Hockey

In a way, the Hawks should be glad they managed to get even one point tonight, after being dominated by the Bruins for much of the game. But it feels wrong because it’s a waste of yet another stellar goaltending performance, and they were so close to winning and yet had a goal called back for a spurious hand pass. I’m not going to sit here and blame the refs—the blame falls squarely on the Hawks for not being better than their opponent—but this ones leaves a bitter taste. Let’s get through it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks got totally outplayed, but the very least we can say is that they were genuinely trying—they’re just not as good as Boston. This game was not like last night’s against the Wild where they just couldn’t be bothered to give a shit for the first two-thirds of the game. They definitely gave a shit, but the best they could do was just hold the Bruins off. In the first two periods, the Hawks managed just a 31 and 38 CF%, respectively. They were outshot 16-5 in the first and ended the night outshot 40 to 22 (they’ve got to stop with these 40-shot games). Coach Gemstone did them no favors early on by having the galaxy brain idea of starting our fourth line, including the illustrious talents of Alex Nylander, against what is basically the best line in hockey, in Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak. That went exactly how you think it would, and Robin Lehner was racking up saves basically from the opening whistle. This dumb mismatch led to the logical fallacy of tripping-diving on Nylander and Pastrnak late in the third, but the NHL have never been ones for consistent or sane thinking (how can it be a penalty if it’s also a dive?! THIS CAN’T BE). Neither is Colliton when it comes to matchups, apparently. Nylander-Carpenter-Smith barfed up a 20 CF% at evens, and he kept throwing them out there despite their blatant inability to keep up with the Bruins’ top line.

–Relatedly, Lehner was outstanding and showed no rust coming off a long break. Granted, he let in a softie to Kuraly, but you can’t even be mad about that when it’s compared with the 1,827 highlight reel saves he made throughout the rest of the game. A penalty kill in the first period was a particularly indigestion-inducing sequence when he made what seemed like impossible leaps across the crease. Krejci had a flurry of chances and was visibly frustrated by Lehner stopping them repeatedly. His east-west movement all night was outstanding, and it had to be for the Hawks to even have a chance. The OT goal was a heartbreaker where Dach, who otherwise had a good game, just got beat and there was nothing Lehner could do. I’m sure he’s salty about this one, but he has every right to be.

–Something very concerning was Adam Boqvist ‘s shoulder injury. He got boarded by David Krejci in the second and immediately skated off with his arm limp, and while he hasn’t been the most solid of players lately, the last damn thing this team needs is to lose a defenseman who can technically move the puck and is definitively fast. This would also be the second functional defenseman taken out by a shoulder injury (third if you count Seabrook but that’s another story). The only silver lining was that Alex DeBrincat finally scored a goal on the ensuing power play, but file that under “pyrrhic victory.” The Hawks picked up that random oaf from Minnesota but neither he nor Dennis Gilbert are going to help them get into the playoffs, whereas Boqvist will. Here’s hoping it’s not severe and he doesn’t miss the entire Western Canada trip, because if they don’t make up ground there, it will no longer matter if he’s able to come back before the end of this season.

–To return to Kirby Dach, he had another strong game yet couldn’t come through at the very end. He did continue his scoring streak, however, with an assist on Top Cat’s goal, where he (Dach) was cool, calm and collected in the crease which generated the rebound that popped out to DeBrincat for the goal. He had 3 shots and generally passed the eye test, despite his line as a whole struggling in the fancy stats (19.2 CF%, -27.8 CF Rel, -38.3 SF%, woof). I do not pretend to make any grand pronouncements about Dach right now, but he again showed what he can do, and what he needs to work on.

–Did Maatta have a hand pass late in the third? After getting taken down and on a delayed penalty, he definitely moved the puck with his hand, but it appeared in super-slow-motion to have ricocheted off his stick just barely, from where it made its way to Drake Caggiula who scored what would have been the winning goal. Again, a heartbreaker to lose out on something that close, and maybe the puck really didn’t graze Maatta’s stick and it’s a fair call, but that doesn’t really help or make it feel less frustrating.

So they got two points in two days, and are (I believe) two points out of the second wild card (that’s a lot of twos in that sentence). If they have any hopes of eking into that last spot, now is the time, and they better hope their young defenseman isn’t out for the season. Onward and upward.

 

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Bruins 32-10-12   Hawks 25-21-7

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

THEY’RE ALL AEROSMITH’S DRUMMER NOW: Stanley Cup Of Chowder

After stealing a point last night by only playing for the third period, the Hawks will have the degree of difficulty seriously upped on them tonight to get three of four points, or even two. The Boston Bruins stroll in, also having played last night, and having won their last four to the tune of 15-4 aggregate. So yeah, this isn’t the Wild.

We wrote this about the Bruins when the Hawks were there in December:

And with this cushion in the Atlantic, the Bs don’t really have to fear a flattening out or market correction. 14 points even at this stage is a gargantuan lead, and unless both Halak’s and Rask’s head fall off and roll into the Charles, they’re not losing that. So they can look forward to at least the first two rounds with home ice. Their season is almost accomplished and we’re weeks away from Christmas.

Yeah, about that.

Thanks to the Lightning finally gaining consciousness and a serious case of, “What the fuck is going on here?”, the Bruins are only up five points on them and have played a game more. So that lead-pipe-cinch of a division crown isn’t so lead-pipe-cinch anymore. So what happened?

Well part of it is an ungodly number of losses after 60 minutes. The Bruins have 12 overall, with only Detroit and Ottawa the only other ones even in double-digits. Flip half of those the other way, which easily could have happened because it’s a lottery, and not only are the Bruins running away with the Atlantic but the entire NHL as well. The Bruins have lost seven games in OT or a shootout in just the past two months. And even still, the Bruins have gone 12-7-6 since the last meeting with the Hawks, which is more than acceptable. It’s not their fault the Lightning have gone 29-1 or whatever.

Overall, the story hasn’t changed that much for the Bs. They’re a decent-to-good metric team. They don’t create as many chances or attempts as the other teams in the top ten, but they bury more of them because they have Pastrnak, Marchand, Bergeron, and Krejci. And they’ve become very tight defensively this season, as they’re the best team in terms of xGA/60 and fifth best in attempts-against. Throw in remarkable special teams (top three in both) and great goaltending, and you see where they raft of OT/SO losses belie what this team actually is. The +44 goal difference, best in the league, is a much better indicator of what this team is.

It’s easy to dismiss the Bruins as just one line, and they do have arguably the best line in hockey still. But that is somewhat unjust to David Krejci, though he basically only gets offensive-zone starts now. Charlie Coyle has been of use as well, but this team is a touch short on the wings behind Marchand and Pastrnak, and probably DeBrusk. McAvoy and Chara are pretty much mine-sweepers now, and they’ve been very good at it, with Grzelcyk and Krug doing most of the pushing and creative work against lesser competition. Carlo rounds out a pretty solid if unspectacular blue line.

Tuke Nuk’em and Jaro Halak might be the best duo in the crease in the league, with bother over .920 and Rask in the Vezina discussion. Before the deadline, they’ll be looking for wingers, but this is a serious contender once again.

Which makes the Hawks’ task that much harder Given their position, they can’t just write off too many games as luxury items. Especially after not getting both points last night. Whom Colliton wants to match up with Bergeron and Co. will be the main watch tonight. It’s not something he’s shown a talent for, and really the only candidate is Kubalik-Toews-Caggiula. Maybe reuniting Kampf and Carpenter somewhere would be another, but don’t count on it. As good as the Bruins are, stopping their top line from putting up three or four goals is still the main task. And staying out of the box.

The Hawks sprung a surprise on the Bruins at The Garden, but once the Bruins actually started paying attention the world collapsed around the Hawks’ ears. Toews saved them in OT. Maybe on the road and the second of a back-to-back will keep the Bruins fro totally focusing. That’s the main hope. The Hawks season will hinge on the following road trip. But it would be nice to have points here in the bag before it.

 

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-6   Wild 23-22-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ONE GOOD DOSE OF THUNDER: Hockey Wilderness

The Hawks will conclude their mini-trip out of the bye week in St. Paul tonight, before returning home for all of one game and then heading back out where they came from for another five games. That’s some brilliant scheduling if you ask me! You can feel Toews’s rage without much effort. But the Hawks won’t have a lot of time or cause to bitch, because every point is valuable and though the travel schedule might not make much sense the opponents on offer are certainly gettable. That for sure describes the Minnesota Wild these days.

While the Hawks are certainly in the thick of the playoff race, mostly because it came back to them, they aren’t really away from anyone. The Preds and Jets are right there with them. The rest of the division is pretty much out of touch out ahead in the distance. Except for the Wild, whom the Hawks can kind of put out of their misery tonight. That sounds silly to say with 29 games left after this one, but a regulation win would put the Wild five points in arrears and that’s a massive gap. Not that it’s one the Hawks couldn’t cough up, but let’s say it’s unlikely. And the more teams you can cull from the chase the better off you are.

It’s not hard to pinpoint where it’s gone wrong for the Wild. While Bruce Boudreau continues to conjure up his magic potion of not really being a great Coris team but an excellent expected goals team – i.e. the Wild are content to give up attempts but don’t give up good chances–that doesn’t really matter if your goalies can’t stop a sloth in the sand. The Wild give up the least amount of xGA/60 and scoring chances per game in the league, but their SV% is bottom-10 with both Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk especially facing the wrong way and identifying cloud shapes most of the time. That’ll torpedo most teams, and so it has done with the Wild.

Which might just be enough to torpedo Boudreau out of a job come April.  It would be a second-straight playoff-less season, and the team probably needs an overhaul, and there’s a new GM on board these days in Bill Guerin and his weird face. It might not be totally fair to Gabby, but dem’s da breaks. The Wild certainly score enough to be better than this, at 3.06 per game, and their defensive structure has kept the task to a minimum for the goalies. But they haven’t been up to it, and if you were to swap goalies with the Hawks the Wild most definitely would be in the playoff picture if not up among the top three in the Central. Also when your goalies suck it’s hard to have anything near a decent penalty kill, and the Wild very much don’t, second-worst in the league. They’re not good enough to outscore teams by two or three at evens.

Which is saying something for Gabby, because the Wild feel like they’re short on frontline talent once again. Zach Parise these days is a tweener between a first and second line player, and the advanced age of Eric Staal might make him that as well. Mats Zuccarello has always been that, as has Jason Zucker (and he’s missed a fair amount of time this year as well). Kevin Fiala might actually be proving to be something more than sarcophagus filling with 28 points, but he’s not providing what Mikhail Granlund used to (but certainly isn’t now). That Rask-for-Nino trade was such a disaster that Rask is a healthy scratch tonight. There isn’t a lot here, and you can’t say Boudreau isn’t maximizing it.

The blue line is still very solid and finally healthy, as you can do a hell of a lot worse on a top-four than Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, and Dumba. That’s how the Wild keep things pretty limited in their end, even if it is all getting undone by the men in the mask.

No changes for the Hawks other than it looks like Lehner will get the start with Crow getting the slightly tougher assignment of Patrice And The Pips tomorrow night. New boy Nick Seeler, who is neither loose nor tight, won’t make his debut against his former team tonight and let’s just hope he’s ballast for the rest of the season. You don’t want this rockhead taking regular minutes, believe us.

The key tonight for the Hawks is getting to the middle of the offensive zone. The Wild are more than happy to let you putter around the perimeter and try and thread a needle through to the net from there. Suter and Brodin especially play economical defensive games where they let things come to them and simply prod you back outside the dots or behind the net. So players like Kane and Dach and Strome and Top Cat, the ones who can conjure something out of nowhere will have to, and players like Toews, Kubalik, and Saad who can get to the middle through power will need to do some of that as well. If you can get the shots, the Wild goalies will give you goals.

It’s a big ask to get four of four with the Bruins waiting tomorrow, though they’ll also be on the second of a back-to-back, on the road, the Hawks have been great with those all season, and they’ve caught the Bruins napping before this season. Still, these two points seem pretty vital before that road trip that is going to determine the rest of the season. They’re right there, so take them.

Live From The Five Hole

This week, The Oracle Of Humboldt Park Fifth Feather, The Colorado Heartthrob John Pullega, Queen Of The NW Suburbs Rose Rankin, and myself discuss the Hawks immediate future, their chances for the playoffs, a hockey trade of Robin Lehner, what is Jeremy Colliton, and will Feather ever give in to his White Sox excitement. Join in!

Hockey

This is something that probably will, and definitely should, go on the back-burner while the Hawks are in a playoff chase. There are more important issues and you don’t want the distraction. Which probably makes it more likely the Hawks, in their infinite wisdom, will ink Lehner to an extension before the end of the season, either to juice the buzz inside and outside the team as they try and chase down a spot or as a feel-good makeup when they fall short. You’ve already heard the push for it, and you know how they operate.

It shouldn’t be a priority at all. And it probably shouldn’t happen at all.

And it really doesn’t have much to do with Lehner. The simple numbers don’t add up. As of right now, the Hawks only have $10M in cap space for next season right now. With a minimal cap raise, maybe it’s $12M. There are a couple things the Hawks can do to open up more space, such as buying out Olli Maatta, which would only count about $800K against the cap next year. Maybe they actually do have a plan to deport Brent Seabrook into retirement/orbit, which obviously opens up another $6.8M. Do all those things, and the Hawks would suddenly have $22M. Hey, maybe Andrew Shaw retires and you get even more. If all those things happen, then re-signing Lehner makes some sense.

But it’s not that simple. Both Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik are due for big raises (and Caggiula might earn a small one). You would have to imagine they come in at at least $9M combined. If Lehner gets the $7M per year or more that he’s looking for, suddenly your $22M in space has become $6M in space, and you still need another d-man and at least one winger. And a backup goalie, and not just some stooge but one who can play 25-30 games because Lehner has never taken on a full starter’s load and that’s not really a thing teams are looking for these days.

Now, play this out differently. It would depend on how Corey Crawford finishes the season, so keep that in mind. But at 36, it’s unlikely that Crow is going to get more than the $6M he gets now, and it’s unlikely he’ll get more than a one- or two-year deal. Say you can Crow back for $4M, and then bring in someone like Cam Talbot for $3M-$4M (who has flourished in a partner/backup role this year). Now you’ve got two goalies for the same price as one Lehner, along with flexibility down the line which is not something the Hawks have had a lot of this past decade.

And maybe you’ve got space for a Tyson Barrie or Sami Vatanen or Toffoli or Kreider, which this team still needs. The only thing through the system that might join up next year and boost the team is Ian Mitchell, and that hardly seems a sure thing. Now if he signs and your top four is Keith, Mitchell, Boqvist, Murphy, that’s a nice start, but pushing Mitchell down do the third-pairing in his rookie year with de Haan is even better. And this team still needs one more winger, and might need another forward anywhere if they decide Kirby Dach’s presence makes Strome expendable (longshot but impossible).

As for Lehner himself, there seems to be a reason he’s on his fourth team. Or there should be, when he’s had exemplary seasons with each of the first three. He was traded from the Senators after after a step-back .905 SV% season, but that was after a .913. The Sabres let him walk after another .908, but that was after a .920. You know the story with the Islanders. And you know he’s not settling for another one-year deal.

Gone is the time when you can win with some stiff in net, and the Hawks were the last to do it in 2010 and there are still far too many around town who think that’s how things still work. So you can’t just ignore the position. However, you also have to have the team in front of it, and the Hawks aren’t going anywhere until they ask their goalies to do less than they are now. And it’s going to be awfully hard to do that paying Lehner what he wants and has pretty much earned now.

If the Hawks had more prospects coming through that would do that for cheap for years, then you could justify committing so much to one goalie. But they don’t. This is the way.

Hockey

The Blackhawks were on their biggest tear of the year before the break. They won five of their last six and 12 of their last 18, with 10 of those 12 wins coming in regulation. During their five-game winning streak, four of the five wins were definitive, with just one win against the lowly Senators coming in overtime. That put the Hawks within three points of the last wild card spot (as of this writing). Hope abounds.

What, if anything, has Jeremy Colliton had to do with it?

We ask this question because we’ve been harsh on him all year. The organ-I-zation, beat writers, and even some of us (read: me) entered the year with a “Give him a training camp” attitude. When Colliton and his Crew came out of camp at 3-5-2—or seven losses in 10 games, because getting a point for losing is horseshit—it became clear that the “magic training camp” wasn’t really a thing, and we lost our asses.

Since then, the results have been hot and cold. A four-win streak followed by a 1-5-1 streak. Two extra-time wins followed by an 0-3-1. Each losing streak complemented with a “We need more effort” from their one-time wunderkind. Is he getting that effort now, or is he just getting out of his own way? I wanted to know, so now we’re going to do this together.

We’ll break this season into two parts: opening day through December 14 (33 games total), and December 15 through now (18 games). All of the Big Blackhawks Media have taken a liking to using December 15 as a touchpoint, and so we will do that, too. We’ll look primarily at high-level counting stats (goals for, goals allowed), team analytics (CF%, GF% vs. xGF%), and any big changes in personnel that Colliton had direct control over (line combos and TOI but NOT NECESSARILY individual player performance).

The Numbers

Team Stats 5v5 Goals For Goals Allowed GF% xGF% CF%
10/04–12/14 58 69 45.67 60.81 47.56
12/15–Now 47 39 54.65 47.35 49.33

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com

Wouldn’t you know it, over the recent nice stretch, the Hawks have outscored their opponents, rather than getting outscored like they were at the beginning of the year. We’ve solved it, thanks for reading.

What’s fascinating is the why behind the goals. The Hawks are scoring goals at a nearly 9% higher rate over the last 18 games. And look at the difference between the xGF%s.

Quick aside, xGF% stands for expected goals for percentage. The important thing to know about it is that it measures shot quality (e.g., a point shot is typically lower quality than a shot off a rebound) and uses that to try to predict the likelihood of an actual goal scored.

So, the inversion of GF% and xGF% between the two time frames sure is curious. The Hawks should have scored more than they did during the first time frame, and they’re now scoring more than they should during this second time frame. Why?

Part of it is strength of schedule. Through today, the Hawks have had a slightly more challenging schedule than most other teams, based on points percentages. Another part of it is PDO. For the first time frame, the Hawks’s PDO was an even 1.000. From December 15 onward, the Hawks’s PDO is 1.024, good for fourth overall in the league. The difference has been the Hawks’s shooting percentage, which has skyrocketed from around 7% all the way up to 10%.

But these aren’t things Colliton can really control. What he CAN control for the most part is which players get the most ice time.

ATOI Rank 10/04–12/14 TTOI ATOI 12/15–Now TTOI ATOI
1 Keith (25) 456:24 18:16 Keith (17) 308:48 18:10
2 Murphy (21) 365:40 17:25 Murphy (18) 324:07 18:01
3 Kane (33) 555:49 16:50 Gus (18) 303:45 16:53
4 de Haan(29) 485:19 16:44 Kane (18) 290:55 16:10
5 Gus (32) 530:46 16:35 Maatta (17) 262:55 15:28
6 Maatta (29) 457:15 15:46 Boqvist (17) 244:25 14:23
7 Seabrook (31) 483:09 15:35 Toews (18) 245:40 13:39
8 Cat (33) 464:22 14:04 Dach (18) 236:15 13:08
9 Toews (33) 442:30 13:25 Kubalik (18) 230:13 12:47
10 Strome (29) 386:31 13:20 Cat (18) 229:34 12:45
11 Saad (33) 423:34 12:50 Carp (18) 213:51 11:53
12 Kampf (33) 384:48 11:40 Kampf (18) 200:54 11:10

ⴕ = suffered injury at some point during stretch. Stats calculated using NaturalStatTrick.com

The biggest difference between then and now is the emergence of Kubalik and Dach in terms of how much they’re playing. (Boqvist too, but he’s had only half the time of the other two, so let’s revisit him at the end of the year.) Since December 15, Kubalik and Dach have averaged almost two full minutes more of ice time apiece. They’ve also established themselves on what you could call the top six, if you look at the line up as follows over the last 18 games:

Kubalik–Toews–Caggiula/Kane

DeBrincat–Dach–Kampf/Kane

Saad–Carpenter–Kane

Nylander–Smith–Highmore/Caggiula

Though Kane has averaged slightly less ice time during the latest run, Colliton still likes to double shift him whenever he can, which you can see as a function of his 5v5 average time on ice. Because Kane has superhuman endurance and has consistently outperformed his xGF% throughout his career, it’s hard to blame him. But more encouraging is that Dach and Kubalik are getting chances that they weren’t at the beginning of the year. It may have taken him longer than we’d have liked, but Colliton has gotten that right recently.

This implies that with more time and the right teammates, Colliton has begun to give what portends to be The New Core the chance to try shit. You might recall Kubalik getting scratched a few times earlier in the season for simply unfathomable reasons. This trend ceased around the second week in December, or just prior to Kubalik’s scoring binge. Just check out the differences between the time frames:

Kubalik Goals Assists GF% xGF% CF%
10/04–12/14 6 3 50 53.68 50.22
12/15–Now 11 5 57.14 49.93 51.39

5v5 from NaturalStatTrick.com

Though you likely don’t need a fucking chart to tell you that Dominik Kubalik is not a third liner, there it is. Kubalik is starting to do what most good shooters do: pot shots that shouldn’t be going in. Colliton coming to Jesus on that has been helpful to the Hawks’s recent success, even if it took him way too long to get there.

It’s a similar story for Kirby Dach, though much more subtle.

Dach Goals Assists GF% xGF% CF%
10/04–12/14 5 4 47.83 43.8 46.32
12/15–Now 2 1 56.25 47.54 49.45

5v5 from NaturalStatTrick.com

The counting stats are down, but the fancy stats have gotten better as Dach has both settled in and settled into a more defensively responsible role. Granted, he’ll need to up the offense, but credit Colliton for giving Dach more time as the year has progressed.

The Penalty Kill

The Hawks have the sixth-best penalty kill in the league as of this writing. Given how horrible their blue has been and continues to be, this may not make a ton of sense. But the numbers on this make it pretty easy to figure out why.

First, here are the splits between the time frames:

PK% PK Rank PK SV% PK HDSV% PK TIME
10/04–12/14 80.4 14th 87.93 77.55 175:59
12/15–Now 88.6 1st 92.31 94.12 77:39

From NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.com

A couple things to note. First, the Hawks are currently taking fewer penalty minutes during the recent run. At the current pace, if you extrapolate what they’ve been doing, the Hawks will end up taking about 141 penalty minutes over the same time frame (33 games) going forward. That’s about 34 fewer minutes on the kill, or 17 fewer minor penalties.

But this doesn’t explain the huge spikes in save percentages. Some of that has to do with Crawford’s horrid performance in the first half of the year. In the second half, Colliton has leaned more on Lehner, who has been nails on the PK all year. So, we can give Colliton credit for that.

But the answer is much easier than even that. Here are all of Hawks who have averaged at least one minute of PK time per game, along with their respective goals allowed per 60 (GA/60).

ATOI GA/60
Murphy 2:43 5
de Haan 2:41 5.5
Keith 2:37 6
Carpenter 2:24 5.5
Kampf 2:10 6.5
Toews 1:58 5.3
Maatta 1:51 5.6
Saad 1:50 6.7
Seabrook 1:31 11.2
Smith 1:14 6.6
Gilbert 1:13 4.9
Koekkoek 1:12 8.5

From hockey-reference.com

The NHL average for GA/60 usually falls between 5 and 6. Brent Seabrook’s 11.2 is simply horrifying, especially when you see that he averaged a minute and a half on the PK when he was still playing.

In fact, according to hockey-reference.com, of players who averaged at least one minute of PK time and who played at least 10 games, only the following were worse:

To give you an idea for what that means, everyone on that list aside from de la Rose (STL from DET) and Lindblom (who played with fucking bone cancer) belongs to one of the seven worst PK units in the league.

So, simply getting Seabrook off the PK likely had the greatest effect on its success, and his last game was on December 15. The defense still blows, but without Seabrook, it blows less.

Conclusion

Essentially, Colliton has done two things to change the team during this hot stretch:

    1. Healthy-scratched Seabrook three times, causing him to need two hip surgeries and one shoulder surgery
    2. Played Dach, Kubalik, and Boqvist more and higher on the depth chart

 

Getting Seabrook off the ice is probably the thing Colliton has done that’s had the greatest effect. We can argue about how he never really communicated with Seabrook about the scratches and how that’s shitty given Seabrook’s legendary status overall. But it’s obviously better for the team that Seabrook is off the ice, and Colliton clearly had a hand in that decision making. That’s a big move that he could have handled better, but a big move nonetheless.

You can credit him for playing Dach and Boqvist and letting them get their feet wet. Dach has taken to it better than Boqvist so far.

It’s hard to give him too much credit for promoting Kubalik, since he’s always shown that he belongs in the Top 6. You can’t help but wonder whether this scoring purge would have happened sooner had Colliton not dicked around with him so he could slot Nylander with Toews earlier in the year.

In short, Colliton’s contributions to this recent run of success amount to finally putting and keeping Kubalik on the top line, scratching his biggest anchor, and getting elite performances from elite players.

Patrick Kane is on a tear. Jonathan Toews has been on fire with Kubalik, who’s doing exactly what everyone but Jeremy Colliton thought he would do at the beginning of the year. Robin Lehner continues to play Vezina-level hockey. This is sort of what they’ve always done, even before Colliton.

Scratching Seabrook and elevating Kubalik were past-due epiphanies that clearly helped the team. Those are steps in the right direction. But his system still sucks, as shown by the fact that the Hawks are in the top 10 for both goals allowed (10th) and save percentage (6th). Until he fixes that latter part, it’s hard to totally buy in.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

As the favorite blog of Vancouver Femdoms, we were all ready to have daddy come back to the house and drag the Hawks around by the feedbag. But in a role reversal, the Hawks played a mostly decent game that was undone by several soft goals. Though losing the last game before the break isn’t ideal, especially with the two teams right above them—the Jets and Knights—losing tonight, winning five of the last six is much, much better than we thought. Let’s wrap it up for the break.

Joel Quenneville deserves everything he got tonight and more. It won’t ever not be weird to see him coaching another team. It may have been his time to go from here, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still miss what he did. The Florida feed showed the whole video tribute, and it was a really nice gesture to one of the most decorated and respected coaches in Chicago franchise history. We bitched about him all the time, but we also love and loved him. It was all very nice and well earned.

Kirby Dach was phenomenal tonight from start to finish. His puck handling skills and vision already have elite potential, and he showed both skills off a ton in the first. He had three plays in the oZ where he managed to not only keep the puck in the zone but also set up the next barrage of plays that followed. He did outstanding work behind the net in the first as well.

The most promising thing about him is that he’s not afraid to fight for the puck in tight quarters, and tonight, he won just about every puck battle he had. His backhander for the Hawks’s first goal was divine, as he made everything happen after receiving a DeBrincat pass at the blue line and placed a perfect shot high short-side on Bob. And the numbers flesh out the performance: He led all Hawks in CF% at 5v5 (72+) and finished second only to Olli Maatta in xGF% (72+).

He’s got the potential to be a cornerstone.

– On the other side, Robin Lehner had probably his worst game as a Blackhawk. Each of the first three goals he gave up were soft. Dadonov’s goal was inexcusable, as Lehner just got overpowered by a backhand stuff shot. Each of Frankie “Medium Pussy” Vatrano’s first two goals were goals that Lehner usually has: The first you can maybe give some leeway—with Koekkoek in the vicinity, DeBrincat watching the play develop from the slot, and Dach taking the wrong route to cover Toninato behind the net—but the second was an easy five-hole shot we’re accustomed to seeing him stop. Not a referendum, but certainly a disappointment.

– Don’t look now, but Slater Koekkoek has been really, really good lately. Tonight was a continuance of that trend, with Koekkoek leading all Hawks D-men in CF% (69+) and posting a very good 70+ xGF%. Ben Pope recently wrote an article about how moving over to the right side, which is his off side, has seemed to unlock something in him. Granted, it’s third-pairing duties and it’s a small sample size, but having an at least passable bottom pairing can give the Hawks an outside shot at this wild card. I wouldn’t bet on it continuing, giving his career track record, but he’s been undeniably good for the Hawks recently.

Adam Boqvist had a hot-and-cold game tonight. He showed good patience and tenacity facing down a 2-on-1 early in the game. With Trocheck bearing down on him, Boqvist took away the passing lane then hit the ice, forcing Trocheck to go both to the outside and his backhand, giving Lehner a much easier save. He also finished with two shots on goal, led all Hawks four hits (extreme jerking off motion), and led the Hawks in PP TOI, so he was active out there.

But as is becoming a trend, he got too deferential on the PP at the end of the game. The Panthers were happy to give him 10 feet of space knowing that he was going to go right back to Kane at the first opportunity. Once he either gets the order or the gumption to just start firing wristers when that happens, it’s going to be an epiphany. For now, it’ll remain a minor annoyance.

Patrick Kane scored his 1,001st point tonight with a booming shot off a Dach cross-ice pass. He looked a little off his game up to that point, but it’s still awesome in the most literal sense of the word when he’s got it working out there.

The outcome may not have been what we wanted, but the effort was there. Had the Hawks gotten the goaltending they’re accustomed to, they likely come out of it on top. That Dach was the best player on the ice should be encouraging to everyone, both for now and into the future. We’d still be shocked if the Hawks made a playoff run out of it, but they’ve come together pretty well over the last couple of weeks, and they’ve been mostly fun doing it.

We’re sure to have some thoughts for you about the team over the break while Sam does whatever it is Mavens do in their down time. For now, having won five of the last six and forcing themselves onto the fringes of a wild card spot, we can safely say this is a much better spot to be in than we thought we’d have.

Onward in 10 days.

Beer du Jour: Michter’s Small Batch and Ellie’s Brown Ale

Line of the Night: “Dale’s fine.” Quenneville on working with Tallon in Florida.

Hockey

vs

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Sunrise Mustaches: Litter Box Cats

Ordinarily two teams meeting one another while both riding five game winning streaks, with each heading into their bye week after the matchup would be enough of a stage-setter for a pretty decent game, especially one between teams with some of the scoring prowess that each possess. But all of that takes a back seat tonight on West Madison.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 20-20-6    Senators 16-22-7

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BULWORTHS: Silver Seven Sens

The Hawks get to remain in the remedial class after their win against the Ducks tonight, and arguably tomorrow, as they’ll head for the Eastern Canada swing. They kick it off tonight against the equally-rebuilding-as-the-Ducks Senators, before decamping east into La Belle Province to face another floundering O6 team in Montreal on Wednesday. But first things first, a contest out in the middle of nowhere Ontario. Even though basically Ontario is nowhere, and deep down even Ontario knows that.

The Senators aren’t quite as bad as they were supposed to be. This was supposed to be a Wings-like outfit, with a sad little point total as they raced to the #1 pick in June. And the Senators certainly aren’t good, but they haven’t redefined stink as we know it like the Motor City cadre. Still, they’re tied for the second-fewest regulation wins in the league with the just-conquered Ducks and two ahead of the Wings. Perhaps they just couldn’t anticipate just how bad the Wings would be. Who could?

Not that the Sens do anything well. They’re bottom-five in both goals-for and goals-against in the league. Their metrics aren’t much better, though they’re a little weird. They give up a ton of attempts, and have one of the worst Corsi-shares around. But their expected-goals marks are basically middle fo the pack, in that they don’t give up a ton of great chances. They’re not a great defensive team by any sense of the word, and they don’t have nearly enough firepower to make any team capable of breathing sweat. But they do limit the kinds of things they give up, which is more than you can say for the Hawks. In fact, if they were getting any kind of goaltending, they might barely be on the fringes of they playoff picture.

But the thing is, Craig Anderson is now three days older than water and Anders Nilsson is the very definition of “replacement level goalie.” So this is what you get.

The Sens have gotten breakout seasons from Anthony Duclair (spotlighted earlier) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the latter of which figures to be a pretty valuable commodity around the deadline. He’s cheap now at $3M and will make a decent 2-3 center for some contender down the stretch. He also is an impending UFA, so he’s going to get a major raise which probably isn’t in the interest of the Senators.

The only pieces that figure to be around whenever this thing turns in Ottawa is whichever garbage Tkachuk son resides there and Thomas Chabot. You may have heard about Chabot playing 37 minutes in a game recently and averaging about 27 minutes per night the past couple months. I mean, why not play your future pieces into dust now while you suck raw sewage, eh? I suppose names like Filip Chlapik, or Rudolfs Balcers (which sounds like a gastrointestinal problem), or Drake Batherson (which definitely was a character in Knives Out) could make the list before the year is out but they have some work to do. The road is long for the Sens, let’s just say that.

For the Hawks, Robin Lehner gets his “revenge” game or whatever as a former Senator before Corey Crawford gets the hometown start in Montreal tomorrow, where he generally has flourished. Thanks to the demotion of  John Quenneville, which was done because the Hawks actually feared putting him on waivers, means that Dylan Sikura gets back in the lineup. Zack Smith also has this as a homecoming, having spent his entire career in Ottawa before moving south.

Neither the Senators or Canadiens are any damn good, so the Hawks might want to gobble up these points before seeing a rejuvenated, if not beat up, Leafs squad on Hockey Night. They’re getting close to the bye, which generally has seen them turn the motor off. And that’s fine if they’ve scratched this season. If they’re still planning on making something of it, these are games you have to have. Well, they have to have them all but we know how they do against other teams actually competing for playoff spots, but you know how this goes.

Hockey

They’re not bad because they’re inconsistent, they’re inconsistent because…well, tonight I won’t bother to finish that sentence. The Hawks beat a crappy team, as they should, so let’s take what we can get, right? To the bullets…

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–Early on, it felt like things were going to go off the rails again when Max Jones scored less than five minutes in. But the Hawks righted things well enough, to the point that while their play in the first can’t be described as “good,” it can be described as “not horrible.” Jonathan Toews had a great opportunity where he actually shot the puck through John Gibson‘s five hole but it bounced off the post in some weird quirk of physics. But, he made up for it minutes later with a wrist shot, again five-hole, but buried it straight up. The best part was, he was on a 2-on-1 with John Quenneville and at no time in the entire sequence did he even pretend like he was going to pass it to Quenneville. He was absolutely right in his decision-making, but the lack of even the slightest pretense was great.

Dominik Kubalik is tied for the league lead in rookie goals. He now has scored five goals in his last four games, two of which came tonight so he was basically the difference maker and was deservedly the first star of the game. The first goal was off a beautiful backhand feed from Patrick Kane, who’s got a six-game scoring streak of his own going, and the second was a tap-in of a rebound off a long shot from Zack Smith. Kubalik has made it impossible for Colliton to reduce his ice time or maroon him in the bottom six, which you could just tell this doofus was itching to do, and that brings joy to my cold, black heart. The team really tried to get him a hat trick with an empty netter, but you know how empty net attempts go for the Hawks. No big deal anyway, Kubalik was great tonight.

Adam Boqvist had a good night too, or at least, a much better night than his last game. In the second, Keith had his stick vaporize in his hands, giving the Ducks an easy breakaway and Boqvist hustled to strip the puck, bailing out Keith and preventing even a shot on goal. He also generated a chance in the second, which was his only shot of the night but it was the kind of play we’re all looking for–a nice wrister from the dot after a nifty move into the zone. Boqvist finished with just a 41 CF% at evens and had the least ice time of any defenseman, but he was faster and more confident than Thursday against the Predators.

Connor Murphy, on the other hand, did not have a good night. He gave up a couple bad turnovers, including one that led directly to Jones’s goal. And yet he had a 58 CF% so it wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t passing the eye test, either.

Robin Lehner looked excellent in his first game back after a bruised knee or bruised ego or whatever it was. He ended the night with a .946 SV% and made a number of key saves in the third to keep the Hawks in the lead (if the Ducks had tied this oh lord I don’t want to think of how that could have ended). There was a particularly crazy save on Gudbranson early in the third that you’ll see on highlight reels somewhere soon. All the way around, a quality start for Lehner.

–If Olli Maatta scores on you, you know you suck. That’s all I have to say.

They needed to win against this shitty team and they did. It doesn’t mean all their woes are solved but it’s better than losing to a shitty team, no? Onward and upward…

Line of the Night: “Getzlaf had a chance but instead of shooting, he tried to pass.” –Eddie O describing…Ryan Getzlaf’s MO

Beer du Jour: Beach Blonde lager, Crystal Lake Brewing