Hockey

vs

Game Time: 7:00 PM
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Touchdown Tom: Raw Charge

It seems fitting that the Hawks and Bolts will close out their season series exactly where it was projected that both teams would, with Tampa able to clinch their playoff berth with a victory of any kind tonight, and the Hawks all but mathematically eliminated, could very well be a mere 2 points away from doing so by night’s end depending on the results of the Stars and Preds’ games, who are both in action against the Canes and Cats respectively.

Hockey

at

Game Times: 7:00PM (1/13) & 6:00PM (1/15)
TV/Radio: NBCSN (1/15), NBC Sports Chicago (1/15), WGN-AM 720
Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%: Raw Charge

Despite every indication that this shouldn’t be happening from both the world at large given that pestilence still ravaging this country, and the fact that the league itself has said that they’d probably be better off simply NOT playing, the NHL regular season (such as it is) begins tonight. And the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their championship banner in front of no one while an already decimated Hawks team looks on at a vague reminder of what once was and now seems so desperately far away.

Hockey

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RECORDS: Hawks 27-28-8   Lightning 40-18-5

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

POINT AT THE SIGN: Raw Charge

I keep thinking it can’t get worse for the Hawks, or really us, and yet somehow it does. It’s certainly bad enough to go have to play the team you used to laugh at that’s now a league standard right after the trade deadline where your management made it clear they’re not much beyond cats pawing at a laser pointer. But then to have to follow that up with the team who’s been the clearest illustration of what you’ve become from what you were…well, how much more can you take? Oh right, after this they’ll have to face their former coach with the highest scoring team in the league.

We chose this.

The last three times the Hawks have faced the Lightning it’s been something of a definitive statement on their status. And if I cant throw in a Tin Cup quote (god I’m truly lost), “And the definition was shit.” Remember it was five years ago they were contesting the Final. Last year, the Lightning simply embarrassed the Hawks twice, including that 30-shot period at the UC. This year, while the score was closer, you never got the impression that the Bolts were even sweating as they calmly skated away in the 3rd period. That’s where they went after ’15, and this is where the Hawks are. And that’s back early in the season when the Lightning were fighting it.

They’re not fighting it anymore. Put it this way, since that late November dance around the maypole at the United Center, Tampa has gone 30-11-3. 63 points of the 88 on offer, which is a 117-point pace over a full season. It’s landed them second in the NHL overall, with the misfortune of the best team in the NHL being in their own division. But wouldn’t you know it, the Bs and Bolts play twice next week in something of a division decider (the Lightning probably have to take both in regulation though).

How did the Lightning turn around after an iffy opening two months? Same thing they always do. Get scoring from everywhere (six guys with 15+ goals and Johnson with 13) while NIkita Kucherov leads the way. Get great goaltending (Vasilevskiy ran a .948 in January and has been .920 since Dec. 1st). And dominate possession (fourth in both Corsi and xG% over the whole season, and second in both since Dec. 1st).

While the Lightning have a tremendous amount of firepower, it’s their defensive game that’s really the backbone of this as they’re third in both the amount of attempts they give up and their expected goals against. Their speed up and down the lineup allows them to choke space whenever they don’t have the puck, which isn’t all that much.

Of course, nothing really matters about the Lightning until April, when they’ll have a couple gremlins to work out of their heads. Last year’s first round disaster probably isn’t much more than an anomaly considering this is a team that has made three trips to the conference final at least in the past five years. It’s Vasilevskiy who will have to answer the biggest questions, as he spit up big time against Columbus and wasn’t terribly good against the Capitals the year before in the East Final. But again, this roster and this system they seem poised to do big things in the spring. You get the feeling if they can negotiate the first round boogeyman, which could end up tricky given the arsenal of Toronto or Florida or even Carolina, there might not be any stopping them.

As for the Hawks, you wonder if this isn’t about damage control. They saw their front office (rightly) declare their season over on Monday, and then while showing more gumption than you might have thought, got kicked in the nuts by the worst possible people anyway. You wouldn’t blame them if they just didn’t have it in them to chase the Bolts all over the ice tonight. Still, there’s professional pride at stake and bigger roles in the future to claim. Corey Crawford gets the start.

It’s hard to believe a team led by this group will just quit on the season, but they’re up against it tonight for sure. This is our lot in life now.

Hockey

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RECORDS: Lightning 9-7-2   Hawks 9-8-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE GUYS WHO DON’T LOOK LIKE XQUISITE: Raw Charge

It may sound strange to say the Hawks have more points than the Lightning, but that’s the case as the two ’15 Finalists get together again on West Madison. But of course, as we know here, that doesn’t mean the Hawks are better off than the Bolts. The Hawks collected their 22 points in the Cirque de Stupid that is the Central Division and Western Conference as a whole, whereas the Lightning are trying to fight through the gauntlet of the Atlantic. And one of these teams did put up 128 points last year, while the other missed the lowest bar for the playoffs in years by a good distance. And not that much has changed.

That’s not to say everything is rosy in Tampa. They’re sitting just three points above the Eastern cellar, though only two points out of the last playoff spot. While watching the Lightning, or trying to measure them by various metrics, it’s kind of clear that there’s still a malaise from last spring hanging over and in this team. Nothing they do in the regular season is going to matter to anyone, but sadly with the division they’re in they can’t play the whole regular season like it doesn’t matter. Which is kind of what they’ve been doing. Other than their power play, which has reached that “self aware” level, everything else is just meh. Right in the middle of the league.

The Lightning still score, as their overall goals-per-game and even-strength goals per game are in the top five. With the king of marksmen like Kucherov and Stamkos and Point and others, they don’t need to dominate possession to get the scoring they need. Which is good, because they aren’t. Their possession and expected goals numbers re firmly middle of the pack. Again, they can get away with that given the talent for long stretches, but it’s not ideal long-term.

Especially as they may not get the PDO balance at the other end right now. When picking through the rubble of last season’s meltdown in the first round, it was hard not to start with Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s .856 SV%. Anyone can have a bad four games of course, but any big save from Vas in at least Games 1 or 2 could have pivoted that series. The Bolts never got one. That hangover seems to have carried over to this season, where he’s carrying a .906. The Hawks will get the backup tonight, as Curtis McElhinney will take the start.

And that’s probably the biggest factor for the Bolts to get back on track, because they don’t give up a ton of great chances. They’re not among the league’s best, but comfortably in the top half. If Vas can get back to .915 or better, everything should be fine in Tampa.

It also might not hurt the Lightning that they’ve only played seven home games so far, and after this one tonight 14 of their next 17 will be in Tampa. You wouldn’t be shocked by a charge up the standings before New Year’s.

To the Hawks, who could or could not be with Andrew Shaw tonight. He didn’t practice yesterday so they’re going to see how he shows up tonight. If he doesn’t go, the Hawks will dress all seven d-men as they don’t have an extra forward at the moment with Drake Caggiula in a dark room somewhere (my whole life is a dark room…). Every time in the past the Hawks have tried the 7-D look it has gone horribly, and everyone bitches to high heaven about it after. I still think it should be something they try more often and with Boqvist involved, if only to shelter him and Seabrook better. It also provides extra shifts here and there for Kane, Toews, Saad, Dach, DeBrincat, which is a good thing. But what do I know? I’m just a drunk in the rain. Corey Crawford will be your starter.

The Hawks got embarrassed twice by the Lightning last year, though no scoreline truly reflects it. This was the opponent that put up 30 shots in a period on them at the United Center last time around. Quite simply, the Hawks aren’t built to deal with this kind of skill and speed. And really, neither of those things have changed.

The difference, albeit small, between what the Hawks saw on Tuesday and what they’ll get tonight is the Lightning defense isn’t as consistently mobile as Carolina’s. Sure, Hedman and Kirk ShattenKevin are, and Sergachev and Cernak are too. But Sergachev can get wayward when under pressure, and whether it’s Schenn or Rutta joining him that can be exploited. So can Ryan McDonagh on the second pairing. Whereas the Hawks couldn’t get behind Carolina’s last line, they can on this one.

Which means some other d-men besides Connor Murphy have to get the puck out of the zone as quickly as possible to get the defense to back up, which in turn will give everyone more room to breathe. As we saw last year, when the Hawks try their 17-pass breakout, the Lightning’s plus-plus speed at forward and on the forecheck swallows them whole and spits them back out inside out. There just isn’t time for that, at least not until you back them up by proving you can and will stretch the ice.

It’s a rough part of the schedule, as the Hawks again get one of the better teams in the league, whatever the standings say, before two with the hottest team in the league and then two with maybe the best team in the division. But if you want to go somewhere, you can’t always take the path of least resistance.

Hockey

Whoops.

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

2018-2019

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

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

51.5 CF% (9th)  52.6 xGF% (8th)

29.2 PP% (1st)  85.0 PK% (1st)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

 

Everything Else

I know when the lights are brightest in the NHL that most analysts and media and players and coaches want to make it clear what makes their sport special. Or what they think makes this time of year special, even though no one has any idea. Or if they do they don’t want to tell anyone, for fear of…well, I haven’t any idea what they’re afraid of, but here we are. So the NARRATIVES flow like an open sewer downhill at this time. This spring, it seems that the amount of horseshit in every series has been especially amped up. Let’s keep it to this: the first night of the playoffs, during the first intermission of the Isles-Pens game, Liam McHugh set up professional hairpiece with a highlight of Brock Nelson’s power play goal and asked Eddie, “How did the Islanders score on the power play.” Eddie’s answer, “Confidence.” Jesus fucking christ.

So let’s start with the biggest story of the first round, the Lightning’s capitulation to Columbus. Last year, the story that everyone wanted to push was that the Caps intimidated the Lightning. That the Bolts were soft. They weren’t up for this kind of time of year, even though a great majority of this team has been to a couple conference finals and a Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps the main reason was that Braden Holtby was putting up a back-t0-back shutouts in Game 6 and 7 and John Cooper only used one puck-mover to bust through a Trotz trap. So those whispers and headlines were always bubbling underneath the surface waiting to be cracked open by anyone who didn’t want to bother to explain what was happening to Tampa should they not roll to victory.

Which apparently spread to the Lightning themselves, because there’s no logical reason that after just one loss, Nikita Kucherov and others should be running around doing a Tom Wilson impression instead of doing what they did all year, which is just score all the time. Now the Lightning are playing the wrong game.

And even then, really the only thing you need to know about this series are two numbers: .866 and .940. That’s Vasilevskiy’s and Bobrovsky’s save-percentages this series. Everything else is pretty much even, if not tilted to to the Bolts a bit. Vas is letting everything in. There you go. It doesn’t have to mean more than that. It doesn’t have to be more than that. One goalie is making stops.

Meanwhile, every series save the Flames and Avalanche and the Caps and Hurricanes has descended into a cesspool. The hockey has been pretty horrific to watch, and every goddamn whistle becomes a dick-measuring contest. We like our playoff hockey with passion and a bit of bile but this has gone beyond even a level of stupidity. Which is how you end up with Nazem Kadri, already a shithead, trying to be an axe-murderer. Or analysts trying to tell you how important Ryan Reaves is.

It’s been accented because there haven’t been that many close games. And when playoff games have obvious winners in the 3rd period, there seems to be some tenet of hockey written by someone who struggled to breathe that you have to act like a petulant child. That you have to “send a message,” which doesn’t amount more than to losing like an asshole. Every other sport, if you were to clobber guys in the lane in the NBA in the 4th quarter or start throwing at guys heads in the 8th inning of a loss, you’d be mocked endlessly and probably suspended. In hockey it’s the thing to do. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as hockey is filled with a bunch of rich white kids who tend not to react well when things don’t go their way. Taking it on the chin isn’t in the vocabulary.

This kind of thing tends to dry up as we get to the business end of series and moving on or going home gets awfully clear in the viewfinder. We can only hope. I already watch Monday Night Raw for my fill of bad booking.

 

Everything Else

Make sure I got that one right, as a real horse-racing fan should. Anyway, there’s really less than a quarter of the season left, but now’s as good of a time as any to see who should rack up the hardware at the end of the year, though most probably won’t. As always, a metric-look is usually involved here.

Hart Trophy (MVP) – Nikita Kucherov

Yes, I know. Patrick Kane has a case. He’s playing with worse players and his numbers aren’t all that far off from Kucherov’s. He is single-handedly keeping a dogshit team barely relevant, and without him the Hawks would be a shoe-in for top spot in the lottery and the Hawks would be a monolith to sadness and confusion (most of these arguments also apply to Connor McDavid, but let’s leave that for a second. And the Oilers are that monolith). That’s all well and good and if you say that I won’t tell you you’re wrong. But like we said at every other checkpoint on this, 130 points is 130 points like a football in the groin is a football in the groin. Kucherov is more a reason those other players are really good than vice versa. These things just don’t have to be that hard.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie) – John Gibson

Next week, this won’t be the case and you’ll probably have to give it Vasilevskiy. That is unless Gibson returns and kills it for the season’s last month. But no one was facing more attempts and better chances than Gibson, and until recently no one was turning more of them away at a better rate than he should have been, according to expected-save-percentage. He dropped off the last month, crumbling under the weight of a fucking quarry that Carlyle and the Ducks put on him, but if he can put up a good last month it should be his. It won’t be, and the Lightning will add this to the haul of trophies they’re likely to get. Gibson should get it because the Ducks will have actually killed him by April 1st and it’ll make a nice marker for his grave.

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman) – Erik Karlsson
This is going to be Mark Giordano‘s Lifetime Achievement Award, and I don’t really have a problem with that. And Karlsson’s recent bout of ouchiness would probably preclude him anyway. But on a good possession team to begin with, Karlsson stands out over everyone with how much more he pushes his team forward than they do without him. It’s basically him and Dougie Hamilton. Karlsson can’t buy a bucket for himself, shooting less than 1% somehow at even-strength. But he’s still in all the right places and in fact he’s getting more shots for himself than he has before. He’s going to drag this team with its shitty goaltending to a conference final at least by the dick, and everyone will probably shrug because we’re so accustomed. He’s a goddamn treasure.

Rod Langway Award (Best defensive defenseman, doesn’t actually exist) – Niklas Hjalmarsson

Boy, that hurts. But no one gets buried in their zone more to start than Hammer and OEL and according to the metrics, no one does a better job of limiting chances at a rate above their team’s than Hjalmarsson. Even though you’ve won half the battle against them by starting in the right end, they’re not allowing you any chances. So this didn’t go according to plan at all.

Calder Trophy (Rookie) – WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?!

Again, I only put this in so my one Canucks fan friend doesn’t yell at me, because otherwise I don’t care.

Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward) – Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Yep, a fucking teenager. But no forward limits expected goals and attempts against at less of a rate than any of his teammates than this kid. They’re still going to give it to Patrice Bergeron, which like, fine, but at some point you have to find someone new. And it’s going to be Kotkaniemi. In two years you just watch, every Canadiens fan and media is going to stamp their feet and wet themselves until he gets the recognition that Bergeron does simply because they can’t have the Bruins having that over them, and everyone will go along with it just to get them to shut up. Except this time they’ll be right.

Everything Else

Piggybacking off our look at Patrick Kane’s season, it’s always fun to see how scoring has jumped up in the league this year. By now you know this, but let’s add some detail to it.

Last year, only three players broke 100 points, topping out with Connor McDavid’s 108. This year, nine players are on track to hit the century mark. As we discussed with Kane, he and Kucherov are on the way to over 110 points, No one’s cracked that since Henrik Sedin in 2010 (which totally went well for him after that). Last year, no one topped 50 goals. This year, five guys have a chance at it, with Ovechkin and Kane being almost locks and Skinner, Draisaitl, and Point having a chance if they get on their horse.

Everyone would love to know the reason, and it seems pretty obvious. But follow my work and we’ll get there in the end. Where I’m kind of fascinated is that there are 13 players this season who have played over 30 games that are shooting over 20%. Last year there were four. So you see where this going.

The league-save percentage has dropped from .912 last year to .908 this year, which is the biggest drop seen since the season before and after the lockout. But as we know, back then there was a 30% increase in power plays, which led to a lower SV% simply because teams were killing off nearly six penalties per game (what?!). This year has actually seen a decrease in power play opportunities per team, from 3.04 last year to 3.03 this year. There’s basically no difference.

Which is why we don’t see a huge spike in power play production. Ok, Kucherov is in a class by himself with 39 power play points already, with the next highest total being 31. Last year, two players finished with more than 40 power play points (Kessel and Wheeler). Kucherov is obviously going to do so unless he has a stroke (and even then), and beyond that really only his teammates Stamkos and Point have a good shot at coming along for the ride.

So it seems most of the improvement is at evens. Last year, McDavid led the league in ES points with 84, and no one else had more than 66 (yeah ok he probably should have won the Hart again, huh?). This year, McDavid, Kane, and Kucherov are averaging just about an even-strength point per game, and a further four are on track to score more than 70 even-strength points per game.

So basically the argument comes down to whether it’s the new goalie pads leading to more holes for the league’s best snipers to find, or the crack down on slashing to open up more space and make it easier for players to get where they want to go. The fact that teams are averaging less shots per game this season than last (31.3 to 31.8 last year) would lean it more toward the goalies. And the fact that attempts per team, and scoring chances per team are a shade/tick down from last year would point to that as well. However, high-danger chances per team have gone up from 10.6 per 60 to 10.9. It’s about a 3% rise.

Which doesn’t sound like a lot. Teams averaged 9-10 high-danger chances per game last year, which means getting another one this year just about every three games, which if you carry it out it is another four to five goals per season.

So yeah, it’s the pads. But hey, it’s fun!

 

Everything Else

It’s rather fascinating to look at the state of these two teams now three years and some change after they matched up in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning were an ascending team at that time and a lot of people seemed to think they might end up being the next kind of team to have an Era like the Blackhawks had. It hasn’t happened for the Lightning in the postseason obviously, but they’ve remained one of the better teams in the NHL since then while the Hawks now find themselves closer to the cellar than the ceiling.

With the amount of young talent the Lightning have, it’s not exactly surprising they’re second in the league in points right now. They’ve built their team extremely well around their core stars in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman while also supplementing the whole deal with really talented depth – hey, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They made what now looks like one of the smartest trades in recent memory to get Mikhael Sergachev from the Habs, and then got aggressive in adding good veterans along the way as well. They’ve made the absolute most of their situation as they look to win a Cup in what looks like a really wide open window for them.

But perhaps their greatest and no doubt the most surprising find has been Yanni Gourde, who I promise you is not some random pumpkin-themed comic book villain. If you’re reading this and thinking “who the hell is Yanni Gourde?” you are probably not alone. As a 25-year old rookie, Gourde came out of absolutely nowhere last year to post 64 points (25G, 39A) in 82 games last year and solidified himself as one of the Bolts’ key depth contributors. This year he’s gotten off to an even better start to the season with 21 points (9G, 12A) in 22 games, and he just signed a huge, six-year extension in Tampa with an AAV of $5.167MM. It’s not often you see that kind of rise from guys with just 22 games of NHL experience before they hit 25-years-old.

The thing that feels so weird about Gourde is that all of his success just seems so unsustainable, and yet he’s sustained it. He shot 18.4% last year and is shooting 19.6% this year. On his entire career he’s at 18.9% shooting. That’s basically a goal for every five shots he takes, which just doesn’t make any damn sense. Mike Bossy is one the best goal scorers in NHL history, and he shot 21.2% for his career. Gourde’s own teammate Stamkos is one of the best modern goal scorers, and he’s shot just 16.4% on his career. Alex Fucking Ovechkin is probably gonna end up as the best goal scorer ever, and he’s shot just 12.5% on his career (though he does shoot more than most). Gourde’s conversion rate isn’t just high – it’s almost unprecedented in the modern age.

Obviously that doesn’t discredit Gourde in any way, because at this point it’s easy to think it’s just more dumb luck. This might be who he is as a scorer. Maybe he just has a shot that fools goalies better than most players, or maybe he just picks his spots really well. He’s been a brilliant addition for the Lightning, obviously, and he’s exactly the kind of sneaky good addition that high level teams tend to fall ass-backwards into. It’s not like the Blackhawks didn’t have similar lucky finds – Patrick Sharp didn’t score 20 goals until he was 25, and from that point forward he was a virtual lock to reach that benchmark. But even in Sharp’s case he never shot higher than 17.2% in a season.

Gourde is a fun player to watch, and like I said before he is a fun story. I am happy for him, and I definitely don’t want him to stop being fun and good at hockey. I am not sure that he will keep being able to score at that kind of rate, but even if he does eventually falling off a cliff in terms of shooting percentage, he’s still going to be a productive player. But at this point, he seems to be a Cinderella Story with a clock that won’t strike midnight.

Game #23 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Spanish Moss: Raw Charge

Tonight the Hawks will cap off the traditional 3-in-4 stretch weekend stretch by welcoming the eastern conference powerhouse that all of the galaxy brained hockey minds seemingly always forget about, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who themselves are also bringing a weekend Midwest swing to a close.