Hockey

Guys…I think Pekka Rinne has a terminal case of shit hip! After basically laughing publicly at the Hawks’ terrible performance a couple weeks ago, Rinne got himself laughed right out of the game tonight, giving up 4 goals on 14 shots. Ya hate to see it. And this shit went full-on DLR. Let’s get to the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–Yes, Rinne was bad and Saros wasn’t great either, but the Hawks do deserve credit for playing better this time around. At first it didn’t seem that way—they spent way too much of the first period in their own zone, but they capitalized on bad goaltending and also a beautiful play from Kirby Dach to Dominik Kubalik. So it was a bit of luck and skill combined. And the pass from Dach to Kubalik was exactly why I’ve been complaining about Dach being marooned on the fourth line. He makes plays, he’s already improving his ability to hold onto the puck, and playing him with other skilled linemates will help the team now (see: tonight’s assist) and Dach’s development overall. Playing him with fourth-line bum slayers like Zack Smith will not. (Nothing against Smith even, I’m just making a point.) Doesn’t seem that hard to figure out playing Dach on the wing with Kampf and Kubalik is better than Dach centering two oafs, but whatever.

–The other funny thing about tonight was that the Hawks got domed in possession, but stats be damned I suppose. They had just a 45, 37, and 29 CF% in each period, respectively, and they were outshot 41-24, but thanks to ‘Ole Shit Hip not being able to stop much of anything and Saros not being much better, the number that really counts was in our favor the whole time.

–And let’s just be honest, the air raid offense was in full effect tonight. Seabrook’s goal was a fluky one that Rinne should have had, but Kampf’s goal was off a fantastic end-to-end play, where the Hawks got control behind their own net, moved the puck up and out, and passed it perfectly from Maata to Shaw to Kampf. Kubalik’s aforementioned goal came off a great play. Same with Nylander’s first goal. And you know what? I’ll be magnanimous about Nylander’s second too because it was a damn good shot set up by a great pass off the boards by Saad. The Hawks didn’t always control the puck or the play but they were able to get rushes and bury their shots. Would be nice if they could maybe hold onto the puck and stop giving up over 40 shots a night, but you know what they say about gift horses.

Alex DeBrincat was excellent tonight even though he didn’t actually put the puck in the net. His ability to keep plays alive, and in particular getting the pass to Patrick Kane on the fifth goal, were outstanding. Piece of Shit Austin Watson wanted to obliterate him but couldn’t, and Garbage Dick didn’t miss once he got the pass.

–Lehner was fantastic again as well, let’s not forget that. Granted, facing 41 shots seems like an easy night with this team, but he still finished the night with a .951 SV% and absolutely kept the Hawks in it in the early going before the game was definitely in hand.

And with that, let’s not delay this DLR any longer…

 

 

Line of the Night: “That was a bad goal.” —Eddie Olczyk, stating the very obvious after Seabrook’s knuckleball on Rinne

Beer de jour: Mercury by On Tour Brewing

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 7-7-4   9-6-3

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW TRAILER: On The Forecheck

You probably didn’t expect, after that complete shellacking two weeks ago in the same venue, when these two met up again the Hawks would be only three points behind the Predators. And with a win tonight in regulation, the Preds would be feeling hot giardiniera breath on their necks. Such is reality, which is what happens when various parts of your team rotate going haywire for a couple weeks.

The Preds have lost five of six coming into this (a couple in extra time), while the Hawks have sucked up 10 of 13 points in the meantime. Which is how you get this standing. That doesn’t mean these teams are just three points apart in quality overall, and you saw that the last game these two played. The Hawks haven’t been rolled like that since the Suhonen or Yawney days, and perhaps was the start of the process that got the Hawks to change their ways…however minor or major that actually was.

So what’s up with the Preds? Why has it fallen out of gear for them? Well one, the goaltending has been terrible. Pekka Rinne has only had one good start since that October disaster (for the Hawks), and it came against the Red Wings which barely counts. In his other three starts his SV% is .797. Saros has been better in the meantime, though he couldn’t stop that nine-goals-of-fun the Avalanche hung up on them.

The offense hasn’t been all that consistent either. They managed one goal against the Sharks, and one goal against the Rangers in this streak. When they have gotten goals, Rinne has employed the Roger Dorn defense in net.

Is that what the Preds are overall? Probably not, though they’re not an unholy force either. Their Corsi-percentage is just at tick over even. Their expected-goals is just a tick above that. Which is a tad strange for the Predators. And digging a little deeper, it gets a touch confusing.

In terms of attempts, the Preds give up a lot of them. Bottom-10 in the league. They also generate a fair amount for themselves. But when it comes to chances, it’s the opposite. They keep teams to the outside for the most part, but they also don’t get to the prime areas enough themselves. There’s a lot of noise in the Predators’ game right now, in that there’s a lot of stuff happening but not a huge portion of it really means anything. Still, when Rinne is off to the Kerry Wood Memorial Zoo then those half-chances and winged-hopes from the outside are still ending up in twine.

It’s generally not a good sign when your two leading scorers are d-men. One you can get away with. The Preds have a clear line from their top six to their bottom six and their top pairing to their bottom pairings. When Josi and Ellis are on the ice, good things happen and the Preds are on the right side of the ice. Same goes for either Matt Duchene‘s or Treat Boy’s line. But when Nick Bonino or Kyle Turris is the center, again, the Predators back up.

That’s probably why the Preds have made no secret they’d like to move Turris’s ass along, in another brilliant David Poile move. He’s currently centering their fourth line for the rate of $6M a year. They could also probably use another puck-mover on the second or third pairing. Didn’t they have one once? I seem to remember they did. He was pretty good, right? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Another factor the Preds might want to keep an eye on is that they’re currently shooting over 10% at even-strength, which leads the league by nearly a full percentage point. That is likely to come down, and then where will they be?

Turning to the Hawks, who will get Connor Murphy back tonight. While no team should need Connor Murphy this much, the Hawks do and he’s simply been their best d-man last season and the brief time he was around this one. At the moment he seems slotted on the third pairing, as Colliton doesn’t want to mess up what he’s got going with Keith-Gus and de Haan-Seabrook. This won’t take more than a period to change, given the mobility the Hawks need to counter the Preds.

Robin Lehner will be in goal, and he’ll probably need to perform a few miracles like he did last time in Nashville just to keep the Hawks from getting embarrassed. Hopefully this time if he does that it’ll result in points.

This will be something of a test of the Hawks new, aggressive, Loyola-Marymount ’89 ways. Then again, so was Vegas. The Hawks simply couldn’t deal with the Preds speed at forward last time, and they were turning the puck over before they knew they had it. This meant the Preds defense could pinch and move up in the zone to their hearts’ content, as there was no threat the other way.

If the Hawks are still serious about getting behind the opponent’s defense, while risking their defense and center being outmanned down low in their zone, they might get the Preds’ defense to back up. At least it could provide a quick outlet for a defense that’s going to be under serious pressure from the off, even if it’s just laying it out into the neutral zone and causing races back. But going back is where you want the bottom four D of the Preds. It hasn’t worked out well for them lately. The risk of course is that furious Preds forecheck will have even more fun with even less manpower and options for any puck carrier below his net or deep in his zone for the Hawks.

You’d think there’d be a measure of pride for the Hawks here as well. They were made to look like a high school team their last visit. That will still be fresh in the memory banks. Pekka Rinne was basically laughing at them in the postgame. The Hawks still like to think they carry the most pedigree in any matchup. It’s fading, but they still cling to it. Perhaps now would be the time to show it.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 3-5-2   Predators 7-3-1

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

NO HUGGY NO KISSY TIL YOU MAKE ME A WIFE: On The Forecheck

The cushy start to the season is over, and the Hawks will remember what it’s like to have a road trip. They’ll also remember before too long what it’s like to play some real opponents night after night. And those memories might not be too sweet. But that’s for later in the month. For the first time this year the Hawks will embark away from the UC for a while, with a four-gamer that starts in Nashville before the California songs starting this weekend. Could have asked for an easier start.

The Nashville Predators are in fine fettle, as has been the custom, as they’ve taken 15 of the 22 points on offer so far this year. They also come off having just gotten both points (the second in OT) off the Lightning in Tampa and having won three in a row. They did the first part without Matt Duchene, their shiny new toy, and he’ll return tonight.

Look under the hood a bit, and it’s not quite as rosy. The Preds are one team when Duchene is out there along with Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi (the newly rich Roman Josi), and another when just about anyone else is out there. Those three and those who join them carry the play at 55% of chances and attempts. Every other time the Preds are below water. They have the highest shooting-percentage in the league at nearly 12% at evens, which isn’t going to continue. They also have a top-ten SV%, which probably will given the recent track record of Pekka Rinne . Although Rinne most likely isn’t going to ring up a .931 all season. When he comes to Earth a bit, the Preds current PDO of 104 is definitely going to deflate.

Maybe Treat Boy Johansen is in a sulk because Duchene has replaced him as the #1 center, or he’s in a sulk because the Halloween candy hasn’t been discounted yet and his usual wheelbarrow of it is feeling the effects, but he’s been getting caved in and he starts most of his shifts in the offensive zone. Kyle Turris has showed a pulse after going cold and grey last year which has mitigated Treat Boy’s struggles a touch.

Still, this team might need to figure out what they’ll do beyond the top pairing, as new kid Dante Fabbro hasn’t been able to do the things PK Subban did yet, except for not being popular and black which were two things the Predators were definitely after by moving PK along to make room for him.

The Preds also might have some issues when they need the power play to chip in, as it’s been worse than the Hawks’ if that’s even possible. Maybe they could use a right-handed bomb from the point and circle? No? Ok. So yeah, there’s some air in this cake, let’s say.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be a world of trouble for the Hawks, as they have more speed basically everywhere and will use it aggressively. The Hawks were able to hang around the Knights earlier, but they had caught them on a back-to-back and were at home and maybe had their best effort this season or even last against them. They also had Connor Murphy. Even with Seabrook scratched again (and not a happy camper) Preds will be fighting each other to get over the boards when any of Maatta, Gilbert, Koekkoek, and Gustafsson are out there. Hey, that’s most of the Hawks’ defense!

As for the rest of the story for the Westside Hockey Club, Robin Lehner will get another start as he is more worthy of the harder tests right now. Crow will get at least one start in California, and starting with that swing the Hawks will basically be playing every other day for all of November so there will be more than enough starts for everyone.

For all the buzz coming off a 5-1 win over the woebegone cattle ranchers that ended up as LA Kings, the Hawks gave up too much possession and shots in that one. That kind of effort here would see them give up nearly a touchdown or 50 shots or both. This can be a game too fast for the Hawks if the Preds want it, so the Hawks defense is just going to have to get rid of it ASAP, get it off the glass and out to the neutral zone and hope the forwards can win those races. If the Hawks can get the pucks to their forwards with any frequency, they can have at the bottom two pairs of this Preds outfit. Then they just have to beat Rinne, which takes more than a smile these days.

There are going to be some ugly shifts either way tonight, and hopefully Lehner is up to the task. But if the Hawks are going to be what they say they are, they have to get points off teams ahead of them. So far this year their wins are against terrible Oilers and Kings teams. That’s not going to get you anywhere in the long run except back in the lottery with those Kings and Oilers teams. Fuckin’ figure it out.

Hockey

Everyone’s favorite darling, basically because national media types love to get drunk there for free and it’s not cold. Generally that has shielded everyone’s eyes from this being a pretty repugnant organization run by a ghoul in David Poile, who just engaged in the long-running hockey and Southern tradition of when things go wrong blame the black guy. It’s also put the wool over most experts’ eyes that the Preds have taken two straight division championships and done just north of dick with them, or that Ryan Johansen blows, or Eli Tolvanen didn’t redefine the sport upon arrival, or Roman Josi is starting to age, or half a dozen other things. Is it finally going to, thankfully, crash down around their ears this year?

2018-2019

47-29-6  100 points  (1st in Central, out in 1st round)

2.88 GF/G (18th)  2.59 GA/G (4th)  +24 GD

52.1 CF% (7th)  51.1 xGF% (13th)

12.9 PP% (31st)  82.1 PK% (6th)

Goalies: Same crew. Pekka Rinne will take the starter’s role as he has done in Music City since before Marvel Studios existed. He was more than acceptable last year with a .918. But that was down from the previous season, and he is 37 now and one wonders if that’s a slide that’s just going to continue. No one outruns time forever. Encouragingly for the Preds, Rinne did get stronger as the season went along last year, with a .913 in February and a .927 in March after a very shaky winter period. Didn’t really save him in the playoffs though, where he put up his second consecutive .904 in seven games against the Stars. And that’s usually the story for Rinne when the games really matter, as other than that one run to the Final he’s been nothing more than ordinary in the spring. And he’s running out of chances.

There are probably some in the Preds braintrust that hoped Juuse Saros would take the job from Rinne last year. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t outperform Rinne and if the Preds are going to move on from a club legend while he’s still playing the difference has to be clear. Saros is only 24 and has time on his side, and if he sticks around his career .920 one might think that could be enough to usurp the incumbent, should his age-induced slide continue. Either way, the Predators are solid here.

Defense: Well it must be pretty damn good if they thought they didn’t need PK Subban anymore, huh? Must be nice when you can jettison the d-man who had the best metrics on the team.

It’ll put more pressure on Roman Josi, whose influence hasn’t been as great the past two or three seasons but still puts up points. Matthias Ekholm should be his partner, as Ryan Ellis was completely exposed taking on top pairing assignments in the playoffs. He’s a great bum-slayer but don’t put him up against real players, or you’ll pay the penalty.

There’s also a lot of faith in Dante Fabbro, who was tossed into the deep end of the playoffs after being a point-per-game at BU the past two seasons. He could end up driving things on the second pairing, either alongside Ellis or forcing him down to the third pairing where he started in the first place. Then again, that’s probably not what you want out of a d-man you’re paying $6.2M until the Earth’s heat death. More brilliant work from Poile.

They’ll round it out with Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, and Dan Hamhuis‘s slowly-turning-to-dust bones, and they’ve definitely got this. Again, solid, but if Josi isn’t around Norris-level discussion, it’s short a top-pairing guy.

Forwards: The headlines are Matt Duchene finally came “home,” if home is the place where you’ve made it clear you want to play for about five years because you’re a true Canadian shit-kicker. Duchene will certainly juice the second line, whether from the wing or in the middle.

The Preds as always will do it through a strength-in-numbers method. Their only proven top line talent is Filip Forsberg and he’s made of graham crackers. Viktor Arvidsson is probably a genuine top-liner as well or a tick below. Ryan Johansen is completely overmatched as a #1, at least when he’s not playing for a contract to blow on a lifetime supply of ding-dongs, but they’ll keep selling it. Mikael Granlund will get a full season in yellow before hitting free agency, which probably means a big season for him. Granlund’s and Duchene’s presence will shove Kyle Turris down the lineup where he will hope no one notices he’s not worth $6M a year either. Same goes for Colton Sissons, and Craig Smith, and Calle Jarnkrok, Marriage counselor Austin Watson is still here to fill out Nashville’s absolute bastard quota. It might not have the highest of ceilings but this crew probably has the highest floor.

Prediction: My comrade in arms Fifth Feather thinks this squad is headed for a collapse. I wish I could get there, though the chance that Peter Laviolette‘s style finally is too much for the players is non-zero. The chance for Pekka Rinne to look his age is also non-zero. But the chance of both Rinne and Saros being bad is pretty close to zero. The defense certainly lost most of its fun to New Jersey, but it’s still more than enough as long as they keep Ellis away from anything flammable. They’ll be more than that if Fabbro is the real deal. The forwards carry more than enough speed and dash to light up most teams.

There isn’t a guarantee in the West to expose Johansen or outgun them, but they can also lose to anyone as they did last year. They very easily could win the division again. They could very easily eat it early with the wrong matchup. If that happens again, there could be changes.

But they’ll still be assholes.

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Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 36-33-12   Predators 46-29-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THIRD MAN INTERNS: On The Forecheck

When the music’s over, turn out the lights…

The Hawks wrap it all up on 2018-2019 tonight, and as mentioned earlier, it doesn’t come with the relief of last year. This team doesn’t deserve any more than it’s got, and the front office certainly doesn’t, but it sure does seem like the Hawks wasted more than most teams than miss the playoffs did.

And now in most ways, this is the worst possible outcome. They didn’t make the playoffs, and they’re nowhere near the top of the draft to get a franchise-turning player. Drafting 11th is really not going to do anyone any good, at least not for next year. It’s the middle. It’s the muck. It’s purgatory.

We’ve already been over what the storylines were yesterday. It’s some’s definite last game with the Hawks. It might be some more important players’ last as well. Do they know it? Do they care? Won’t get our answers for a while. Last night it looked like they did. Quotes before and after the game suggest they do, but their actions on the ice all season tell a different story.

So for the Hawks, it’s just about crossing the last one off the calendar. For the Preds, there’s way more riding on it. They can clinch the division tonight with any kind of win.  A loss in extra-time would do the job if neither the Jets or Blues win. If both the latter lose in regulation, the Preds don’t have to do shit.

Which means the Preds could play any one of the Jets, Blues, Stars, or Avs in the first round. The first two are probably ickier first-round matchups than you’d want if you plan on being a Cup contender. But then again to complain about playoff matchups makes you a member of the Toronto media. There really isn’t an easy way out of the West, because there isn’t really a standout team.

The Preds also have some form to find. They’ve won four of five, and seven of their last nine, but that was after a month or more of being no more than so-so. Pekka Rinne found form again, going bonkers in March after spending the middle portion of the season making the winds in Tennessee whisper, “Saros.” They still don’t have much of a second-line, but the top unit of Arvidsson-Treat Boy-Forsberg have done enough lifting. Maybe Granlund finds it in the playoffs. First time for everything and all that. Kyle Turris doesn’t appear to be much more than a passenger with a bewildered look on his face.

The Preds would also do well to figure out the power play, which has looked all season like the Hawks’ did for the first third of the season. You’d think with that firepower on the blue line you could accident a power play, but this seems to be Predators tradition.

You sort of wonder what the Preds will do if they run up against a really defensively stout team like St. Louis or Dallas. Maybe their three or four trap-busters are enough to grind out four 2-1 wins. Or maybe their lack of depth scoring really comes to the fore if a team is able to snuff out the top line. The Preds will get their answers soon enough.

One more game, and then assuredly what will be a pretty hilarious press conference Monday when McDonough and Bowman try and walk back everything they said before and during the season in order to not have to fire Bowman. It’ll probably be way more entertaining than this one.

 

Game #82 Preview Suite

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Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Predators 26-15-3   Hawks 16-22-7

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

THIRD MAN HANGERS-ON: On The Forecheck

Not exactly the easiest week for the Hawks. Sunday saw them face the hottest team in the league, a test which they passed. Then they got the Pacific leaders, who let them hang around for two periods before it was swirly time in the third. Tonight it’s one half of the Central’s twin towers, and then Saturday night it’s the defending Western champs who are tied with the team that just held the Hawks at arm’s length on Monday. Boy, the Devils and Rangers can’t get here fast enough!

It’s been a wonky year for the Preds, so the fact that they’re still sitting one point off the Jets, though having played two games more, is a real work by Peter Laviolette. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, PK Subban, Kyle Turris (still) have all missed serious time, and yet here they are. Unfortunately for the Hawks, all but Turris are back in the lineup and this is just about as close to the full Predators experience as they’ve been since the beginning of the season.

To wit, a team that had won two of 10 road games before Monday went out and promptly destroyed the Leafs in Toronto, winning 4-0 and holding perhaps the biggest arsenal in the league to 18 shots. So yeah, that’s not exactly encouraging for tonight.

The Preds had something of a dip in December, as both Juuse Saros and Ol’Shit Hip fell off their hot pace. Which makes you think it was a structural thing, and it might have been as without Subban you’re only going to get away with playing Dan Hamhuis and his walking stick as a second pairing player for so long. Still, even with that, the Preds are third in the league in shots against overall per game and sixth in scoring-chances against at even-strength. They’re top-10 in both team Corsi-percentage and scoring-chance-percentage. The one area they’re deficient is they’re 18th in high-danger-scoring-chance-percentage, mostly because they don’t create a ton. That is probably a product of not having Arvidsson and Forsberg for a while, because this is a team that has always depended on its top line to do most of the damage. That has been corrected now.

It’s still perhaps the most devastating blue line in the league, with all of Ellis, Josi, and PK among the premier puck-movers in the league (sidenote: Has anyone in recent history racked up a more impressive social resume than Lindsey Vonn? If she were a dude she’d be Tony Stark. Get it, girl). This is clearly their strength.

Also, in four games in January they’ve given up four goals in regulation, with three of those somehow coming to the Red Wings. So yeah, the goalies are probably fine now. Go get ’em, Hawks!

For the Hawks, the question will be tonight where does the returning, conquering hero Henri Jokiharju slot in. The Hawks may have caught a break in that Brent Seabrook is sick, which would give them shelter to keep The HarJu on his normal side, on a shielded third-pairing, and keep the other two pairings together, as they’ve been working. No word on whether Colliton/Bowman spiked Seabrook’s nachos-for-four last night at Four Moons.

That will be for one night, but the Hawks are going to have to answer that question soon enough. The simplest and best solution would be to pair Keith and Seabrook again, but make that your third pairing. Then you can slot the four of Dahlstrom, Murphy, Gustafsson, and HarJu any way you want. You can leave Dahlstrom and Murphy to do the hard work-which they haven’t been as good at of late but it’s the best you’ve got–and let Gustafsson and Jokiharju bumslay a bit. Or you just divide it up evenly with Dalshtrom letting Jokiharju freelance more and Murphy doing the same for Gustafsson and Keith and Seabrook take the rest. This is the easiest and cleanest solution, and hence it’ll be the one the Hawks don’t take.

No word on what goalie is going tonight as it was a pretty informal get-together this morning. You would think it would have to be Delia, but we keep saying that. The other change is John Hayden is in for Chris Kunitz. Contain your excitement, we just mopped.

Not much to say here. The Hawks have played the Preds tough since giving up the first four goals to them in their first meeting in Nashville, and beat them there later. But this is the full Preds death squad minus Turris. And with something to play for. Might want to hide under your seat for this one.

 

Game #46 Preview Suite

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J.R. Lind is always our Preds guy. Follow him on Twitter @JRLind.

The Predators have only won two of their last nine on the road. What’s the story there?
It’s hard to discount the injuries the team had to deal with in the last bit of 2018: Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban and Colton Sissons all missed significant time and now Kyle Turris is out for a bit. The Preds were also due for a bit of a come-down, particularly on the road, where they started out so hot. The good news is guys are starting to come back and the team looked as good as they’ve looked all season Monday against Toronto with a 4-0 win and holding the Leafs to 18 shots.
Both Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros had something of a rough go in December. So does that make it a team problem more than the goalies having a down stretch?
 
Based on both guys’ last few starts, it seems like it was a general team issue, particularly on the back end. Subban’s injury led to Laviolette having to do some unusual things with the pairings, occasionally splitting up Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi and sticking, say, Dan Hamhuis – an extremely good third pair guy, but a little long in the tooth – on the first pair or playing Matt Irwin with Mattias Ekholm and so on. Since the calendar turned, the team is 3-0-1 and Saros has given up one goal in his last two starts and Rinne is coming off that shutout. I suspect Chicago will get Rinne as a divisional foe with Columbus coming on the other side of the back-to-back, but both guys have looked a lot better as the injured players have returned.
How much of this is Arvidsson and Forsberg being out?
 
Losing your two top goal-scorers is going to hurt any team, and then add into what those guys bring physically – Forsberg probably doesn’t get enough credit for that part of his game and Arvidsson is a stellar forechecker – and Nashville had to make some adjustments. It also had a ripple effect down the lines, with guys like Ryan Hartman and Phil Di Giuseppe actually seeing time on Ryan Johansen’s wing. But for a team that expects to play into June, getting more minutes for depth guys isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the extra ice time helped jumpstart Kevin Fiala, who had looked moribund early.
What will the Preds be looking for at the deadline?
 
Similar to last year with Hartman, a middle-six or bottom-six wing with a little size or physicality. The rash of injuries this year really put into focus how important depth can be and the series against the Jets last year – and it seems inevitable Winnipeg and Nashville will face-off again – the Preds did get pushed around a little. They don’t need a big, splashy move and I’m not saying Wayne Simmonds, but Wayne Simmonds.

 

Game #46 Preview Suite

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Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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The Hawks played well tonight…I’m struggling to believe I typed those words…they played better than a team that is demonstrably more talented and a legitimate Cup contender or at least conference finalist…and so I will try to make sense of this. To the bullets:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– Right out of the gate, the Hawks had a step on the Predators. Maybe this is a consequence of the Preds being on the second night of a back-to-back. You wouldn’t think that would necessarily be the case, given that Nashville is just plain better but whatever. I don’t know and I don’t care. In particular the top line had a number of quality chances and good puck movement early on, and the second line was right there with them. By the end of the second period the Hawks led in shots 28-18, and they had a 57 and 58 CF% respectively in the first two periods. They were faster to the puck, defensively competent, and they even scored a power play goal. A power play goal, guys! I don’t even know what to say!

– Related to the whole top-line-playing-well-thing is Brandon Saad, who once again had an excellent night. He ended the night with 4 shots and 56.7 CF%. In fact he had three shots on goal barely more than 5 minutes into the game. No, he didn’t score so there was a lack of finish, let’s just get that out of the way, but he played an effective two-way game all night. He was robbed via a desperation play on a short-handed breakaway that happened because he just wanted the puck more, Rinne made an outstanding save on his point-blank chance mid-way through the third, and defensively he was spot on. Saad may not have scored but his play directly impacted the Hawks’ possession and chances. If he can keep this up I won’t even bitch about him not scoring.

– Speaking of defense, that which usually scorches your face and melts your eyeballs like the opening of the Ark of the Covenant did not do that tonight. Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom are just a random pairing that’s making it work somehow. They had a 57 CF% and looked, well, competent, including the final two-minute scrum when Rinne was pulled. I even saw Duncan Keith make a couple good plays to clear the puck out of the zone. Oh, and our defensemen did the scoring. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there is this thing called the Fels Motherfuck, and it’s real and it’s a force to be reckoned with. Tonight Gustav Forsling was the embodiment, and after sucking out loud he potted one past Rinne who had been unflappable to that point. And then Cowboy Gustafsson had the aforementioned unicorn, a power play goal. Up is down, black is white.

Cam Ward isn’t better than Pekka Rinne, and that’s evidenced by the shots Rinne stopped tonight, including some excellent chances by Saad in particular but also Kane and a bunch of the other schlubs. Ward also gave up a fairly weak goal in the last minute of the first period after the Hawks had played really well, and I was honestly convinced that would be the end and the Hawks would shit the bed as soon as the second started. But tonight Ward WAS better. He is not objectively a better goalie but at least in this one instance, where it was clear Rinne was going to fuck us over, he was. Of course this means Collin Delia and his superfluous L will not get the chance he deserves (at least not for now), but fuck it, it’s a win.

– The second line of Strome-Anisimov-Kane was not as bad as I expected it to be. Before I go any further, do NOT take this as an endorsement of this being a line! I’m just saying that I expected a dumpster fire and instead for some reason Patrick Kane‘s give-a-shit meter was higher than usual tonight. He and Strome had multiple good sequences with shots and puck movement in the slot, from the circles, near the crease, everywhere you want them to be. Kane bulldozed over Anisimov in the first when his slow ass couldn’t get out of the way, and Anisimov was perennially a step behind his two linemates, but he wasn’t as much of a liability as he could have been. I still think that DeBrincat-Strome-Kane is as clear to see as the bulbous nose on Barry Smith‘s face, but at least tonight this worked.

– I won’t dwell here but Ryan Hartman should have gotten an elbowing penalty for embedding Marcus Kruger‘s mask into his face. No he didn’t jut his elbow into Kruger, but when he saw Kruger coming, Hartman definitely positioned it in such a way that Kruger would have to run into it. It’s kind of like an older sibling asking why you won’t stop punching yourself. Hopefully Kruger is OK soon enough.

The Hawks beat a better team in their division and did so in regulation, by holding onto a one-goal lead. I said it before but I have to reiterate—I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. Does this mean the season is saved? Absolutely not. But it does mean that maybe they’re not an irredeemable mess EVERY night. We’ll take whatever breaks we can get, wherever we can get them. Onward and upward.

 

 

Everything Else

It was only two or three years ago that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pekka Rinne was finished. It feels like eons, but in reality it was only a few grains of sand in the hourglass of life (whoa, trippy).

Just over three years ago, Rinne was borderline terrible against the Hawks in a first-round series and really was the difference between the Preds pulling their upset then instead of waiting for two years. The following season he was mediocre at best throughout the entire campaign, posting a .908, and leading to the first calls for Juuse Saros to start to take over in the Nashville net. Preds fans were actually anxious to see the crease filled by someone else for the first time in a decade. Rinne wasn’t much better in the playoffs, posting a .906 that was good enough to see off another Ducks choke in a Game 7 at home but was pretty much railroaded by the Sharks.

Even the following regular season was only league average at .918. But something clicked in the spring of 2017, as Rinne put up a .923 in March. You’ll then recall the .980 (yes, .980) he threw at the Hawks in that authoritative and comedic sweep. Rinne would go on to produce a .930 throughout the Preds playoff run, though it came apart in the Final against the Penguins.

And it hasn’t stopped.

Rinne deservedly won his first Vezina last year, though his Game 7 full-body dry heave against the Jets perhaps colors things in some people’s eyes. And this season he’s the clubhouse leader for the award again, with the league’s best SV% at .926 and league’s best GAA at 1. 96. He has the league’s best even-strength save-percentage, and the best difference between his even-strength save-percentage and his expected one. The only thing he isn’t leading in is penalty-kill save-percentage, but he’s in the top-20 in that just in case you thought he sucked there.

Rinne’s renaissance (alliteration noted) in his mid-30s is nothing short of astonishing. In fact, he’s having one of the best seasons by a goaltender over 35 in history at the moment. No goalie has bested his current .929 at 35 or older except for Tim Thomas‘s .938 in 2010-2011 which saw him win a Vezina, Conn Smythe, and Stanley Cup. And as we’ve mentioned before, Thomas didn’t even crack an NHL lineup until after he was 30, so he didn’t have the miles. Roberto Luongo matched Rinne’s .929 last year at 38, and is really his only comparable. Ryan Miller was just a tick below at .928, but he was a backup. Rinne’s .927 is the third-best mark by any starter 35 or over.

Which makes Rinne’s next two years at $5M something beyond a bargain. Luongo is the cautionary tale of course, as he got hurt at 39 (this year) and has been pretty terrible since. He’s also three years older, exactly when Rinne’s contract would be up. Tim Thomas lost it at 39 as well. Martin Brodeur went off the diving board at 38, though he kept playing because no one could seem to tell him no. The Preds and Rinne might have this one clocked perfectly.

There are goalies who have won the Vezina Trophy at older than 36, a feat Rinne looks odds-on for. But the only one in the modern era is Thomas and Dominik Hasek in 2000-2001. And only Hasek for a second time, and no one for a second-straight year. Brodeur won at 34 and 35. Hasek won at 34 and 36. This is just not something we see very often.

Maybe there’s an injury right around the corner. Or a dip in form if Juuse Saros can’t spell him more consistently. Maybe it all hinges on what he does in the playoffs and if he can get the Preds where they’ve never been before. But we might not see this again, or at least for a while.

 

Game #36 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

This one’s on us. We didn’t give our Nashville friends enough time for this, so we’ll just rerun what we did with JR Lind a couple weeks ago when the Hawks were in Nashville. We’ll make it up to you. 

Most points in the West, second-best goal difference, the Vezina leader…is there anything to complain about in Predators Land?
 
As Blackhawks fans know, there’s always something to complain about, no matter how sterling the season is. Obviously, the Preds are very, very good and were able to sustain success from last season with a minimum of moves (David Poile’s biggest free agency acquisition was bringing back Dan Hamhuis on the traditional This Guy Used To Play Here Contract).
The acute complaint is that the Preds are on a two-game losing streak, just the second time this season they’ve gone consecutive games without a point; largely this is a result of a bizarre inability to solve the Arizona Coyotes.
The more chronic issue is the power play (currently 30th ahead of only…uh hi!). It’d be easy to blame that on the recent spate of injuries with Viktor Arvidsson, Kyle Turris and Pernell Karl Subban all out, though it was worse when everyone was reasonably healthy.
Kevin Fiala has been in a season-long slump (he finally scored five-on-five Tuesday) in what many expected to be a big year for him after a breakout season last year. And while he was sparkling when he was playing everyday when Pekka Rinne was injured, Juuse Saros has been mediocre in a lot of his spot starts lately.
There’s always something to complain about.
Seriously, how has Pekka Rinne been able to come up with a career renaissance at 35?
 
After his surgery and then missing so much time because of the post-surgical infection, it really looked like he was on the downhill. Then goalie Yoda Mitch Korn left with Barry Trotz and the overwhelming feeling really was that it was time for Poile to go franchise goalie hunting in the ninth round again. And then we all realized there wasn’t a ninth round anymore. Fortunately, Rinne had a career year and finally won the Vezina, signed a very team friendly extension for two more years counting $5 million against the cap (somehow David Poile got the guy to take a pay cut after winning a Vezina).
So I don’t know what kind of magic he’s working. The only complaint (and this is a weird one, I recognize) is that he might be playing too well, because as a Preds fan, you’d like his regular season workload to be a little lighter so he’s tanned, rested and ready for the playoffs. Last season, he played a lot more down the stretch as the Preds pushed for the President’s Trophy and as he secured the Vezina. Ideally, he’d get a lot more rest in March and April.
If there’s one quibble, the Preds have gotten 14 goals from Filip Forsberg but no more than eight from anyone else. Is scoring something of a worry down the line? Or is the socialist method of scoring going to see them through?
Part of that is the injuries. Arvidsson, who hasn’t played since Nov. 10 and is out for a few more weeks, is the guy with eight. Then it’s a jumble of dudes – nine with between four and seven goals, led by Old Friend Ryan Hartman (who I contend should just be signed to a series of one-year deals from now until the end of time).
Arvidsson’s absence has meant a rotation on Ryan Johansen‘s wing opposite Forsberg, which has included such strange experiments as Rocco Grimaldi. The STF line of Smith-Turris-Fiala has been ho-hum outside of Turris, who is hurt. Smith is inconsistent and Fiala can’t score. But, there are worse things that having one guy who scores 40, another who scores 25 in an injury-plagued year and nine or 10 who go for 15 to 20.
How is the power play this bad with all the weaponry on it? (please don’t turn this question around on us)
 
Who knows? Nothing seems to work. Subban is hurt and Ryan Ellis has had trouble scoring (at evens and on the power play), which takes away two of the big outside weapons. With Arvidsson out, the coaches haven’t really found a consistent net-front threat (having tried Nick Bonino, among others, down low). Eventually, it’ll click, we’re told, but it’s getting close to 30 games in now and it’s still 14 some-odd percent so.

 

Game #36 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built