Hockey

Game 1 Box Score / Game 2  / Game 3 

Game 1 Natural Stat Trick / Game 2 / Game 3

 

In a series that featured a little bit of everything, the Hawks showed in a nutshell what is going to be positive about their future and simultaneously what needs to be fixed before they can take that big next step into true contention. Game 1 and 3 saw the Hawks bust out solid leads with good play in the offensive zone and what continues to be a Death Star of a powerplay, but the D ended up letting them down and the Bolts came back to win both games. Game 2 saw the Hawks weather Tampa’s furious attack through 3 straight periods, only to counter punch and bury their chances whenever the Bolts slipped up.

We also saw what happens when a younger, more inexperienced team loses focus and begins to take sloppy penalties against a defending Stanley Cup champion. Much like the end of AEW Revolution last night, you saw how much positive feeling and goodwill about a product can disappear like a fart in the wind (or a botched explosion) when things just don’t go according to the plan. Ultimately, however, there was more to like than dislike about this series against a team that (on paper) should’ve kicked the Hawks collective asses to the curb.

TO THE BULLETS!

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

-First, let us begin with the positives. The Hawks power play continues to be a doomsday device when they can set up shop in the opponent’s zone. Alex DeBrincat is rapidly ascending to Ovechkin and Stamkos levels of deadly in the circles with his shot. The season has gone on long enough for other teams to have this scouted by now, and it hasn’t mattered one bit. Even strength has been no different for Top Cat, as he’s now second on the team only to Kane in points.

-Speaking of, Patrick Kane is having a Hart Trophy kinda year, and if he can keep up this pace and the Hawks make the playoffs I think you’d have a hard time not giving it to him. It’s obviously the old “best player on the best team vs. the player most responsible for his team’s success” argument (which will never end), but Kane seems to have taken the mantle of “veteran offensive leader” pretty seriously in the wake of Toews not being around and should be number 1 on everyone’s ballot.

-Malcom Subban, despite giving up 3 goals (none of which he had much of a prayer on) rebounded nicely from the egg he laid against Detroit. Not only did he make some fabulous saves against the Bolts in OT during the furious up and down 90 seconds where everyone pretty much pretended defense was optional, but he shut the door on Stamkos in the Home Run Derby to secure the shootout win. Good for Malcom, as I’ve been a fan of his for awhile. He’s never going to be a starter, but he’s a more than serviceable backup if his minutes are monitored.

-Speaking of goaltending, Kevin Lankinen didn’t get much help from his defense in game 3, and if he wasn’t able to put forth the performance he did the Bolts could’ve easily put up double digits on the Hawks. His performance in game 1 was excellent as well, and if this is who he really is the Hawks Euro Scouting Department deserves some kudos from Stan and Danny (henceforth known collectively as Stanny).

-I fully expected the Hawks to get slaughtered in the possession metrics this series, the Lightning being what they are. However I was happily surprised that they actually won the CORSI battle in game 1, 58.7% to 41.3%. Game 2 was a different story, which should not be a surprise considering the furious attack of the Bolts in the first two periods (Tampa won the CORSI battle in period 2 78.3-21.7%. YIKES), but the Hawks were well on their way to winning the possession battle in game 3 when the conga line to the box began in the 2nd. There’s been some improvement here, and Brandon Hagel has something to do with that, as his constant pressure on the forecheck forces teams to try errant passes that more often than not are picked off in the neutral zone. If only the Hawks had some more speed to compliment him, they could be on their way to tilting the table.

-Mattias Janmark has been a solid signing by Stan Bowman this season, and him chipping in on Sunday with a (very nice) goal and an assist was an added bonus. In reality, he’s probably a 3rd line center on a team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, and he should be treated as such when the trade deadline appears. The Hawks can find better uses for that money in the off-season, and any picks they can get for him will be of use either as currency in the future or as a chance to fill some holes on the back end.

-Now, the negatives. Connor Murphy almost certainly will find himself in the pressbox for a game after taking a run at Erik Cernak with about 10 to go in the 2nd period. (UPDATE: Murphy will actually not face any disciplinary action at all. Color me shocked) He was assessed the Hawks first 5 minute match penalty since Duncan Keith went full Brock Lesnar and pile drove Dillon Dube into the boards against the Flames in 2018. Murphy doesn’t have a history of Tom Wilson-esque behavior, so he’s got no priors. The shot caught Cernak up high and he ended up leaving the game, so expect discipline from above. The Hawks managed to kill off the penalty, thanks to a lazy tripping call on Victor Hedman (who had been playing full tilt the entire series for some reason) but were completely unable to capitalize on that momentum because…

-They took a million fucking stick penalties in game 3, and the Lightning absolutely made them pay. The Bolts went 4 for 5 on the man advantage, completely obliterating the 3 goal lead the Hawks had built up for themselves with what might have been their best period all year in the 1st. This is what you’re gonna get with a young team that also contains Nikita Zadorov, but Duncan Keith and Soderberg should know better.

-Ian Mitchell might need to take a sick day after getting absolutely roasted by pretty much everyone in a white sweater on Sunday. He only ended up with 10 minutes of ice time in a game that featured the Hawks losing a D-man halfway through to a major penalty. His CORSI for on the day was a cool 22.22%, and his only contribution other than being out of position all day was being on ice for both Tampa even strength goals and taking a boneheaded hooking penalty against Stamkos that lead directly to Victor Hedman’s game tying PP goal. Mitchell has a ton of talent and he’s got a bright future, but the last few games he’s been under water and probably needs a breather before he gets in too deep.

-Nikita Zadorov: still bad, still getting 20 fucking minutes a night.

-Next up the Hawks travel down to the COVID Wild West in Dallas for 2 very important games against the Stars. Considering the Preds are dying a death, Columbus couldn’t give any less shits, and Detroit is still a Ferris Wheel filled with rotting corpses the Stars are pretty much the only team that could conceivably steal the #4 seed from the Hawks. Bare minimum this needs to be a split, so let’s see how the team responds to the skulling the Bolts gave them yesterday.

Let’s Go Hawks

 

Hockey

VS

Gametimes: 7:00 Both Nights (2/2 and 2/4)

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

Rod Brind’Amour’s Nose: Canes Country

 

Ahhh yes, the Carolina Hurricanes. The team that is essentially Stan Bowman’s own personal A Christmas Carol. You know, the classic story that tells the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge. A hockey GM of middling talent and the backing of a liquor distribution magnate who is forced to reckon with the ghosts of his failures past (Teuvo), present (whatever this team is), and what he wants his future teams to be like (the Canes).

The Canes arrive at West Madison after handling the Dallas Stars pretty easily in their last 2 games out and bring a 5-1-0 record to the madhouse. That 5-1 record was compiled with the loss of various players at various times due to COVID protocol restrictions, but they seem to be getting healthier as the season goes along. Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo are all planning on returning to the lineup tonight, leaving only Jesper Fast by himself in the COVID restrictions list.

That group returning to the active roster does not bode well for the Hawks defense and goaltending. The Canes forward corps is one of the fastest and most creative groups the Blackhawks will see this season outside of Tampa Bay. The Canes currently sit atop the Possession Metric Mountain, with an average of a 56.76% CORSI per game according to Natural Stat Trick. They’re able to control the play, and keep the puck in the offensive zone for minutes at a time. Teuvo, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov were a doomsday line last season, but coach Rod Brind’amour has split them up out of necessity thus far this season. Also one of the Staal brothers plays here. Jordan maybe?

On the back end, the Canes getting Jaccob Slavin back from the COVID list should further shore up what is a pretty solid defensive core. They’re a mobile group, created to flip the ice at a moments notice and send the play toward the opposing blue line. They also have one of the best PKs in the league, 2nd only to Colorado.

Really the only glaring weakness for this squad showed up suddenly the other day when goaltender Petr Mrazek got run by his own defenseman Max McCormick in the first game against the Stars. He came up from the collision clutching his blocker arm and it’s now said that whatever it is might require surgery. This leaves the bulk of the starting duties to James Reimer, who’s been a slightly above league average goaltender in his career, with stretches of above average play. He’s prone to hot and cold streaks, so if this Death Star of a hockey team has an exhaust port, he might be it if caught on the right night.

As for the Hawks, the Canes aren’t the only ones getting reinforcements tonight, as Alex DeBrincat and Nicolas Beaudin return to the lineup from their Rona Retreat. Getting Top Cat back in the lineup would most likely send Highmore back to the pressbox and move Janmark to the 3rd or 4th line, but we will see if Coach Smoothbrain wants to break up Janmark, Kurashev and Kane which as a whole looked pretty dangerous against the Jackets.

Kevin Lankinen gets the net tonight, and should probably be getting the bulk of the starts from here on out until he proves that he doesn’t deserve them. The top ranked Hawks PP will have their work cut out for them against the 2nd ranked PK unit of the Canes, but one sample size is considerably smaller than the other because of canceled games due to COVID.

This 2 game series is a stout test for a young group of Hawks forwards, and should be a nice benchmark to see the progress they’ve made. With the speed the Canes have, expect to see the Hawks D pinned in their end for considerable periods of time. Mistakes need to be limited, because Carolina thrives on taking those and making you pay for them. Any Hawks counterpunches need to be buried in the net behind Reimer, because the chances are going to be few and far between. If the Hawks play like they did against Columbus, they stand a chance at taking a few points from this series.  Strap in, grab a few beers, and let’s light that lamp.

 

Let’s Go Hawks.

Everything Else

You have to hand it to the Dallas Stars. It seems every couple of seasons, maybe more often, they’re ready to shed their skin. First they were going to be the Run n’ Gun n’ Fun team under Lindy Ruff. Then when that didn’t go anywhere they were going to be a more solid unit under Ken Hitchcock that took its limited opportunities while boring the lower intestines out of everyone. And then that didn’t work so they went outside the box to the University of Denver for Jim Montgomery. And lo and behold…they’re on pace for the same 85-92 points they seemingly always get and never go anywhere. They’re just south of the Wild in the consistency standings, and right there with them in the “Never Do Anything That Matters” standings. Kind of symbolic.

While Jim Nill always wins the Best Offseason GM Award, nothing ever seems to really change on the ice when the season starts. The thought was that Hitchcock was too conservative for the modern game, and that he didn’t really get through to younger players who want to get up the ice more often and faster than Jabba The Hitch would ever be comfortable with.

And yet so far this season, under the supposed forward-thinking Montgomery, the Stars get less attempts, less shots, less goals, and less chances than they did last year under Hitch. They’re not even getting as good of goaltending as they did, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re on pace for 89 more irrelevant points as a team that neither makes them a contender or puts them anywhere in the draft to make a difference next year.

So what’s the problem here? It’s not the top line, which has produced every year as long as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have been together. Now they have Alex Radulov joining the fun. It’s not the goalies, as Ben Bishop has a .920 this year and has been more than solid in his time in Texas.

So scrape beneath that just a bit, and you see the young players that the Stars have pinpointed and hoped would pick up the secondary scoring, and you start to find some answers.

Devin Shore: Second round pick in 2012, point-per-game or thereabouts for three seasons in the NCAA. Had injury problems in his first season as a pro in the AHL but still was a point-per-game when he was around there. Has put up 24 goals and 55 points in two NHL seasons and this year is on pace for…the same 13 goals and 32-ish points that weren’t enough to be a second line player in the first place.

Radek Faksa1st round pick in 2012. Impressive numbers in junior. Good enough in his first season as a pro to spend half the year in Dallas. 17 goals last year in his first full-season in the NHL, looks set for bigger things. On pace for barely 14 goals this year while only just averaging a shot-on-goal per game.

Mattias JanmarkPicked up from the Red Wings in what was thought to be something of a steal. Very good numbers in Sweden. Went from 15 goals to 19 goals last year and looked to be a genuine second-line player. Has two goals this year and like Faksa, is barely registering a shot per game.

Brett Ritchie2nd round pick in 2011. Two-time member of Canada’s WJC team. Bounced between the AHL and NHL for a few seasons. Put up 16 goals last year in his first full foray into the big-time. Has two goals this year and is basically a 13th or 14th forward.

Val Nichushkin: Looked to be a real ass-kicker in his rookie year with 14 goals in ’13-’14. Missed almost all of the next year with a terrible injury, never really looked recovered the next season, fucked off back to Russia for two years, and has yet to score this term.

Honka! Honka! (Julius Honka): 1st round pick in 2014. Tore up the OHL in his one year there. Always thought that Ruff and Hitchcock wouldn’t give him the time of day because of just being a young d-man. Has four points this season though with some promising underlying numbers. Stars needed him to push the play beneath John Klingberg and especially in his absence. Hasn’t really happened. Now behind Miro Heiskanen on the depth-chart

And once again, the Stars are a top line, Klingberg (when healthy) and that’s it. They hope they’ve cracked the code on defense with Miro Heiskanen, and maybe they have But until they finally produce a second line from somewhere, they seem destined to be scenery in the Central Division.

 

 

Game #37 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built