Hockey

Pat Maroon – A fine fourth liner, and yet he’ll get to wear the label of “the final ingredient” because he happened to be on the Blues last year and from St. Louis. Oh sure, he scored the goal that beat the Stars, a team that took the Blues to seven games even though they couldn’t actually score. And after their first round debacle, the Lightning felt they were missing something, which actually was a goalie who didn’t spend all four games sneezing bending himself into a pretzel but they thought was some goof on the fourth line. What happens if the Bolts go out early again? Does Maroon lose his magic?

Cedric Paquette – Remember when this dingleberry couldn’t wait to suck up all the press about how he was the ultimate pest in Game 3 of the ’15 Final because he had one good game? Yeah, well, Toews ate his heart the rest of the series and the Lightning scored two more goals. Never heard from him again.

Kirk ShattenKevin – Because the Hawks could have had him for the same song the Bolts got him, and they needed his mobility more than Tampa did. But that would take actual vision, and not clogging up your blue line with multi-year deals for the likes of Olli Maatta.

Hockey

Whoops.

That ended up being the theme for the Bolts last season. They took a historically good season and a historically good individual season from Nikita Kucherov and dumped in straight into the toilet like tainted Taco Bell in four games. In some ways, it makes them more unique than if they’d just won the Cup. But that will be of little solace to them and their fans. Which makes this season something of a revenge tour. Most likely, they’ll dial back in the regular season a touch, which should be still more than good enough to win this division. And no judgements can be made until the postseason starts. But the thing with the Lightning is they don’t have some record of being playoff chokers. They’ve been to the conference final twice, a Final once all in the last four seasons. Perhaps they should have beaten the Caps in that conference final, with a Game 7 at home, but it was hardly the magnitude of an upset that last year was. They may be running out of chances.

2018-2019

62-16-4  128 points (1st in Metro, lost in 1st round)

3.89 GF/G (1st)  2.80 GA/G (7th)  +72 GD

51.5 CF% (9th)  52.6 xGF% (8th)

29.2 PP% (1st)  85.0 PK% (1st)

Goalies: A microcosm of the entire team, no opinions are going to be formed about Andrei Vasilevskiy in the regular season. We know he’s almost certainly going to put up Vezina-numbers then. He’s been over .920 in both of his seasons as starter, and .925 at evens. Unless something truly broke in the playoffs, the Lightning have no questions here.

But when April rolls around, so do all those questions. Vas-manian Devil here was simply awful in the first round, putting up an .856 over four games against Columbus. No, he didn’t have a lot of help, but when the Lightning needed a save, he didn’t provide one. This followed him somewhat falling apart in that Game 7 the previous season, so we know there are gremlins jumping around his skull in the spring. And that label dogs you until you prove it untrue. Vas is going to have to wait six months to make things right.

He’ll be backed up by Curtis McElhinney, who is about as solid in that role as you can ask. He had a brief hot streak with the Canes last year before ceding to Peter Mrazek, and was solid as a backup in Toronto the previous two seasons to the point where the unwashed rabble amongst Leafs fans (read: all of them) were pining for him last season. The Lightning won’t want to turn things over to him for too long a stretch if something happens to Vasilevskiy, but he certainly can get them out of 20-25 games.

Defense: What might be most amazing about the Lightning’s season last year is that this defense isn’t all that impressive. And it’s still not. Victor Hedman is one of the best around and certainly cures a lot of ills. But Anton Stralman started to age last year, and they replaced him this time around with a couple fliers in Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn. You could see where in heavily sheltered shift, and the Bolts can do that for him, Kirk ShattenKevin could be a find. Mikhail Sergachev had a rough go in the playoffs, but still has all the promise in the world and should get second-pairing time now.

Erik Cernak‘s play landed Slater Koekkoek here, so you can thank him for that. But Braydon Coburn is still here for reasons no one can explain. Ryan McDonagh is past it too, though Hedman covers up for a lot of that. You know Rutta and Schenn suck deep pond scum. When they were put under heavy attack last year by the Jackets, you saw what happened. They’ll need a renaissance from Shattenkirk and real steps forward from Sergachev and Cernak. If they don’t get those, they’ll have to go looking.

Forwards: Then again, it might not matter thanks to this group. They still need to cram in Brayden Point to their cap situation, as he remains unsigned. Until he is, they’ll just have to find a way to make do with Steven Stamkos, Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson (high atop our wanted list for the Hawks), Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph. How will they ever manage?

The Bolts lit up the scoreboard on the power play and at evens, and with Stamkos and Kucherov on opposite wings there’s no reason the PP won’t go pinball noises again. There’s just little answer for them, especially with Hedman up top. It’s hard to match this depth, whenever Point gets back into the fold. They could ice just the forwards and Vasilevskiy and probably still be a playoff team. Hell, they should try a 4F-1D lineup at all times just to see what happens.

Predictions: If you got odds on this team to win the Cup, you should take them. I don’t think last season is anything other than a strange anomaly, and the only thing that could derail them again before the conference final is if Vasilevskiy truly does see ghosts in the postseason. Yeah, the defense is not special, but it’s got three puck-movers that it needs and all it really has to do is get the puck up to the forwards and say, “Go do shit.” And this forward group is still otherworldly. Is Kucherov going to go for 128 points again? No, probably not. But he doesn’t have to. This team, barring injury or goalies going inside-out, can sleepwalk to 110 points and the Atlantic title again. Any question about them is in the playoffs, and again, this isn’t a team that has a track record of throwing up on itself when it counts. That feels like a one-off. All systems go here.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

 

Everything Else

We know that it’s hockey tradition for the Rangers to sign a big-ticket free agent and then watch it turn into ash in their mouth instantly. It’s generally the way things have been since they signed three-quarters of the 80s Oilers to win their one Cup. In fact, maybe it’s penance for that. Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Nikolai Zherdev (though he was a trade), Eric Lindros, one of their Alex Kovalev trials, we could go on. Any hockey fan could probably recite the list. This is why we can’t wait for them to go against the grain of their rebuild, sign Artemi Panarin for $11 million a year, and then watch him score 22 goals per year after they scrape him off the pavement in Dumbo twice a week. It’s what the gods want, it’s what they require.

So Kevin Shattenkirk is just another in a long line. But man, this went pear-shaped pretty badly.

It was no secret that Shattenkirk wanted to be a Ranger. He’s from Connecticut, grew up a fan, and it’s a main reason why the Blues shipped him off in his free agent year to the Capitals. It has not gone well.

Shattenkirk missed half of last year through injury, though his 23 points in 46 games is just about what you’d expect from him. He’d been a consistent 40-45 point d-man in St. Louis, But this year…egad. Shattenkirk has played in 38 games, but has only amassed 11 points and just two goals. He’s never been a bastion of health, playing 81 games just twice in his career and missing 36, nine, and 26 games three of the past four seasons. But this production is just putrid. Stanky. Pungent, as it were.

So what’s going on? Well, it might not be as bad as it looks on the surface.

One, Shattenkirk is on a wretched team at the very base of a rebuild. So even if he were Paul Coffey circa ’85, there aren’t a lot of players here who can consistently bury whatever chances he’s creating. So let’s get that out of the way. And relative to his team, Shattenkirk is driving the play just about as well as he ever has. His +2.95 CF% relative is among the best marks in his career. His +2.47 SCF% relative to the Rangers is among his St. Louis numbers, though not among his best. Same story with his +5.94 relative in high-danger chances. Shattenkirk is still getting his team to the other end of the ice and the good areas better than any other d-man on the team. And he’s not getting the benefit of extra offensive zone starts, as his 59% mark this year is just about his career-average.

It’s hard not to see his personal 2.7 shooting-percentage as a blinking red light, as that’s half of what was his previous career-low. That’s one problem. Overall, the 7.9% the Rangers shoot while he’s on the ice is just a touch below what his career has seen, but nothing scandalous. It’s the power play that’s the problem. Namely, the Rangers couldn’t find their dick if you put neon lights and a buzzer on it when they have the man-advantage. The Rangers are shooting 5.9% when Shattenkirk is on the power play, and that’s almost a third of his previous career-low. This is a player who routinely racked up 20+ power play points per season, and that was with the wayward children of Missouri. This is almost criminal. And the main reason that Shattenkirk has all of three power play points.

Which sort of has us dreaming of a bad-contract swap, although we admit this is about as drug-addled of a fantasy as you could imagine. The Rangers would probably love nothing better than to get out from the two years remaining on Shattenkirk’s $6.6M hit. And he does have some value if you can put him on a team with other talent, not just placeholders and others who simply got lost at Penn Station who then had a jersey and pads tossed on them. He may never live up to that contract, but he doesn’t have to be in the wilderness either.

In a fantasy world, you could convince Brent Seabrook the cuisine in New York just has to be tried for a full season, throw in a pick or a prospect, sell the Rangers on “veteran leadership” for a young team, and take Shattenkirk in return. A new CBA/lockout in two years is going to arm everyone with compliance buyouts anyway, so the Rangers wouldn’t have to sit with the remaining 43 years on Seabrook’s contract anyway. And the Hawks could have what Erik Gustafsson is trying to be anyway, though with more mobility.

But that won’t happen, and the world won’t collapse if it doesn’t. Maybe you can’t wash off Rangers stink anyway.

 

Game #49 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Rangers 3-5-1   Hawks 5-2-2

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I WAS TALKIN’ TO MY FRIEND BOB SAKAMANO: Blueshirt Banter

The Hawks tour through the b-sides of the league this week continues with the visit of the very much rebuilding New York Rangers. Whatever problems the Hawks have, it’s easy to forget about them with the schedule put forth through the next stretch. Which could be a problem, as the Hawks and their braintrust could be deluded into thinking they don’t have to make systemic changes when you get to beat the remedial class in a spelling contest. They’ll need all the buffer zone they can get from the .500 mark, because we know that a crash toward it could come at any moment down the road.

We’ll start with the Rangers. Somehow, the big-spending, drama-filled, directionless, loud mess owned by James Dolan–no, not that team, the other one–finally convinced itself and its fans (which is the harder task I’ll leave to you) that it was time to be prudent, tear it down, and start again. No longer are the Rangers trying to plug gaps with expensive and bad veterans and making splashes for the sake of making splashes like a five-year old in a bathtub (a comparison Dolan has had levied at him by many others than me). No longer was it about chasing back-page covers on the Daily News or Post, which is a big concern for most New York sports teams (and a big reason most of them suck to high heaven). The Rangers are going to build a team the right way, given the salary cap and such.

Still, if the Rangers’ goal was to bottom out, there’s still just a touch too many good players here to get down around where you’d think the Senators (meaning the Avalanche) or Wings or Islanders could get to. They’re making a fist of it, as they currently are last in the Metro Division. And really, it’s kind of about watching the clock to see when and who the Rangers jettison this year in the pursuit of more prospects to go with their already impressive haul. All or any of Chris Kreider, Captain Stairwell (Kevin Hayes), Mats Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid (there’s always a market for an idiot d-man who’s regarded as rugged), possibly Kevin Shattenkirk (or Kirk Shattenkevin), could be headed for the door before March hits.

There’s also a couple pieces they hope are part of the next great Rangers team (when was the last one? ’94? Don’t say ’14. That was the same, boring-ass Rangers team that they’d been rolling out for 10 years) already here if Filip Chytil and Brett Howden. They were part of trades for Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash. So while they still haven’t completely torn down yet, the rebuild has already begun.

The biggest impediment to being simply awful is of course, Henrik Lundqvist. Yes, he’s just that handsome he can stop a tank, both figuratively and literally. Seriously though, he’s off to a great start which is not his usual modus operandi. He’s at .921, though the Rangers are pretty bad defensively so he’s having to stop a ton of chances.

The Rangers are kind of an odd team. They’re a bad possession team, in the bottom third in Corsi. But they’re just about break-even in xGF%, meaning that though they get less attempts by a decent margin, the ones they get are on par with the ones they give up. Which is hard to figure given that Brendan Smith, McQuaid, and Marc Staal are playing every night and all are generally facing the wrong way most times. Brendan Smith remains the worst player in the league in my mind, which is actually a good thing because we’ll always have Game 6 in ’13 to thank him for.

On the upside, Brady Skjei is basically skating top-pairing minutes, which the Rangers hope he’ll be doing for a decade. Neal Pionk is 23, and though he has a name that sounds like the sound you make when you step on a Lego (or get a bad handjob), he’s been promising so far. What you do with Shattenkirk is anyone’s guess. He’s not going to be around when the Rangers are good again, or at least he’ll be awfully old. Certainly expensive. But he does carry the puck up the ice, and that’s needed.

On the Hawks side, doesn’t appear to be any changes from Tuesday’s win. Crawford in net, Anisimov as a 2C to give me the urpies, and hopefully David Kampf replaces SuckBag Johnson in the lineup.

The Rangers are faster than the Ducks, but possibly less talented though more interested. Their coach David Quinn at least has them playing at pace, which Randy Carlyle won’t figure out from here until the sun swallows us all. We saw how the Hawks dealt with real speed against Tampa, though the Rangers aren’t there. Still, Kreider, Zibanejad, Fast, Zuccarello can be awfully annoying when they’re on song. This defense can be gotten to though, and if the Hawks are serious about making something of this season, getting points against the likes of the Rangers and Ducks and Oilers on Sunday is basically a must. You can handle getting your brains beaten in by the Tampas and Winnipegs of the word if you’re taking the points you should.

 

Game #10 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

For seemingly eons now, the New York Rangers have been foisted upon the general hockey viewing public based solely due to the city they play in despite being boring as shit and never winning anything, culminating each spring with the torpor of yet another series against the Capitals. Mercifully they spared everyone another round of that misery by being particularly terrible last year and missing the playoffs, and will no doubt do the same this year as they enter a full-on rebuild with no real clear plan in place.

’17-’18: 34W-39L-9OT 77PTS 231GF 268GA 21.2%PP 81.4%PK 45.92%CF 7.55%SH .9222%SV

 

Goaltending: Obviously the discussion here begins and ends with Henrik Lunqvist and just how much of this shit he wants to put up with when he’ll be turning 37 in March. Lundqvist isn’t what he once was, throwing a pedestrian-to-bad .915 overall and .919 at evens last year, but given that he was under seige behind a team with a league-worst share of shot attempts that was going nowhere, he could hardly be blamed for selling out. He could probably still help a team that felt it needed goaltending help, but having the heftiest price (and mostly deservedly so based on past performance) and full no-trade protection, it makes any deal dicey. There’s also the question of if Hank would entertain leaving Broadway for one of the NHL’s lesser outposts that might even put him to use in the spring, as it’s never been any secret that the impossibly handsome Lunqvist enjoys everything that Manhattan affords a man of his wealth and good looks. Marek Mazanec and his 25 career starts and .895 overall will be backing Hank up to start, so he could very well play 60-65 completely meaningless games, and it’d more than likely be nobody’s choice but his.

Defensemen: The Rangers promptly diving face first into the shitter is hilarious on a lot of levels, one of the best ones being that Kevin Shattenkirk (Kirk Shattenkevin) basically telegraphed for two years that he was going to sign here, and then sucked to high heaven along with the rest of the team when he finally got to MSG. Shat has always been a bumslayer that flatters to deceive as a true top pairing guy, and there will be no hiding him as this team routinely gets its skull kicked in again this season. Blog favorite Brady Skjei got long term paper over the summer as an RFA, and he could usurp Shattenkirk as the Rangers’ best option to move the puck from the blue line, as Skjei’s defensive zone instincts aren’t nearly as abstract. Marc Staal is still alive, but has about the same pulse and moves at about the same rate as moss on a downed tree branch does. And Rangers recently just went out and traded for Adam McQuaid, as if Staal by himself wasn’t slow enough, they needed to and slow and stupid and always hurt to the mix. And it’s not like they didn’t have the market cornered on stupid to begin with in the form of Brendan Smith, who somehow makes Trevor van Riemsdyk seem decisive and heady in his defensive zone approach.

Forwards: There are some halfway decent constituent parts up front for the blue shirts, as Mika Zibanejad is a fairly dynamic center, and Chris Kreider, while never living fully up to expectations, plays like Brandon Saad on a bottle of Jager and a bag of meth. Vlad Namestnikov was a possession darling in TB before coming over in the McDonagh deal, but he’ll be hard pressed to be as territorially dominant without the benefit of how stacked the top of the Tampa lineup was. Ryan Spooner would be a fine fourth line energy center but he’ll be playing second line minutes here. And the dipshit college boys in Kevin “Captain Stairwell” Hayes and Jimmy Vesey remain here and continue to underwhelm. There’s no underlying thought process or unifying theory of what the Rangers want to be as a forward group, so they’re left with this quarter-cooked crockpot ful of crap to run out the clock on an entire 82-game season with.

Outlook: Bad, and made even worse by virtue of the fact that this team will still be on national TV constantly just because of their laundry. GM Jeff Gorton went out and  grabbed David Quinn from Boston University to replace Alain Vigneault as head coach, which at least shows he’s trying to approach things differently. But the entire season is basicaly a formality in finding out if Henrik Lunqvist can be moved for a KING’S RANSOM (GET IT?) to jump-start this full-on rebuild job that’s barely accumulated any real prospects to date.

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

Everything Else

We could have written the same preview for the New  York Rangers for at least the last three years, probably the last five, maybe the last ten. They’ll get more TV and press time due to their locale and Original Six status, but this is the same collection of small, quick, faceless forwards who don’t quite do enough in front of a top-heavy blue line that’s slightly better than it was but the bottom sucks so hard so who cares and all in front of an aging Henrik Lundqvist who will remain handsome but not able to bring this team through. The most interesting thing about the Rangers was that run-on sentence I just produced. And we do this every year. One day, maybe the Rangers will have a center. I’m just sure I’ll be incontinent by the time it happens.

New York Rangers

’16-’17 Record: 48-28-6  102 points (4th in Metro, lost to Ottawa in 2nd round after beating Montreal)

Team Stats 5v5: 47.9 CF% (25th)  48.6 SF% (24th)  48.4 SCF% (23rd) 8.8 SH% (4th)  .923 SV% (18th)

Special Teams: 20.2 PP% (11th)  79.8 PK% (18th)

Live From The Five Hole

As we were recording, there were actual trades going on in the NHL, and Cieslak was somewhere over the Atlantic, as he is being extradited to The Hague for his various war crimes. Sam has escaped from the maw of the Internet Monster to actually be able to engage in the conversation. Of course, by the time this posts, half of what we discussed could be irrelevant, but isn’t that always the case anyway? And the title is interpreted at the reader’s discretion. Audio after the jump.

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Dexter Fowler’s Biggest Fans: SLGT

Now that the Mike Yeo era began a little quicker in West East St. Louis than most outside of this outlet anticipated, the Blues still find themselves at a crossroads organizationally. This is still basically the same group that Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do anything with, and now that the Blues have fired their fourth of the four winningest coaches of all time, they’re left wondering if it’s at all worth going through another one-and done playoff visit, being essentially locked into their current playoff position. And of course that mean bringing their usual brand of bullshit into the UC tonight.

Everything Else

evil empire at imos blues

Game Time: 8:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, NBCSN, SportsNet360, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
If A Urinal Cake Were A Town: St. Louis GameTime

As far as inevitabilities go, the Hawks and Blues meeting in the first round of the playoffs this year is right up there with death, taxes, and David Haugh writing something profoundly ignorant, stupid, and damaging. And with this series, all of the old war horses once again will be trotted out, from the Hawks “turning it on” and hockey followers everywhere from local to national believing beyond a shadow of a doubt that this time it will be different for the Blues.