Hockey

Jumping back in after 2 weeks of the most recent covid layoff was always going look less than organized for basically any team, let alone one that has had as many issues (on the ice) as the Hawks have to this point in the season. Exacerbating things was having to jump back into the mix against three real(ish) teams, and not having their top two goalies available for first two of this stretch thanks to protocols. Things went about as could have been predicted.

1/1 – Preds 6, Hawks 1

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Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

With both Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen still in protocol to start 2022, Derek King turned his bespectacled gaze towards Collin Delia and Arvid Soderblom to try to get the Hawks through the first two games of the year, and Delia once again proved why he is not in the NHL with any consistency. In a move reminiscent of The Jeremy Prinze Jr. era, the Hawks allowed goals in the first minute of each of the three periods, including a nice 2-for-1 as the Preds also scored in the waning seconds of the first. Delia allowed two goals about 15 minutes of game time before he had made two saves, and gave way to 12 year old Arvid Soderblom in the second. The kid fared no better right off the bat, but he was put in an impossible position. The Hawks dominated territorially in this game, but even a dope like John Hynes is smart enough to recognize that this particular opponent has no scoring punch and is currently unable to stop a damn thing at the other end, so he allowed his troops to merely hang back in the neutral zone for basically the entire game.

1/2 – Flames 5, Hawks 1

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Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

A quick turn around saw the Hawks hosting the Flames on West Madison, who got a bonus off day themselves missing a date in Winnipeg on their way here. That resulted in Soderblom getting the crease once again, this time in his first NHL start. Overall the kid hung as tough as he could, and the Hawks themselves managed to keep the first period fairly low event for him with only six shots on net in the frame, with the elder of the Garbage Tkachuk Sons scoring in traffic shortly after DeBrincat gave the Hawks a brief lead. But the middle part of the 2nd period saw the Hawks rapidly surrender a ton of attemps on successive shifts, and then turned around and gave the Flames 3 quick power plays and that was about it. The score actually could have been worse than this, as Dillon Dube was stopped on a penalty shot in the middle of the third, but Soderblom tracked Dube nicely as he tried to cut across the slot and get the kid to open up and commit one way or another.

1/4 – Avs 3, Hawks 3 (Avs Win 3v3 Clown Show)

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

And now to the game that actually became interesting in spite of itself. Marc-Andre Fleury returned just in time to face one of the most potent offenses in the league, having come in to last night’s game putting up some comical numbers over the past month or so, give or take a plague stoppage. And that looked to be the case again last night as the Avs forced Fleury into acrobatics right from the start of things, and jumping out to a 2-0 lead while never really getting out of 2nd gear. But give credit to whatever message was delivered in the room by King and Crawford, because the Hawks pretty thoroughly outplayed the Avs in both the second and third periods, the second in particular where the Hawks nearly doubled the Avs in attempts.  There was most certainly an element of the Avs playing with their food a bit throughout much of the middle portion of this game, which long-time observers may remember the vibe of. But after DeBrincat’s second of the night to put the Hawks ahead 3-2, the Avalanche definitely woke up a bit and eventually broke through to force the game to OT. And then of course Cale Makar did what he did and everyone saw it. At a certain point it’s just impossible to be mad at something like that.

A couple of points here regarding the Avs game:

  • Whatever has been constituting the bottom pairing of late, whether it’s Gustafsson, Jones, Stillman or some combination thereof, has been verging on grotesque. Last night in particular, with Amy’s Youngest and The Garbage Stillman Son tasked with 3rd pairing duties, one shift saw them taking turns chasing below the offensive goal line. Ordinarily that’s offensive enough coming from a third pairing, but given the situation of a 1 goal game in the second period in January against possibly the best quick strike team in the league, it just screams stupidity on both of their parts. This is of course to say nothing of Jones skating across the ice to out by the blue line (not on his side) to chase a puck carrier, which left his partner alone for a down low 3-on-1 which resulted in Newhook scoring. How can Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin possibly be any worse than this, especially with how they were both touted less than a year ago. It speaks to their either being no plan or an organizational inability to even sort of develop a defenseman. Or both.
  • There was no bigger microcosm yet of the company line here of Kirby Dach being unworthy of the “Foundational Piece” label that the Organ-I-Zation has slapped on him for a couple years then in the waning minutes of the third and then on the game winning play from Makar. Dach was leading a (potential) 2 on 1 rush down the right wing when a streaking Nathan MacKinnon burst into the play from off screen and backchecked the puck off Dach’s stick and the play into nothing. And then of course he was the victim of Makar putting him in the blender and hitting the “liquify” button before roofing MAF in tight. And that’s just the thing, THAT’s what foundational pieces look like. That’s how the jump off the screen. And whether Dach’s “development” has been somewhat derailed by covid and injuries, 110 or so games is still enough to know it when you see it. There’s a number 3 overall pick at center on this very team who showed right away scoring a highlight reel goal in his first game on his first shot, and 110 games in was already doing literally everything for the team he was on. That’s the standard the team themselves have been holding Dach to, they’ve said as much in word and deed, going so far as to even give his brother the David Toews treatment and drafting the kid out of courtesy. And there’s just nothing there.

    Again, it’s likely he’ll have a solid NHL career and make a very decent living for himself for years. But as far as being what the Hawks have needed him to be in the rapidly approaching AFTERMATH, there’s been zero evidence that that’s what’s coming.

Hockey

@  

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Alpenglow Botanicals: Mile High Hockey

For the second time in a month, the Hawks and Avalanche will be playing one another for the second time in a week. And for the second time in a month, the Hawks will be looking to avoid getting blanked in earning any kind of points in the standings whatsoever. Maybe this time it will be different.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

The Blackhawks still suck, the Avs are still good. I spent most of this day traveling so and then I had to watch this ordeal so let’s just get this done:

A Preface – the above photo does not at all depict how this game went, but it was too funny of a picture to not use. You go, Boqvist.

FIRE JEREMY COLLITON

– As Sam wrote brilliantly morning, the Blackhawks should not be this bad. They have everything that you would think you need to compete in the modern NHL – solid goaltending, high-level scorers, good enough forward depth. But they definitely lack big talent on the blue line in a big way, as we knew they would, and the structure of this team and the style of play expose them to getting their asses completely waxed by teams like the Avalanche that have all of those same things in spades along with a fuckton more speed. Personally I am kinda tired of watching the Hawks play this team because it’s always embarrassing like this. What more am I to say?

Nathan MacKinnon should be illegal. The man is far too good and yet in some ways he might even still be underrated. Which is really weird cuz people know he’s fucking good. But his speed, shot, puck handling, vision, everything is just insane. His goal tonight, the Avs second and the eventual GWG, came after he brilliantly corralled a terrible pass at his feet, and then just zoomed past the Hawks defense and fired an unstoppable shot over Crawford’s blocker. Police, I’d like to report a murder.

– The Hawks were truly lucky to escape the first period of this one tied – which is a theme that does not seem to be stopping, at least when I watch and am recap duty. The Hawks got so roundly skullfucked from a possession standpoint in the first period that even after posting CF%’s of 58 and 61 in the second and third period respectively, they still got beat in that regard 51%-49% on the night. I guess that is what happens when you let a team hang a 67.5% on you in the first.

– The Avs had 29 scoring chances in this game. That’s essentially one every two minutes. That is just absurdly bad. Thank God for Corey Crawford. The poor bastard.

– Fire Jeremy Colliton.

– Hawks go again tomorrow against the Jets. Until then.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Avs 21-9-3   Hawks 13-15-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY: Mile High Hockey

You can’t get a more clear illustration of one team with everything in front of them, and one that can’t stop staring down than on Wednesday Night Hockey tonight. Heightened by the fact that the Avs have already Macho Man Elbowed the Hawks twice this year, and it’s hard to find a bigger chasm you can watch. But hey, they make you play all 82.

The big story probably lies with the Hawks tonight, as once again Brent Seabrook is a healthy scratch. And according to Jeremy
Colliton, this isn’t about making some statement. I don’t know if this signals some massive youth movement for the Hawks, but either way this is correct. With Duncan Keith returning tonight and Adam Boqvist needing minutes with a real d-man, there’s little option really. Sure, bending over for Dennis Gilbert is not a good look for anyone, but this was going to happen when the Hawks have other actual promising kids around and it’s probably not the worst message to send to everyone that they will get looks if they’ve earned it over sputtering vets. Hell, if de Haan were every going to be healthy again, Seabrook might be looking at being #8 on the depth chart.

The other story is Keith returns as well and will pair with Murphy, which for a handful of games early in the season actually looked like a thing. Whether this is the team you’d want to return against when your groin is iffy is another question. But there probably isn’t much choice.

If there was hope the Avs might take this one lightly, those probably disappeared with them getting soundly beaten by the Blues 5-2 on Monday. And the last thing the Hawks need is an ornery Avs team that they can’t handle. They probably can’t handle them heavily medicated.

The Avs are beat up on the blue line. Cale Makar and Erik Johnson have missed the past few games and won’t play tonight. That leaves a first pairing of Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov, which you would think even the Hawks could get at. But you’d think a lot of things.

The problem is that unlike their double-header after Thanksgiving, the Avs are just about fully operational at forward now. Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog is back, so’s Matt Calvert, and the Hawks couldn’t handle the Avs when they were rounding their fourth line out with AHL flotsam. So that’s fun.

Nathan MacKinnon is definitely off on one, so good luck to Keith’s groin. He’s got 34 points in his last 21 games, has vaulted into the top-five in scoring, and is going to make a case for yet a Hart Trophy before too long. One that has somehow eluded him to this point in his career. He’s got running buddy Mikko Rantanen back, and Burakovsky has loved being on the other side.

The Hawks simply couldn’t deal with the Avs transition speed, and also couldn’t find the Avs’ centers when they were set up in the Hawks’ zone. Both MacKinnon and Kadri benefitted from waiting out near the blue line while the puck was down low behind the Hawks’ net last time, and then crashing down when possession was won and the Hawks looking for them and not finding them. Watch for this tonight and whether one of the Hawks wingers abandons a point to cover this or the center leaves the front of the net to get out high against them. Either is probably a better choice than simply letting MacKinnon run around free all he likes.

The Hawks are now the wooden spooners of the West. That should embarrass everyone, but we’ll see if they have a response. It could be an ugly week, as they have the Avs twice with the Jets sandwiched in between. Perhaps fear of embarrassment is what they need.

Hockey

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RECORDS: Avalanche 13-8-2*   Hawks 10-9-5

PUCK DROP(S): 3pm Friday, 8pm Saturday

TV: NBCSN Chicago for both

BUCKWHEATS: Mile High Hockey

*Wednesday’s game not included

The Hawks will try and help you shake off the tryptophan and dealing-with-family hangover this weekend with an old school home-and-home against the Avalanche. And with it, they may get a look at what might be the class of the division now, and certainly will be before too long. Seeing as how St. Louis is in Monday, the Hawks will definitely have some idea of just how far behind they are.

No team had more preseason buzz than the Avs. Nathan MacKinnon ascended to demigod status in last year’s playoffs, they finally got Mikko Rantanen signed, made a nifty trade with Toronto that brought them back a multi-faceted (though at times dunderheaded) Nazem Kadri, and most of all it is a full season of Cale Makar. And when the Avs have been fully healthy, it’s looked very boomstick. They started the season 8-1-1, scoring 40 goals in those 10 games.

But it’s been only 5-7-1 since, and a lot of that is injuries. Rantanen and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog have been out for a while now, though Dear Rat Boy could return this weekend. Depth pieces like Matt Calvert and Nikita Zadorov and Colin Wilson and others have missed time as well, thinning out what was a deeper team than before but not exactly deep either. Those are slowly returning, but they’ll have some ground to make up.

But the Avs can’t curse the gods for their fortunes totally, either. Their PDO is right behind the Hawks’, as they’ve gotten excellent work from their goalies at even-strength, with a .935 SV% overall, third in the league. But they’ve had real problems on the kill, where they have the fourth-worst save-percentage. And looking at their metrics while shorthanded, they’re only middle of the pack in the chances they give up while killing penalties, so their goalies just have to be better.

Clearly, the story with the Avs starts with Mac K and Makar. When they’re on the ice, and they’re on the ice together a lot, the Avs are nearly unplayable. It’s two of the two most dynamic forces in the league together, and yes Makar is already rocketing up to that status in just his rookie season. He’s going to walk with the Calder Trophy at this rate, averaging a point per game from the blue line and leading the rookie scoring race by seven points barely a quarter of the season in.

Still, the rest of the roster needs some tuning, and again when they get their full lineup this will help. Nazem Kadri has not been the possession and defensive monster he was in Toronto, mostly getting domed in possession. He’ll get help when Donskoi is allowed to slot down upon Rantanen’s return. They’re still waiting for a pop from Tyson Jost, and JT Compher hasn’t gotten to play the Hawks yet and pile up 17 goals. Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog’s return will definitely help with the depth scoring.

Another problem for the Avs is they’re just not a great possession team overall. While trading Barrie made sense given that he’s a year from free agency, it’s left Makar as basically the only true puck-mover from the back. It’s not Erik Johnson‘s game, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Samuel Girard‘s (THE BIG DOG IS ALWAYS RIGHT) game either, thought there’s room for growth there. They could probably use another one back there to really challenge, as right now Girard and Johnson are deployed merely as fire fighters.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t a huge headache for the Hawks, who only managed one regulation win over the Avs last year and lost the two big games against them when the playoffs were actually something worth discussing. Still, this was one of the opponents the Hawks did play even in terms of shots and chances, just didn’t get the goaltending the Avs did from Grubauer or Varlamov. That shouldn’t be a problem this time around.

It’s not like you need a big dossier on how to get past the Avs. Contain the explosive device that is MacKinnon into no more than a controlled explosion, and you’re half the way there. On Friday, Colliton will be tempted to use Toews to do that, but it should be Kampf. If you can do that it’s not a great defensive team, you just have to get past their goalies, which was a challenge for the Hawks last year. But the power play scratched on Tuesday against the Stars, and the Avs have been pretty welcoming in that spot this year too. That would help.

Huge stretch here for the Hawks, as the next four are against some of the best the league has to offer. They can’t afford too many dry stretches from here on out, even if we’re not to December yet. And get used to the Avs, as the Hawks will be seeing them four times in the next month.

So get your post-Thanksgiving shit in early, this one has a chance to be fun.

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

 

 

Everything Else

Some teams leave with a wave, and some leave with a warning. That’s what the Colorado Avalanche want you to believe, and it very well may be true. It feels like they’ve been gotten this time, but will be right back here again and again in the years to come, and moving on even farther. They certainly do look poised for that given the age of all their important players and they might have the second-best player in the league in their ranks.

Then again, the Duchene-O’Reilly Era Avalanche sure looked poised for bigger things. They never won a series and they’re both on their second team since. Then there was that revival in Patrick Roy’s first year, the one that everyone told them couldn’t last. Avs fans didn’t want to hear it, we didn’t know the truth they claimed, couldn’t understand the INTANGIBLES Roy brought. They were never heard from again. I’m not saying the Avs cry “Wolf!” a lot, I’m just saying…

Sure, it could have gone on longer possibly if the Avs captain, Gabriel SapsuckerFrog, had gotten his lazy ass off to the bench sooner. Maybe a 2-2 tie spring the gremlins in the Sharks’ heads again. Then again, 15 shots in the 3rd period weren’t enough to get even, so really, where were the Avs going? Home, that’s where. The Sharks thank you for bringing Martin Jones back from the land of wind and ghosts.

So the Avs have a summer to ponder and add to a core that looks pretty tasty in MacKinnon, Rantanen, ThreeYaksAndADog, Makar, Barrie, Girard, and whatever else they might unearth. Or maybe this will be the same team it’s been the past two years, with a canyon-esque gulf between its top line and the rest of the roster. Sometimes a Colin Wilson and a J.T. Compher is just that. a Colin Wilson and a J.T. Compher.

It’ll be another season of convincing themselves Erik Johnson has anything to offer, even though he spent their first second-round series in a decade getting his head bounced around like a basketball by whatever teal-clad opponent had the pleasure of facing him. Hey look! I think Nikita Zadorov just ran out of position again to miss a hit! Sure is tough though!

There’s a ton of cap space, and other than Rantanen there aren’t a ton of must-keeps here. But $35M is just about what it costs to keep Stan Kroenke in wigs, mustache wax, and bribe funds to get him into whatever Hollywood party wouldn’t let him in. The Avs best hope is that Arsenal supporters murder him.

You forget because of the novelty of a team immediately being the league’s cream of the crop upon arriving in a new city all those years ago, but the Avs were/are well on their way to being Mountain Islanders. Four series wins in the past 16 years, no conference final appearance in 17 years. You don’t think of the Avs has basking in faded glory, probably because you don’t think of the Avs. But they were. And maybe they still will, which would be pretty funny.

It’s all there for them. The Jets and Preds are falling apart. We know the Blues will always find a way to get in their own way, even if it hasn’t happened yet this spring (and it will). But isn’t Denver built upon a society of people saying, “Eh…let’s just have a beer and then go hiking?” Don’t know where you find inspiration where everyone is content to just hang out in the back yard with their dog. And nor should you.

We’re wary of the threat, Avs. But you can only scare people with the ghosts of Sakic and Forsberg’s elbows for so long. You’re going to have to do something eventually. Trucking a fragile and short Flames roster isn’t really it. Neither is stretching a Sharks team without its captain to seven games. Better make it quick.

 

 

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

These could be the most NHL playoff-iest of the NHL playoffs. One division winner, THE division winner, was kneecapped in four games. One is trailing 3-1. The Predators laid an egg big enough last night to feed a few villages. Even the Caps are somewhat lucky to be up 2-1 on the Canes, and were just trucked to the tune of managing all of two shots in the final 40 minutes. If you love an underdog, this is for you. Even the Islanders, though the higher-seed, were probably not the bookies’ favorite heading into that series. That’s what some people love about the NHL Playoffs, though it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. Last year, the chalk pretty much won every first round series, and arguably every second round series. Even if the Caps getting by the Penguins was a surprise simply because of history and the connotations of the two in our heads, they were the higher seed.

But still, while we can debate whether the actual results are good or prove anything at all or if they render the regular season even more meaningless than we thought, the undercurrent here is that the two results in the books and one or two others on the cards have been a result of negative, boring-ass hockey. Barry Trotz teams are successful, they are not entertaining. The Nassau Coliseum (where they come to see ’em) might make it seem like they are, but you sat through enough Predators games in the day to know. I don’t expect or want Isles fans to care. The rest of us can, though.

The Jackets aren’t quite the same bore, as they at least turned their trap up to 11 and moved it up the ice, but it was still a trap. The results were stunning and enough to convince you the process was actually lively, but believe me it wasn’t. The Stars, giving the Preds everything they want and more, are possibly playing the most boring and conservative style still left, and will happily tell you so.

It’s sports, not television, and no team is under any obligation to do anything other than what’s best for their team. That’s all their fans care. But I can care, and I do, because I’m not invested thanks to whatever it is they do on Madison St. these days.

Which is why the best series to watch, and despite all the scary undertones for Hawks fans, has been the Avalanche’s utter destruction of the Flames the past two games. Oh sure, last night’s game went to OT, and if not for Phillip Grubauer’s spot-on Cristobal Huet ’09 impression, the Flames walk out of Denver with a tied series and home-ice back. They also gave up 52 shots, 45 at even-strength. That’s betting your ass kicked. More so when it’s the second straight game they’ve surrendered 50+ shots.

And the Avs have gone the opposite way of the Isles or Jackets. They’ve just turned everyone loose, seeing a kind of slow Calgary defense beyond the top pair. And they don’t have to worry about the top pair, because Nathan MacKinnon has ground their bones to make his bread all series. Whereas the Jackets didn’t bust over 25 shots at evens until Game 4, the Avs have done it the past three games and by some distance. They have a goalie playing well, so they’re not too concerned about needing him from time to time, and have bet that if they turn up the heat on every game, the Flames can’t hang. And they haven’t been able to.

They even took their defenseman out of college, Cale Makar, and figured by replacing Samuel Girard with him they could even play faster. He played 20 minutes last night. They don’t care about his age or experience, he just helps them do what they want to do.

After a season of a jump in offense, goals, and overall fun, it stood to reason there would be a group of coaches looking to snuff that out when things got important. It’s how this always goes, and that’s not exclusive to hockey. Look at the last Super Bowl for evidence of that.

Sure, it portends to a future of the Avs pounding on whatever process the Hawks come up with in the next few years, but that’s life. Perhaps the reputations that Trotz and Tortorella have to uphold play a part, whereas Jared Bednar doesn’t have one yet. But rare is the coach who shows up in the playoffs and says, “We can go faster.” Rare is the NHL coach who has no compunction about tossing a 20-year-old into the playoffs when he was in college last week, no matter how special the prospect he is.

Mostly, Bednar has not coached out of fear of what might happen to them, but out of expectation what could happen for them. That is refreshing, and the kind of thing that should be rewarded. I may hate Vegas, and I do, but that’s a speed of series we should probably all want to catch.

Until they run into Trotz, of course.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Calgary tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in Calgary Saturday, 9:30

Game 3 in Denver Monday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver Wednesday, 9pm

At the top, this one seems the most cut and dried of the West. Then again, we said that about the Jackets and Lightning, and even though that might still turn out that way after a blip, this is hockey after all and rarely does anything work out as it appears it should. It is the unruly toddler of sports. And the Flames have the one crack that can make any series turn goofy, and that’s goaltending, or lack thereof. The Avalanche’s time is next year and beyond, but are certainly good enough to walk through the door if Mike Smith keeps opening it and kicking them in the direction. Our last preview, let’s go.

Goalies: Phillip Grubauer was pulling a mini-Jake Allen for the first half of the season, as the Avalanche wanted him to have the job but he just wouldn’t take it. He and Semyon Varlamov were kind of Duck-Season-Rabbit-Season’ing it for the schedule’s first half. And then right about the time the Avs ruined the Hawks playoff hopes the first time, Grubauer finally relented and accepted, and he’s been brilliant ever since. A .955 in March would certainly qualify as that.

The problem for Grubs is he’s been here before, a year ago exactly in DC. And he hacked up a hairball, Braden Holtby took over, and you know the rest. Maybe that experience steels him for this. But until you do it in the postseason, everyone’s going to ask if you’re the guy or not. So he’s got some history to shed.

The history Mike Smith has to shed is much more recent, and much worse. He’s been a bitchy, wandering suckbag most of the season, and that’s when he could be bothered to actually be in the net. And the leash will be short, which probably will only make him even more of a malcontent. Considering how hard the Avs forecheck, he’s going to fuck up with the puck once in the first two games, but of course it won’t be his fault. This is the first team Smith has played on that mattered since 2012, and we all remember what happened then. But that was a long time ago with a much younger man. No amount of dives are going to save him this time.

If he fumbles it, or more to the point fumbles more than the Flames are already expecting him to, David Rittich will get tossed into the fire as a savior but with no safety net. Rittich faltered badly in the season’s back end after screaming to get the job full-time in the first portion. The Flames might just be Cup-worthy everywhere else, but they are depending on a moody dipshit and an untested rookie to navigate these seas. Hey…the 2010 Hawks did it?

Defense: The Avs defense will be good, possibly better than that, when Cale Makar and possibly what they add in the draft with Ottawa’s pick arrive next year. I still remain unconvinced of this one. Tyson Barrie rules, and beyond that I just can’t see it. Erik Johnson has made a career out of being fine and really unable to be picked out from the scenery. It’s not that it’s a bad defense, it just doesn’t distinguish itself, even if the numbers are middle of the pack to slightly better. At some point, tossing Ian Cole (BAYBAY!) over the boards consistently has to end in paper cuts and stains.

The Flames on the other hand have this year’s likely Norris winner in Mark Giordano, even if it’s more of a lifetime achievement award than for a career season (though it is that offensively). Going back to play with Gio has revitalized T.J. Brodie, which is a huge shock I’m sure. Travis Hamonic has had a bounce-back season. The third pairing is either some very green kids in Andersson or Kylington, or some very puce (sure?) vets in Fantenberg or Prout. But you can hide a third pair in the playoffs if you have to.

Forwards: The Avs are getting Mikko Suave back, and they’ll probably keep him on a line away from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel LaxativeLog. I doubt that lasts long. The Avs are still one line, no matter that J.T. Compher looks like the lovechild of Rick Tocchet and Jim Brown against the Hawks. Carl Soderberg…whatever. That line can do a whole lot of things, but it’s probably going to have to do them all in this series if the Avs are going to pull the upset.

The Flames have no such problems. They have two to three lines, assuming they’re still not trying to make Michael Frolik feel like the dog who just left a puddle on the floor. Gaudreau and Monahan are as good of a combination as you’ll find, and you’ll have to silence your cellphones, hold your applause, and shut your damn mouths to WALK WITH ELIAS. Whether Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk get Frolik as a third or not, that’s still the most dominant possession line in hockey with some of the worst zone starts. In the playoffs, that should be an enormous weapon. The Flames fall off after that, and if they don’t come out of the West this will probably be the area they address immediately after goalie. Sam Bennett is a useful third center, who doesn’t have to do the checking things because Backlund does. Garnet Hathaway has been a contributor. Mark Jankowski as well, but as third lines go you’ll see better in the playoffs.  But it is more than the Avs have.

Prediction: The Flames goaltending can overturn them at any time. And one bad game at home could see a pretty young team with little playoff experience get jittery in a hurry. And yet this team amassed 107 points without a goalie. Against a more sustained attack, it would be a bigger problem. But the expectation is that Giordano and Brodie can play MacKinnon to even close to a standstill, and from there the Flames are just better with more weapons. Their goaltending may get them. It’s just not going to be here.

Flames in six.