Hockey

So far for this organization, the narrative has been followed—the team is bad, the offense is bad, the expectations are low, and games were lost. There is very little to enjoy about the Hawks but I’m gonna try to point out the good where I can. But before we get to anything positive, let’s call it like we see it: the Hawks have only scored twice so far this season on even strength, which is pretty fucking terrible. What is worse is that they are currently considered the 10th-worst team in the league, which doesn’t bode well for the whole “tanking-for-a-#1-draft-pick” plan the front office has laid out. From a numbers standpoint, other teams factually have it much worse than us. Let’s review.

Wednesday 10/12
Hawks 2, Avalanche 5
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Did you expect this to go any better? The Hawks had to start their season against the reigning Stanley Cup champs after they raised their banner in Colorado and were outskated, outmatched and outplayed the entire night. The only genuine highlight was Toews scoring the first Hawks goal of the season on the powerplay, with an assist from Andreas Athanasiou. The powerplay was the only time the Hawks could score, which means having one extra man on the ice was the only way to even out the talent level enough for the Hawks to have a chance. Otherwise, our d-men were getting pantsed by Cale Makar and domed in possession for 2 of the 3 periods.

Within this game scored the only goal by Kane’s line all god damn week which is not a promising start—very underwhelming, in fact. If the goal wasn’t to tank this season, our first line scoring 1 goal in the first three games would certainly be a red flag, especially since Kane is flanked by the shiny new free agent acquisitions that were supposed to placate us. But red flags like that are positive for a tanking team, right?

Thursday 10/13
Hawks 0, Knights 1
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

The theme for this night was that it genuinely could’ve been worse. The still-undefeated Golden Knights with their new #1 center in Jack Eichel were only able to score one goal against the Hawks as opposed to the 5 goals we’d let in the night before. Alex Stalock made 36 saves and didn’t look too bad except for when he seemed to lose his net at one point in the 1st—luckily Vegas wasn’t able to score on a wide-open net.

The Hawks’ main issue of having shit and nonexistent offense continued into this game, and of course this was their second straight game without having an even-strength goal. The Hawks had 10 less shots to the Knights’ 37, and their 2-shots-per-powerplay formula was helping nobody here. In fact, the only goal of the game came right after the Hawks powerplay in the 2nd period, directly after a shorthanded opportunity for Vegas. Vegas is looking like a top team right now whether you like it or not, however, so the fact the Hawks only held them to 1 goal when their average so far this season is over 3 per game, that’s somewhat surprising.

Saturday 10/15
Hawks 5, Sharks 2
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Of all the teams the Hawks had to face, only the Sharks match them in pitifulness. Both teams showed up in the building with a goose egg in the win column so someone had to pick up the points. The Hawks jumped out ahead for the first few minutes of the game and the Sharks were unable to register a shot for the first 11 minutes. But the Sharks ultimately did score first, getting a shot past youngins Philipp Kurashev and Filip Roos that Peter Mrazek didn’t even see (shocking). The Sharks scored again shortly after as a shot deflected off Amy’s Eldest and went in to wrap up a shitty 1st period. Surprisingly, the Hawks were able to take control from here and turned the game around.

It was Jason Dickinson’s first night in a Blackhawks uniform, and his line with Philipp Kurashev and Sam Lafferty took the game’s opening faceoff. The line would then go on to have 7 points between them that night (2 goals for the line). Lafferty’s 2 shorthanded goals meant the special teams scoring was starting to add up for the Hawks, although that’s not too hard when the Sharks can barely get a shot off. Still, the Hawks collected the win and the plan to tank for Connor Bedard was put on a temporary pause.

This weekend, the Hawks have their opening night game against Scum, but considering the team to the northeast is without a regulation loss this season, it appears the losses for Chicago will continue to stack up. That shouldn’t be unexpected news, however.

Hockey

See the source image VS

Records: Hawks 22-23-6 (50) Canes 34-10-7 (75)

Puck Drops: 6:00 Mon/Tues/Thurs

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

Teuvo Time: Canes Country

 

The second to last stop on the Train to Vacationtime for the Hawks makes it’s final appearance down in Carolina this week for a threesome against the Canes. After dropping both games to the Panth last week, the Hawks have fallen down to sixth in the division sitting a mere 5 points ahead of the Scum who managed to pass the Jackets this weekend. The fact that the Wings are as bad as they are and might not get the lottery pick they so desperately need warms my cold, dark soul. I digress, however.

The Hurricanes currently reign atop whatever they call this division right now, sitting 2 points ahead of Tampa with a game in hand. They’ve been on fire lately, currently rocking a 10 game point streak (7-0-3) in that span. Nothing really has changed for them since the last time the Hawks clashed with them, as they pretty much stood pat at the trade deadline. It really didn’t matter, as even though they could’ve used another scorer the Canes continue to be top 3 in the league in CORSI for. They push the play at a more than solid 54% average, while at the same time have allowed the least amount of goals in the entire league. They’re top 10 in shot suppression and 2nd in the league in shots for behind the Panthers.

They’ve managed all of this with having James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic in net for the majority of the season, and credit where it’s due they’ve done a solid job of keeping the puck out of their own net. Having one of the better shot suppression defenses in front of them certainly doesn’t hurt, and now reinforcements have arrived in the form of Petr Mrazek who returned from the injured list earlier in April from surgery on his right thumb. He’s looked good in his return, only having one speedbump 3 starts ago against the Wings when they had one of their games when 80% of their shots go in. It will be interesting to see how Rod Brind’Amour handles the goalie workload going into the postseason. Nedeljkovic has been the better of the two between him and Reimer, and Mrazek has had plenty of time to knock off the ring rust by now.

On the scoring end of the sheet, the Canes do it from all directions. They have 7 players with 30 or more points, and Sebastian Aho has 52 of them. None of those 7 players is Our Sweet Boy Teuvo, as he’s missed over a month with a concussion served up to him by (sigh) Nikita Zadorov back in the February 19th tilt between the Canes and Hawks. If he’s back at full strength, odds are the Canes have a top tier scoring weapon on every line they roll out. Sounds a lot like the Hawks teams in 2010-2016, and it makes my eyes misty just watching them.

As for the Hawks, offensively everything looked pretty good in their last series against the Panthers. New toy Adam Gaudette has acclimated well to whatever offensive “system” it is that the Hawks run under Coach Smoothbrain, with 4 points in his first 3 games. Both Alex DeBrincat and Domanik Kubalik have the hot hand right now, with DeBrincat’s goal in the 2nd period against the Panthers standing out as a particularly good sign. Even Kirby Dach has looked less lost in the last few games.

On the defensive side, everything continues to be a dumpster fire floating down a river comprised of sewage and toxic waste. The man to man system the Hawks run simply does not work with the personnel back there. Multiple times in the Panthers series Zadorov chose not only the wrong forward to cover, but sometimes picked a player that wasn’t even on the ice or technically in the building.

Riley Stillman, fresh off signing that new paper, was directly responsible for at least 2 goals against with one terrible pass, and then giving up on the play completely when Gusev scored his second goal of the night in game 2. Why Bowman decided NOW that Stillman needed to be extended before the Hawks had seen him play a week’s worth of games is a mystery to all of us here at FFUD. The only potential positive might be that his extension pushes Zadorov off the bus, so…yay?

In net, both Kevin Lankinen and Malcom Subban continue to have a rough go of it thanks to the clown rodeo in front of them. Neither of them has been particularly offensive, but also neither has been able to steal the games that the Hawks would need them to steal to remain ahead of Detroit. Still no word if Colin Delia will get any of these final starts, but if he’s not up now I don’t realistically see that happening, when it absolutely should.

With 5 games left in the season, the Hawks should have dual goals in mind: to play the kids as much as possible and have nobody get hurt. To this end, giving DeBrincat and Kane shifts off should be considered a good idea as well as Gaudette taking more shifts in their stead. While it may seem like nothing matters anymore, it’s experience like this that will help the young players show that they’re ready to contribute next year and that they can handle the rigors of an NHL season. It’s not nearly as fun as winning games, but at this point it’s probably more important for the team as a whole.

Let’s Go Hawks

 

 

 

Hockey

’18-’19: 46-29-7 (99 points) – Lost in Conference Final

2.98 GF/G (16th)  2.71 GA/G (6th)

17.6 PP% (2oth)   81.6 PK% (8th)

54.6 CF% (2nd)   56.4 xGF% (1st)

Something of the feel good story of last season, the Carolina Hurricanes are essentially going to try and run it back again, counting on maturing from youngsters and what is still the best blue line around. There have been a couple smaller additions, a loss of captain, and what feels like a real missed opportunity for the big splash that would have put this team over the top. But hey, their owner sunk an entire football league just to benefit himself, so is anyone really surprised?

Let’s see what’s under the hood here.

Goalies: The Canes have moved on from their partnership of last year, where they alternated between riding the hot streaks of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, and have given the job to Mrazek full-time. That might be a little strange considering that Mrazek’s performance in the playoffs was something you dug out of your ear, but it’s something of Carolina tradition to have a whatsit in goal. Mrazek was very good in the regular season, certainly the best goaltending the Canes have gotten in eons. Mrazek also put up a great season in Detroit once, but there are four seasons of mediocrity in three different places between that and last year, so who is he really?

Mrazek came in over his expected-save-percentage last year (.914 to .916 at evens), and what might be most important is he does that while cheap. Mrazek has only a $3.1M hit, and that matters to Carolina. It’s a shame they didn’t spend it elsewhere that much, though. Still, the Canes make it about as easy as a team can for goalies, as they have the puck all the time. They’ll be counting on that again.

There is a more than decent insurance policy here though in James Reimer. Optimus Reim has an off-year in Florida last season, but had racked up league-average SV%s or better the previous three seasons. He has been a plus-backup for the back half of his career, and the kind that can usurp the top job for a stretch when he gets hot/the starter goes to the zoo for a bit. He has made over 39 starts each of the past three seasons, either due to Luongo’s injury problems or just taking the job, so there is a safety net in net for the Canes. Pretty shrewd here, really.

Defense: Still the team’s strength, even with the subtraction of Calvin de Haan and the addition of Gustav Forsling (assuming he ever gets out of Charlotte, which he shouldn’t). The Canes still roll a top four of Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, and Jaccob Slavin (and his superfluous c). You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that can match that top four anywhere, and if the bottom pairing becomes a septic tank accident through some combo of Forsling, Haydn Fleury (and his missing e), Trevor van Riemsdyk and his missing talent, or kid Jake Bean, they can just run the top four out there between 40-45 minutes a night and not get too worried about it.

There will be some drama around Faulk this year, as he enters the last year of his deal and the whole will-he-or-won’t-he be traded or re-signed thing. Considering what the Canes could accomplish this year it would be near farce for them to trade Faulk, but one wonders what the actual budget is here for this team and we know how teams are loathe to lose players for nothing, even if they have everything to gain here. Still, it’s not that hard to make a case for the Canes to be division favorites now, and you don’t maintain that status by losing Faulk in the middle of the season.

That behind us, this unit can do just about everything, whether it’s pushing the play and supporting the offense or locking things down. You wish the Hawks took notes.

Forwards: In a dream world, the Canes would have already offer-sheeted Mitch Marner for $12M a year, and gotten ready to be the East favorite. They thought smaller however, signing Ryan Dzingel and trading for Erik Haula, who is just about the perfect Hurricane. They’ll also get a full season out of Nino Neiderreiter this time, another perfect Cane, and maybe the production they get from those three is enough to offset the retirement of Justin Williams as well as boost an offense that needs to be a touch better.

They’ll also expect a leap forward from Andrei Svechnikov and possibly Martin Necas, who was excellent in the AHL last year. They still seem intent on using Jordan Staal as a #2 center, and that’s simply not what he is anymore and likely never was. He’s a checking center and should be used as such. When the Canes go deadline-shopping, another center probably should be top of the list.

Sebastien Aho is now locked down and flourished moving to the middle last season. Our Dear Sweet Finnish Boy is still here to break our hearts. I’ve never been totally sold on Dzingel, who didn’t do much in Columbus last year after a trade there and his goal-scoring in Ottawa screams “production because someone had to score.” They look a little short on the wing as well, with only Turbo Targaryn, Nino, and Svechnikov feeling like genuine top-six wingers and none really being genuine top-line wingers for a Cup-contender. Marner would have been perfect here, just as Tavares would have been the year before.

Outlook: This is still a great team coached very well by Rod The Bod. It’s hard to see where the goaltending will completely sink them as it has in years past, and there’s no reason to think their possession numbers are going to go anywhere given the defense they sport. The only thing that’s going to nab them is a lack of frontline scoring, and Svechnikov has a chance to remedy that (but not by himself). With the Penguins and Capitals having to be in decline, the Islanders being run by Nosferatu, and the Rangers, Flyers, and Devils still in a rebuild, and the Jackets a complete mess, there’s little reason the Canes can’t take the Metro crown away from the Caps for the first time in eleventy-billion years or whatever it is. They were only five points short of that last year, and that gap is going to shrink if not disappear. There should be no boundaries for this team.

 

Everything Else

Strange, the Wings blogosphere is actually one of our favorites, made up of people we somehow get along with. I can’t explain it either. Anyway, we were able to distract Kyle from WingingItInMotown.com from staring at something shiny long enough to answer our questions (on Twitter @KyleWIIM).

We’ll start here. Tatar – 8 goals, Nyquist – 4 goals, Abdelkader – 4 goals (though only 22 games), Larkin hasn’t really scored more than he did last year… are the Wings unlucky and bad? Or just bad?

They’re not a very good team, that is for sure.. Take your pick at what the cause is… Coaching, complacency, bad luck, whatever. I mean, what it boils down to is that the team is underachieving. I’m not convinced that the skill level (or lack thereof) they possess is the culprit of their record.