Hockey

As we embark on the final month of the Hawks season, there really is no need to do a “how did we get here” post mortem, because we all know exactly how it happened. There’s really nothing to rehash now that the excitement has faded from the trade deadline and the next batch of intrigue not arriving until the NHL draft this summer. All we’re left with are a few games to judge how some of the younger talent (especially Lukas Reichel, who was recalled from RockVegas recently) handles the adversity of the waning weeks of a lost season and the chance to play spoiler to teams who are actually going to be playing some meaningful hockey in May.

At least the MLB is firing back up today. Let’s do that Baseball!

 

4/7 vs. Seattle

 

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Krak Squad: Davy Jones Locker Room

 

If you think this game is meaningless just because both of these teams moved significant pieces of their rosters at the trade deadline to plan for the future, then boy howdy let me tell you that you’re absolutely right. While I’m only being slightly facetious here, the fact is that both the Krak and the Hawks will be using these final weeks of the season as an audition for roster spots in the fall. Both teams will be treating the free agent period this summer as a “pump and dump,” looking for aging talent and reclamation projects that can be signed to 1 year deals and then flipped at the trade deadline this time next season.

For their part, the Kraken have at least made their inaugural season entertaining for the Seattle fans, who have been waiting for something other than the Seahawks to root for since the Sonics packed up their shit and headed for one of the worst states in the union. Prior to shipping off Mark Giordano to a 1st round exit in Toronto and Marcus Johannson to the Caps, the Krak’s forward corps was managing to put up just over 3 goals per game, which for an expansion team with no deigns on competing is actually kind of impressive. Their issue is still on the back end and between the pipes, as the team as a whole has been giving up almost 4 goals per game over the last month and a half. Philip Grubauer and his 3.20 GAA with a .880 save percentage haven’t been helping at all, and essentially tanked his value for what was admittedly a very tepid market for goaltenders at the trade deadline.

 

3/10 vs. Dallas

Game Time: 6:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Deep In The Heart of JerryWorld: Defending Big D

The Stars have very quietly been one of the better teams in the Western Conference since the calendar flipped to 2023. They’re a pretty well rounded team, being in the top half of the league (but not TOO much in the top half) in pretty much every available stat category. Stacking all of this up with the very, very good season that Jake “the Otter” Oettinger has put together between the pipes and you get a team that’s not going to make one of the top 3 spots in the conference, but one that should fairly comfortably snag a wild card spot with the games in hand they have over Vegas.

The Stars are also very good at the American Airlines arena down in Dallas, compiling a 22-9-1 mark vs 13-18-5 on the road. That will make their quest to get out of the first round of the playoffs against Calgary or Colorado even more difficult as they’re almost guaranteed to be playing on the road more. What would help their cause would be for Alex Radulov to climb back up the cliff his production flew off of this season. With a mere 17 points in 62 games thus far this year, he hasn’t done much to justify his 6.25 million dollar cap hit, or made much of a case for him to get even the tiniest raise when he hits UFA status in the summer.

 

4/12 vs. Los Angeles

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Run Them Jewels Fast: Jewels From The Crown

 

The Hawks have a genuine opportunity to play spoiler in this game, as the Kings are clinging to a mere 4 point lead for the 3rd spot in the Pacific division over the Vegas Golden Knights at press time. The Kings have been treading water somewhat since the end of February, basically going slightly over .500 in the month of March. Not wanting to sell the farm to upgrade their roster at the deadline and hamstring their future (stares at Stan Bowman), the Kings were pretty quiet at the trade deadline. Honestly a pretty smart move, as the Pacific division is clearly the weakest out of any in the NHL so their odds of sneaking in and getting a few games in the playoffs are better than a 50/50 shot.

The Kings are one of the better possession teams in the NHL, and a lot of that credit is due to the system installed by former Sharks head coach Todd McClellan. They have one of the better breakouts in the league from their back end, as their D-men are able to push the play off their own blue line and back into the neutral zone pretty consistently. Alex Edler and professional dirtbag Drew Doughty are big reasons for this, as their passing skills are top notch. Old Friend Phillip Danault is here, very quietly being on pace for a 60 point season (stares at Stan Bowman) and has clearly learned quite a bit from Anze Kopitar in his time here with his +15 rating and consistent 57% CORSI share at even strength. He also gets considerable time on the PK, which makes  me want to saw my wrists with a spork even more. I would expect the Kings to come out flying at the Hawks defenders with a pretty strong forecheck (really, every team should do this as the Hawks breakout is a mess when Seth Jones isn’t on the ice) to try and pin them in their own zone and let their cycle go to work. The Kings forecheck and passing vs. Caleb Jones, Riley Still(here for some reason)man and Jake McCabe. I know who my money’s on.

Let’s Go Sox

 

 

 

Hockey

Even with a game cancellation in Edmonton, the Hawks had an easier stretch of schedule to extend their winning streak, what with the Ducks skidding and not fully healthy and the Kraken turning out to be a regular expansion team that isn’t very good. Though we lost to the Kraken in overtime, the Hawks have Marc-Andre Fleury in net which means we can pick up 3 of 4 points on the week.

1/15
Hawks 3, Ducks 0
Box
Natural Stat Trick

The Blackhawks must feel mighty good blanking the Ducks with a COVID-decimated roster that did not include…breakout 20-goal scorer Troy Terry? But a win is a win and they looked good doing it. The Hawks put on pressure early on with some pretty solid chances, including a vintage Kane breakaway opportunity that seems to be getting rarer and rarer these days. Then a hooking call put him in the penalty box, which wasn’t great.

Overall, however, the Hawks were peppering the Ducks with chances, kept pucks in the offensive zone—all despite the numbers saying possession was about even throughout the game. The Hawks looking so good probably had to do with Fleury standing on his head to net his 70th shutout.

Lukas Reichel showed flashes, though he was ultimately stopped by the opposition with most of his chances in the o-zone. He wasn’t terrible in his own end, either, blocking a shot early in the 2nd period. Of course he got sent back down solely because of The Almighty Dollar, which is probably fine because this season is down the tubes anyway.

The Hawks didn’t score until the second period, when Gustafsson (right out of the box) set up Hagel after the Ducks had a myriad of scoring opportunities they somehow didn’t convert on at the end of their powerplay. The Hawks powerplay, though still bad, did finally convert in the 3rd period, as Kane and the Cat made it happen yet again with some great passing. Kubalik scored the empty-netter to end it with just three minutes left in the game.

1/17
Hawks 2, Kraken 3 (Kraken win spirited match of peg solitaire)
Box
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks saw a lot of pressure from the Kraken to begin this game, which shows with their horrific 19.05 CF% in the 1st. The Hawks were spending the whole first period in the defensive zone, getting drilled physically and not being able to control the puck. Luckily for them the shots on goal were pretty even throughout and Fleury was once again saving every shot with his usual acrobatics in front of the net.

The Hawks looked a bit better in the 2nd with a few good chances and less time in their own zone. The powerplay continued the game-long trend of being complete buffoonery, as the Hawks were unable to get a shot on net it seemed in the 1st period and just a few meager powerplay chances in the 2nd. Luckily a Kubalik breakaway shortly after the powerplay put the Hawks up 1-0, though that lasted only a few minutes before the Kraken scored a weird tip-in goal that no one on the ice seemed to see.

The Hawks scored their last of the game nearing the end of the 2nd period with Brandon Hagel getting set up by The Cat. Kubalik was back on the ice, too, right at the net where he needs to be. I hope his hot streak continues.

The Kraken were able to tie it up in the 3rd with help from Amy’s Youngest who knocked over Fleury at just the right time for the puck to sail into the back of the net. The overtime was a horrific slog despite all the Fleury acrobatics, and the Kraken became the winner of the meaningless shootout on goals by Ryan Donato and Joonas Donskoi.

Seth Jones will make his return to the lineup this weekend in a home-and-home against the Wild on Friday and Saturday. The Wild are clinging to a wild card spot who just recently got Kirill the Thrill back from injury, so they should be a challenge for the Hawks. Read more about it tomorrow.

Hockey

Well, you can’t say things aren’t at least getting interesting over on West Madison lately. After nothing but radio silence regarding the status of top prospect and A New Hope for the future Lukas Reichel was suddenly promoted to The Show on Wednesday. After initially saying he’d only be on the taxi squad, Coach King relented and tossed him in the lineup last night. What resulted was nothing spectacular, but also was not awful either.

How long he’ll be up on the main roster is unknown at this point, but I would hazard a guess that if he acclimates quickly and shows he belongs, the Hawks brass will be hard pressed to come up with an excuse to banish him back to Rockford. At least for the time being we have something to watch that might potentially be here in 3 years.

 

1/15 Vs. Ducks

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Emilio Estevez Is A Moron: Anaheim Calling

 

Up until about 10 days ago, the Ducks were (somehow) the best team in what is admittedly a very barren Pacific Division in the Western Conference. How they got to that point nobody knows, but even after getting passed up by Vegas the meltdown everyone assumed was forthcoming has not shown. Part of the Ducks success has been their uncanny ability to make it into OT and secure the extra point before losing. They lead the entire Western Conference with the Loser Point with a whopping 7 of them thus far. To put that into perspective, they only garnered 9 OT loss points in the entirety of the 2019 season, so they’re on pace to blow that record out of the water.

The Ducks have very few familiar faces these days, other than Ryan Getzlaf’s giant one. The turnover on the front end has been what you would expect from a team that’s been sitting in the basement of the West the past 5 years. Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras lead the team in scoring, both high picks of the Ducks in the last few drafts. Columbus castoff Sonny Milano and his glorious hair seemingly has finally put it together after never living up to his 1st round pedigree in the O-H-I-O. The Hawks luck out, as two of Anaheim’s more dangerous forwards in Rickard Rakell and (to a lesser extent) Jakob Silfverberg will most likely miss Saturday’s tilt as Rakell hurt his shoulder during an awkward collision into the boards and Silfverberg’s got the Rona.

John Gibson is still here, and he’s about as exciting as white bread covered in mayo with his 2.64 GAA and .917 save percentage that is somehow good enough to get picked for the NHL All Star Game. Where he DOES stand out is when the Ducks are on the PK, which is the 3rd best in the league at suppressing shots. A lot of that comes from their very mobile defense, which denies zone entries with some of the best in the league. With the Hawks PP sinking further and further to the bottom of the league, the ability of the Ducks to flip the ice looms large.

 

1/17 @ Seattle

Game Time: 4:00 PM CST (Seriously)

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Johnny Depp Sucks: Davy Jones Locker Room

 

One of the few teams actually statistically worse than the Hawks, the Kraken are nevertheless providing some entertainment for their new fans in the Pacific Northwest. Jordan Eberle leads the team in points, which is somewhat impressive given his role as a #2 scorer for every team he’s ever been on. To be fair, some of that is due to the fact that Connor McDavid and later John Tavares were on his teams. He’s an excellent skater, and is able to create a shot for himself (which he needs to do quite a bit on this team). He’s also 31, which while not exactly young anymore is not so old that he can’t be the face of the franchise for the next few years while they attempt to cash in on all their draft picks.

On the back end they have…uhhh…Mark Giordano? And some other guys? Their goaltending is pretty terrible as well, with both Phillip Grubauer and Chris Driedger having GAAs over 3.30. The Kraken are pretty much what one would expect an expansion team to be, making Vegas truly the exception that proves the rule. They don’t do anything well, except play with a chip on their shoulder which can make them dangerous on any given night. Their fans are loud (mostly because they’re Seahawks fans which makes them insane criminals), and just happy to have a team. So they’ll probably drop 6 on the Hawks and toss the team bus into the Puget Sound.

Hockey

I mean, 4 points is 4 points…right?

 

Sometimes your hockey team gets completely outplayed in 3 straight games, and yet somehow comes away with wins in 2 of the 3. When that happens, all you can really do is shrug your shoulders and just say “hockey is dumb sometimes.” You could also say “Marc-Andre Fleury is a dope motherfucker and he does dope shit” and you wouldn’t be wrong, especially on Sunday night.

Historically the Pacific NW corner of this landmass has been a house of horrors for the Hawks, especially around this time of year. Even though the circus no longer calls the UC home around Thanksgiving, it just so happens that the NHL schedulers decided 2021 would be a good time to revive a portion of that road trip. With still 1 game remaining in Calgary, this mini Circus Trip should be considered a success with .500 the bare minimum before the team heads home to face off against the Blues and Sharks.

It hasn’t been pretty, but at this point in the season any and all points for a team attempting to claw it’s way back into the playoff picture should be considered a plus…especially when it was accomplished during regulation.

 

TO THE BULLETS!

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

November 17th, 2021

Hawks 4 – Krak 2

Box Score / Natural Stat Trick 

 

The Hawks actually came out in the game a house of fire, pressuring the Kraken in their own zone and holding the lions share of the possession for the period (64% CORSI share). Sometimes owning the majority of the possession time doesn’t create the results you would normally expect, but this was not one of those instances as Seth Jones got his 2nd goal of the season off the rush with a sick tic tac toe play from Kane and DeBrincat to put the Hawks up 1-0.

DeBrincat put the Hawks up 2-0 just 2 minutes into the 2nd period after the entire Kraken defense fell asleep when Riley Stillman won a board battle in the corner of the Hawks zone (where Gufstasson was also inexplicably located, but that’s another story) and kicked it over to Kirby Dach, who saucered a sick pass to a streaking DeBrincat. After this goal the ice tilted severely in the favor of the Kraken, who began to pour the pressure on the suddenly underwater Blackhawks. The Kraken owned the posession time the rest of the way to the tune of a 73% share. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Kraken might have ended up winning this one by 4.

As it was, the Krak made another sloppy mistake that resulted in your standard “Kane Roofs A Backhand On Transition” kinda goal to make it 3-0 Hawks. Then it was all Krak the rest of the way, pulling within 1 goal before Jake McCabe managed to pot an empty netter from 400 feet away. As was mentioned on the podcast by McClure, the “just go out there and play hockey” style of management from Derek King works when the team is trying to score goals, but not so much trying to protect a lead. It’s a process, but at least it feels like the ship has a rudder again.

 

November 20th, 2021

Hawks 2 – Oilers 5 

Box Score / Natural Stat Trick 

 

Connor McDavid is the best hockey player in the multiverse right now, and it’s not even close. Not covering him is a recipe for failure, and not surprisingly he ended the game 10 minutes into the 1st period after Seth Jones got his pocket picked behind the Hawks net, and Kirby Dach decided he was gonna try and fly the zone for a Paul Kariya breakaway instead of putting a stick on McJeebus as he sat alone in front of poor Kevin Lankinen. Shortly thereafter the Hawks gave the Oil an almost 2 minute 5 on 3 PPG where Tyson Barrie put one in. A Yamomoto SHG and a Ryan McLeod rebound a few moments later and it was 4-0.

The Hawks tried to make a game of it with a couple of DeBrincat goals, but a terrible dump in by Toews on a PP in the waning moments of the 3rd turned into the Oil’s 2nd SHG of the night with Draisatil depositing the 5th goal of the night behind Lankinen.

This game was over 10 minutes into the first, but credit to the Hawks forwards for not realizing it until the 3rd. Lankinen really only had a chance on McLeod’s goal, so he’s not entirely to blame. Honestly the Oilers are just the better team and it showed. Moving on.

 

November 21st, 2021

Hawks 1 – Nucks 0

Box Score / Natural Stat Trick 

 

Sometimes you just need your goalie to save your bacon. For the longest stretch, Cory Crawford was the guy between the pipes keeping the Hawks in games they had no business being in. Last night it was Marc-Andre Fleury’s turn. Luckily he’s been doing shit like this longer than any other active goalie in the business right now. 40 shots and 0 goals later, and the Hawks sneak out of Vancouver with a 1-0 victory in a game that saw the Nucks pour 30 shots on goal in the first two periods vs the 13 the Hawks were able to muster against Thatcher Demko.

Yet there it was, 4 minutes into the 3rd period with Brandon Hagel (who has looked excellent in his return from injury) screening Demko and catching just enough of the puck to deflect it into the back of the net, giving the Hawks a lead Fleury wouldn’t allow them to cough up. The Nucks carried a 60% CORSI share for the entire game, and yet come out the losers here (shame, that). When the heat map looks something like this, you know your team done just got goalie’d:

What is interesting about the Hawks lately is despite the lack of shots being generated by the offense, the high danger scoring chances haven’t really gone down at all. Obviously this is a result of Derek King’s laissez faire approach towards directing the offense, but I can’t tell if it’s a conscious effort from the forwards to hold off for better shots instead of firing the puck at the net. The Hawks PDO since King has taken over has been in the triple digits in every game (except Edmonton, obvs), whereas only twice in the 12 games Colliton was in charge. It’s a small sample size, but it’s encouraging for sure.

As far as shoring things up defensively, the Hawks can’t continue counting on Fleury to stop 71 of 73 shots in two games. The forwards are going to have to start helping out down low, but it’s a process adjusting to playing pickup hockey after Colliton was trying to get them to split the atom in their own zone. Let’s revisit this before Xmas and see if there has been any improvement.

Moving on.

Hockey

We’ve got some late games coming up as the Hawks are heading out on a west coast road trip this week. And perhaps thanks to the sugar rush that comes after a coaching change, the Hawks find themselves having won their last three games and looking ahead to some surprisingly gettable opponents (except Edmonton of course).

Despite the three-game win streak, the Hawks’ underlying numbers haven’t looked very different than they did before Colliton got the axe. The past three games, the team has been at or below a 50 CF%. The Penguins game gave them a paltry 30 CF%, their lowest of the season. Once again, this team is getting bailed out by good goaltending and just enough offense to get them through. We’ll see if their luck will continue.

Additionally, it sounds like Caleb Jones is making the trip. With the incoming return of both him and Wyatt Kalynuk, it’s pretty safe to say Erik Gustafsson’s days as a Hawk are once again coming to an end, God bless. Derek King has been attempting to bury him with as little ice time as possible in the meantime, but it will be interesting to finally see Jones the Younger get his chance.

11/16 at Seattle

Game Time – 9:00 PM CST

TV/Radio – TNT, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720

Swept Out Through the Cracks Beneath the Door – Kraken Chronicle

The Hawks will play the Seattle Kraken for the first time in the team’s history, visiting their shiny new Climate Pledge Arena with their double scoreboards and intentions to be as energy efficient as possible. Unfortunately, the Kraken as a team have been underwhelming at best, not getting off to the same start we saw Vegas get to in their first year as an organization. The Kraken seem to be incredibly defensively porous and aren’t getting the goaltending they need to cover that up. Philipp Grubauer’s numbers took the nosedive of a century as he, like Marc-Andre Fleury, is having trouble adjusting to a team that can’t play defense. His .880 save percentage is the worst in the NHL among goalies with five or more starts. In addition, this team can’t score on the powerplay, going 5-for-46 so far this season—only the Penguins have a worse powerplay percentage.

The Kraken are on a three-game losing streak and after playing the Hawks their next five opponents are the Avalanche, Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers. If they don’t get a win here against the Hawks, things will look pretty bleak for this team. I assume they will give all they have on home ice tonight against the Hawks, but hopefully the Hawks can continue their winning ways with the newfound confidence they’ve found under King.

11/20 at Edmonton

Game Time – 9:00 PM CST

TV/Radio – NBCSCH, WGN-AM 720

Better Believe It’s ‘Berta Beef: Copper n BlueOilers Nation

The Hawks will visit Edmonton for the first time since Duncan Keith sailed off into the horizon to move as far north as possible just before the entire organization here fell from grace. Though many thought the Keith trade was a disaster for Edmonton—and we did win out on that considering we didn’t have to eat any of his salary—he has been serviceable playing second-pairing minutes with Cody Ceci, where he likely belongs. The two find themselves together on the 1st PK unit and continue to take a majority of their starts in the defensive zone.

Luckily for Keith and Ceci, the Oilers still boast two of the most electric goal-scorers in the league on their top line, and so the Oilers find themselves at the top of the division with only three losses so far this season. It’s been Leon Draisaitl so far leading the league in goals and points, though Connor McDavid certainly isn’t too far behind him. Perhaps this team’s biggest question mark is whether or not their AHL-level goaltending can hold up for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Perhaps they’d be interested in Fleury at the trade deadline?

11/21 at Vancouver

Game Time – 7:00 PM CST

TV/Radio – NBCSCH+, WGN AM-720

We Still Hate Raffi Torres Around Here – Nucks Misconduct

Unlike the Hawks, the Canucks are only a disgrace on the ice, not off. But boy do they really try to outdo us anyway, as they have recently reached a crisis point from an organizational perspective that culminated in a series of recent hush-hush meetings between their owner and GM. Canucks fans are calling for the heads of their coach, GM, and likely just about everyone in the front office except for their beloved Sedin twins who are now Special Advisors to the General Manager (really giving off those Assistant to the Regional Manager vibes).

The Canucks are also in a four-game losing streak and off to their worst start in over fifteen years. They’ve been giving up goals left and right—19 goals in three games, to be exact. Thatcher Demko starts between the pipes just about every night and has a .898 save percentage so far this season, killing fantasy owners everywhere. They also have the worst penalty kill in the league, giving up 20 goals in 53 chances, and give up some of the most high-danger chances in the league. The Hawks will hopefully take that to their advantage as they attempt to get their powerplay out of the freezer—they’ve only scored one PPG in the last five games despite 17 opportunities. What could go wrong?