Look, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a far superior team to the Chicago Blackhawks. There is little debate about that. And looking at the box score, it would appear that the Hawks put up a valiant fight despite being hopelessly outgunned even if Kucherov and Stamkos didn’t play. But that would be the incorrect conclusion to draw, and once again a pants shitting was on display from top to bottom given how the game actually played out and the circumstances in the standings surrounding it. In the end, however, water finds its own level and this was yet another shining example of just how far away from being actually competitive the Hawks are, no matter how FUN they were for 10 minutes two months ago.
If nothing else, this week was going to reveal whether or not the Hawks had indeed built on literally anything over the past 40-odd games after having been prematurely declared “fun” and “pesky” and “suprising” earlier in the season where they accumulated enough points in the skills competition where it was going to be extremely difficult for them to blow the 4-seed they had ensconsed themselves in. But, as has always been the case for the past three seasons under Coach Jeremy Bevington, despite offering a glimmer of hope (as they did Wednesday night), his teams will always blow any and every chance they have in critical games simply because he is completely overmatched on top of running an easily exploitable system. And in the case of the Predators, despite having no true top end scoring (and having the only person who might threaten with that label hurt in Filip Forsberg) and a complete cipher as a coach in John Hynes, their speed and like two basic adjustments – sit on blind breakout attempts up the wall, and have defenseman crash down if a Hawks d-man follows his check above the hashmark on a cycle as he’s stupidly supposed to – proved to be enough to take 15 of 16 points in the season series and ultimately torpedo any ill-conceived playoff hopes the Hawks or their fans/media may have had eyes on both in the macro and micro scale. It’s better this way, however, as there is a very real chance the wrong lessons could have been learned from positive results not matching a bad process.
Natural Stat Trick
Sometimes hockey is dumb. Really, that’s the biggest takeaway from this series right now. All season long we’ve been harping on the fact that the Hawks can’t continue to get pantsed night in and night out in the possession department and expect to end up in the playoffs. So in game one of the set with the Red Wings, they went out and controlled the play at a 54% clip and got skulled 4-1. Then in game 2 they went back to a 44% share for the evening and shut the Scum out 4-nil.
Numbers Don’t Lie
-Kevin Lankinen has looked increasingly human as the season has progressed, which really isn’t a surprise considering he’s already surpassed the normal season length in the Finnish Elite League. One nice side effect of the shortened COVID-19 season is that it’s almost like Lankinen is on an innings limit like pitchers in baseball. It’s a good way to break him into the slog that is the normal NHL season. That being said, it’s not great right now when the Hawks need him for the stretch run.
-That being said, Malcom Subban had one of his better starts last night, making some higher difficulty saves in the 2nd when the Scum real started to press the attack. If Lankinen is gassed, it will be interesting to see how Coach Galaxy Brain handles the starts next week against the Preds.
-Patrick Kane is back to looking like a world killer again. After stalling out post-400 goal, he’s netted 2 in 2 games. Needless to say he’s gonna need to take the reins offensively if the team is gonna score against Smashville.
-Ian Mitchell has looked much better the past few starts, and is picking his spots to jump in the play much better. He still needs a center fielder for him to cowboy with, and pairing him with Zadorov is not the fucking answer.
-Brandon Hagel getting an assist off his nuggets is a highlight of the season for me.
-Wyatt Kalynuk is looking more and more like “a thing.” He’s made some mistakes in his own end, but I’m willing to overlook them if it means the kind of production we saw last night.
-Next up is the 3 game series against Smashville that will pretty much determine whether or not the Hawks move onto the playoffs this season. Thus far this year they’re 0-4-2 against the Preds, and have only looked decent in one of those losses. They’re also sub-.500 in games that matter with Colliton as coach. The stats aren’t in their favor, and I’m not holding my breath. The Hawks need at least 2 of the 3, and they pretty much have to be in regulation. Hope springs eternal.
Let’s Go Hawks
Game Times: 7:00PM (2/27), 6:00PM (2/28)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network (2/28), WGN-AM 720
Big Money Rustlas: Winging It In Motown
As the Hawks and Jackets showed earlier in the week, even in an abbreviated, intra-division only schedule thanks to the interminable pestilence still keeping the world in its grip, it is still in fact possible to have a completely disinterested late-February snoozefest. It’s all about maintaining a sense of normalcy out there, and those two teams’ efforts were appreciated. And the drudgery continues this weekend with another two games against the visiting Red Wings, whom the Hawks played in Detroit just last week, and against whom the Hawks have half of their six (6) regulation wins in 21 games.
Well this started out about as generously as could be expected given the how wide the gulf between these two teams currently is. There were extended stretches of both games where the Bolts were seemingly just playing with their food, rope-a-doping the Hawks into tiring themselves out and then immediately capitalizing on the slightest miscue and creating odd-man rushes going the other way with a single stride. This team is still favored to win this makeshift, slapdash division without Nikita Kucherov for a reason, as Andrei Vasilivskiy in particular barely broke a sweat in these two games, looking as locked in as he ever has. Of course, when Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter are the ones just tossing prayers in your direction, it’s certainly easy to look that way.
- It has long been established that part of the style guide here is to avoid questioning drive, jump, effort, body language, COMPETE, whatever horse shit term anyone wants to use when analyzing a game. But this team certainly already looks like it is acutely aware that this is a lost season to be played in empty buildings amid a plague, and knows it is woefully outgunned. This couldn’t possibly speak to the fact that the coach is a mealy mouthed boy band reject who’s idea of a firey pregame speech is whispering from a toilet stall while his hall of fame captain stares daggers into the abyss because it’s clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which all COULD work, if there was any semblance of his tactics having on-ice results. Being a stomping redass with snot and spit flying everywhere as he screams isn’t a solution either.
- Speaking of revolutionary defensive zone coverage, a fun game to play at home is to do a shot every time the Hawks are scored against while both defensemen are in the same corner. Don’t worry, during lockdown it’s “Airport Rules” – no one is allowed to question why, when, how much, or what you’re drinking.
- Especially guilty of the aforementioned crimes against hockey sensibilities is Nikita Zadorov, who appears to be the perfect storm of lunkheadedness, obliviousness, aggression, and having a lack of coherent structure from his coaching staff to be profoundly, tragically out of position at all times. It’s a good thing he’s paired with Adam Boqvist, who was already teetering on the brink of being broken by this organization.
- Speaking of Boqvist (and Ian Mitchell), it’s clear that the tools are there for both of them, but it’s still very clear that these two are playing either scared to make a mistake, or in-between in their heads fighting their shotgunny instincts that made them prospects in the first place. And if every single mistake ends up in the back of the net and/or is subsequently punished, it could break these two young careers before they even start.
- Boqvist in particular let his instincts show late last night when it was still 3-2, where he jumped down from the right point looking for a seam pass that obviously missed, and sprang a Bolts rush the other way that Ondrej Palat buried. But those are the type of chances the Hawks have not only got to live with, but encourage from Boqvist and Mitchell. His insticts were absolutely right, given that the passing lane was there and he was uncovered, and that within the context of the score and clock it was absolutely a judicious chance to take. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great idea, and that cannot be punished or coached out of him.
- In another round of coaching brilliance, Coach Jeremy Trestman has got Andrew Shaw in the trigger man spot in the high slot/near the top of the rings on the first unit, with Dylan Strome in front. While the unit has scored twice (Game #1’s goal was…..yeah), it’s fairly safe to say that that spot is not where Andrew Shaw’s skill set is maximized. True Brain Genious/Cortex Warrior thinking here.
- In net, while both Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia gave up five goals a piece, Delia looked sharper for the most part, making some more difficult saves even if him handling the puck is clearly an adventure. Don’t anticipate either distinguishing himself for a #1 workload any time soon, especially with what the defense in front of them is providing.
- There is no reason at all that Philipp Kurashev shouldn’t be playing every single game, especially when the alternative is Brandon Pirri.
- Pius Suter at least doesn’t look out of place here in the NHL, but it remains to be seen if he’s on trajectory to be just “a guy” or a contributor.
That’s about it for now, the Hawks visit old friend Joel and his Cats tomorrow night for their season opener as their first two games against Dallas got banged due to PESTILENCE. Maybe these games will be closer or the Hawks might win one, but don’t bet the stimulus check on it.
Game Times: 7:00PM (1/13) & 6:00PM (1/15)
TV/Radio: NBCSN (1/15), NBC Sports Chicago (1/15), WGN-AM 720
Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%: Raw Charge
Despite every indication that this shouldn’t be happening from both the world at large given that pestilence still ravaging this country, and the fact that the league itself has said that they’d probably be better off simply NOT playing, the NHL regular season (such as it is) begins tonight. And the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their championship banner in front of no one while an already decimated Hawks team looks on at a vague reminder of what once was and now seems so desperately far away.
Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Does The Real Caesar Live Here?: Sin Bin
The Hawks finally return to West Madison tonight for the first time in 2018 after their longest road trip of the season that saw them volley back and forth between coasts to welcome for the very first time the Vegas Golden Knights, who inexplicably sit atop the Western Conference with games in hand on basically everyone who is their closest competition for the top overall seed.
Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier run SinBin.vegas. They were kind enough to take the time to answer our nonsense. Follow their work on Twitter @Sinbinvegas.
So like the crusty old hockey guys we are, seriously we only drink Molson now, we’ve scoffed for a while at the Knights success. But it’s getting time to get past that, obviously. What is the key here? Gerrard Gallant? A unique style? As lots of people will be seeing this team for the first time live, what should they be looking for?
Boehlke: The biggest thing is their depth. The top line is clearly a cut below every other team’s, but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are better than pretty much every team. Plus, their defense pairings can hang with anybody and are pitching in a ton of offense. They all play a quick brand of hockey and no matter who is out there at any given moment they are dangerous in transition. You turn the puck over in your own end or in the neutral zone (or even near the blue line) the Golden Knights will be in front of your net getting a scoring chance in a hurry. Defensively, they play the simplest game you’ve ever seen in the NHL. Simple fast decision making usually has them breaking out of their own zone easily and quickly (except last night against St. Louis). Gallant is the ultimate players coach and deserves a ton of credit, but there’s more to his style that’s any different than anyone else. He just has this calming effect on the players and they seem to really want to play for him. Finally, what should they be looking for? Well, quick decision making, great transition from their own end to the neutral zone into the attacking zone, and a bunch of odd-man rushes. They don’t do anything you’ve never seen before, but they are good at doing things you have. That was a long answer, but that’s what you get when you ask seven questions masqueraded as one.
The Golden Knights play a relatively simple game. Limiting mistakes, pushing the tempo and maintaining possession are a few reasons why Vegas has 56 points in 39 games. Vegas plays smart, makes quick decisions and keeps their foot on the gas. They’re also very balanced, getting impact production from their offense and defense. Plus, Vegas has gotten steady goaltending all season. Lastly, Head coach Gerard Gallant is the perfect leader. His roster came together quick and believed they could win. He’s not a cheerleader type, but a coach that allows players to trust their instincts. Gallant won’t mess with his lines often, and gives players opportunities to work out of funks. His assurance with the players has created a fun, loose environment. One that’s perfect for winning.
William Karlsson never had more than 25 points in a season, now he’s got 33 in less than half of one. What’s the deal here?
The main thing is usage. In Columbus he was a third or fourth liner who was normally asked to concentrate on his defense. He’s an excellent defensive center, but now the Golden Knights are giving him a bunch more offensive zone starts and have put him on a line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault who have made him into an attacking star. He’s just an all around stud player and his success is as much an indictment on the Blue Jackets not knowing what they had more so than the Golden Knights utilizing him properly. This guy is a stud and is going to be for a while. He may not score 30 goals every year because that shooting percentage is preposterous, but his 200 foot game isn’t going to change as time goes on.
Karlsson’s offensive stats are hard to ignore, but his overall play is what’s more impressive. He’s became a lockdown center effectively playing the full sheet of ice. His neutral zone decisions have created countless odd-man rushes for his linemates Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. Like many Golden Knights, Karlsson has benefited greatly from more ice time. The Swede is averaging four minutes per game more than his career average. Columbus couldn’t promise the same opportunities. Now that Karlsson is on the ice more his skill is more defined. The Golden Knights have a core two-way center that has a knack for finding the back of the net.
It’s the same thing with Malcolm Subban. He was never that impressive in the AHL with the Boston organizations, and is now rocking a .922. Is that just maturity and experience or a huge spasm of luck or something in between?
All the credit in the world goes to the Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior for Subban’s turnaround. He hit the waiver wire and Vegas pounced on him. Why? Because Prior knew it would only take a few simple fixes to turn him from a bum to a the 1st round talent he was when he was drafted. He’s a lot quieter in the net and he doesn’t take nearly as many risks. Prior has taught him to stay standing a bit longer than normal and with his elite reaction speed and big frame it’s made all the difference. He seems to be the real deal, but I still want to see how he responds to getting lit up. It’s been all positives here. That wasn’t the case in Boston and Providence. Can he keep his head on straight after giving up five or six goals? If he can, he might be the future for the Golden Knights, if not, maybe Oscar Dansk is.
Subban has played above anyone’s expectations, including the Golden Knights organization. In Boston, there was internal pressure because he was a first-round draft pick. His role never developed in the AHL and the Bruins were left waiving him. He’s incredibly athletic, strong and humble. Subban has refined his skills with the aid of Vegas goalie coach Dave Prior. Which could be a big reason why he’s playing so well. All that being said, it’s still early to declare Subban as the goaltender of the future. Vegas fans will be happy if he is. They really love to cheer “Soooooob” when Subban makes a nice save.
So the goalposts have had to shift now, yes? Where George McPhee might have been tempted to do some selling at the deadline to get long-term assets, he can’t really do that now, correct?
Absolutely not. The only thing he can do in regards to selling is “selling to buy.” If he flips one or two of the UFAs (Neal, Perron, and Sbisa) he’s got to bring back a long term piece that can also help now. No longer are 2020 2nd round picks a valuable commodity. My guess is McPhee completely stands pat at the deadline and just lets this team ride it out, but he’s not afraid to make a splash trade so who knows. But I will tell you this, every time he’s asked about the deadline he runs the same line, “I’m not going to sit here and derail anything.” So, if you take him for his word, he’s not going to sit here and derail anything.
I’m not fully counting out roster movement at the deadline. The Golden Knights GM has continuously said he won’t derail the momentum. However, he carefully reminds fans that it’s too early to plan for the playoffs. Which in my mind suggests McPhee is more concerned about building the future. Is it still possible that McPhee trades a player like David Perron for a prospect or draft pick? Of course, the only problem is disrupting a first-place team. McPhee can’t do that, his boss Bill Foley would be livid.
With the incredibly surprising start, as well as the novelty, how has the first half-season gone over in Vegas? Are they in the news and such? Buzz?
It’s everywhere. Literally the only thing people in Vegas talk about. It’s kind of a euphoric state in which everyone can’t believe how good they are and therefore there’s very little actual hockey talk. Instead it’s just a bunch of hyperbole and disbelief about how awesome it is to have a team that’s not awful. It feels a lot like a college town where you have to know what’s going on or you are basically a social outcast. That doesn’t mean anyone actually knows what’s going on, cause they don’t and not enough people know about my website, but they certainly know what happened in the last game. It’s cool and it’s only going to get better when the real games start in April and hopefully May and June.
The Golden Knights are the talk of the town, and righteously so. However, to my disappointment the local radio and tv stations haven’t fully committed. The NFL, Raiders, NBA, and UNLV continue to lead the local airwaves. During some local programming it sounds as if the Golden Knights were never created. It’s not the fans fault. Vegas fans are loud, passionate and enjoying this fairy tale inaugural season. The entire city is amped for the second half of the season, and possibly the postseason
Game #40 Preview