Hockey

Box Scores: Game 42 Game 43
Event Summary: Game 42 Game 43
Natural Stat Trick: Game 42 Game 43

Though the game on the ice was ultimately incidental to what was going on off of it for both teams as far as any of the near, mid and long term outlook is concerned, the Hawks managed to take both games from a Jackets team that could very well be appointment implosion television to close out the season. With the Preds winning on OT against the Stars last night and the Hawks OT winner tonight, the Hawks are two points out and 2 regulation wins still back of the Preds with a three game series coming up next week that’s likely to put a bow on this season. But they did what they needed to do and got contributions from kids, which is all that anyone here has been looking for this season.

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Game Times: 7:00PM (2/11 & 2/13)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
It’s Anti-Italian Discrimination: The Cannon

Picking up from last week’s episode of The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2021 Cavalcade of Numbskullery, Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Tortorella and his charges return to West Madison for the second time in three weekends, and are somehow even more hilarious than when these two teams last met up.

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Game Times: 7:00PM (1/29), 6:00PM (1/31)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (Both), NHL Network, TVA-S, SportsNet (1/29), WGN-AM 720
Ohio Tpke: The Cannon

For about 48 hours last week, Columbus became the center of the hockey universe with The Saga of Pierre-Luc Dubois coming to a head and promptly ending with him being dealt per his request. And once again tonight they’ll be the focal point of the league as their tilt on West Madison with the Hawks is the only game on the NHL docket on a Friday night. Great scheduling from the league once again.

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Patrik Laine – All jokes about how he looks like he’d ask you three questions to let you cross his bridge, the Jets have bent over backwards for this guy in recent years and he’s pretty much just been a floater. They listened to him bitch incessantly last year about playing on the second line. So they handed him a new contract, shifted their captain back to center and Laine up to play on their top line. He’s given them a fine 30-goal pace season but also doesn’t impact the game in any other way. He is what everyone wanted to believe Alex Ovechkin was back in the day. His metrics are woeful. This guy stands around and waits to shoot and nothing else, and the Jets might want to consider what they could get for him in the trade market one day soon.

Kevin Chevyldayoff – Apparently two playoff series wins in team history is enough to re-sign your dumbass coach. Easier and easier to tell he used to work for the Hawks, huh?

Mark Scheifele – For someone 6-5 and built like a house he sure does end up on the ice a lot, doesn’t he?

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We’ve perhaps, although maybe this is just our tendency to toot our own horn, led the charge on labeling Patrik Laine a passenger on the Jets. This will be the third straight season, likely, that he won’t live up to that 44-goal campaign he had. They’ve bent their team around him, they’ve given him a prove-it contract, and they’re mired in the muck. There are plenty of other factors, like Dustin Byfuglien fucking off to the ice fishing hut and Jacob Trouba escaping as soon as he could , which has stripped their blue line bare.

But perhaps they can find more answers in exchange for Laine, because they have a ready-made replacement on their top line in Nikolaj Ehlers.

The weird thing is, it seems like GM Kevin Chevyldayoff already likes Ehlers more than Laine, and has for a while. Whereas Laine went through a whole drama about his second contract, Ehlers was given one as soon as possible that will take him in unrestricted free agency in five years. There was no hesitation, as he was signed to it a full season before his entry level deal was up.

And there was little reason not to. Ehlers was coming off a 64-point season, which he would match in the first year of this contract. And while the Jets have always been a weird team in the sense they’ve usually been able to outshoot what their metrics say, Ehlers was the one player who had great underlying numbers. He has consistently been way in the black in Corsi and expected-goals, and this year his mark in the latter is a full six points above the team-rate. When he’s on the ice, the Jets have the puck more than they do when anyone else is out there.

Ehlers can’t manage the goals and points-total of late of Laine, but that might have a lot to do with getting less than half the power play time that Laine does. The first PP unit for the Jets has four forwards, the top line (Laine-Scheifele-Connor) plus Blake Wheeler. And they stay out there as long as they can. So Ehlers and the rest only get slightly more than a minute of time with the man-advantage.

You wonder what Ehlers might do with it, as he has the same amount of even-strength goals and points as Laine’s floating ass this year as he did last year. Other than his 20-PPG binge of ’17-’18, Laine hasn’t put numbers up on the power play that Ehlers would find impossible to reach.

Without the Finn, and a top line of Ehlers-Scheifele-Connor, the Jets would still have Wheeler, Copp, Roslovic, and a few forwards to make for one of the better bottom sixes in the league. The question is what Laine’s value is now. He only has one year on his second deal, though it’s only at $6.7M and he’ll still be restricted when it’s up. Can the Jets still get a top pairing d-man for him? It’s what they need desperately, as they lost both they had for this season and beyond.

Perhaps it’ll depend on how this season finishes for both. The Jets are in a scrap just to make the playoffs, and neither Ehlers or Laine have proven to be playoff dynamos yet. But if Ehlers comes to play these last 25 games or so, and Laine continues to wait for the game to come to him every night, the Jets’ roadmap should be obvious.

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Patrik Laine – All jokes about how he looks like he’d ask you three questions to let you cross his bridge, the Jets have bent over backwards for this guy in recent years and he’s pretty much just been a floater. They listened to him bitch incessantly last year about playing on the second line. So they handed him a new contract, shifted their captain back to center and Laine up to play on their top line. He’s given them a fine 30-goal pace season but also doesn’t impact the game in any other way. He is what everyone wanted to believe Alex Ovechkin was back in the day. His metrics are woeful. This guy stands around and waits to shoot and nothing else, and the Jets might want to consdier what they could get for him in the trade market one day soon.

Paul Maurice: Not easy to keep a job you clearly suck at. This is still one of the most talented forward groups in the league, with a goalie playing at a Vezina level. They’re still not in the playoffs, his players clearly hate him, and they haven’t played defense in two seasons. And yet he can’t get fired. God bless the NHL.

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Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Funny, on a night when the Hawks finally defeated a direct competitor for the playoffs, it won’t even grab the headlines. And maybe that’s the way they want it. They’ll have to do it more than a few more times between here and April, but every journey begins with one step. On the second of a back-to-back, where the Hawks have been strangely dominant, against a Jets team that should give them problems (though they have far more of their own), the Hawks not only got the win but eased to it.

I’m not saying you should get excited, but if you want to start at least inching that way, go right ahead. Maybe the bye comes at the wrong time for them.

Of course, none of this is why it’s a historic night. Let’s get to it.

The Two Obs

-The headline will be Patrick Kane reaching 1,000 points, and it should be. I have more than a few tangled thoughts about it, which I’ll get to tomorrow. But we should probably start labeling him, rightly, as the best the organization has ever had. Again, more tomorrow.

-I mentioned in the preview that a big reason that the Hawks have ripped this off is that they’ve settled the bottom of the roster a bit better. Koekkoek and Maatta have gelled on the third pairing, and while neither are world-beaters or even definite NHL players, they’re better options than both Dennis Gilbert or Brent Seabrook right now (sorry, it hurts to say, but it’s true). Both were once again above water in possession tonight, and it’s a bigger deal than you might think to not have to run for the bomb shelter for 12-15 minutes a night when you toss out your third pairing.

To boot tonight, the fourth line came up with two goals, and you’re going to win most times that happens.

-Not a night Keith and Boqvist will want to hang on the wall, as they’re going to struggle with the size the Jets boast. Whatever, they got through it.

-Flip side, Kirby Dach’s line had a great night, capped by Kampf’s goal. Kampf still is wildly a fish out of water playing as a wing on a scoring line but let’s leave that aside for tonight as his goal was the result of what Kirby Dach can be. A 150-foot rush where he looked pretty springy and got to the net and at least caused a rebound. The Hawks have shown the proper patience with Dach even though he hasn’t scored in ages, and you hope tonight’s performance is something he can build on. Certainly fatigue has to be playing a role and the bye will do him good. Wouldn’t mind seeing Caggiula on his line in the future as he’s a puck-retriever who isn’t lost on a scoring line, but that’s another discussion for another time.

-Didn’t notice Patrik Laine until the goalie was pulled. It seems the Jets have done and are doing just about everything they can to bend the team around him, and he’s still giving second-line production. The dude might just be a passenger. Wouldn’t be shocked to hear trade rumors this summer.

-Also their defense blows, and if you miss Tucker Poolman or an aged and swelling Byfuglien that much I can’t help you.

-It would be easy to go pessimistic about this streak–pointing out that the Leafs were about to be on their bye, or that the Ducks, Habs, and Sens suck out loud, or that the Jets are a mess–but these were five games the Hawks had to have. And they got them. They’re still three points out, but now have no other teams to leap. They probably have to play at this pace for a long while to stay in it. But you have to believe there will be a Top Cat binge somewhere around here. And probably the power play will have a good few weeks just because. The goalies will always provide a high floor. And while I’d still bet the Knights and likely the Preds to eventually  zoom up the standings, i wouldn’t count on any of the Yotes or Oilers or Canucks to get too far away from the Hawks either.

Basically it’s not going to take acts of God to keep the Hawks at least in it until the end of the season. And hey, it’s more fun and interesting when there’s something riding on the games. So let’s have some fun.

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, SportsNet, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
Winnipeg Nights: Arctic Ice Hockey, Jets Nation

Similar to The Gambler’s Fallacy (of being “due”), when a team is mediocre-to-bad, nearly every game represents the potential for turning things around. The periphery of the playoff picture in the NHL is the very definition of the bare minimum of competence as far as sports are concerned, and the Hawks have once again put together a handful of wins against a cornucopia of teams somehow even worse than they are, and one win last night against a supposed contender, albeit one whose number they seem to have and has a blue line beset by injuries. So naturally that sets them up for a divisional matchup against the visiting Jets tonight where they could creep even closer to a wild card spot in the proverbial four-point game, the type of game they have found stunningly impressive ways to shit themselves in under Coach Cool Youth Pastor in the past season and a half.

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RECORDS: Hawks 13-16-6   Jets 20-12-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

YOUR TAUNTAUN WILL FREEZE TO DEATH: Jetsnation.ca

The last thing a team in turmoil in the dressing room and playing like shit needs is three games in four nights. Even worse, it needs even less those three games to be against teams at the top of the division. And we’re not done, as the last two of the troika are on the road, with the last at altitude. It’s Wiggum into the hot dog machine, folks…

To be fair, the Jets aren’t that close to the Blues or Avs. They’re just a hell of a lot closer than the Hawks are, and currently hold the last automatic spot in the Central. They only have that though with a tiebreaker over the Stars, and should the Stars catch them the Jets will be in the muck as much as anyone else hovering around the wildcard spots.

So how did the Jets get here? You’d probably naturally conclude they shot their way to 42 points, but you’d be wrong. It’s hard to fathom with all the firepower the Jets have in their top six that they’re a middling 16th in goals per game, but that’s the case. They can’t figure now if Patrik Laine’s first two years are actually the outlier and now he’s just a slightly plus-sniper, but moving to the top line hasn’t shown him to be the 50-goal scorer he once flashed. Blake Wheeler has moved to the second line and while he’s producing alongside Nikolaj Ehlers, they haven’t quite brought Jack Roslovic along for the ride.

Injuries up front haven’t helped. Bryan Little is taking his customary few weeks off with some ailment or something falling off of him. Mathieu Perreault got hurt recently, and Andrew Copp left Tuesday’s game and will miss out tonight. That’s eroded what used to be one of the best third lines in the league with Adam Lowry, who will have some strangers around him tonight.

The Jets have kept their goals against down, but that’s mostly due to the brilliance of Connor Hellebuyck. He’s currently third in the league in overall SV% behind Bishop and Kuemper, and the Jets have the sixth best SV% at evens. And they need it, because this is a woeful defensive team. The departure of Jacob Trouba and the sojourn of Dustin Byfuglien (somehow) has destroyed the blue line, as the Jets have the third-worst expected GA in the league. They’re right behind the Hawks. And the thing is they’re decent enough at limiting attempts. They just can’t do much about those attempts being prime chances far too often. Strangely, Tucker Poolman didn’t save the day. I know, right?

The Jets power play hasn’t really fired yet, but you’d have to expect a binge sometime given all that is has on it.  It lacks a true QB without Byfuglien, even though that’s a very weird sentence. With that and the play of Hellebuyck, you’d have to guess the Jets will find themselves in the playoffs again. And Paul Maurice will still hang onto his job, even though that defies explanation and the team quit on him last year.

For the Hawks, it’s hard to imagine they’ll scratch Seabrook a second night in a row, given that Keith and Toews were already moaning about it yesterday. Given the size the Jets still have, wouldn’t be a shock of Colliton uses that as an excuse to sit Boqvist and keep Gilbert in the lineup, even though the Jets are going to go right around him the way the Avs did. Robin Lehner rotates in. Perhaps Sikura could get a look now that Highmore has proven to be nothing more than an extra? I won’t hold my breath.

If the Hawks are smart, which they aren’t, they can get chances against this team because the blue line is straight-up bad. But they have to keep their zone from getting caved in, which is hard to do against this top six. It’ll be the same plan for the Jets as it was the Avs last night. Attack the Hawks line at speed and get around their plodding defense. Cycle from low to high to confuse their coverage. Win all the races because the Hawks can’t get there. Don’t let Kane and DeBrincat and Saad get out in space.

We’ll see if they execute. With another date with the Avs looming Saturday, this has every chance of being an ugly week. Not ugly enough to force any tough decisions of course. There’s a process, don’t ya know?

 

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Perhaps it’s a vision of what Jonathan Toews will become before too long. After all, he’s just a shade over a year younger than Blake Wheeler. Wheeler is certainly the bigger boy, but you could argue Toews has played just as physical of a game as Wheeler has. We’ll show you what we mean in a second here.

Over the summer, during contract negotiations with Patrik Laine, the Finn made it clear that he would prefer to play with Mark Scheifele instead of Bryan Little as his center. That hasn’t really worked out much this year any better than the opposite formation did last year, but the Jets are sticking with it. In order to make room for that, it is Wheeler who has made way and moved to center the second line in Little’s absence. Though it’s likely he’ll stick as the #2 center whenever Little returns.

And at 33 now, it sure looks like Wheeler’s game has begun to decline. This is a player who piled up 71 assists last year and 91 points, so in truth he only had one way to go. But so far this year he’s only on pace for 67 points, and you can’t pin this on playing with Nikolaj Ehlers or Jack Roslovic, as neither are slouches.

Some of Wheeler’s metrics are down. Less assists per 60, less shots, and his possession numbers are going down along with the rest of the team’s. However, perhaps playing against less grueling checking lines has improved his game in other areas. Wheeler’s attempts, chances, and expected goals individually are up, as well as his goals per game. He’s not hitting the net quite as much, but when he is they’re going in more often than last year or the past few seasons. At the end of the day, he’s still only got nine goals and on course for 21. Which is about the mark that he always hits.

The Jets have bigger issues, but you can see where Wheeler’s $8.25M hit for the four seasons after this is going to become a sticking point. The Jets only have about $6M in space next year, and things will get dicier in the summer of 2021 when Laine and others are up again. Perhaps they’ll need Seattle to deprive them of a headache or two.

Still, it feels unfair to Wheeler to have him demoted simply due to Laine’s bitching, when he and Scheifele and Kyle Connor formed one of the more devastating lines in hockey for a few seasons. Scheifele and Connor will score regardless, but Wheeler took his slight demotion without saying much of anything. Maybe that’s what a captain does. Maybe he sees the clock on the wall. Still, if Laine continues to produce totals that barely raise an eyebrow, when Little returns the Jets could be having this discussion all over again.

A discussion the Hawks won’t evade forever either. Kirby Dach was clearly drafted to supplant Jonathan Toews as the #1 center. When will that happen exactly? Next year? What will Toews’s role be then? Purely checking center? Could he play wing? Perhaps it depends on who is delivering that message, but this is already a dressing room balking at the scratching of a pretty much useless Brent Seabrook. Toews will almost certainly defer to the greater good. It’s his way. But it will never be smooth.