Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Flames 26-18-8   Hawks 24-20-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SONS OF OTTO: Flamesnation.ca

The following is getting into “Jimini Jillickers!” territory, but tonight begins a crucial stretch for the Hawks. If that stretch didn’t already start last Saturday. Or after the break. Or a month ago. I’ve declared so many of these fucking things it’s impossible to keep track. The bottom line is the Hawks need to kick this pick if the last month or so of the season is going to matter. And we’ll probably say that again soon.

The Hawks get seven of the next 10 at home, except that hasn’t been a panacea for anything for them this year. Three of those home games are against teams that are with them in the Western muddle around the last playoff spot, tonight against Calgary, next week against the Ducks, and Saturday against the Wild. They basically need to take all three in regulation, plus a few others. If they don’t eat well at home over the next three weeks, then you’ll know it’s over. There’s another thing I’ve said way too often.

Apparently Joel Quenneville gets the desperation, as he’s throwing more shit at the wall in the hopes of proving his geniusness once again. “GENTLEMEN! I HAVE INVENTED….THIS LINEUP!”

It has a new 3rd/4th line, depending on your point of view, of Saad-Hartman-Sharp. I guess there’s some benefit in cloistering your three biggest disappointments altogether, and hoping the mass ennui just turns itself into a positive force. I have no idea what it’s supposed to do, though Hartman and Saad could actually do something if they had a playmaker with them to get them in space where they perform better. Sharp is not that guy, but there aren’t any other options besides Wingels or Bouma so let’s just go with this. Give them the same instructions that have made Jurco-Kampf-Vinnie Smalls successful. Just do shit and do it fast, even if Sharp isn’t capable. Let’s not complicate this.

Of course, no desperate Hawks game would be complete without Q setting up his d-pairs while fingering his own ass, so out goes Connor Murphy again for reasons no one can understand. Especially when it involves giving Jan Rutta and Brent Seabrook more time. It’s ok, not like the Flames didn’t run circles around these two just last time out! Glass Jeff gets the start and poor rebound control.

As for the Flames, they have their own work to do as they sit outside both the wildcard and Pacific playoff picture, which are both open to them. They trail both by one point, and you have to believe this team is going to haul in the Kings because they’re not really any good and the Flames should be. Yes, they have depth scoring problems, though Kris Versteeg seems to be ready to come riding in on his donkey to save the day. Because you know Steeger would ride a donkey instead of a horse. Don’t play. They have the best pairing in the West, a goalie playing pretty well, and a genuine top six. This shouldn’t be that hard but they seem intent on making it so. They’ll be the “Team No One Wants To Play (TM).”

Worth watching tonight is how cute Q gets with his matchups. The top six of the Flames simply stinkfisted the Hawks top six in Calgary, and that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for Q to get both away from Monahan or Backlund. But there are going to be spots when that is necessary, because the Hawks really need this one. He did it on the road in Nashville and in theory it should be easier at home. But it’s not something he’s done a lot of lately, and we all know Rutta is going to start every shift in the d-zone against Monahan and Gaudreau because GENIUS TREE CUPZ YOU DORK!

Just kill me already.

Game #53 Preview

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A few days off, some time away with family members, a little breathing space—all of these things should have helped the Blackhawks to bounce back from two crappy losses, right? Wrong. The break clearly did little to cure what ails the Hawks right now. To the bullets:

– Anisimov went down with an injury early in the game, but I gotta tell you, I didn’t even see it. Suddenly, he was just gone. Maybe he tripped over his own wide dick and needed to ice it for a while. Who can say in this league where they tell you nothing? But what it led to was Q hitting the blender extra hard tonight. Unfortunately, it was mostly a shit smoothie that he got out of it. And should anyone be surprised? Throwing combinations of guys who haven’t played together and not even giving them three shifts to figure stuff out? I, for one, am shocked this isn’t working.

At first, we saw Kane-Schmaltz-DeBrincat, and I thought I might weep with joy. But nope, that didn’t last, although they did make a brief reappearance in the third. Next up was Kane-Toews-Saad (nothing doing). Then it was Kane-Schmaltz-Kampf (huh?). And in case you didn’t notice a pattern there, Garbage Dick led the team in ice time through two periods, and he finished second only to Keith by the end of the game. So clearly, Q has a lot of confidence in his supporting cast and it’s definitely sustainable to quadruple-shift Kane.

– The Gustav Forsling Experience needs to draw to a close. Seriously, he’s lost in his own zone, useless on special teams apparently, and thus generally worthless at this point. It’s especially poignant against the team from whence he came. Pairing him with Jan Rutta is aggravating the situation, as we saw for example on Vanek’s second goal where the two of them couldn’t find either one of their asses with any of their hands. I’m tired of sounding like the president of the Michal Kempny Fan Club over here, but this is getting ridiculous. And if Connor Murphy turns out to have a case of brown brain after Biega flattened him into the glass, we’d better not see Cody fucking Franson in his place.

– Continuing his run of worst luck in the NHL, Anton Forsberg played decently through much of the game until the wheels really fell off in the third. He could have stopped the first goal, but a bunch of the ones in the middle were due to his defense crapping the bed yet again. The second goal was the aforementioned Foreskin-Rutta defensive breakdown, and the third goal he was screened by Seabrook’s nacho-laden ass. Forsberg isn’t blameless in all this, don’t get me wrong, but he got little help defensively or offensively. Because also of note, the Hawks had five power plays and only converted on one.

– Ah, the power play. Still as shitty as before Christmas. For a moment it seemed like they got things figured out as Schmaltz and Kane’s positioning took advantage of their right hand/left hand combo. But the man advantage quickly returned to form as they couldn’t manage a zone entry on their next four power plays.

– I was interested to see wunderkid Brock Boeser in action, and lo and behold he had a goal and three assists. He and Thomas Vanek connected for three goals between them, and they both assisted on Gagner’s goal. Gee, it must be nice for a rookie with a hot hand to play with teammates that complement his skills while he also has the confidence of his coach.

– Despite one dumbass move on a power play, Ryan Hartman was pretty much the Hawks’ best player tonight (Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane could also make a case, I know). He was all over the ice, either repeatedly getting shoved into Markstrom, or more importantly keeping the puck in the zone while his linemates did everything they could to cough up control of it. He finished with a 77.8 CF%, which led the team, plus a pyrrhic goal at the end to make things look a little less pathetic.

– OK, so this isn’t directly game-related, but the Hawks have been running some promotion or attempt at a social media campaign called “Blackhawks Authentic Fan” which cracks me up because 1. we’re called Real Fans Program here so nice try, and 2. they’re using “BlackhawksAF” as the hashtag. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think of “authentic fan” when I see something as “af.” However, it’s actually perfect—we should take advantage of the description “Blackhaws as fuck.” To wit: That zone entry where they fell over the blue line and Saad and Hartman ran into each other? That was Blackhawks as fuck. Or: That power play where everyone stood in place doing jack shit? That was Blackhawks as fuck. So thank you, Hawks, for giving a description to the frustrating shit you pull night in and night out.

It’s obvious that every point counts, and that winning these games against the rest of the western dregs with whom we’re fighting for a wild card spot is damn near crucial. And yet, we’re picking up right where things left off. If a shitty Canucks team on a 3-game losing streak isn’t the antidote right now, then what is? Maybe the Oilers? We’ll find out soon enough.

 

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Panthers 12-14-5   Hawks 14-11-5

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I’M OLD AND I’M COMING BACK: Panther Parkway, Litter Box Cats

The Hawks got three games against the remedial class of the NHL to set back their five-game losing streak. It hasn’t been pretty, but they got the four points required against the Sabres and Coyotes, and the last of the set is tonight agains the Cats. The Florida Panthers aren’t quite the same overly-medicated cases that the first two are, but they’re still under .500 and still very much the Florida Panthers. The Hawks will also catch them on the second of a back-to-back, having beaten another fellow jacket-with-mittens-pinned-to-them-year-round crew member Red Wings last night in overtime.

Not much has changed too much for the Cats since you last saw them Thanksgiving weekend. There are four real forwards here in Huberdeau, Barkov, Trocheck, and because I’m in a good mood Bjugstad. Dadonov is hurt. The rest of the crew is just a bunch of reclamation projects and very young kids. So the top line can kick your head in for about a third of the game if they’re on song, and Trocheck can usually conjure something, but they just don’t have the depth to take that over a full 60.

It’s kind of the same story on the back end, where you won’t complain too much about a top pairing of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle. But beyond that… same story. Matheson and Weegar (my fellow babies) are kids, and Petrovic has been around long enough to fully label himself “a guy.”

The Cats haven’t been helped by Roberto Luongo’s injury, as he was excellent before going down for what looks like a while. Optimus Reim, James Reimer, has been the opposite. And because he played last night, the Hawks might be getting a look at Harri Sateri tonight, which we are told is an actual name and not a condition. He hasn’t played in the NHL yet, so don’t be surprised if Bob Boughner rolls out Reimer two nights in a row. Especially as the Panthers are far enough behind and have enough teams to climb over to get into the playoff spots that they can’t really be pissing away any more points.

For the Hawks, one lineup change that appears to be on the cards is Richard Panik being scratched for Ryan Hartman. While Panik hasn’t scored since Purim, it feels a little harsh on him because the rest of his game has been ok. But then there’s this from Q:

So clearly Q isn’t thrilled with his work when he gets the puck, and I can’t really argue with that. It’s almost as if he’s… Richard Panik? The guy who couldn’t crack the Leafs roster two years ago? That one? Could it be?

Anyway, Hartman is running out of time to actually be of use this season before he’s permanently demoted to the Q Doghouse, and we know trying to escape from there is like trying to escape from a black hole. Playing with Hinostroza and Sharp should at least make for an active line, even if it doesn’t have the slightest clue where to be and when. If you combine Hartman and Hinostroza… well, you’d still have a player that has no idea how to be a center.

The rest of the lineup remains the same, though no word on if Saad and DeBrincat will remain on their off-sides as they were on Sunday. Hope so. Jordan Oesterle remains in the lineup, and Michal Kempny continues to stare straight ahead and wonder what might have been while being unresponsive to anything going on around him. Suddenly the lyrics to “One” make a lot more sense to him.

This is still a honey part of the schedule for the Hawks. Yes, the Jets are pretty spiky right now but after that it’s the thoroughly mediocre Wild, Stars, Devils, Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Rangers, and Knights. In fact, the Hawks don’t face a team you’d consider “definitely good” until January 12th against the Jets again. So take advantage.

 

 

 

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Little something different today, as the Yotes don’t really drum up the emotions. Though we could go off on Zac Rinaldo on another day. But this caught our eye yesterday:

What kind of horseshit is this? Let’s run through all the possibilities and just wonder how this benefits a young player who is only in his second year.

One, Hartman really was scratched due to a high-sticking penalty. A great majority of those are simply bad luck, as Hartman puts it. Trying to lift a stick, play the puck, falling over. This was the case on Wednesday, as Hartman never saw the player behind him. Is he really being punished for luck. How’s that going to instill any confidence in him when he returns to the ice?

Second possibility: No one’s told Hartman why he was scratched, so he’s left to guess why. How’s that help? What’s he going to work on? And if he thinks it’s because of a high-sticking penalty, what kind of message is he getting the rest of the time?

Third possibility: Q and/or the coaches have told Hartman why he’s been scratched–and they’d have plenty of ammo–and he still thinks this is the reason. So they have no idea how to get through to him. Or Hartman is just rock stupid and isn’t hearing what they’re saying.

If you want to know why young players have a tendency to stall-out on the Hawks after initial promise, might this be a clue? They’re not getting any message? Or the right one? Feel frozen out? Quite the insight a simple quote can give, no?

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 12-10-5   Capitals 16-11-1

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN, because this is such a rivalry and all

HOLLYWOOD FOR UGLY PEOPLE: Japers Rink

In some ways, the Hawks will be looking across the ice at what they were just a year or two ago. Both of these teams are either somewhat or pretty hollowed out from the teams that sat upon the top of their respective conferences year after year. That’s how the NHL wants it. Well, they get it. But whereas the Hawks can at least look up at the banners and say it was worth it, all the Capitals have are the broken glasses, waded up tissues, and the sad ballads of shattered dreams. Both have the hangover and clean-up, only the Hawks had the party.

The Capitals are still in the muck of the Metro Division, where all of four points separates the top six teams. So you can’t say they’re out of it by any stretch. Yet looking beyond simply the record and the points, the foundation the Caps used to be built on appears to be heavy with mildew and rust. By surface measures, this team is middling. They’re 15th in goals per game, and 15th in goals-against per game. You can’t get any more “in the middle” than that.

But the underlying numbers will tell you this team is flying on the wings of fortune and the sun is coming up awfully big in the rearview. They are 25th in CF% and 27th in xGF%. They have the sixth-highest shooting percentage in the league. Now, a team with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov is probably always going to carry a higher than average shooting percentage given the skills of those four. But they’ll need to shoot around 10% to outdo their horrible possession markers.

They’ll also always get plus goaltending, though Braden Holtby hasn’t been at Vezina-level of the past two years. His .919 overall is below the .925 and .922 of last year, and the real mystery is the three shorthanded goals he’s given up already. That doesn’t really affect the whole, it’s just kind of weird.

It’s not hard to see where the copper wiring has been stripped in this house, though. The bottom six, a strength the past two years, has been shorn of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, and in their place are some kids or experiments or simply hail-marys. Those six forwards are getting their heads handed to them on a nightly basis, forcing the top six to do pretty much all the work. Through Eller, Beagle, and Connolly the bottom two lines can occasionally land a haymaker, but spend most of their time on the ropes or staring at the lights.

The defense is kind of the same story. The lost Karl Alzner–who kind of sucks anyway–and secret weapon Nate Schmidt. To make up for that, coach Barry Trotz has apparently decided to let John Carlson skate all their minutes. Carlson is averaging 27 minutes a night, by far the most of his career, 4th most in the league, and nearly four minutes per night over his career average. And the thing is, he’s not doing that much with that time. He’s taking on top lines and the hardest assignments, but the best you can say for him is he’s playing them to a draw. Considering he’s anchored to Brooks “Seabrook This!” Orpik, that’s probably the best they can hope for. What the Caps need is more d-men who can clean up after that firefight, and right now it’s just Orlov and Niskanen. And they’re doing ok, though not exactly dominating. There are a couple kids in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey (yes, I’ve had many a “Madison Boweys” on trips to Wisconsin) on the third pairing. but Trotz would rather light his body hair on fire than play them in a meaningful situation or much at all. Djoos looks promising but he needs to be given the leash to bum-slay so they can get more out of anyone who’s not Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom.

Ah yes, Ovie. This team would be pissing up a rope without him. 20 goals already to lead the league. He was split up for a while from Backstrom as Trotz sought to spread out the scoring, but since reuniting they’ve been a terror as usual. And they’re doing this while dragging around Tom Wilson, so maybe we should just hand Ovie the Hart Trophy now simply for that.  Wilson has skated most of the season with Backstrom and has two goals. Dear reader, raise your hand if you think you could manage two goals while skating with Backstrom.

This preview has already ran on a bit long, so I don’t know that I can give the bonkers Hawks’ lines the treatment they so deserve. We’ll do so in the Lineups page. Needless to say, none of them make goddamn sense. The highlight could be keeping Top Cat on the right side in order to keep Lance Bouma on the left. Or it could Toews centering Hayden and Hartman in a “Guess What This Line Does For A Dollar!” set up. I can’t decide.

But we all know this will last a period at most, and the Hawks will likely look like shit during it. Then Q will switch back to what it was before, and the players will have a look on their face of, “Why did we bother with that horseshit?” for about five minutes and then they’ll get to playing.

This is a cozy part of the schedule, as the Caps are no great shakes before home dates with the Sabres, Coyotes, and Panthers who all blow. That’s before the Hawks have to go to sudden juggernaut-bitch Winnipeg, so these eight points are pretty crucial before that and a six-game road trip that wraps around Christmas.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Rangers 9-7-2  Hawks 8-8-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN, because it’s Rivalry Night donchaknow?

WAITING FOR THE 3 TRAIN: Blue Shirt Banter

It’s an Original Six tilt on the Westside tonight, not that anyone really cares about that much anymore. Then again, not too many are going to care about two middling teams that both sit outside of the admittedly embryonic playoff picture at the moment. And the Rangers had to tear ass just to get here. We seem to say this every night now, but there should be a whiff of desperation to this one, as these teams don’t really have the option of passing on points right now.

And the Rangers have played like that of late, winning six in a row. This is probably not the time to be catching them. They started off terribly, and a good portion of that was put on Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulders. And with good cause. Before the winning streak, his SV% was below .900. He’s picked it up of late, but he’s had some help.

The biggest aid for him has been the newly formed top line of Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich, with Buchnevich shooting about 879% during the streak and piling up three goals and five points in his last five games. The second line with Alleged Weiner Tucker-Captain Stairwell-The Hobbit has also lit it up, and Nash in particular is on fire. He’s got four goals and six points during this streak.

But this being the Rangers, the problems are the same as they’ve been for years. They don’t have a real #1 center, or maybe any centers at all. They’re a team filled with fast, small wingers you’d probably confuse in a lineup, save Nash. There’s a nifty fourth line here with Michael Grabner pouring in the goals again, and at least Alain Vigneault is fine with making his fourth line fast and skilled as he can.

Also, the problem of who to play with Ryan McDonagh is still lingering. AV is reluctant to put Kirk ShattenKevin there, so right now it’s Nick Holden and that’s not going well at all. Steven Kampfer took a turn and that went worse. Brendan Smith is in the pressbox for $4 million a year, which brings enough light into my dark little life to be excited about waking up in the morning. ShattenKevin and Brady Skjei are playing together, which pairs their two puck-movers at the same time. But when you’ve won six in a row, you’re not changing much.

For the Hawks, not too much change. Ryan Hartman looks to be drawing back in at center on the 4th line, and while that seems weird if he comes out with a wild hair on his ass because of a healthy scratch everyone will be happy. Top Cat will continue to have his time wasted with Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels and on the wrong side. At least until the Hawks need a goal and he’s vaulted into the top six. So the second period.

The pairings could look like anything, though after giving up a touchdown and PAT it’s unlikely Q will dress seven d-men again. Look for Kempny to continue to sit for no reason other than REASONS. Crow gets the start.

The Rangers are a team that can play awfully fast when on song. That used to be a good thing for the Hawks. It probably isn’t anymore. But this defense isn’t very quick other than Skjei and ShattenKevin either, so they could trade chances all night. In theory, the Hawks should have more finish. But that’s hardly a sure thing.

 

Game #19 Preview

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Rangers 9-7-2  Hawks 8-8-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN, because it’s Rivalry Night donchaknow?

WAITING FOR THE 3 TRAIN: Blue Shirt Banter

It’s an Original Six tilt on the Westside tonight, not that anyone really cares about that much anymore. Then again, not too many are going to care about two middling teams that both sit outside of the admittedly embryonic playoff picture at the moment. And the Rangers had to tear ass just to get here. We seem to say this every night now, but there should be a whiff of desperation to this one, as these teams don’t really have the option of passing on points right now.

And the Rangers have played like that of late, winning six in a row. This is probably not the time to be catching them. They started off terribly, and a good portion of that was put on Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulders. And with good cause. Before the winning streak, his SV% was below .900. He’s picked it up of late, but he’s had some help.

The biggest aid for him has been the newly formed top line of Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich, with Buchnevich shooting about 879% during the streak and piling up three goals and five points in his last five games. The second line with Alleged Weiner Tucker-Captain Stairwell-The Hobbit has also lit it up, and Nash in particular is on fire. He’s got four goals and six points during this streak.

But this being the Rangers, the problems are the same as they’ve been for years. They don’t have a real #1 center, or maybe any centers at all. They’re a team filled with fast, small wingers you’d probably confuse in a lineup, save Nash. There’s a nifty fourth line here with Michael Grabner pouring in the goals again, and at least Alain Vigneault is fine with making his fourth line fast and skilled as he can.

Also, the problem of who to play with Ryan McDonagh is still lingering. AV is reluctant to put Kirk ShattenKevin there, so right now it’s Nick Holden and that’s not going well at all. Steven Kampfer took a turn and that went worse. Brendan Smith is in the pressbox for $4 million a year, which brings enough light into my dark little life to be excited about waking up in the morning. ShattenKevin and Brady Skjei are playing together, which pairs their two puck-movers at the same time. But when you’ve won six in a row, you’re not changing much.

For the Hawks, not too much change. Ryan Hartman looks to be drawing back in at center on the 4th line, and while that seems weird if he comes out with a wild hair on his ass because of a healthy scratch everyone will be happy. Top Cat will continue to have his time wasted with Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels and on the wrong side. At least until the Hawks need a goal and he’s vaulted into the top six. So the second period.

The pairings could look like anything, though after giving up a touchdown and PAT it’s unlikely Q will dress seven d-men again. Look for Kempny to continue to sit for no reason other than REASONS. Crow gets the start.

The Rangers are a team that can play awfully fast when on song. That used to be a good thing for the Hawks. It probably isn’t anymore. But this defense isn’t very quick other than Skjei and ShattenKevin either, so they could trade chances all night. In theory, the Hawks should have more finish. But that’s hardly a sure thing.

 

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It’s a touch early to start the post-mortems. They haven’t quite administered the lethal injection just yet. But clearly, the Hawks have been wheeled into the room and the restraints have been fastened. So to get to this point, clearly we got it way, way wrong. I’ll wear it. Just as I did when I pronounced the Hawks dead in March of 2015 and then watched them march to their third Cup.

As we try and clear the cobwebs, let’s take you on our journey to see what we missed so horribly.

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 8:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN. CNBC, SportsNet 1, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Returning Conquering Heroes: On The Forecheck

Let it never be said that the core group comprising this era of hockey in this city can’t find new ways to surprise its adoring, albeit psychotic and reactionary public. After one solid game they probably should have won, and one that started fine but got away from them in a hurry, they head on the road down 0-2 in a series for the first time under Joel Quenneville.