Hockey

VS.

 

Records: Panthers 32-74-5 (69) (Nice) Hawks 22-22-5 (49)

Puck Drop: 7:00 Thurs/Sat

TV/Radio: NBCSN / WGN720

Mouth Of The South: Litter Box Cats

 

Welp. We’ve reached the point of the season that seemed unthinkable 6 weeks ago, yet suddenly seemed inevitable 3 weeks later. The Hawks are all but eliminated from playoff contention, and now will be looking with an eye to the horizon to next season and beyond. The next few weeks, however, will be without the services of Adam Boqvist who had his wrist broken in a collision with human meat tree Erik Cernak in the loss to Tampa on Tuesday night. As former maven of the program Sam Fels pointed out on twitter:

While this is not a great development, Boqvist made progress enough this season and his loss should be the gain of people like Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin and Riley Stillman. Playing time should be plentiful for all of the younger players here on out, as the Hawks need to decide which of these guys will be pieces for future playoff runs. In a perfect world, these tryouts would also include Nikita Zadorov being stapled to a recliner in the press box, but I doubt we will be so lucky.

As for the Swamp Cats, they currently sit one point ahead of the Bolts for 2nd in the division with Tampa having 2 games in hand. The Panth have managed to go 6-3-1 in their last 10, despite losing their best defenceman in Aaron Ekblad to a fairly disgusting-looking knee injury approximately a month ago.

In response, Panthers GM Bill Zito went out and got Brandon Montour from Buffalo for a middling return (which seems to be the motto of the Buffalo Sabres front office). On the surface, Montour doesn’t seem like he would be able to fill the gaping hole left by Ekblad, but Montour’s numbers are probably better than you’d think. He’s racked up 6 goals and 9 assists, and played solid defense on the PK to boot on an absolutely moribund Sabers team. He’s not Ekblad, but with the way the rest of the D has been playing he doesn’t have to be.

On the forward end, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau continue to punch a hole in the universe offensively with 18 points between the two of them in the last 5 games alone. They score at evens, they score on the powerplay, and they score shorthanded. The team as a whole has scored 36 goals in the last 10, and have owned the possession edge at a 54% clip up to this point. They push the play up the ice like it was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and will put constant pressure on opposing defenders in their own zone, which we know the Hawks don’t handle well at all.

In net, the Panthers big acquisition of Sergi Bobrovsky has very slowly started to pay off the last month. After a terrible January and February, Bob has gotten his save percentage above .900 and his goals against below 3. That being said, he’s had a couple rough outings against Nashville this week which didn’t help his case to keep those numbers there. He’s had issues with his groin in the past, and seems to be having difficulty going post to post this season, which Kane and DeBrincat could definitely take advantage of.

In the Hawks net, Kevin Lankinen seems to be running on empty as evidenced by his getting yanked before the 2nd period Tuesday night against the Bolts after giving up 3 in the first. Unfortunately Malcom Suban didn’t fare much better, as the Bolts dropped 4 on him in the 2nd and 3rd combined. It’s probably a toss-up as to who gets the starts here on out, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give a few of them to Colin Delia. With the possibility of Subban being sniped by Seattle in the expansion draft, Delia’s services may be needed going forward unless Stan has an idea of maybe signing a 1A to have Lankinen’s back next year. Perhaps someone along the lines of a Devan Dubnyk or James Reimer could fit the bill if the price was right. Though these games don’t statistically matter for the Hawks anymore, they will go a long way to see how Coach Smoothbrain handles giving playing time to audition the kids for next year.

At the end of the day, while expectations for the Hawks this season were low, we allowed ourselves to feel a little hope and were inevitably let down by this team’s inability to win a game with any type of playoff implications. We’re back to square one, waiting to see what some of these admittedly intriguing pieces might be able to bring to the table. While it’s enough to pique my interest, it’s just not what it could’ve been…and that kinda sucks.

Let’s Go Hawks?

Hockey

VS

 

Records: Hawks 14-9-5 / Panthers 17-5-4

Puck Drops: Saturday and Monday 6:00 PM

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

Swamp People: Litter Box Cats

 

OLD FRIEND ALERT: The Hawks travel to the tip of America’s Penis to take on the Joel Quennville-led Florida Panthers over the weekend. The last time the Hawks ventured this far south during the season opening road trip the Panthers dong whipped them up and down the ice, dropping 10 goals on them in the two games they played. Since that time, the Swamp Cats have been one of the more consistent teams in the league despite getting lower than average goaltending out of their high priced free agent, Sergei Bobrovski.

While Bob has played much better of late, winning his last four starts has only brought his save percentage up to a cool .903 to prop up his 3+ GAA. He’s also been splitting way more starts than the front office of the Panthers probably would’ve liked, only starting 2 more games than his “backup” Chris Driedger (.920 sv/2.44 GAA).

This blip in Bob’s goaltending stats hasn’t prevented the Cats from racking up the points, however. The Panthers as a team average the most shots per game in the entire NHL, and as a whole are shooting an even 10%. They also have a fairly deadly power play unit (though not currently as deadly as the Hawks), scoring just over 26% of the time, which does not bode well for our men of the four feathers.

The majority of the Panthers offense flows through Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the team with 32 points (which puts him 7th in the league, 4 spots behind Kane’s 40). Huberdeau is a monster at controlling the puck at both even strength and the power play, averaging a 56% CORSI for this season while keeping the ice tilted in the Panthers favor. He also racks up the points on the power play, and kills penalties. So he’s…kinda good.

After Huberdeau comes another possession beast the Hawks D will have to worry about in Aleksander Barkov. Drafted 2nd overall by the Cats in 2013, Barkov has lived up to the hype despite playing on some absolutely dogshit teams the past 8 years. A big boy at 6-3″ 220, Barkov has the legs and wingspan to create space in the opposing zone, as well as the finesse to finish off his shots. Much like Jonathan Toews, he was expected to do everything at the beginning of his career. From running the power play, to killing penalties and taking defensive zone draws. Now that the Panthers have a more well rounded forward corps, he’s been used more appropriately as a purely offensive weapon. The switch paid off handsomely, as in 2019 he topped his previous career high in points by almost 20 with 96. He’s found a quality running mate on his line with Carter Verhaeghe, who’s potted 9 thus far with Barkov centering him.

On the back end Keith Yandle is still here. He’s had a minor resurgence this season offensively with 17 points to his credit, but has been less than stellar on the defensive end. This is probably why Coach Q has him start almost 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone. In addition to Yandle’s points, the Panth have been getting excellent production out of Aaron Ekblad thus far this season, and that’s with him picking up the slack of Yandle’s offensive zone starts. In addition (just because you knew Coach Q had to have THAT ELEMENT on the team), professional asshat Radko Gudas is here, taking runs at people and generally being a boil on the taint of hockey.

For our Men of the Four Feathers, they come off a split series against the Stars that saw them get completely owned on every spot on the stat sheet except the one that counted in the 2nd game. Managing to score 4 goals of 8 shots in 2 periods isn’t something that you want to depend on going forward. The powerplay seems to have come back to earth a little bit, though they were able to notch a goal in the second game against Dallas with a nifty shot by Top Cat combined with a quality screen by Carl Soderberg.

Not much in the way of lineup changes in this series, though I would most likely expect Kevin Lankinen to get both the starts as Malcom Subban looked urpy again in his last game. The Hawks still haven’t found a way to get consistent pressure on the opposing team during 5 on 5 hockey, so they’re going to have to rely on their transition game more than any team probably should. Good thing Domanik Kubalik (who’s very very good at this) only gets about 12 minutes a night. If the Hawks can get any traffic in front of Bobrovsky they’ll have a decent chance at putting a few past him. He’s been playing better, but not THAT better. Overall, they need to stay out of the box since the penalty kill has melted from a mountain of ice down to the dirty ass snow puddles left in the gutters.

If the Hawks want to keep their grip on the #4 playoff seed strong, they’re going to need a point or two out of this series. The Panthers are good, but I still think they’re a shade below the Lightning and Hurricanes. The goals are there if the Hawks can get enough pressure. 2 is nice, but 4 is preferable.

Let’s Go Hawks

Everything Else

Todd Little is the sole proprietor of LitterBoxCats.com. You can follow him on Twitter @toddlittle827. 

Been a disappointment for the Panthers this season, who some thought could make a playoff push. Is it just down to goaltending or is it more than that?
It’s kind of been a chicken and egg thing between the goaltending and the defense being the main culprit in the Panthers maddeningly slow start. There are times the goalies, James Reimer, in particular, let in Charmin-soft goals, but with the way the defense turns the puck over and yields countless high-quality chances to the opposition, one wonders if any keeper could shine in Florida’s crease right now. In addition to that mess, the only thing the Panthers have been consistent at in 2018-19 is being inconsistent.  Depending on the game or period, they look like one of the better teams in the league, and at other times they look destined for a top-five pick in the draft. One wonders if the Cats made the right choice in hiring the inexperienced Bob Boughner. His system and game management have both been called into question and it doesn’t look like the effort is there all time, and on top of that, players are allowed to make the same mistakes over and over with little to no consequences.
On the bright side, Jonathan Huberdeau is on pace to shatter his career high in points and assists. What’s been the difference there?
Now 25, Huberdeau is more mature and has worked on getting stronger the last couple of offseasons. Huberdeau got off a decent enough start while on the second line. Once he was reunited with Aleksander Barkov on the first line, along with new acquisition Mike Hoffman, was when he really caught fire and has put up 23 points in the last 13 games. If Huberdeau can keep this torrid pace up, he might be looking at his, and the franchise’s, first 100-point season.
What’s the deal with this blue line? Dale Tallon fought hard to keep some of the younger players, which obviously, frustratingly cost the Cats Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. And yet it’s hard to see why. Fill us in. 
I wish someone could fill me in on this. The way that Tallon handled the expansion draft still has many of us scratching our heads. Sure, they wanted Vegas to take Reilly Smith’s contract, but exposing Marchessault was just plain dumb. There had to have been a better way. None of the defensemen they protected was worth doing so and that is becoming more and more obvious, painfully so, as time goes on. The Panthers defensemen don’t seem to have much interest in playing proper defense and are lacking in physicality. Not quite sure if the meat of the problem lies with the players, who are individually talented, or Bob Boughner’s system, but something is seriously amiss with this group.
How much has Vincent Trocheck’s injury been a culprit?
Before he was hurt, Trocheck was having a bit of a tough go of it. He was collecting points on the power play, but struggling in other areas. That said, Vincent is one of Florida’s better players, a true gamer, and it was just a matter of time before he turned things around. They miss him badly and will be a better team when he comes back.
So what does the rest of the season hold? And beyond?
The rest of the season likely holds more of the same. The Panthers have shown no sign of being able to win or even play well on a consistent basis. The five-game winning streak in early November looks like it might end up being the high point of the season. Throw that streak out and they have only won back to back games once… that’s right, once. Beyond that, hard to say. The Cats have serious issues on defense and in the net, not sure how that get fixed anytime soon.

 

Game #39 Preview Suite

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