Hockey

The Dizzying Highs

The Goalies – I suppose you’re slightly ahead of being a total moron when you can admit what you don’t know and take appropriate steps. You’ll never convince us the Hawks have any sort of plan to the past couple seasons or this one. And yet there probably was some humility in thinking they might not have gotten everything right, so they’ll just shore up the goalies to one of the best tandems in the league and if everything else falls apart, which it very well might, those two will at least give them a chance every game.

And so it has proven of late. Robin Lehner kept them from getting embarrassed in San Jose and at least allowed for the possibility of a miracle comeback late. Corey Crawford stopped 36 shots against the Canucks. He held the Penguins to two goals and really should have gotten another two points there. Lehner stopped 743 shots last night against the Leafs to get the Hawks another two points. Five out of six points, with the goalies being the main reason.

We should be used to slow Corey Crawford starts by now, it’s kind of his thing. In three November starts he’s at .929. Lehner is at .934 for the year, and .931 in four November appearances.

Whatever else it is the Hawks are doing, and that is unclear to just about everyone including themselves, their goalies have performed of late exactly as the Hawks had hoped. Which they’ll take far too much credit for, but it’s better than getting your brains beaten in every night. Last year, Cam Ward would have given up 12 goals to the Leafs on a night like that.

The Terrifying Lows

Slater Koekkoek And Not Admitting A Mistake – I don’t know what the blindspot is for the Hawks and subpar d-men. We went through this with David Rundblad. We went through this with Trevor van Riemsdyk. And what’s infuriating about it is not that the players themselves are bad, because teams have bad players. It’s that the Hawks continue to insist on trotting them out there when they’ve both proven they’re not up to it, and there’s also little investment.

Sure, Rundblad somehow cost a 2nd round pick (!). And I guess there’s some drive to prove that it was worth it even when that no longer seems possible. But given where the Hawks were in their trajectory at that point, did the 55th pick or lower really matter that much?

All Slater Koekkoek cost you was the equally awful Jan Rutta. You’re not in deep on this one. Enough is enough. He’s not going to be a diamond in the rough (hey! poet and I don’t even know it!). He’s bad, he’s going to continue to be bad, and while once is explainable never again should Adam Boqvist sit so he can air out and cost you points.

And Koekkoek cost them points on Saturday night, or a point to be correct. If the Hawks get to the second intermission up 2-0, they probably win that game. Giving the Penguins life by mishandling a puck, being indecisive, and then letting Evgeni Malkin pick his pass is exactly what you can’t do late in the second with a two-goal lead. Whether the Hawks are aimed at this season or the ones to follow, Koekkoek doesn’t fit in either scenario. If he’s not waived when Connor Murphy is healthy then that should be a pretty high bullet-point in the case that McDonough makes to fire Stan Bowman. Which won’t happen, but we can imagine at least. We’re just an animal without imagination.

The Creamy Middles

Patrick Kane – Until last night, you wouldn’t say that here had been a signature Patrick Kane game this year. He’d only had two multi-point games in October. And even the ones that have come in November were boosted by empty-net assists and the like. And yet there he is sitting on a 98-point pace. The metrics may be terrible (and they are) and constantly-shuffling linemates may have thrown him off rhythm (they most certainly have) and yet he just collects goals and assists. You may never notice him for 58 minutes of every game, and you look up and there’s two points. Imagine when he gets to carve out a constant role and you really do start to notice him again.

Everything Else

Who was good, who was bad, and the in-between on another week on the Good Ship Blackhawks. 

The Dizzying Highs

Brandon Saad – In a week where your team only scores four goals that involved beating an actual goalie (so not Kahun’s empty-netter) and you’ve got two of them, I’d say you’re making a difference. Saad also spent the week playing on three different lines. His Corsi-relative an scoring-change-relative numbers against the Kings and Wild were miles ahead of his teammates, even if most of those games were spent with the nuclear option of Kane and Toews. But hey, if they’re Khalil Mack-ing people around the ice (it’s a verb now), no one’s going to care. His goal last night is actually what you think of when you think of a Saad goal, streaking past a confused d-man who only made one wrong half move, holding him off with barely a thought, and getting around the goalie. Yes, maybe it should happen more often. But it’s happening now, and maybe it will continue. Let’s just be happy about it, all right? All right.

The Terrifying Lows

Duncan Keith – If you’re going by metrics, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook spent the week getting their brains beaten in by whatever opposition was on the ice. They didn’t top a 40% share of attempts in any of the three games, nor in scoring chance share, and on Friday against L.A.–who are staffed by interns on quaaludes, essentially–they managed an 18% mark in scoring chance share. In the words of Muhammad Ali, “THAT’S BAD!” And not like he meant it. If you want to be fair, and you do because this is Duncan Keith we’re talking about, he and Seabrook have been taking more defensive zone shifts than usual. And their ice-flipping days are probably over. But the Hawks also probably need something more than them turtling when their on the ice if they’re going to go anywhere. Pairing them together isn’t helping, but we also saw what happened when Keith was paired with someone he was supposed to take a backseat to in the aggressive department. I’m not sure what the answers are here, and whatever they are and are discovered I’m fairly sure Keith isn’t going to like them.

The Creamy Middles

Corey Crawford – Hmm, Crow’s back to a .922 SV%. The Hawks took five of the six points on offer in his last three starts when he put up only a .981 SV%, including his first shutout of the season. Isn’t that strange how that works. But this is what you expect of Corey, or at least what we expect, given that he’s been, y’know, one of the five best goalies in the league for like five seasons now. Sure, don’t make him have to come up with 39 saves every night. But this team isn’t going to get him down around 27 or 28 a night either. They’ll go as far as he does. Like this, that’s five of six points.

Everything Else

Time for our weekly review of who’s gettin’ it done, who ain’t, and who’s just there like the dead skin on my left thumb. To it!

The Dizzying Highs 

Alex DeBrincat

Only two games this week, so there isn’t much to choose from. But when you pile in four goals in two games, one of which should have been a game-winner, one that was a game-winner, and another that tied a game you were trailing in the third, it makes the pick pretty easy.

Top Cat is pacing the Hawks with nine points in five games, and is a big reason why Jonathan Toews doesn’t need Paul Bearer following him around at all times (not that I would complain if this were to happen, if Paul indeed were still with us. SKY POINT). He’s been showing off his all-around game as well, as there was a fear he might just be a one-dimensional sniper (which has worked out pretty well for Phil Kessel, but that’s another story for another time). Top Cat has showed off his vision and passing skills, and has been far more hellacious on the backcheck than anyone would have guessed for someone of the Lollipop Guild.

I’m going to spend all season giddily laughing about the “scouts’ take” article from Scott Powers about how DeBrincat would top out as a 25-goal, 45-point guy. He’s already a fifth of the way to both and the Hawks have played five games. No, he’s not going to continue his 98-goal, 144-point pace he’s on now (BUT WHAT IF HE DOES?! THAT WOULD ASSUREDLY MEAN THE END FOR US ALL!!!). But yeah, I’m totes excited to see where this goes.

The Terrifying Lows

Brandon Saad

We’re going to be the last on the Knives-Out-For-Saad tour, but this is getting a little worrisome. Demoted to the fourth line on Saturday night and barely getting five minutes of even-strength time. And perhaps more upsetting, he doesn’t seem all that fazed by it. He did manage an assist, but Brandon Saad should not be on the fourth line in this or any other universe.

Perhaps Q needs a different method than the “tough love” one, as it’s never really been something Saad has responded to. Ask John Tortorella. Actually, don’t, because there are far better uses of your time, but you get the idea. Something is amiss, and if the Hawks have any hope of actually turning this start into something prolonged, they’ll need Saad to be what he’s promised on the good side of the spectrum, not the glorified Patrick Maroon on the bad one.

The Creamy Middles

Cam Ward – wait, huh?

Yeah, I know that sounds strange, and he let in a bad one on Saturday night when he and Brandon Manning decided to rehearse their “Who’s On First” reenactment on the ice. Still, Ward was the only reason the Hawks got a point in Minnesota and had to be just about as good in the last half of the game against the Blues. It’s not winning the Hawks much but it’s giving them a platform. In those two games his SV% is .916, which will work just fine as a backup. Which he very well might be starting as soon as Thursday. The Hawks schedule picks up after that though, so it’s likely he’ll be splitting starts with Crawford to start. If he can give the Hawks .910 or so, you’l settle.