center, I’ve seen both good and bad. Hitch said the right things to Tyler Seguin when Lindy Ruff wasn’t willing to, but Hitch also is addicted to playing Jamie Oleksiak, who isn’t even the best athlete with that last name. Hitch seems to have a willingness to test new lines when there’s chemistry (see the two-game pairing of Antoine Roussel and Alexander Radulov), but there’ve also been times when the team hasn’t seemed as able to run-and-gun as they used to. This is a young, fast team, and they need to be able to play young and fast.
Oh, and also, #FreeHonka or something.
On the plus side, John Klingberg is nearly a point-per-game, and his metrics have bounced back to where they were two seasons ago. He definitely had a dip last year, what’s been different this campaign?
He’s off the sophomore slump? Klingberg does seem to have some good chemistry with both the currently-injured Marc Methot and current partner Esa Lindell, but I think it’s mainly just confidence and being a year older. Having a steady partner can’t hurt, either. He’s really stepped up to becoming one of the team’s young leaders, though.
The Stars have a secondary scoring problem. Radulov, Seguin, Benn, and Klingberg all have over 20 points, but no one else has over 11. Who needs to pick it up?
 
We’re beginning to see some of the promised secondary scoring right now, but we’ve been teased before. Devin Shore and/or Brett Ritchie were supposed to be those secondary guys, but it’s been some surprises like Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark who have really stepped up. No way of knowing that they’ll keep that up, or if they’ll pass the magical baton of scoring off to Shore or, heck, Roussel, but there might be some sparks of life.
We like to ask about our lost boy Stephen Johns. It felt like Lindy Ruff completely underrated him even while giving him human shield starts and competition. What does he look like under Hitch?
 
Um…better than Jamie Oleksiak? Better with Julius Honka? Better now than in the first few games of the season?

Ben Bishop has disappointed since coming over in the summer. What’s been his problem? Is the Dallas crease just cursed?

Like Taylor said, Bishop’s been visually better than his numbers. He’s also been let down by his defense quite a bit – we saw that just this Thursday, on the DeBrincat goal that Oleksiak is really more responsible for than Bishop. I think the numbers and the visuals will even out over time, but the Stars definitely aren’t where they are right now without Bishop.
Everything Else

Ah yes. Everyone’s darling, the Dallas Stars. Another offseason championship for the Dallas Stars, as they upgraded behind the bench from Lindy Ruff to Ken Hitchcock, going from one coach who hasn’t won anything in over a decade to… another coach who hasn’t won anything in over a decade. They signed a winger who until last year was considered “enigmatic” and then went bonkers in his free agent year, because that always sustains after he cashes in. They upgraded their goalies, which tells you something as signing an over-30 goalie who has had hip and groin issues being considered a massive upgrade lets you know just how woeful their goaltending was. And there are a raft of kids who haven’t quite proven to be ready to take up the slack, with a coach who hasn’t always shown patience. Surely it’s going to work this time!

DALLAS STARS

’16-’17 Record: 34-37-11  79 points (6th in Central)

Team Stats 5v5: 50.0 CF% (17th)  50.7 SF% (11th)  48.9 SCF% (20th)  7.5 SH% (17th)  .919 SV% (23rd)

Special Teams: 17.9 PP% (2oth)  73.9 PK% (Dead Ass Last)

 

Everything Else

Box Score
HockeyStats.Ca

 

The back end of the divisional home and home historically tends to be a testier, albeit sloppier and more sluggish affair than its precursor, and tonight was no different considering just how spirited last night’s tilt in Dallas was. Given the Stars’ final push in regulation last night, it looked like both teams took quite a bit to get into the swing of things this evening.

But with the Stars depleted, the Hawks had enough to outgun them finally in overtime. Hawks 4, Stars 3, now time to look at the electoral map.

Everything Else

Hawk Wrestler vs. stardust

RECORDS: Hawks 7-3-1  Stars 4-4-2

PUCK DROPS: 7pm Saturday, 6pm Sunday

TV: WGN Saturday, CSN Sunday

HONKY TONK HOCKEY: Defending Big D

PROJECTED LINEUPS

blackhawks-lineup-card

stars-lineup-card

SCORE-ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI: Hawks – 49.6% (16th)  Stars – 49.9% (15th)

POWER PLAY: Hawks – 22.7% (11th)  Stars – 14.3% (22nd)

PENALTY KILL: Hawks – Almost Respectable!  Stars – 75.7% (25th)

TRENDS: Seguin had four assists against St. Louis on Thursday… Klingberg was paired with Lindell two games ago and in those two they have a 55 CF%

Another old-fashioned home-and-home with a division rival, though neither team is going to be too thrilled with having to fly from Dallas to Chicago overnight. At least no one has an advantage? Anyway, the streaking Hawks will see something of a MASH unit that’s still trying to play heavy metal hockey, and the results as you might expect have been somewhat wonky.