Hockey

If nothing else, Derek King and Marc Crawfrod’s Hawks are keeping themselves in games far more than at any point in the Alpo Colliton era, and are doing it via repeatable means – otherwise known as structure. The Hawks are keeping teams to the outside as much as possible, and shock of shocks, forcing them to complete at least two or three passes to get a clean look at Marc-Andre Fleury, who has completely turned his game around since the coaching change as well. For all that is made of Flower’s acrobatics, and deservedly so as this outlet is on record as stating he’s the most athletically gifted individual to ever be tetched in the head enough to put that equipment on, he is also dogmatic to his butterfly angles as well. Put that together and you have a first overall pick who plays a nearly 20 year career with 3 Cups, Five Finals appearances, a Vezina, and is now one of three goalies to ever backstop 500 wins (however they’re counted).

It will be interesting going forward to see what his wishes are on where he wants to end this season. Given the above resume, it doesn’t seem like there’s much he needs to play for anymore, and he did have to be convinced to even come here and uprooted his family to do so. But there’s always going to be a team that wants goalie help, and he’ll likely be the top option should this caliber of play continue, and the Hawks might be able to turn him into some futures they desperately need.

12/7 – Rangers 6, Hawks 2

Box Score 
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks hung around in this one probably longer than they should have given what the Rangers’ top line is capable of, but they certainly made it count on the power play. In the two games against the Blue shirts the Hawks never seemed to be able to figure out how to handle things running from the left half wall off the stick of the right handed Artemi Panarin, who had 7 points in two games against his former club. Sometimes he’ll just do that, but it shouldn’t have been as easy for him as it looked. The big story was Jacob Trouba sending Jujhar Khaira to the hospital with a viscous hit that was unpenalized. There’s no way to legislate intent in hits like these, and Trouba’s elbows were in and his feet were on the ground and Khaira’s head was down, the intent was still to blow him up good. But the fact of the matter is that his shoulder made contact with his face first, and then Khaira’s head bounced off the ice, worsening the outcome. Of course Trouba went on to blindside Nathan MacKinnon the following night in a similarly borderline hit that was unpunished, while MacKinnon was sent to the room by the spotter. There shouldn’t even be any room for interpretation for these types of hits – a check to the head should equal an automatic GTFO with some combination of misconduct/match penalty/major. The NHL is literally the only league in the world that does not have a rule like this, and it’s asinine.

12/9 – Hawks 2, Habs 0

Box Score 
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

The less said about the actual particulars of the game play of Thursday night, the better. For nearly all of the game it was simply a case of two drunks bumping into each other in the dark repeatedly. Jonathan Toews finally scored, so there’s that at least. But obviously the big story was Marc-Andre Fleury’s 500th win in shutout fashion in his home province, and the fans in Montreal took a break from being entitled as shit and bragging about how many cups they won back when there were 6 teams full of Canadian auto mechanics to recognize a modern player’s real achievement. A nice moment, sincerely.

12/11 – Leafs 5, Hawks 4

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

Even with Jonathan Toews scoring AGAIN in the first two minutes of this game, this one quickly returned to feeling like the foregone conclusion it was supposed to be with 4 unanswered goals in about 20 minutes worth of game time, two on the power play. The Hawks’ kill has been for the most part passable-to-solid this season with either regime, but they simply cannot afford to take penalties against teams with forwards like the Leafs and Rangers have, because there’s just simply too much skill there. The Leafs then kind of let their foot off the gas and allowed the Hawks to score effects their way back into things with a couple seeing eye shots and one spectacular individual effort from Sam’s guy Phil Kurashev to beat out two Leafs for an icing to whack the puck over to an alone in the slot Dominik Kubalik. Losing on a bad stanchion bounce to the very useful David Kampf is a bummer, but it happens.

 

Ed note: I for some reason had convinced myself that the game went to OT as I left the house on Saturday night and eventually saw that they lost. They did not go to OT. This has been corrected. 

 

It’s a busy week coming up with some actual divisional games at the end of it, and another chance to watch Ovie. The games against Dallas and Nashville are certainly within reach.

Hockey

So after a weekend where the Hawks did a little better than expected with a surprise win against the Caps in Washington for the first time in the smartphone era, they’ll return home tonight for a quick stop off before heading back east again into Canada for the Habs and Leafs over the weekend. And all the problems that the Hawks have had still remain, such as not being able to score like AT ALL, and as a result they can’t win in regulation, but at this point they’ll take the victories any way they can get them. Five of the Hawks 9 total wins have come in OT or the shootout, but after the way things started, going to extra time against eastern conference opponents on the road isn’t the worst thing by a LONG shot.

What’s been the story and has been emphasized on this road trip is the Hawks newfound commitment to shot suppression under Derek King, or more than likely, Marc Crawford’s shadow regime. In the month since they have taken over, the Hawks are allowing the third fewest high danger chances in the league, and are solidly in the middle of the pack with regard to overall chances and shots allowed per 60 minutes of 5v5 hockey. Combining that with Fleury’s .956 at evens during that time, and they’re at least giving themselves a chance. In the first month of the season, Fleury allowed 13 high danger goals, since he’s allowed 3. All of these numbers paint a picture of a team that is playing with a lot more structure in its own end. It truly is the goddamnedest thing isn’t it?

Of course, they still can’t score a damn goal to save their lives, and if DeBrincat or Garbage Dick don’t do it, no one else is going to. Toews and Dach are complete non entities on the score sheet at the moment, which was never part of any plan either regime may have had. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s statistical anomaly, whether it’s Toews still fighting through rust or Dach fundamentally being a different player than he was drafted do be and/or boned by inept coaching, but they can’t be counted on for anything until they show differently, so it’s likely these close, counterattacking games are here to stay. What purpose that serves with regard to the long-term trajectory of the team still remains to be seen

12/7 vs Rangers

Game Time – 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, Various SportsNets, WGN-AM 720
Yauch Forever – Blueshirt Banter

Well, the Hawks get a look at the Blueshirts for the second time in less than a week, this time on home ice where hopefully they can keep track of the guy wearing 10 in white a little better. He should look pretty familiar, he’s kind of good. With Shesterkin having some form of crotch detatchment the night before they played the Hawks last time, Gerard Gallant now turns his jowly gaze to Alexandar Georgiev and his .856 save percentage in the meantime. The Rangers haven’t played since the two teams’ date at MSG on Saturday so they’re still riding a six game winning streak, and have won 10 of their last 11, their only loss coming to the equally hot Maple Leafs, whom the Hawks face on Saturday. Shesterkin isn’t slated to be out long term, so they should be able to keep solid footing in the turbo competitive Metro division.

12/9 at Montreal

Game Time – 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Mont Tremblant Seems Lovely – Eyes On The Prize

Finally, a matchup of the two biggest fuckup franchises so far this season. The problems locally are pretty well covered and lead in grotesqueness by a wide margin, but a quick rundown of the Habs’ misery – After a fluke run to the Cup Final in a made up playoff format in an abbreviated season, they promptly took any good will they had and flushed it down the toilet by drafting a known sex criminal in the first round, and then shat all over themselves justifying it. Then, franchise goalie Carey Price checked himself into a substance abuse clinic on the eve of the season starting where he can hopefully get the help he’s seeking, but leaving the team dangling with Jay Gallon now in a #1 role he’s already shown he’s never been cut out for. Add a predictably shitty start where no one is scoring because they never really had any top end finish to begin with, and that FINALLY cost Marc Bergevin his job. His replacement is the recently discussed former GM of the Rangers Jeff Gorton, who isn’t a Francophone, so at least they might be done with that stupid rule. Anyway, the Habs have played 2 more games than the Hawks and are 6 points behind them, just to give an indication of how things are going there.

12/11 at Tronna

Game Time – 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, CBC, NHL Network, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Arrest Drake. Arrest Rivers Dubas. – Pension Plan

It’s that time of year again where the hockey cognoscenti declare the Leafs an unstoppable juggernaut with about a third of the season played. And the thing is, they’re not wrong inasmuch as the Leafs are a very good team loaded with offensive firepower and are playing very well at the moment. It’s just a race to trip over their own dicks to coronate a team with nearly the longest cup drought in the history of the sport, and they haven’t learned to hedge their bets even a little bit yet. And it’s not fair to pin it on one guy just because their sex-crime-apologist/victim-blaming GM has in the person of Jack Campbell in net, but that’s eventually what it’s going to come down to, whether or not he can stand up to anything in the playoffs. And given the way the aforementioned Metro looks, as well as with Tampa still lurking in Toronto’s on FlorTheast having not lost a playoff series in a very long time, it’s probably a little early to start with this shit, if only because it just adds to the amount of time the general public has to listen to Leafs fans, and hear about what it’s like to be a Leafs fan. Anyway, Jason Spezza is probably getting an unpaid vacation for a while after the to-do with Neil Pionk, and Mitch Marner is ouchy, and they’ll probably still boat race the Hawks on home ice. And that’s fine.

Hockey

To a certain extent it’s a mild relief that now the Hawks are losing games where they’re simply outgunned as opposed to looking like they’re playing a completely different sport than the opposition, or at best there like was a gas leak in their locker room (which would have explained Coach Jeremy Trestman hiding in the stalls). But regardless of who is coaching it, and that’s still currently up for debate seeing how much more of a role Marc Crawford has taken recently who is now playing the part of Dick Cheney in the Derek King administration, this team still really can only get goals from like 3 players even when things look how they’re supposed to. Basically if Alex DeBrincat and Garbage Dick don’t score, they’re not really going to, especially since the power play has completely dried up. Dylan Strome gets back into the lineup and back onto the first unit this evening after being healthy scratched for a while, and he STILL has their last power play goal that happened over two weeks ago. But with what Toews can contribute still a mystery, Dominik Kubalik still trying to gain his footing after having his ice time messed with by Kelvin Gemstone, really past the top 2 wingers there’s a big yawning void only occasionally filled by Brandon Hagel. Kirby Dach hasn’t scored in over a month, much of that spent between two guys with 40 goal potential, and that’s simply unacceptable for the third overall pick and who the Organ-I-Zation says the future is entrusted to. If that doesn’t turn around in a big way and in a hurry, there are going to be some extremely bleak and uncomfortable situations concerning the post-Toews era.

12/2 at Washington

Game Time  – 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Bulldog Front – Russian Machine Never Breaks

Look, the Hawks are going to lose this game. They literally have not won in DC since 1998, and the Caps are just better even without plenty of key pieces (Backstrom, Oshie) in their lineup, even though it does appear that Justin Schultz is supposed to return. When watching this game, just seriously take time to appreciate what Alex Ovechkin is doing right now. Yes he’s creeping up on the all time goal list having passed Brett Hull this season (Hull himself was gracious, his Garbage Son was not) in a race against time to possibly catch Gretzky. All things considered factoring in eras and equipment and style of play, Ovie already is the greatest goal scorer in the history of the league, but having that number to prove it would be something to behold, especially after it was once thought that literally no one could every ascend to Gretzky’s totals. But the fact that he is second in the league in goals and third in the league in points (19 and 37 respectively) through 23 games in his age 36 season is truly incredible. He’s on pace right now for 68 goals, which would put him just two shy of Gordie by year’s end. And even if that pace flattens out a bit, he still might be the oldest player to score 50 goals ever, passing Johnny Bucyk 50 years ago. And Ovechkin isn’t just camping out at his spot on the power play. Twenty four of his 37 points have come 5v5, 27 at all even strengths. The Hawks have 26 goals AS A TEAM at five on five.

12/4 at MSG

Game Time – 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
NUMBA ONE BAYBEE – Blueshirt Banter

After completely overhauling their front office and coaching staff where they decided they needed to get more rock-headed in launching Jeff Gorton and David Quinn for first timer Chris Drury as GM and red ass Gerard Gallant behind the bench, the team promptly announced that as a roster they intended to be stupider by trading for Ryan Reaves. Of course, this roster was already promising enough with a surprise Norris from Adam Fox last year, as well as Mika Zibanejad flourishing alongside Artemi Panarin, but it appears that they’re poised to make a return to the post season with 31 points in the airtight Metropolitan division. Chris Kreirder has cannonballed his way into 16 goals already, on pace to obliterate his career high of 28 – though shooting 26.2% against a career average of 14% probably helps with that quite a bit. There’s no one thing that this team does exceptionally well, they’re in the middle of the road statistically in pretty much everything, but Gallant teams always play fast and hard, and Igor Shesterkin’s .936 5v5 and .935 overall are certainly good to make it all stand up. Given the expectations set by the start and the new management, don’t be surprised if they try to make a big splash at the deadline.

12/5 at Belmont

Game Time – 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
A Headache With Pictures – Lighthouse Hockey

Apparently the limits of Barry Trotz’s occult coaching wizardry are finally breached by a 13 game road trip to start the season, injuries, and a COVID outbreak that forced the Islanders to postpone three games last week. Perhaps playing in the the charmingly revolting toilet that was Nassau Coliseum is where those dark forces that allowed the Isles to reach two straight final fours/semifinals/whatever in modified playoff years, because their brand new UBS Arena at Belmont Racetrack has not been so kind to them to this point, as they’ve lost all four games they’ve had there in regulation. They’re currently in the midst of an 8 game losing streak, and will face the somewhat surprising Sharks tonight at home before they see the Hawks again, so that may very well reach nine. They’ll at least have the benefit of getting the Hawks on the second half of a back to back, but given the offensive struggles of both of these squads, it’s not likely to be a Sunday evening track meet.

Everything Else

For seemingly eons now, the New York Rangers have been foisted upon the general hockey viewing public based solely due to the city they play in despite being boring as shit and never winning anything, culminating each spring with the torpor of yet another series against the Capitals. Mercifully they spared everyone another round of that misery by being particularly terrible last year and missing the playoffs, and will no doubt do the same this year as they enter a full-on rebuild with no real clear plan in place.

’17-’18: 34W-39L-9OT 77PTS 231GF 268GA 21.2%PP 81.4%PK 45.92%CF 7.55%SH .9222%SV

 

Goaltending: Obviously the discussion here begins and ends with Henrik Lunqvist and just how much of this shit he wants to put up with when he’ll be turning 37 in March. Lundqvist isn’t what he once was, throwing a pedestrian-to-bad .915 overall and .919 at evens last year, but given that he was under seige behind a team with a league-worst share of shot attempts that was going nowhere, he could hardly be blamed for selling out. He could probably still help a team that felt it needed goaltending help, but having the heftiest price (and mostly deservedly so based on past performance) and full no-trade protection, it makes any deal dicey. There’s also the question of if Hank would entertain leaving Broadway for one of the NHL’s lesser outposts that might even put him to use in the spring, as it’s never been any secret that the impossibly handsome Lunqvist enjoys everything that Manhattan affords a man of his wealth and good looks. Marek Mazanec and his 25 career starts and .895 overall will be backing Hank up to start, so he could very well play 60-65 completely meaningless games, and it’d more than likely be nobody’s choice but his.

Defensemen: The Rangers promptly diving face first into the shitter is hilarious on a lot of levels, one of the best ones being that Kevin Shattenkirk (Kirk Shattenkevin) basically telegraphed for two years that he was going to sign here, and then sucked to high heaven along with the rest of the team when he finally got to MSG. Shat has always been a bumslayer that flatters to deceive as a true top pairing guy, and there will be no hiding him as this team routinely gets its skull kicked in again this season. Blog favorite Brady Skjei got long term paper over the summer as an RFA, and he could usurp Shattenkirk as the Rangers’ best option to move the puck from the blue line, as Skjei’s defensive zone instincts aren’t nearly as abstract. Marc Staal is still alive, but has about the same pulse and moves at about the same rate as moss on a downed tree branch does. And Rangers recently just went out and traded for Adam McQuaid, as if Staal by himself wasn’t slow enough, they needed to and slow and stupid and always hurt to the mix. And it’s not like they didn’t have the market cornered on stupid to begin with in the form of Brendan Smith, who somehow makes Trevor van Riemsdyk seem decisive and heady in his defensive zone approach.

Forwards: There are some halfway decent constituent parts up front for the blue shirts, as Mika Zibanejad is a fairly dynamic center, and Chris Kreider, while never living fully up to expectations, plays like Brandon Saad on a bottle of Jager and a bag of meth. Vlad Namestnikov was a possession darling in TB before coming over in the McDonagh deal, but he’ll be hard pressed to be as territorially dominant without the benefit of how stacked the top of the Tampa lineup was. Ryan Spooner would be a fine fourth line energy center but he’ll be playing second line minutes here. And the dipshit college boys in Kevin “Captain Stairwell” Hayes and Jimmy Vesey remain here and continue to underwhelm. There’s no underlying thought process or unifying theory of what the Rangers want to be as a forward group, so they’re left with this quarter-cooked crockpot ful of crap to run out the clock on an entire 82-game season with.

Outlook: Bad, and made even worse by virtue of the fact that this team will still be on national TV constantly just because of their laundry. GM Jeff Gorton went out and  grabbed David Quinn from Boston University to replace Alain Vigneault as head coach, which at least shows he’s trying to approach things differently. But the entire season is basicaly a formality in finding out if Henrik Lunqvist can be moved for a KING’S RANSOM (GET IT?) to jump-start this full-on rebuild job that’s barely accumulated any real prospects to date.

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Buggin Out: Blueshirt Banter

While this is supposed to a premiere matchup on the league’s calendar as far as regular season games in December go, and on paper it still is with one conference leader hosting the 2nd best of the other on a weekend night, the actual composition of the rosters on both sides still lacks the punch that it should have, no matter how many times the words “potential matchup in June” are uttered during the broadcast.

Everything Else

RangerSmith vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Sam Rosen’s Podiatrist: Blueshirt Banter

They told everyone the entire back half of the summer that they were only about the business of hockey. That getting back on the ice was the most important thing, and once they were able to do that, not much else mattered. And as criminal justice proceedings have dragged on and been obfuscated, that’s exactly where the defending champion Blackhawks stand tonight, with their star forward who has still yet to be cleared of a sexual assault investigation in uniform with at very least the implicit support of the entire organization.

So during the the effusive and interminable ceremony wherein Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough, and whatever host take self congratulatory tone-deafedness to astonishing new heights, remember that every ass in a seat, every applauding set of hands, is exactly what they banked on happening during this catastrophic off-season. Winning at sports is always a better brand strategy than being under investigation for sexual assault. And their cynical bet will be proved 110% correct when Patrick Kane receives thunderous applause all night long.

Everything Else

RangerSmithvs oldschool

Game Time: 6:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
The Producers: Blueshirt Banter

For the first time since the trade deadline, the Hawks will get a lot at their new acquisitions against a non-garbage opponent, the New York Rangers. Though NBC surely didn’t plan on having neither Patrick Kane or Henrik Lundqvist available for the proceedings, this is still a solid matchup based on the standings. And considering how the Hawks looked on Friday night against the abject trash on ice that the Edmonton Oilers have been, the national TV audience had better brace itself.

Everything Else

RangerSmithvs oldschool

Game Time: 6:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
The Producers: Blueshirt Banter

For the first time since the trade deadline, the Hawks will get a lot at their new acquisitions against a non-garbage opponent, the New York Rangers. Though NBC surely didn’t plan on having neither Patrick Kane or Henrik Lundqvist available for the proceedings, this is still a solid matchup based on the standings. And considering how the Hawks looked on Friday night against the abject trash on ice that the Edmonton Oilers have been, the national TV audience had better brace itself.