Hockey

There probably isn’t a team that will be checked in on Gamecenter by non-partisans more than the Colorado Avalanche. After sneaking into the playoffs and then pulling out the Flames’ organs one-by-one in alphabetical order before giving the Sharks everything they wanted, the Avs have added a genuine center and are going to have a full season of Cale Makar. But they’ve also lost Tyson Barrie, and Bowen Byram won’t get his audition until at least March or April, though likely next season. They seem poised to rise among the top of the Central. But are they?

2018-2019

38-30-14  90 points (5th in Central, out in 2nd round)

3.15 GF/G (10th)  2.98 GA/G (16th) +14 GD

50.0 CF% (13th)  49.8 xGF% (16th)

22.0 PP% (7th)  78.7 PK% (25th)

Goalies: Once again the reins will be handed to Phillip Grubauer, only this time the Avs are a little more sure of what they have. The first half of last year saw both Grubs and the now-departed Semyon Varlamov stake a claim to the job, and then hand it back about seven minutes later to the other one, and then the whole cycle would start all over again. But the second half saw Grubauer take the job by the throat and keep it. Grubs went .929 in February, .955 in March, .937 in April, and a .925 in the playoffs. It’s what the Avs had wanted from the get-go, and had they gotten it they wouldn’t have been messing around with the rabble like the Hawks until the season’s final week.

He’d better be good and healthy, because his backup is some Vaudevillian named Pavel Francouz, which is clearly a mash-up of the things the unwashed hate most to make a cartoon villain, and that’s the French and Russians. This sounds like something out of Bullwinkle. Needless to say, the Avs do not want to have to be counting on a 29-year-old journeyman with two games in the NHL for any length of time. It’s Grubauer, live without a net!

Defense: The headline here is a full season of Cale Makar, who stepped into the playoffs for the Avs and not only didn’t look out of place but ran the show at parts. He was clearly college hockey’s best player and the mind reels at what he can do behind MacKinnon’s line. Still, it’s a lot to ask for a rookie d-man to come in and dominate from jump street, so at least at the start of the season he’ll be sheltered somewhat with Golf Cart Titan Erik Johnson and others taking the more dungeon shifts.

And after the way it’s shaken out, this actually isn’t that impressive of a unit. There was a moment when they looked like they would roll with Barrie, Makar, and Byram on three different pairs to be able to push the play every minute of every game. Well, Barrie went to Toronto and Byram didn’t make the team, so now it’s only Makar as a genuine puck-mover here. That’s never been Erik Johnson’s game. Maybe Samuel Girard has more to show in that category, but it doesn’t really look like his game either.Maybe you keep Makar and Mac K separate and let the latter do it himself for the 20-25 he’s on the ice anyway. Maybe fellow neophyte Connor Timmins has it in him from a third-pairing spot? We know for sure it ain’t Ian Cole (bay-bay!).

This outfit could have had a lot of verve. Now it really doesn’t. Feels like they missed out on something here.

Forwards: But I can’t argue with the Tyson Barrie trade too much, because it brought back Nazem Kadri who is just about perfect for this team. Yes, he’s a raging penis at times who is a danger to himself and his team at his worst moments. He’s also a unique center in that he can take on the toughest assignments while still scoring 50-60 points. The Avs had nothing behind Mac K last year down the middle, and now they have one of the rare Swiss Army knives in the league.

That should leave Tyson Jost with some of the cushier shifts around, which he’ll need to produce more than the 25-odd points he got last year. They’ve also brought in Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to try and bolster the support scoring, which they were badly in need of. Donskoi always seemed like he flattered to deceive in San Jose, and probably isn’t much more than a water-carrier. Still, they bolster the ranks.

J.T. Compher will still score 17 goals against the Hawks this year.

They’re taking a flier on Valeri Nichushkin, who just could never get quite right in Dallas but seems to have all the physical tools to be a contributor. But no goals last year is no goals last year.

As always, it’ll come down to just how much of a star destroyer the top line can be, and they just brought Mikko Rantanen back into the fold for a cool $9.25M per year (Alex DeBrincat just passed out). They were among, if not the, best lines in hockey last year and there’s no reason to think they can’t match that. MacKinnon will benefit from having Kadri around to take the other teams’ top lines on, so he could produce even more if you can believe it. As if the 99 points last year weren’t enough or something.

The Avs will remain top-heavy, but not quite as much as they were. ;

Prediction: Even with just a full year of Grubauer playing well, this team would move on from the 90 points it delivered last season. I’m skeptical of the defense but if they can find someone other than Makar to move the play, they should be fine. Otherwise they’re basically what they were last year in this spot. Kadri is a big boost, and if a youngster like Jost pops or they can shake something out of Burakovsky the Caps never could, so much the better. They could have three lines instead of one and a half. Are they ready to roll out of the West? That might be a bridge too far, but then again the West doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite anymore. And the Central has its own issues. Easily can see them at least asking questions about winning the division.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

 

 

Hockey

As you can tell with the swing of our content over the past couple weeks, it’s hockey dead season. Training camps are still weeks away, even the prospects tournaments aren’t all that close, and everything off the ice has come to a standstill (except for Bill Guerin’s face slowly melting off his skull, apparently).

Still, there’s some intrigue, and even for Hawks fans. Except that nothing will move before camp starts likely, and maybe right on the eve of the season. And that’s in Winnipeg, and to a lesser extent Denver.

The Jets currently have Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine unsigned as restricted free agents. And though both would seem to be as important to the Jets, the atmosphere around those negotiations (if they’re even taking place) are very differently. Connor seems to want to be locked down for a good long time at a high salary, whereas the Jets and Laine seem to view things differently. Laine is coming off what was a disappointing seasons, though his disappointing season would look great to about 75% of the players in the league.

The funny thing is that even with Laine’s apparent downturn and Connor establishing himself as a top line player (at least for the Jets), their numbers the last two seasons are remarkably similar. Connor has gone 65G-58A-123P the past two seasons, and Laine is at 74G-46A-120P. And Laine has another 36-goal campaign in front of that. It’s funny how differently their contract talks are viewed by both player and team and media, when overall they’ve been the same player. It’s humorous that Connor could end up with $8M or more, while the Jets would love to lock in Laine at $6M or thereabouts and only for a couple years if possible.

Now, if the Jets are looking at such things, and I would heavily doubt they are but if it saves them money I won’t rule it out, Laine’s metrics are much worse than Connor’s last year. Whatever role that plays in talks, I leave to you.

It’s pertinent to the Hawks because Alex DeBrincat is going to find himself in this position a year from now. Top Cat’s numbers are 69G-59A-128P, which looks an awful lot like Connor’s and Laine’s, don’t they? Unless he has an injury or completely falls in the tank or some other indignity befalls him (Weather Girl-itis, let’s call it), it’s pretty easy to picture DeBrincat meeting or exceeding Laine’s three-year total. Which, because it won’t come after a disappointing and somewhat mysterious season, probably nets him more money than Laine is going to get from the Jets.

Mikko Rantanen‘s stalled talks in Denver add to this as well, though he’s got better numbers than Top Cat is probably going to be able to reach. Basically it feels like Rantanen’s number and Laine’s number will give the Hawks and DeBrincat a good bracket to find an answer within. If DeBrincat were to manage an 80-point season he’ll get up around where Rantanen is now points-wise, and should easily pass his 80 goals in three seasons (Top Cat has 69 and fuck you). So a Rantanen number might be closer to what the Hawks have to shell out than a Laine one.

As of now, the Hawks will have $20-$22 million to play with, and we know that they almost never shortchange one of their guys. Other than like Marcus Kruger, who was happy to be that for them. So it would seem $9M or so for DeBrincat is on the way, though maybe they can get him in at around $8. Still, the Hawks will have to sign at least one goalie, and hopefully Dylan Strome proves worth an investment, and that’s basically all the space the Hawks will have.

Basically, Kirby Dach is going to have to be good and in a hurry, because the Hawks are going to have to compete while he’s still cheap if at all possible.

 

 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose – Tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in San Jose – Sunday, 6:30

Game 3 in Denver – Tuesday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver – Thursday, 9pm

This is where the Sharks are supposed to be, just not how they’re supposed to be here. It took a miracle, they somehow overcame Martin Jones, the NHL’s favorite pet, and various injuries. Do they have anything left? The Avs are here because they have the player who might be playing the best hockey in the world right now, and that their goalie was also as good as anyone. The Sharks benefitted from Marc-Andre Fleury rediscovering his 2010-2013 form. They won’t get such benefits here. Can they overcome a good goalie with less than their full compliment of scorers?

Goalies: While MacKinnon stole all the headlines, along with Mikko Rantanen, Phillip Grubauer was becoming what the Avs thought they were getting when they traded for him in the summer. He put up a .939 against the Flames, who don’t lack for snipers. He only had to work hard a couple times, but giving up 10 goals in five games is a football in the groin. Grubauer has been galactic since February 1st, and it should probably be a given at this point that he’s going to be good.

What to make of Martin Jones. Swinging wildly between really good and slapstick comedy with almost no in-between against Vegas, Jones looked to have tossed away all that the Sharks are with that poor goal from Pacioretty in the 3rd period of Game 7. The Knights’ bed-wetting saw that wasn’t the case, but it wasn’t the stirring performance the Sharks would hope they can build on. He was excellent in Games 5 and 6 when he had to be, but the Sharks can’t have any idea what they’re getting. And they’ll be seeing MacK and Rantanen, who are better scorers than anything the Knights cough up, despite what they tell you.

Defense: The Avs got a boost from the addition of Cale Makar, but this is still a teenager playing his fourth game ever. They were much better than you would have guessed against the Flames, who kept falling apart in front of them. Tyson Barrie was everywhere, and they didn’t pay for having Zadorov and Nemeth on the team. I still won’t buy Ian Cole or Erik Johnson, or Zadorov and Nemeth, but they’re here. There’s more depth they have to deal with from San Jose than Calgary, and if anyone is going to expose them, it’s the Sharks.

The Sharks would have a bigger advantage if Erik Karlsson‘s groin didn’t sound like trying to pull the rack out of an oven that’s never been cleaned right now. He’s moving maybe at 60% of his usual grace, and that’s a problem. Still, it was enough to barely outlast the speed of the Knights, and the Avs aren’t any faster. Brent Burns is a disaster waiting to happen at any moment, But that’s why you have Marc-Edouard Vlasic around. Peter DeBoer finally figured out that Brenden Dillon blows, and was actually playing Joakim Ryan in OT of Game 7. That should continue, but won’t because DeBoer has his idiotic tendencies. Again, they got through the Knights, and here they really only have one line to deal with.

Forwards: This is easy. The Avs have one line, and probably the best line left in the West, and it was more than enough to kick the Flames’ dick into the dirt. Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going to be stopped, and he’ll bring Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog with him. But beyond that, you can have it. Yes, they were enough against the Flames, but Colin Wilson and J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto will return to their own level. There’s a collection of nice players under the top line, but no game-breakers here. The top line just might be enough, though.

The Sharks would have a big advantage here if Joe Pavelski was going to play, and we have no idea if he will. Without him, Logan Couture lacks wingers. Sure, there’s still Hertl, Kane, Thornton, Meier, and Nyquist and a few competent bottom-sixers. They’re still deeper than the Avs without Pavelski, but that gap is monumental with him. I think it’s doubtful he shows up, but this being hockey, who can say for sure?

Prediction: Tough one. The Sharks are much deeper than the Flames, and won’t have their top center just completely go Copperfield on them like Sean Monahan did. They should, should, expose the middle and bottom pairing of the Avs, which even with Makar isn’t up to this. And with Pavelski, I’d be much more assured that happens. But Grubauer over Jones makes up for that, or most of it. The Sharks might want a rest. They won’t get one. But they’re just a better team, especially if they get a Pavelski return.

Sharks in 7. 

Everything Else

For the final time this year, we pick up our torch, arm ourselves, and head into the depths where Anthrax Jones lives. 

Look, ain’t no one complaining about 87 points. But your large adult son Mikko Rantanen‘s pace did drop off in February and March from the ridiculous pace he was on. Anything to be read from that or just flattening out of luck a bit?

On a team as deep as a puddle in the Sahara Desert, I’m not sure it wasn’t just a matter of time before other teams threw their entire checking efforts at MacRanteskog. The Avs have ten players with at least 10 goals apiece, so the “LACK OF DEPTH, HUH” crowd has an argument, but that argument falls apart when you consider that five of the ten have either 10 or 11 goals, and none of Colin Wilson‘s 10 count anyway. It’s not the 1983 Islanders, kids. It also doesn’t help that Rantanen has spent 54 minutes in the box almost entirely due to careless stick fouls, including a punishing late-game high sticking penalty last Friday that cost the Avs at least one point to human sewage drain Corey Perry and the corpse of the Ducks.

*deep breath*

That said, Rantanen’s game is still maturing, and it’s very evident that he still hasn’t put it all together yet. When he does, you’re going to need to spend two weeks training in Siberia with “Hearts On Fire” playing on continuous loop in order to shut him down. We’re getting there.

On the other side of the coin, Phillip Grubauer is on a real heater in March. Is this enough for the Avs to feel comfortable letting Varlamov walk in the summer and giving the job to Grubs?

I think the plan all along was to let Varlamov go at the end of this season, whether Grubauer came around or not. I think Jared Bednar is playing this perfectly: Grubauer is the short-term future of the Colorado net, with a chance to become the long-term future, and he should be getting the majority of the carries down the stretch in what’s still really a “practice year” for this generation of Avs. Grubauer has shown he has the ability to carry a team for stretches in Washington and now Colorado, which is essentially the same playbook Varlamov followed. The potential difference for Grubauer will be whether or not Bednar is able to build a coherent system around him, and the jury remains out on that one.

We asked you about him last year, but it still feels like the Avs are tapping their foot and looking at their watch when it comes to Tyson Jost

By March of 2021, I could see myself looking at a stat line of 10 goals and 20 assists for Jost and be willing to admit yeah, this is just the player he is. I’m not there yet though, because every time I’m ready to accept that he’s probably not going to break out in any meaningful way, he shows me something good that lures me back in. The Avs sent him to the AHL over All Star break, and when he came back, he was a different player: more assertive, less tentative, and it made a visible difference in his overall game. My biggest concern with Jost isn’t his skill level or his hockey IQ, it’s the way he seems to struggle with the physical aspect of the game. At 5’11” 190, hes not the smallest player, but he seems vulnerable to guys who play him hard. He’s not shy about contact, but he more often than not finds himself on his ass when he engages. That’s not something that can be coached or taught, and maybe it’s something he can work on during summer training, but maybe it’s just not in his makeup.

Are they getting in? Does it really matter? What’s the way forward here?

It doesn’t really matter. If they make it, great! That’s more playoff experience for guys like Rantanen, Jost, Sam Girard, and Illinois legend JT Compher, guys who got a taste of it last season and seemed to improve as the Nashville series progressed. Plus, it would be our first chance to see Rockstar Makar in an Avs uniform, and it would be cool to see how he performs under an immediate spotlight.

If they don’t make it? Another potential high pick to add to Ottawa’s pick, which is absolutely going to turn into Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko because god hates Ottawa’s fans and loves dark comedy. I’ve kept a level head this season, whether it was the early hot streak or the mid-season slumpmother, because the target all along has been 2019-2020.

And if we’re still in this position at this time next season, your boy is gonna be having a cow.

 

Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Avalanche 25-24-11   Hawks 26-26-9

PUCK DROP: 6:30 (for some reason?)

TV: NBCSN Chicago

COULDN’T GET MUCH HIGHER: Mile High Hockey

It’s at the top that I’m supposed to tell you this is an awfully big weekend at the United Center. The Hawks will have two games with four points on offer against direct rivals for the wild card spots. Win both, and you’re entrenched in the race. Lose both and you may have lost touch before March even hits. Split them in some fashion and nothing is solved and the current feeling continues. In that context, yes, this shapes up as a pretty exciting and important weekend.

But this being hockey, and this being us, and this being these Hawks, it’s hard to remain in just that context. Because though this is a playoff race, it is only so because the competitors are standardbreds and not thoroughbreds. They are the fan chosen to be inhaled by The Freeze in the middle of the 5th. It’s the JV. And you can choose to enjoy the silliness of it, which we are, but even that intrude on the heaviness you want to project onto these two games. It’s hard to treat something as important when you know that at the base it’s kind of absurd (says the wrestling fan?).

Either way, the Hawks and Avs are tied with Arizona, one point behind the Wild, who last night couldn’t get the Rangers to accept the two points they were desperately trying to foist upon them in their quest to make the biggest splat at the end of the season. Whoever wins tonight vaults back into the wildcard spots (depending on what the Wild do in Detroit tonight). So whatever we may feel on the outside, those inside the ropes will ignore the absurdity and treat this as a four-pointer.

For the Hawks, the only change appears to be that Brent Seabrook is still a no-go, and thanks to Carl Dahlstrom being sick, Henri Jokiharju has been recalled. No word on whether he’ll play, but fuck, he’s here, and how much worse can he be than the plastic vomit you’ve been tossing out there anyway? The Hawks did give up 10 combined goals to the decidedly waddling Senators and Red Wings. The Hawks should paw at any dangling straw or piece of Laffy Taffy when it comes to their defense. Collin Delia appears to be getting the start, perhaps in the thought that he’s beaten the Avs twice before and maybe seeing their silly logo will trigger something within him. Or you don’t want to keep sending Ward out there for fear he’ll turn back into Cam Ward with more and more rolls of the dice. Or you don’t want Delia’s last NHL experience of the year to be getting pulled against the Senators. Whatever. The normal 4th line rotation will continue, and it doesn’t really matter how it shakes out.

The Avs have sunk to these depths and unlike the atmosphere around here, they are not pleased that they are still merely “in it.” On December 19th, the Avs were 19-10-6, and at least running into the penthouse of the Central to steal the appetizers from the Jets and Predators. Then they lost to the Hawks, and look what that did to them: they are 6-14-5 since, watching the Stars and Blues wave as they fall by, and for a brief moment, were marooned at the bottom of the Central.

The reasons aren’t hard to identify. While the top line of Mikko RantanenNathan MacKinnon-Gabriel SapsuckerFrog didn’t exactly go “cold,” they weren’t being intergalactic warriors as they were before. They were just “very good.” But “very good” ain’t gonna cut the mustard when there’s almost nothing else on this team to back it up. On a given night, Carl Soderberg, or J.T. Compher, or Alex Kerfoot might hint at being legitimate secondary scoring. And on the next three you wouldn’t be able to find them with body-heat cameras. When the top unit isn’t doing magic tricks, the show is closed. That’s why you’ll see that troika split up tonight, as they’ve been put on three different lines the past two games. Which the Avs have won by a combined score of 10-1, so they roll in here with some confidence.

Combine that with both goalies going into the shitter for a bit. Semyon Varlamov tanked in December and January, and when given the chance to usurp the top job, Phillip Grubauer fluffed his lines. Varlamov has recovered in February with a .919, and even just that might steady the ship enough for the Avs to recover and hold on loosely for the last spot in the West. Assuming their three big guns continue to BIG GUN.

The task in written form is easy for the Hawks tonight. Find a way to keep the Avs’ top three players down. It’s not easy when they’re now on three different lines, but also their collective dangers is watered down. Start with Mac K and work out from there. You can try to that through the Fight Fire With Fire method and use Toews’s line to do it. Or you use Marcus Kruger to do it, though if he’s centering the fourth line it’s clear that Coach Cool Youth Pastor has already made his choice. Colorado still does ok metrically when those three aren’t on the ice, but they have a hard time converting it into tangible results. Keep the MacRaLog from going for two or three or more, and you’ve basically got it.

It may not be heavy or important, but it is fun. Here we go.

 

 

Game #62 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 14-20-6   Avalanche 19-13-6

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

HOW HIGH? SO HIGH I COULD TOUCH THE SKY: Mile High Hockey

The Hawks continue whatever this little streak of barely managed competence means by a second trip to Denver in eight days. But hey, is there anywhere else you’d rather go twice in a little over a week? Yes, yes there is. But you don’t get to decide those things. So there. Enjoy all the fucking breweries, dipshit.

Since beating the Avs right before the Christmas break, the Hawks have sent the Avalanche into something of a tailspin. Though to be fair, the Avs weren’t playing all that well before, either. They’ve lost their two games in the interim, both on the road, to the Coyotes and the Knights. That gives them an unsightly December record of 4-7-1, which has seen them drop off the pace a bit of the Jets and Predators, which they were keeping up with. Then again, no one was really expecting them to tussle with the glitterati of the Central all year.

The main problem for the Avs is that their one, gushing source of goals has dried up. They only scored once against the Knights last out. Same thing again with the Coyotes the game before that. As you remember they came up with only one goal against Collin Delia the last time these two flamenco’d. None of this is a huge shock, as when the Avs were surging to the surprise of the league in November they were shooting 13.8% as a team. That’s never going to last. December’s 7.8% is actually pretty normal, but well below what they had been doing.

Which probably means they’re getting a market correction against the Hawks, right?

When the Avs aren’t pouring in an inordinate ratio of goals to shots, their defensive shortcomings come to the fore. They are not a great possession team, or defensive team, as Samuel Girard (the big dog is always right!) and Erik Johnson are the only pair you’d trust with anything. They have gotten better goaltending of late from Phillip Grubauer, who has only given up nine goals in taking the last four starts from Semyon Varlamov. He may have permanently usurped the starter’s role, but we’ll see what they do tonight.

Obviously, with the Avs the whole story is how you deal with the top line of Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. They’re still putting up boxcar numbers, and if you can’t get them on a leash you’ll lose. The Hawks kept them off the scoresheet last time by some miracle or witchcraft, and that’s the order of the night again. Do that, and the Avs struggle with support scoring. Only J.T. Compher and Carl Soderberg have more than nine goals beyond that, and Soderberg hasn’t scored in his last 10 games. It’s not really what he does anyway.

The Avs will get really good when their kids like Tyson Jost or Alex Kerfoot start cashing in on their promise and they can beat you from various angles. Until then, it’s what the top unit can do and nothing else. So far, that’s been more than enough to secure a playoff spot.

For the Hawks, there shouldn’t be too many changes, if any. There’s utterly no point in going back to Cam Ward tonight, whether the Hawks still think they have something to play for or they’re already into their development for next season, other than some whacked “Gotta be fair to Holly, dude” nonsense. Collin Delia is the better option no matter how you’re looking at it. Don’t overthink it.

Lineup-wise, the Hawks have been better with Brandon Manning‘s and Chris Kunitz‘s ass stapled to a chair in the pressbox, so no reason to change that either. Maybe Martinsen comes in for Hayden or some such meaningless garbage, but that doesn’t matter. We’d like to see Perlini and Dylan Sikura switch back to where they were before, but again this is nit-picking.

Again, the schedule isn’t too daunting to the bye and All-Star break. Weird things happen in outdoor games, and then there’s a fair amount of New York teams on the schedule in January, who all suck. It’s also pretty light, so head coach Cool Youth Pastor will get some practice time to implement whatever it is he’s supposed to implement. If the Hawks think there’s something to be saved from this season, and they do even if it’s deluded beyond all belief, this is the stretch to do it.

Game #41 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It was only eight days ago that we visited the deranged warlord Anthrax Jones to consult him about the Avs and the precious juice. Not much has changed, with either the Avs or the juice. 

So Rantanen and MacKinnon were awesome last year, and MacK could have easily won the Hart. But they’re both on points for 130+ points this year? Why is this line putting a foot in the ass of the world?
If you did an Inception-style deep dive into Don Cherry’s wettest dream, MacRantaskog would be in it: open mouth-kissing policemen, playing with Blue, and wearing suits made out of the furniture in Dom DeLuise’s opium den. Mikko Rantanen has evolved from Large Baby Deer into Jaromir Jagr’s blonde, blue-eyed second cousin. Defending Nate MacKinnon is the hockey equivalent of trying to catch a fire hose with a goldfish net, and Babe Landeskog’s good looks distract from the fact that he’s morphed into a Marian Hossa/Richard Kuklinski hybrid. This line has everything all the old school shitheads like to burp up every time some weepy Canucks fan starts pissing through their butthole about what a pretty finesse game the Sedins played. They’re talented, fast, and all three of them play with varying degrees of open hostility. I love them a lot.
 
It felt like the Avs wanted to transition from Varlamov in net to Phillip Grubauer, but Grubs hasn’t really grabbed that brass ring in limited appearances this season. Are they just going to have to ride it out with Varlamov?

Sure beats riding it out with Cal Pickard or the Hamburglar. Varlamov is who he is: occasionally spectacular, occasionally a Farrelly Brothers script. When he’s hot, he’s a top 3 goalie in the league. When he’s not, he’s every goalie the Flyers have run out since Ron Hextall. Grubauer has had his moments where he looks good and his moments where he looks like he’s playing behind Patrik Nemeth and Mark Barberio, because that’s what he’s doing. If the Avs are gonna do anything in May, they’re gonna need one of them to go full 2003 JS Giguere.

 
With the top line doing what they’re doing they should be gobbling up the toughest opponents every night. Yet no one has been able to really benefit yet. Is this where Tyson Jost or someone else should come in?

In theory, yes. In practice, you’re relying on the entirety of your depth scoring to come from second year pros (Jost, Kerfoot, Compher), waiver wire guys (Andrighetto), An Actual Cyclops (Soderberg), and Colin Wilson. This year is “sit tight and see what we have with the young guys”, and next year is where they go out and overpay a UFA.

 
Samuel Girard seems to have at least established himself in the top four, no?

The Duality Of Man: I love Girard and I love his game and I love his potential, yet I spent the late 90’s with a recurring grundle cramp because every time Sandis Ozolinsh touched the puck, my sphincter collapsed into itself at roughly the speed and density of a dying star. Girard may not have the offensive upside of Ozolinsh, and may not have the defensive downside of Ozolinsh, but I can foresee a scenario where he becomes Ozolinsh 2020. I’m too old for that type of gooch pain, so let’s hope he doesn’t.

 

Game #41 Preview Suite

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 vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-19-6   Avalanche 19-10-6

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago +

JOE WALSH SAID IT WAS COOL: Mile High Hockey

Complaining about the schedule usually seems on the petty side. Everyone has rough stretches and back-to-backs against a team that’s been waiting for them. They tend to even out. That said, the second of a back-to-back and in the middle of a three-in-four at altitude against an Avalanche team that didn’t play last night seems excessive. Maybe flying in late at night and playing straight away can be one of those things where you’re out before you notice the air is thinner. Anyway, complaint department closed. The Hawks try to keep this mini-streak of competence going against the best line in hockey. Joy.

There’s really no point in talking about the Avs beyond that top line. That’s what they are. Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog are putting up boxcar numbers, with Rantanen and MacKinnon especially on pace for things the NHL hasn’t seen in a long time. Not only are they highly-skilled and jet-heeled, they’re big and can play with an edge. They’re an absolute nightmare. They’re underlyings aren’t that great, but they don’t have to be. Much like we discussed with Patrik Laine when the Jets were the foe, this is a line that’s always going to outshoot whatever the numbers suggest they “should” score. So good luck, Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom, especially after both took one upside last night.

The problem for the Avs, such as you can call it that, is that they haven’t found much under that line. It doesn’t matter when they’re scoring at this pace, but it could be a problem down the road. Only one forward after the top three has more than 20 points, and that’s Carl Soderberg, who is pretty much here to make up the numbers. Tyson Jost or Alex Kerfoot or J.T. Compher have not grabbed the brass ring yet, and one day the Avs will need that if they’re going to make serious noise when it counts. Otherwise you just have some competent foot soldiers here, convenient as the Avs have a big foot on the shoulder patches, like Matt Nieto or Colin Wilson or Sven Thank You Very Much Andrighetto.

On the blue line, one of their bounties for Matt Duchene has come good, and that’s Samuel Girard (always listen to the Big Dog because the Big Dog is always right). He has combined with Golf Cart Hero Erik Johnson to give the Avs a genuine shutdown pairing. Something they haven’t had since…Obi-Wan was merely a trainee himself. Tyson Barrie continues to do just enough to make you think he could be doing more, and Ian Cole is still wildly overrated. It’s a better blue line than it’s been, but it still has some miles to travel.

Phillip Grubauer was supposed to grab the #1 role from the soon-to-be-departed Semyon Varlamov, but it hasn’t happened. Varly is in a contract year, so it figures he would not be so easily displaced. That said, he’s been woeful in December, to the tune of .886. Grubs was excellent against the Canadiens last out, and he might get the chance to back it up tonight.

For the Hawks, you doubt there’d be too many changes. But there were rumblings that Colliton might roll Cam Ward out again, which would be a mistake. The Hawks have something of a glimpse at Collin Delia, and they should take it. If he’s your guy of the future, get every look you can. If it doesn’t work, hey he was just an injury-fill-in and return him to Rockford. If he takes it and runs, well then, you’ve got yourself something. Also Ward is going to turn back into Cam Ward at any moment, so why push it? Fuck, give Delia the next two. Remember what you are, and that’s a team that’s seven games under .500. You’re not getting back into this, so find out what you have when you can.

It’s a challenge given they played last night. Let’s see how up for it they are.

 

 

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There were obviously huge hopes for Mikko Rantanen. He was the Avs first-round pick just three years ago. He comes in a big package, at 6-4 and 215 pounds. And he’s a mobile one at that. While the Avs may have been tempted to bring him to Denver immediately, they took their time and let him have a first season in the AHL. He dominated there, with 60 points in 52 games. At the age of 19, no less.

His first season only showed flashes, with 38 points. His second season was a breakthrough, with 84 points. Though some probably viewed that as just riding shotgun with Nathan MacKinnon and his MVP-worthy season. They probably weren’t expecting something historic.

But that’s what they’re getting.

Rantanen has 58 points through 35 games. At this rate, he would finish with 135 points. No one has managed that many since the Great Lockout of ’05. The best anyone’s done is Joe Thornton‘s 125 in the first season out of it. 135 would be the most since Mario Lemieux‘s 161 in ’95-’96. Just for giggles, MacKinnon is also on pace for 128, which would best anything since that mark as well, aside from Jaromir Jagr‘s 127 in ’98-’99.

Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that someone is scoring at this rate. For the third straight season, scoring is up, and for the second straight it’s above three goals per game per team. It’s about 3.09 this year, and in the year Lemieux put up his 161 it was 3.14. It’s only a difference of about 2%. Of course, goalies weren’t anything like this, and we know teams are going to key on MacKinnon and Rantanen for the rest of the season.

There would be some claims that this is partially due to luck, and that may play a small role. The Avs are shooting 11.3% at even-strength when Rantanen is on the ice, up from 9.6% last year and 8.0% in his rookie year. But that’s just a steady increase, as Rantanen begins to feel the NHL game more and more. It’s also not an outlandish number. It only ranks 41st in the league. It’s certainly a number that can be maintained for a whole season, as the leaders are usually in the 12-14% area.

What might get Rantanen is the Avs are greatly outscoring the chances he and MacKinnon are providing. Their xGF/60 is nothing to write home about at 2.45. But the Avs are scoring at 3.87 per 60 minutes. It’s the 12th biggest difference among any player who has played 300 minutes at even-strength this season. Rantanen and MacKinnon will always, most likely, outscore what their chances suggest they “should” score, given their talent. But this might be excessive.

It’s the same story on the power play, where the Avs are shooting 19.3% when Rantanen is out there, but it’s hardly excessively more than the 18% they shot last year. The Avs have a xGF/60 of 7.14 on the power play, but are scoring per 60 on the power play at 10.9. Again, given the talent it’s not a surprise that the Avs can outshoot their chances on the power play, but by three goals per 60 minutes? It’s one of the higher differences in the league.

Still, it would be good for the league for a player, or two, to keep putting up boxcar numbers. It could use the publicity. It works out well for Rantanen too, as his entry-level deal expires after this season. The Avs thought they might save themselves by keeping him in the AHL for a year. It might force them to pay Auston Matthews/Connor McDavid money. That $6.3M they’re paying MacKinnon sure looks a bargain now, eh?

 

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We traveled deep into the jungle, past his many followers who eyed us warily, to find the warlord Anthrax Jones. He was kind enough to grant us this, and we had to exit quickly before being disemboweled. 

 

Game #38 Preview Suite

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Lineups & How Teams Were Built