Hockey

So the Hawks managed to come back and win against a good team the other night, only to turn around and get their asses handed to them by a bad team. Such is life these days with this team. Let’s get through it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The first period was the Devils personifying why their state has a reputation for trashiness. They took a grand total of seven penalties in the first, including a nasty boarding on Kirby Dach, Wayne Simmonds slashing Crawford, and that’s just what got called. There was another dangerous hit on Connor Murphy that went apparently unnoticed by the officials. The Hawks should have come out of the first with a commanding lead, but instead they were tied at 1. Why? Mostly because our power play was clown shoes, and the Hawks were just as messy as the Devils were malicious. Dennis Gilbert made a STATEMENT with a useless fight against John Hayden (who would have the last laugh with a goal that made it clear the game was getting out of reach). And of course, the broadcast was ejaculating all over the fight but it did absolutely nothing to help the Hawks win a period they should have owned.

–And Adam Boqvist got hurt, so there’s that. I’m honestly not even sure which play it was but given the Devils’ shittiness physicality it could have been a few different ones. That doesn’t matter at this point; what matters is that our co-top prospect now has a bum shoulder, which is the same issue as Calvin de Haan is dealing with so the timing really couldn’t be worse. Hopefully it’s not that bad, and given Boqvist’s tender age he has a chance at healing quickly, but it’s literally the last thing the Hawks needed to deal with tonight.

–Just when you thought the first period was bad…then the second period happened. The Hawks were just completely outplayed, and yes, by the New Jersey fucking Devils. They gave up 23 shots in the second (not a typo). After leading in possession with a 62 CF% in all situations in the first, the Hawks plummeted to a 37 CF% in the second (using all situations because of the rampant power plays and 4-on-4’s). Oh and they gave up four goals, leading to Crawford getting pulled (when it was 4-1, and Lehner gave up one more for good measure). The numbers will tell you the story, but for those of us watching it in real time it was painfully clear the Devils were in control the whole time. Dumb shit like Alex Nylander making a blind backwards pass that was nearly a goal, Gustafsson nearly giving up an own goal, the defense screening Crawford leaving him helpless—it was a completely lopsided performance.

–And about all those power plays, can we just agree that Erik Gustafsson is terrible as the QB? He really shouldn’t be on the top unit, but now with Boqvist (the natural replacement) injured, the Hawks are truly fucked. Anyway, Gus was either too slow with a shot or making a bad pass or turning it over, as is his way. Never forget—they could have traded him last year.

–Hearing the crowd cheering as Robin Lehner came out to replace Corey Crawford just broke my heart. I don’t even know what else to say. Yes Lehner has been great lately but Crawford kept them in this game as long as was humanly possible. The Severson goal he should have had, I’ll give you that. It was a fairly soft five-hole goal. But that came after a crazy sequence where he made about four highlight-reel saves while the rest of the team stood around holding their dicks looking confused. His own defense screened him on the goal prior to that (I believe it was the one prior, if not, it was the prior prior one). I know Crawford is the least appreciated player by the press and the general hockey world, but it kills me when our own fans don’t know better.

–And besides, Lehner gave up a goal on the first play of the third period, so everyone cheering for him can fuck off. The shorthanded goal he gave up late in the second wasn’t really his fault…this team is really, really bad at defense.

Alright, this one was ugly. It was the counterpoint to what was probably their best game, and definitely their best third period, against Colorado the game before. But inconsistency is par for the course right now, so let’s all take a moment, enjoy Christmas if you celebrate it, and find out which Hawks team is showing up on Friday against the Islanders. Onward and upward…

Line of the night: “Give me a soft serve swirl and you’ve got a happy Irishman.” —Pat Foley, with the best possible phrasing to make birthday treats sound incredibly X-rated.

Beer de jour: Pinball Pale Ale by Two Brothers

 

 

Hockey

You know, it’s very rare that I am without things to say. I have been rendered truly speechless only one time in my adult life, and it was when I got called out for being an asshole at a White Sox game (funny story, I’ll tell you about it sometime). The point is, however, that I don’t often struggle for words. But tonight, it’s happening to me. After watching the Blackhawks get completely outplayed in every sense of the word for back-to-back games on back-to-back nights, I’m left grasping for ways to explain it, even though I can see some ways that things need to change to keep this from happening again. So here goes…

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–For about the first two minutes of the game, it felt like it wouldn’t go down this way. It seemed like it was going to be different than last night. Jonathan Toews got called for a bullshit penalty just seconds into the game, and when Brandon Saad turned it into a short-handed goal, things seemed to be looking up. Not only that, the Hawks were keeping pace with the Avs, who, as noted previously, are really fucking fast. This lasted all of about 2-3 minutes, and then the Avs just took over. On Nazem Kadri‘s second goal, Seabrook got straight-up burned by him flying by while there was no backchecking forward to be found. That was when it started to get ugly.

–You want ugly? It’s Alex DeBrincat trying to fight someone. Yes, that’s right—Alex fucking DeBrincat got into a fight in the first period, and if that’s your game plan to turn shit around in a period where you’re struggling, then there is no help for you. I’m hoping Top Cat was just being hot-headed and stupid, since we already proved that Andrew Shaw‘s dumbass fight last night was not a turning point or anything other than useless GRITHEARTFART. DeBrincat better never pull this nonsense again. The whole thing smacked of desperation.

Robin Lehner getting pulled also didn’t solve anything, and honestly this shit wasn’t his fault, just like last night’s score wasn’t Corey Crawford‘s fault. The defensive breakdowns were insane. Yes, it was going to be tough with Keith out and Fetch Koekkoek in, but that doesn’t explain all of it. Erik Gustafsson was particularly awful again tonight, for example, when he completely failed to break up a pass to a streaking Joonas Donskoi for his first goal. Lehner was (rightly) frustrated throughout, and seemed to scream right at Toews as he left the game, which was hilarious because Toews was on the ice for a lot of goals, but also not what you want to see. When anyone looks back on this game, let it be known this wasn’t Lehner’s doing. And Crawford gave up a couple anyway, so clearly the Hawks goaltenders are not the X factor in why the Avs are kicking the shit out of us.

–But hey, Patrick Kane extended his scoring streak!

–In all seriousness though, that goal by Kane came on a 5-on-3, which was the second one the Hawks had tonight. So with two of those you’d think they’d have a little better result. Overall their power play was back to its stationary ways, with Kane standing still at the dot and firing on Philip Grubauer (who was good tonight but not lights out). It was good to see Kirby Dach get time on the second PP unit because now I’m paranoid he’s going to get benched and made a scapegoat for Colliton’s stupidity, but there isn’t much else to be pleased about with the power play tonight.

Dominik Kubalik had a nice goal. How long till he’s a healthy scratch again to, ya know, send him some message?

OK, OK, enough whining. This weekend exposed the underlying problems that we know—and have known—about the Hawks this entire season. It was also just a scant few days ago that they beat arguably the hottest team in the league and in quite convincing fashion, only to turn around and be made to look downright foolish by a fast, skilled team. There are lessons here to be learned, such as not hitting the blender so hard and throwing nonsensical lines out there because you don’t know what else to do, maybe stop worrying about a damn contract year and bring up your fast, puck-moving defenseman, stop bothering with Andrew Shaw on the power play because he’s useless…all these things and more can be addressed to improve the situation.

It’s blatantly clear that the Hawks need to make changes after this weekend—now we just have to see if they do it. Onward and upward…

Line of the Night: Sorry folks, was in the mute lounge tonight while streaming Phish’s night 2 in Providence

Beer de jour: Good Behavior IPA by Odell Brewing

Hockey

Time for the good, the bad, and the slightly compelling in the world of the Blackhawks…

The Dizzying Highs

Kirby Dach: Six points in his last four games. Two goals last night against the Sabres. Completely manhandling Jack Eichel. And not only can Dach finish, his passing has been exceptional, as his assist to Dominik Kubalik Saturday night showed. His ability to control the play and hold onto the puck are already beyond his mere 18 years of age. It’s amazing what can happen when a coach and organization have faith in a young talent and encourage it at the NHL level, isn’t it? Now put him on a line with Kampf and Kubalik, damn it.

DeBrincat-Strome-Kane line: In news that surprises nobody, 12-17-88 is an offensive juggernaut. Among them, three total points Saturday night, seven points against the Knights, eight against the Leafs a week ago, and that level of production means that even having a quiet night last night isn’t that big of a deal. Going into Sunday’s game against the Sabres, Patrick Kane had 12 points in his previous five games and he added a goal to that Sunday. He’s on a nine-game point streak, and four of his goals this week came with assists from one or both of Strome and Top Cat. DeBrincat’s pass to Kane for the fifth goal against the Predators was particularly pants-tightening. Saying this line is good is the equivalent of declaring that water is wet, but the mundaneness of the statement doesn’t make it any less true.

The Terrifying Lows

The entire team’s basic defensive abilities except goaltending: This inelegant phrase is my way of saying the Hawks are not better defensively and are giving up way too many shots, chances, what have you. Going into Sunday’s game they were dead-ass last in shots against per game, averaging 37.3, which, as anyone who has watched recently can tell you, feels way too low of a number. Scoring chances against? Ranked 27th in the league with 446. High-danger chances against? Ranked 29th with 193. Now to be fair, those are aggregate numbers and over the last week they gave up only (haha) 75 scoring chances, putting them solidly in the middle of the league in that regard. However, their shots against are still dead-ass last over this past week (going into last night’s game), and after the 57-shot insanity against the Leafs, we’re just amazed that in Sunday’s game they gave up less than 40. So sure, against the Sabres it wasn’t as horrific as earlier in the week, but that’s a very, very low bar.

This is not sustainable. We talked about this on last week’s podcast and while the goaltending has been other-worldly, it’s too much to ask of even this caliber of goalies over the course of an 82-game season. Maybe having Connor Murphy back will help—if he can stay healthy for more than a week, that is. Much has been made of moving the weak-side winger to open up their offense, and that’s been all well and good, obviously. But clearly, whether they have three, four, or 25 guys down low, the Hawks just aren’t doing what needs to be done defensively. They were shitty before the “system change” and haven’t solved the underlying issue, just papered over it with offense.

The Creamy Middles

Erik Gustafsson: He had two goals this week and is generally not terrible to watch right now. The fancy stats won’t wow you (39.4 CF%, 38.5 xGF% and so on), but there are a lot of dumb GMs out there and if Gus can continue not failing the eye test he’ll be a tradeable asset before the deadline. His tough guy routine last night will also appeal to that demographic and improve his trade value even more. And that’s all I really want from him.

Hockey

The fact that the score isn’t two goals worse for the Hawks should be cold comfort. They got the benefit of the hockey version of VAR thanks to Captain Stairwell being offsides not once but twice and having goals called back for it, but make no mistake, the Hawks played like shit. And they got the result they deserved.

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

–I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Hawks’ defense has been GOOD thus far, but over these last few games they were much less awful than what we’d become accustomed to. Tonight that all fell apart, with our Large Irish Son out with a broken crotch, Calvin de Haan taking his place with Duncan Keith, and Fetch Koekkoek back in because REASONS. With Adam Boqvist still putting his face back together we can’t be surprised that Koekkoek and Gilbert were the best the Hawks could come up with, but that doesn’t make tonight’s performance any easier to take. On the first goal (that counted), Keith got completely pantsed by Travis Konecny, and then de Haan just watched as Oskar Lindblom skated past him and scored. Seabrook did Seabrook things, including getting completely burned by Captain Stairwell on the third goal after Saad turned it over. Gustafsson had an atrocious turnover that led to van Riemsdyk’s goal—it was a hot mess.

And let’s be clear, just defensively in general the team was piss poor. Obviously the actual defensemen were shit but the forwards weren’t doing anything better, and the abject failure to handle their own blue line was remarkable. In a bad way.

–I wanted to say that the bright spot was Brandon Saad, and in a way it was because his goal was really good. Kirby Dach created the chance and Saad found the perfect opening, and he finally finished. He’d had another point-blank chance in the second but missed the net badly, so it was good to see him score and overall he played well. His line with Kampf and Kubalik even came out strong. But then his turnover that led to Hayes’ goal was pretty much the backbreaker. So even that silver lining has a cloud.

–Beto O’Colliton hit the blender pretty hard but it didn’t matter and it didn’t even make much sense. I think at some point Shaw was with Dach and Kane? 20-64-8 got split up, which, OK maybe we’ll need to do that but let’s think it through, not just plop Kubalik on the left side suddenly. Also can we never see Drake Caggiula and Patrick Kane together again? It wasn’t meant to be that way but it was still frustrating and sad. Tonight was all process and no plan.

Robin Lehner deserved better. His .826 SV% looks terrible but it’s hard to pin any of the goals on him (I’m trying to decide on one and failing to do so). It’s too bad that after an excellent performance against Vegas on Tuesday and making some highlight reel stops again tonight on oh so many breakaways, he’s 0-2. At times he was visibly pissed and honestly I would have been too.

Erik Gustafsson sucks. Get this, he had a 71 CF% at evens tonight and I feel like I’m taking crazy pills because I saw how badly he played, so why are numbers lying to me? Once Boqvist gets his teeth glued back in his head he needs to replace Gus and this bullshit needs to stop. Maybe we can still find a moron to give us something more than a bag of pucks for him since it’s still early?

Overall it was a flat, shitty performance and we have to hope that maybe getting the hell out of town for Saturday’s game will help. I’m not too convinced, but we’ve all got to tell ourselves something, right? Onward and upward…

 

Everything Else

What to make of our Large Irish Son? In some ways he was the Hawks’ best defenseman this year and basically was the only one trusted with the dungeon shifts (yes he had Dahlstrom with him, but Dahlstrom was only there because Murphy was with him). On the other hand, if you’re the best out of a piss-poor group that features the likes of Slater Koekkoek and Brandon fucking Manning for large portions of the season, what does that really say about you? We’ve tried before to parse out who Connor Murphy really is, and we’re nothing if not stubbornly repetitive around here! What’s that saying about the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result? Let’s just get to it:

52 GP – 5 G – 8 A – 13 P

48.6 CF% – 29.8 xGF% [5v5]

It Comes With a Free Frogurt

Connor Murphy was not terrible. I realize that doesn’t seem like the most ringing endorsement, but again we’re evaluating a defense among the dregs of the league. Murphy’s numbers won’t blow your skirt up (at least not mine, anyway), but he and Carl Dahlstrom acted as the closest thing to a shutdown pairing the Hawks could muster. He took 61% of his starts in the defensive zone, so while his possession numbers may seem disappointing, we have to keep in mind where he was going to work most shifts. Among all defensemen with a minimum 600 minutes, Murphy is fifth for fewest offensive zone starts (35.2% at 5v5), so that’s gotta count for something.

When it came to the eye test, Murphy generally passed. We had Gustav Forsling constantly out of position or just skating in circles somewhere, we had Nachos just falling down, whereas Murphy was typically where he needed to be and at the very least was upright (this is what we’re going with, folks). He had a habit of taking dumb penalties, but again if you consider how much he played in his own end, they’re a little less maddening.

And, his xGA ws 37.2 at 5-on-5, ranking him 70th in, again, defensemen with at least 600 minutes played. That may sound shitty, but there are literally 120 guys with a higher expected goals against (oh, and guess who are the second- and third-worst on that list? Duncan Keith and Erik Gustafsson, and they certainly weren’t taking as many defensive zone shifts).

The Frogurt is Also Cursed

OK, so like I said, not terrible. But is Connor Murphy truly good? That’s never been clear and this past season did nothing to help. His takeaways to giveaways was a career-worst 14-to-48, and that was playing about 25 fewer games than his historical average, such as it is in his young career, since he missed the first couple months of the season.

Oh, and about that—the Hawks suddenly announced right before training camp that oh, whoops, Connor Murphy will be out eight weeks with a back injury. As anyone over the age of 29 knows, back problems don’t get better with time, and they’re as unpredictable as they are debilitating. Not what you want to have happen to one of your most valuable defensemen who also happens to be a large human with a lot of muscle weight resting on that spine.

Even if he stays healthy, Murphy still needs a decent partner so we can see if he really can hold his own against top competition or if he’s just been the least bad option the Hawks have had. Carl Dahlstrom is basically the definition of “a guy”—a seventh defenseman or maybe a bottom-pairing bum slayer. Murphy needs someone else, someone more competent and preferable with better speed, and at that point we’ll all be out of caveats and excuses and we can finally figure out what they have in him. That is, if he’s not having back surgery by age 27.

Previous Player Reviews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Collin Delia

Duncan Keith

Everything Else

250px-Ozymandias vs. wileEcoyote

PUCK DROP: 8pm Central 

TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio

SUUUUPER GENIUS: Five For Howling

Coyotes Stats

Coyotes War On Ice

The Hawks head out for a short two-game trip that will close out 2015 (the most roller coaster year ever, clearly). It starts with the last team in the West the Hawks haven’t seen yet this season, the Arizona Coyotes. And for once, they actually look like they’re staying put for five minutes. I know, right?