Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Lightning 9-7-2   Hawks 9-8-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE GUYS WHO DON’T LOOK LIKE XQUISITE: Raw Charge

It may sound strange to say the Hawks have more points than the Lightning, but that’s the case as the two ’15 Finalists get together again on West Madison. But of course, as we know here, that doesn’t mean the Hawks are better off than the Bolts. The Hawks collected their 22 points in the Cirque de Stupid that is the Central Division and Western Conference as a whole, whereas the Lightning are trying to fight through the gauntlet of the Atlantic. And one of these teams did put up 128 points last year, while the other missed the lowest bar for the playoffs in years by a good distance. And not that much has changed.

That’s not to say everything is rosy in Tampa. They’re sitting just three points above the Eastern cellar, though only two points out of the last playoff spot. While watching the Lightning, or trying to measure them by various metrics, it’s kind of clear that there’s still a malaise from last spring hanging over and in this team. Nothing they do in the regular season is going to matter to anyone, but sadly with the division they’re in they can’t play the whole regular season like it doesn’t matter. Which is kind of what they’ve been doing. Other than their power play, which has reached that “self aware” level, everything else is just meh. Right in the middle of the league.

The Lightning still score, as their overall goals-per-game and even-strength goals per game are in the top five. With the king of marksmen like Kucherov and Stamkos and Point and others, they don’t need to dominate possession to get the scoring they need. Which is good, because they aren’t. Their possession and expected goals numbers re firmly middle of the pack. Again, they can get away with that given the talent for long stretches, but it’s not ideal long-term.

Especially as they may not get the PDO balance at the other end right now. When picking through the rubble of last season’s meltdown in the first round, it was hard not to start with Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s .856 SV%. Anyone can have a bad four games of course, but any big save from Vas in at least Games 1 or 2 could have pivoted that series. The Bolts never got one. That hangover seems to have carried over to this season, where he’s carrying a .906. The Hawks will get the backup tonight, as Curtis McElhinney will take the start.

And that’s probably the biggest factor for the Bolts to get back on track, because they don’t give up a ton of great chances. They’re not among the league’s best, but comfortably in the top half. If Vas can get back to .915 or better, everything should be fine in Tampa.

It also might not hurt the Lightning that they’ve only played seven home games so far, and after this one tonight 14 of their next 17 will be in Tampa. You wouldn’t be shocked by a charge up the standings before New Year’s.

To the Hawks, who could or could not be with Andrew Shaw tonight. He didn’t practice yesterday so they’re going to see how he shows up tonight. If he doesn’t go, the Hawks will dress all seven d-men as they don’t have an extra forward at the moment with Drake Caggiula in a dark room somewhere (my whole life is a dark room…). Every time in the past the Hawks have tried the 7-D look it has gone horribly, and everyone bitches to high heaven about it after. I still think it should be something they try more often and with Boqvist involved, if only to shelter him and Seabrook better. It also provides extra shifts here and there for Kane, Toews, Saad, Dach, DeBrincat, which is a good thing. But what do I know? I’m just a drunk in the rain. Corey Crawford will be your starter.

The Hawks got embarrassed twice by the Lightning last year, though no scoreline truly reflects it. This was the opponent that put up 30 shots in a period on them at the United Center last time around. Quite simply, the Hawks aren’t built to deal with this kind of skill and speed. And really, neither of those things have changed.

The difference, albeit small, between what the Hawks saw on Tuesday and what they’ll get tonight is the Lightning defense isn’t as consistently mobile as Carolina’s. Sure, Hedman and Kirk ShattenKevin are, and Sergachev and Cernak are too. But Sergachev can get wayward when under pressure, and whether it’s Schenn or Rutta joining him that can be exploited. So can Ryan McDonagh on the second pairing. Whereas the Hawks couldn’t get behind Carolina’s last line, they can on this one.

Which means some other d-men besides Connor Murphy have to get the puck out of the zone as quickly as possible to get the defense to back up, which in turn will give everyone more room to breathe. As we saw last year, when the Hawks try their 17-pass breakout, the Lightning’s plus-plus speed at forward and on the forecheck swallows them whole and spits them back out inside out. There just isn’t time for that, at least not until you back them up by proving you can and will stretch the ice.

It’s a rough part of the schedule, as the Hawks again get one of the better teams in the league, whatever the standings say, before two with the hottest team in the league and then two with maybe the best team in the division. But if you want to go somewhere, you can’t always take the path of least resistance.

Hockey

Sometimes your aimless speculation turns into reality. You should probably just accept the good fortune that makes you look prescient instead of questioning the randomness of the fates.

Yesterday, Mike Babcock was fired, which started a flicker that could turn into a full out flame of wondering and soon rumors that he could find his way to Chicago. If the Hawks were to fall on their face at any point this season and miss the playoffs by a huge margin, Jeremy Colliton‘s position would certainly be awkward if not untenable. Babcock’s name has cache, would command respect immediately from the main vets in the room (three of whom have played for him at the Olympic level), and at least provide a floor of professionalism and structure.

It would also be the wrong move.

We broke down why it would be on the podcast, so let’s shift the focus. We’ve had a lot of fun with Jon Cooper around here (a lot of fun), but what that doesn’t change is that he’s a very good coach. Perhaps the leader in the “Not A Moron” category in our binary system of rating coaches around the league.

The Lightning have never finished with less than 94 points under his watch, now in its 7th season. The one year they missed the playoffs, Steven Stamkos played just 17 games, Ben Bishop was hurt as well and Andrei Vasilevskiy was making his first foray into being a starter. And they still gathered 94 points. He was the captain on the ship that gobbled up 128 points last year.

Moreover, Cooper has been able to integrate and develop a wave of young talent to turn the Lightning into a power. First it was the Triplets of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, with the middle guy there becoming an MVP. Of late it’s been Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev and Eric Cernak. He knows how to put people in the places they will have the best chance of succeeding. And he plays an up-tempo, get up the ice style that meshes with what the NHL is these days.

Mike Babcock does none of these things.

However, Babs’s name will carry more weight because of the trophy cabinet, a mark Cooper has yet to make. Two conference finals, a Final appearance, and all were lost to modern dynasties by the tightest of margins (yes, it’s a stretch to call the Caps that, but their decade-spanning stay atop their division certainly makes them one of the teams of the era). No other coach around is matching that aside from Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh of late, aside from one Joel Quenneville.

Which you might think would make it pure fantasy that Cooper could even get fired, let alone come to Chicago. But is it? Along with that record-breaking season last year comes the weight of the embarrassing first-round collapse. And as the malaise from that has carried over into this season, one wonders how much the pressure is already ramping up. The enduring image of Cooper at the moment are his exclamations of “This is our chance!” during Game 4 in Columbus last year when an offsides challenge had canceled out a Jackets goal.

Really? You had the greatest team of the modern era, or at least the best regular season, and this is what you need to get past a team 35 points behind you in the standings? Clearly, it wasn’t their chance.

Cooper has to wear that, though there isn’t anything a coach is going to do about a goalie who puts up an .856 SV% over four games. Still, the Lightning seemed to freeze in the headlights after a Game 1 loss.

Which isn’t fair, because Cooper has playoff success on his resume, which means he’s instilled a confidence and fight in his team before. Couldn’t it just be an anomaly?

Still, this Lightning team is now as Cup-or-bust as it gets. And sitting second-last in the Atlantic probably isn’t what the front office had in mind when they basically held the line on personnel this summer (as they should have). Could they get itchy? Could they conclude something broke last spring and only a new voice will snap the players over that hurdle? Not so outlandish, is it?

Should it happen, the Hawks should be all over Cooper. Maybe he doesn’t carry the cache of Babcock, but you know what? He’s the better coach. If you’re a Hawks fan hoping for a seismic change behind the bench, this is the one you want.

Everything Else

“How did it come to this?” Jon Cooper asked, as he removed his chaps and put on a robe, a little alarmed at the amount of scented massage oils on his hands and elsewhere. He looked out the window of his yacht, and no it wasn’t him wondering how he ended up with this curious yet staid housewife of Tampa, who not only wouldn’t leash him but didn’t even know what it was, but why he wasn’t working at the moment.

And that’s how most of Tampa will spend the next month or two, because God knows there’s nothing else to do there. How did the best team of the recent era go poof! before we even had time to get drunk? Move over, Leftovers, HBO is going to have a new show about a mysterious happening that no one can explain. Except the fallout will still be everyone living in Tampa or St. Pete, wondering how they got there and yet never figuring out a way to leave. Vibrant, this show will not be.

Let’s dispel the myths that will hound the Lightning through all of next year. That somehow dominating the league left them unprepared for games that meant anything. Hmmm…seems to me when you’re chasing a points and wins record, every game means something. You’re not just going through the motions. And seeing as how the last two relevant Hawks teams and the two Penguin champions basically took March off, this doesn’t hold much water (or in Cooper’s case, water-based lube). You’re professionals, almost everyone on that team was in last year’s conference final and a few before that, so to act as if they were unprepared for the playoffs is a stretch at best, an absolute falsehood at worst. It’s a foothold for the stupid.

They aren’t tough enough, that’s what every breathing-too-hard-after-three-stairs media person in Canada and in hockey will say. They lack grit. They lack heart. And Columbus doesn’t because Brandon Dubinsky yells a lot or something. Again, this is a Lightning team that’s been within no more than five wins of a Cup three times in the last five years. It must know something about advancing in the spring. Perhaps it forgot, as most residents of the area tend to with a lot of things. Or wish they could. Perhaps it’s contagious.

No, eventually, between planning his next swingers’ club outings to Tampa’s one cocktail lounge, Cooper will come to realize he just got out-coached, and his goalie barfed up a poltergeist or two. The Bolts still wanted to weave their pretty passing patterns through an amped-up and moved-up trap of Columbus. They wanted to Quenneville, when Quenneville hockey was shown to not work anymore three years ago. And it was especially silly with a battered and then absent Victor Hedman, and Mikhail Sergachev’s legs more and more covered by his own urine. Out and up was the order of the day, which is also what they tell you to be aware of when walking into Cooper’s office.

Even that doesn’t explain it all, not as much as Vasilevskiy’s .855 SV% for the series does. Whatever plan you have or the opponent has doesn’t matter much when your goalie looks like Gumby in the freezer. Pair that with Game 7 last year against the Caps, and suddenly there’s a lot of baggage in the young man’s head. Baggage he can’t do much about until next spring. Makes for a fun follow-up season, with no questions at every stop or anything.

In the end, it might be nothing more than the perfect storm of a bad week, a goalie slump, an injury or two, and every opponent getting hot. The thing with hockey is that it defies explanation a lot of the time, and trying to stab the smoke of reason it has is what lands organizations in bigger trouble than it already was.

The questions now of course will be do the Lightning panic and change things in search of the more and more nebulous “grit and heart and fire and passion and FAARRRRRTTTT?” Are players who are considered to have snuffed it on the big stage this past week all contenders to be moved along? Could there be something wrong with a group that put up the best regular season in recent memory? That’s a pretty tidy list, consisting only of Stamkos, Kucherov, Palat, Vasilevskiy, Sergachev, Point, Johnson, and Hedman. Should be easy to move all of them along, no?

Luckily the GM who was hailed a genius for trying to reconstruct the 2014 Rangers blue line isn’t around anymore, so he can’t be hurled overboard. Then again, it was his replacement who actively sought Jan Rutta, so there must be some kind of gas leak in the GM office at Amalie Arena that causes one to see a blue line as a place for surrealism. Seriously, Braydon Coburn, Rutta, and Ryan Callahan played playoff games in 2019. When you have to absolutely play at high speed, the first or second call probably shouldn’t go out to Dan Girardi or Ryan McDonagh. Maybe it’s not all that mysterious?

You know how this goes. Tampa could easily hold everything together, win next year at a canter, and then this flop will be cited as their rallying cry and inspiration among the champagne and confetti. It can be the chip on the shoulder everyone seems convinced you have to have to succeed in April and May. Hockey is nothing if not filled with people angry at figments, or their struggle to cope in the every day world.

But that will be just another Cup win. What the Lighting have done here is truly unique. Never happened before, in fact. A Cup win next spring just adds you to the list. Here you stand alone. It’s all yours. Everyone will remember this one. Which is just about the only thing memorable to happen to Tampa, ever. They say the Bucs won a Super Bowl once, after they got to play a team too stupid to change its signals to avoid detection from their old coach who just happened to be on the other sideline. All that got us were Hooters ads and some of the most awkward exchanges on Sportscenter ever seen with confused and impatient college kids. And that’s saying something. Still, I don’t believe it actually happened. I know it didn’t matter if it did.

No, this should go on all the signs. Next to Magic Mike and the reasons for not going to Rays games which consist only of, “Well, it’s over there.” (which would have made Tampa the perfect landing spot for the White Sox, come to think of it)

“Welcome to Tampa, the site of the only Presidents’ Trophy Winner to belch themselves inside-out in less than a week.” Now that’s something. They’ll come from miles to see that…or to avoid whichever machete-wielding neighbor escaped his basement dungeon that day in some podunk Florida town. Either or.

Goodnight, Tampa Bay Lightning. You are history. No, literally, you are. An accomplishment, a touchstone, a benchmark. No one else can say that this spring. Just make you take extra care to knock on Cooper’s door this summer. He’s got a lot to work out.

 

 

Everything Else

While all the news of the summer has mostly been focused north of the 49th, because they have nothing else to do in the summer except annoy the rest of us with their offseason bullshit and I mean jesus fucking christ get a second baseball team or something or spend more than three weeks at fucking “cottage” where all you do is drink the same bad beer you always do and complain about what you spend the rest of the year doing before you go back to complaining about it while you do it and yes we actually have mountains and lakes here in the States too can you believe it and you’re not so special so just go back to locking yourself in your basement and drinking your own piss while you make videos that 16-year-old girls love because that’s not creepy at all you fucking dweeb and..

I’m sorry, that got away from me. Let’s start again. Most of the attention this summer has been on the Leafs after signing Tavares, or the continuing descent into hell’s asshole from the Ottawa Senators and their drama(s) with Erik Karlsson, or the simply mystifying, long-standing incompetence and arrogance of the Canadiens. So you’d be forgiven if you forgot how the Atlantic Division actually works.

The class is still located on the west coast of Florida, which isn’t where anything should ever be located but here we are. The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t gone anywhere, though they may have taken a half-step back by not taking a step forward. Then again, that step forward is probably waiting either in camp or in mid-season, and it could be a very large one. Let’s hop to it.

Goalies: As you’ll see with most of the team, it’s basically the same outfit as last year that they’re just going to run again. Andrei Vasilevskiy put up a Vezina-caliber season, at least to the eye of the ever-vigilant hockey press and their Nick Kyrgios-level of effort on thinking, finishing third for that award after piling up a .920 SV% and a 2.62 GAA. He was also .930 at evens. Those numbers would look better if he hadn’t tailed off in the season’s second half, as he went .916-.916-.883-.900 in January-April, which is worrying. And it wasn’t a much larger workload that got him, because he made 50 appearances in the season before while Ben Bishop was fighting with the various gremlins that live in his soft tissue (I think I saw Soft Tissue Gremlins open for…).

So maybe that should have been a clue that the playoffs were not going to be filled with glitter and strobe lights for him. The first two rounds saw him get the soft-landing of the one-man Devils and the one-line Bruins, and he obliged accordingly by seeing the Lightning through in 10 games total. But the series against the Caps, who were running on high-octane at that point, was a different story. He posted a .901 in that series, with serious disasters in Games 1, 2, and 7. Sure, his first foray into the playoffs as a starter, and he is allowed another try or five. But given the way he faded as the season went along, there should be sharper eyes on him at the start of this season as teams already have the scouting reports from last season’s back end.

Backing him up is Louis Domingue. He’s perfectly serviceable as a backup, but the Bolts are not going to be able to turn to him if Vasilevskiy’s belly-up from last year is a feature and not a bug. If that happens, they’ll be looking outside the organization.

Defense: So the temptation is to label this their weakness. And it is right now. Except that it very well might not look like what it looks like now. Because the rumor is that Erik Karlsson will really only go to Tampa or Vegas via trade. And if this defense adds the best d-man alive, it goes from weakness to sharp pointy thing with lasers.

But until that happens, if it happens, we can only deal with what we have on hand. Outside of Vasilevskiy, the biggest reason the Lightning got punted by the Caps in seven games is that Victor Hedman was awful in that series. And when he’s not dominating play, they Lightning don’t have anyone else who can do that. It was also what bit them in 2015, and that’s when Anton Stralman could actually move. Hedman carried a 45% corsi-percentage that series, and his scoring-chance percentage was even worse.

Now, some of that, even a majority, could be explained that he was dragging around the bloated, buzzard-ransacked, maggot-infested corpse of Dan Girardi around. I don’t know what it’s going to take for people in the game to realize that Girardi has been a nuclear disaster site for about five seasons now, and no amount of dumb faces he makes or grunts he emits are going to change that. He should be nowhere near anyone’s top four, let alone a Cup-contenders. Even Hedman couldn’t save his immobile, dead ass and that should tell you something, And yet…

Ryan McDonagh and Stralman are still here to man the second-pairing, and while the odometer readings are catching up to McDonagh, a second-pairing assignment is still well within his range. If in between buying new silk robes and testing the viscosity of his own spunk, Jon Cooper could figure out to slide Mikhail Sergachev here instead of Stralman, he’d be doing his team a huge favor. At least until Karlsson washes up on the useless St. Petersberg shores.

The third pairing is the aforementioned Sergachev, who will be praying he no longer has to serve out whatever apprenticeship/dungeon-hood Cooper has in his own mind (Note: Cooper has an actual dungeon in his house but it is for very different things) and can be let loose. The broken-and-pie faced Braydon Coburn is somehow still here, even though it’s been unclear what he does other than break his face since 2012. Slater Koekkoek and the dumbfuck way he either spells or pronounces his last name and Jake Dotchin probably fancy their chances of cracking the lineup regularly, especially when Stralman can’t get out of a chair and Girardi and Coburn can’t figure out how to sit in one.

Forwards: The opposite end of the spectrum for the Bolts. They have two perennial MVP-candidates on their top line in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. They’re perhaps the only team that can claim that, except for maybe Winnipeg. Brayden PointOndrej PalatTyler Johnson could be the best second line in the league, though the other contender might in the same division with Toronto. The bottom six is littered with solid contributors in Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Cory Conacher, Cedric Pacquette, and now Andy Andreoff who washed out of LA can play with a team more suited to, y’know, something other than belching and farting their way up and down the ice. 1-12 it’s hard to find a more complete unit in the Eastern Conference. They don’t have the center-depth the Leafs now employ, but this center-depth was enough to pile up 113 points with spotty goaltending for half the season. And we know that Steve Yzerman is going to add something sneaky and productive at the deadline for a song, and not even a good song. Like a Styx or Springsteen song or something (suck it, Killion).

Outlook: They’ll be challenged by the Leafs for the division crown, which means they’d have to negotiate likely the Bruins and then the Leafs to get back where they were (maybe the Panthers). There is more than enough scoring here if everyone stays healthy and just gets to their career norms. A couple guys getting snake-bitten could be a problem, but could be countered by guys having spikes. The defense is a worry, until it gets buffeted by that Swedish dude with the hair. No, the one they don’t already have. The goaltending is a bigger question than anyone is asking though, but thankfully no one else in this division has a definitive answer there either. The conference final certainly is a distinct possibility, and once you’re there pretty much anything can happen. At the same time, Vasilevskiy could be what he showed for the second half and then whatever resources they were going to chuck for Karlsson might have to be used to go get a goalie. Why do I feel like Henrik Lundqvist could end up here?

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Everything Else

Saying goodbye to the Tampa Bay Lightning is a lot like saying goodbye to bread. Sure, they were necessary. Sure, they had flashes of being really good and noticeable. And yet it felt like everything went on around them. It’s like they were the dining room table at one of their coach’s key parties/12-hour orgies. It’s going to be used as a prop at times, it’s going to have important tools placed on it, but it’s not really where the focus is going to be.

Before the season, it was generally agreed the Lightning were the best team in the league. And really, they were. Somehow they were able to overcome the fact that Dan Girardi turned into amassed lizards like five years ago, Anton Stralman has looked like confused villain #3 in any Bond film since last season, and Braydon Coburn still has windburn from the 2010 Final. They blended kids and rookies into their already stacked lineup seamlessly, the way Jon Cooper blends peanut butter and candle wax seamlessly into his Thursday nights.

And yet pretty much from the first month on, everyone tried to find a different team to claim the favorite. We all wavered from Boston (hilarious) to Nashville to Winnipeg to Vegas to even saying fuck it the Penguins are just going to win again BECAUSE. The Lightning remained as steadfast as ever, they just couldn’t get anyone to care other than the retirees who populate the place and the extras from Magic Mike who no one told filming was over. They were the reserve prom date who had to wait for everyone else’s delusions of grandeur to pass.

As good as this team is, did it ever have any swagger? Or was that sucked up all by Cooper as he sauntered into a USF bar on a Tuesday? Did they ever look like they believed they could beat anyone and everyone? Was there ever an assuredness? It sure never seemed like it. There was no style or panache to it. It was just results. It was basically hockey Pearl Jam.

It looked like they might have captured it getting out of their division in the playoffs. But that should have been the first clue. That division. 17-5-2 against everyone who wasn’t the Bruins, which contained five teams that looked like something an untrained puppy left to its own devices for hours had gone through. Still, it should have been more.

And then the Caps showed up and said, “Hey wait a fucking minute, why is everyone out-thinking themselves here? Girardi and Coburn suck and we’re going to show everyone.” And they did. By Game 7 both looked like David Cross’ burn victim from Mr. Show. Sometimes it is as simple as it looks.

You know what might have helped? If Steven Stamkos could have managed an even-strength goal at any point in the last series, or more than one in the whole playoffs. Still, you have to say it goes nicely with his no goals in the ’15 Final at all. Quite the set. Hell of a Rick Nash impression you’ve got there, Stammer. Guess you weren’t alone. Nikita Kucherov couldn’t manage any either. So nice how you’re keeping each other company. #LinematesTilWeDie

They weren’t alone in Chateau Where The Fuck Were You? Victor Hedman spent all but one game against the Caps making love to a lawn mower, which didn’t exactly counteract the performance art for the blind that Girardi, Stralman, and Coburn were putting forth. The only d-man who looked like he wanted it was Mikhail Sergachev, and he could barely find 10 minutes per night while his coach was scrolling through Early2BedShop.com on his phone. I guess if you’re traded for Jonathan Drouin you can’t be surprised if they still treat you like Jonathan Drouin out of habit. You can’t expect a hockey coach to notice you’re a different guy.

But it’s ok, Steve Yzerman is a genius because he’s the first GM to figure out that Florida’s lack of an income tax could be like, an advantage? We’ll ignore he’s the reason that his blue line that was half-comprised by Tweedle Dumb, Tweedle Slow, and Tweedle Old was all his doing. And hey, they’re all back next year! Only J.T. Miller needs to be re-upped, just as soon as they can locate him with his other linemates after the conference final. They’re all up after that, which is good because Kucherov, Point, and Gourde are going to suck up the rest. Dance that dance, Stevie Y. Everyone will still love you. (And frankly, the fact that he could see taking the Detroit job was an utterly hopeless task alone makes him smarter than 80% of the GMs out there).

So so long, Tampa. No one has made being this good this meh since…well who knows, because all those teams are forgotten now. Much like the whole area. Miami at least has nightlife. Orlando has Disney. Jacksonville has crack. Tampa has…hang on I’ll get this. Probably not a good sign when the only movie that takes place there, the aforementioned Magic Mike, is all about how everyone wants to get the fuck out of there, huh?

 

 

Everything Else

Box Score

Hockey Stats

Natural Stat Trick

After an electric 1st period, the Hawks saw why the Lightning are the best team in the NHL. To the bullets.

– This game was a goaltending clinic. Between Crawford stoning the best power play in the league and Vasilevskiy making several unbelievable saves against Saad, Panik, and Kane in OT, there was no shortage of magic in the crease. Only injury will keep these two from being Vezina finalists.

– The PK was brilliant yet again. Despite six straight minutes of shorthanded time in the 1st period, 42 seconds of which were of the 5-on-3 variety, the Hawks escaped unscathed. You can thank Crawford yet again for coming up large on the 5-on-3, stopping three shots, but the PK as a whole looked tight throughout.

– What Patrick Kane giveth, Patrick Kane taketh away. He was a complete dynamo in the 1st, lifting a sharp wrister over Vasilevskiy’s glove and burying a horrible-angle shot on the Hawks’s 5-on-3 later in the period. But from the 2nd period on, Kane obviously began to think more about the night he will inevitably spend slicking copious amounts of gel through both his and Jon Cooper’s slimily coifed, over-fragranced hairdos as they hop from humid dive bar to humid dive bar. He had a sloppy drop pass on the PP in the 2nd that nearly led to the Ning’s second SH goal, and he continued to leave drop passes in bad spots throughout. And while Vasilevskiy is obviously the real deal, you still expect him to pot a breakaway opportunity in OT. Kane’s performance was reflective of the Hawks’s as a whole: incredible start, leftover-turkey fart to finish.

– I’m getting really itchy about Brandon Saad’s inability to score lately. He had two excellent opportunities that he just couldn’t finish. The first was on a 3-on-1 on the PP. It looked like he wanted to bank the shot off Vasilevskiy’s pad for a rebound to Wide Dick, but with a 3-on-1, I was hoping for a centering pass. Maybe the angle was off for a pass, but the shot selection seemed a bit desperate and rushed. Of course, when that shot didn’t go in, the Ning turned around and scored (Kane’s spaciness on the far boards was also a factor), and continued to tilt the ice. Then in the 3rd, after a sweet feed from Toews, Saad couldn’t finish again. His shooting percentage is now at 5.4% when you discount the first two games, well off his career pace. I’m confident he’ll find it, but sooner would be better than later.

– Saad wasn’t the only guy to biff prime chances tonight. Panik, Schmaltz, and Forsling all had near misses, with Forsling’s being the least egregious with a shot off the post in the 2nd. But Panik getting denied by Vasilevskiy in the 3rd after Saad’s denial was especially frustrating. Again, Vasilevskiy is excellent, but with a yawning net, it’s got to go in. It’s now been 12 games since his last goal. And Schmaltz’s wide shot after a prime feed from Anisimov on the doorstep on a 2-on-1 is inexcusable for a guy with hands that good.

– This was one of Connor Murphy’s best games. His even-strength Corsi was an absurd 78.95%, and his positioning and physicality throughout the game were consistently outstanding and well-placed. I want to see him get more time on the ice, both in general and on the PK, but in nearly 14 minutes tonight (0:55 on the PK), he showed the defensive prowess that the Hawks brought him in for.

– The Hawks CF%s at evens tonight by period: 59+, 26+, 46+. So you’ll take the pity point.

– Three-on-three OT is still stupid, but it was fun watching Crow and Vasilevskiy trade amazing saves.

If and when the stable of Toews, Panik, and Saad pull their shooting percentages out of their ass slings, the Hawks are going to crack off some sort of 20-points-in-10-games streak. You feel this team starting to jell, but time is of the essence.

Safe holidays to everyone this week.

Booze Du Jour: Woodford Reserve

Line of the Night: Everything, because I didn’t have to listen to Mike Milbury at all.

Everything Else

It must’ve been a really odd season for the hockey press that is looking for any excuse to drop to their knees for Steve Yzerman. Steven Stamkos got hurt, as has kind of been his wont in recent years. Ben Bishop was bad, and then he was gone. Tyler Johnson, Valterri Filppula both missed serious chunks of time. And though there was a late charge to get into the playoffs, they missed out after back-to-back conference final-at-least appearances. How could such a thing happen to a team with a GM as genius as Stevie Y? Oh right, the blue line behind Hedman blew chunks. Well guess what? IT STILL DOES! Yzerman has kept salary cap doomsday off for another year or two at least, and the Bolts look ready to regain their place atop the East.

Tampa Bay Lightning

’16-’17 Record: 42-30-10  94 points (5th in the Flortheast)

Team Stats 5v5: 51.2 CF% (7th)  49.8 SF% (18th)  51.7 SCF% (7th)  7.3 SH% (18th)  .924 SV% (16th)

Everything Else

While not a proper eulogy per se, over the past year, we’ve become intimately acquainted with the odd public speaking demeanor of Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, who comes across as an oily, depraved step-dad, complete with juris doctor in hand. Over that time, speculating on Jon Cooper’s extracurricular proclivities has become a running joke in these editorial offices that has simply been begging for an IPO. So in honor of Tampa’s ouster, we’re burying this on a holiday weekend Friday afternoon.

And as fair warning, things are going to get incredibly weird after the jump.

Please note, these #CooperFacts are parody and not actually true (that we are aware of), and that this reflects more on us than anything else. 

Everything Else

oldschool at 

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, CBC, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Ache With Me: Raw Charge

And now the home stretch. With a win on Wednesday night, the Hawks now return to Tampa with the series tied at two games apiece. And in order for them to return back to the west side on Monday with the ultimate goal fully in reach, they will have to do something they have not done yet in this post season, and that’s win Game 5 on the road.

Everything Else

greased lightning vs oldschool

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CBC, TVA
From Her Lips To God’s Ears: Raw Charge

With the series shifting north to the United Center for games 3 and 4, both the Hawks and the Lightning believe themselves to be in highly actionable positions within the context of the series after a split in Tampa. But the team in red is the one that will be best served in maximizing their opportunity on home ice.