Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Avalanche 25-24-11   Hawks 26-26-9

PUCK DROP: 6:30 (for some reason?)

TV: NBCSN Chicago

COULDN’T GET MUCH HIGHER: Mile High Hockey

It’s at the top that I’m supposed to tell you this is an awfully big weekend at the United Center. The Hawks will have two games with four points on offer against direct rivals for the wild card spots. Win both, and you’re entrenched in the race. Lose both and you may have lost touch before March even hits. Split them in some fashion and nothing is solved and the current feeling continues. In that context, yes, this shapes up as a pretty exciting and important weekend.

But this being hockey, and this being us, and this being these Hawks, it’s hard to remain in just that context. Because though this is a playoff race, it is only so because the competitors are standardbreds and not thoroughbreds. They are the fan chosen to be inhaled by The Freeze in the middle of the 5th. It’s the JV. And you can choose to enjoy the silliness of it, which we are, but even that intrude on the heaviness you want to project onto these two games. It’s hard to treat something as important when you know that at the base it’s kind of absurd (says the wrestling fan?).

Either way, the Hawks and Avs are tied with Arizona, one point behind the Wild, who last night couldn’t get the Rangers to accept the two points they were desperately trying to foist upon them in their quest to make the biggest splat at the end of the season. Whoever wins tonight vaults back into the wildcard spots (depending on what the Wild do in Detroit tonight). So whatever we may feel on the outside, those inside the ropes will ignore the absurdity and treat this as a four-pointer.

For the Hawks, the only change appears to be that Brent Seabrook is still a no-go, and thanks to Carl Dahlstrom being sick, Henri Jokiharju has been recalled. No word on whether he’ll play, but fuck, he’s here, and how much worse can he be than the plastic vomit you’ve been tossing out there anyway? The Hawks did give up 10 combined goals to the decidedly waddling Senators and Red Wings. The Hawks should paw at any dangling straw or piece of Laffy Taffy when it comes to their defense. Collin Delia appears to be getting the start, perhaps in the thought that he’s beaten the Avs twice before and maybe seeing their silly logo will trigger something within him. Or you don’t want to keep sending Ward out there for fear he’ll turn back into Cam Ward with more and more rolls of the dice. Or you don’t want Delia’s last NHL experience of the year to be getting pulled against the Senators. Whatever. The normal 4th line rotation will continue, and it doesn’t really matter how it shakes out.

The Avs have sunk to these depths and unlike the atmosphere around here, they are not pleased that they are still merely “in it.” On December 19th, the Avs were 19-10-6, and at least running into the penthouse of the Central to steal the appetizers from the Jets and Predators. Then they lost to the Hawks, and look what that did to them: they are 6-14-5 since, watching the Stars and Blues wave as they fall by, and for a brief moment, were marooned at the bottom of the Central.

The reasons aren’t hard to identify. While the top line of Mikko RantanenNathan MacKinnon-Gabriel SapsuckerFrog didn’t exactly go “cold,” they weren’t being intergalactic warriors as they were before. They were just “very good.” But “very good” ain’t gonna cut the mustard when there’s almost nothing else on this team to back it up. On a given night, Carl Soderberg, or J.T. Compher, or Alex Kerfoot might hint at being legitimate secondary scoring. And on the next three you wouldn’t be able to find them with body-heat cameras. When the top unit isn’t doing magic tricks, the show is closed. That’s why you’ll see that troika split up tonight, as they’ve been put on three different lines the past two games. Which the Avs have won by a combined score of 10-1, so they roll in here with some confidence.

Combine that with both goalies going into the shitter for a bit. Semyon Varlamov tanked in December and January, and when given the chance to usurp the top job, Phillip Grubauer fluffed his lines. Varlamov has recovered in February with a .919, and even just that might steady the ship enough for the Avs to recover and hold on loosely for the last spot in the West. Assuming their three big guns continue to BIG GUN.

The task in written form is easy for the Hawks tonight. Find a way to keep the Avs’ top three players down. It’s not easy when they’re now on three different lines, but also their collective dangers is watered down. Start with Mac K and work out from there. You can try to that through the Fight Fire With Fire method and use Toews’s line to do it. Or you use Marcus Kruger to do it, though if he’s centering the fourth line it’s clear that Coach Cool Youth Pastor has already made his choice. Colorado still does ok metrically when those three aren’t on the ice, but they have a hard time converting it into tangible results. Keep the MacRaLog from going for two or three or more, and you’ve basically got it.

It may not be heavy or important, but it is fun. Here we go.

 

 

Game #62 Preview Suite

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I Make A Lot Of Graphs

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Usually, hedging your bets isn’t a good thing. If you believe in something, throw yourself fully behind it, as any hesitancy will probably cost you. And it’s a question if the Avalanche actually did that with their goaltending situation, as they tried to move Semyon Varlamov along in his contract year before and after acquiring Phillip Grubauer. Perhaps the Avs did want to go all-in on Grubs. They’ll be thanking themselves, or all the other teams who failed to make a quality offer for Varlamov, they didn’t.

It’s always a risk when you take on a career back-up and at least position him to be your starter. Sometimes you get Martin Jones (which was a good thing before this year) or Antti Raana. And then sometimes you get the husk of Cam Talbot (after you’ve played him to death, to be fair to him) or Scott Darling. It’s kind of impossible to know exactly how it’s going to go for a goalie who’s never had a starter’s load until he gets one.

Being behind a Trotz team certainly helped Grubauer. In Washington, Grubauer faced an average of 28 shots against for every 60 minutes (all strengths). This year in Colorado is 31. 1, though that’s not too far off from the 30.6 he saw last season in DC as the Caps were kind of dysfunctional there for a while. And more pointedly, the Avs are giving up less scoring-chances and less high-danger ones for Grubauer than the Caps did. So they should be getting the same kind of performance that saw him put up a .923 last year.

But they’re not. They’re getting an .890. And you can’t pin it on a shitty penalty-kill, as Grubauer’s SV% at evens has dropped (from .934 to .905) pretty aggressively, though his work on the kill isn’t making anyone write fanfic either (.870 to .813). Grubauer’s work on the kill is fifth-worst in the league, behind Ward, Smith, Mrazek, and Talbot, which definitely puts you on bee-guarding detail. And again, on the kill the Avs are giving up way less shots, chances, and high-danger chances than the Caps did last year.

Grubauer is 27, so the fear is that this is what he is. Spasmed a few years as a quality back-up, snuffed it when given the chance to have the role to himself. Which puts the Avs in something of a bind. Semyon Varlamov hasn’t been a Greek God or anything, but his .911 is just about league-average. And he’s actually seen a touch worse defensive work in front of him than Grubs has gotten. He is a free agent, and he did just watch this team basically announce they were going to try to get along without him.

Varlamov is 30, so should still have a few decent years, and it’s not a blessed free agent class. Bobrovsky seems destined for Florida, leaving only Jimmy Howard and Varlamov as things to be pursued. You’re going to have more than a few teams doing a playoff flameout thanks to goaltending, with words like Calgary, San Jose, possibly St. Louis, Columbus will have a hole there, Carolina as well, just off the top. That’s more than enough chairs.

The Avs have Cale Makar arriving as soon as next season (he has nothing left to prove at the college level), and with MacKinnon and LaxativeLog on bargain deals before handing everything to Mikko Rantanen, you’d say their window opens next season (especially if they can salvage Jost, Greer, and Compher). Rebuilds have been scuttled by goaltending before, and the Avs can’t leave that to question.

If they let Varly walk, they have a very questionable Grubauer in house and that’s it. Bobrovsky will be more expensive than Varlamov and coming off an even worse year. Howard is too old to be with the Avs when they really matter. Swing a trade? Aren’t that many looking to move a goalie, and generally if they are it’s one you’re taking something of a leap on. Which the Avs just did with Grubauer.

They may be stuck with Varlamov after all.

 

Game #62 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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It was only eight days ago that we visited the deranged warlord Anthrax Jones to consult him about the Avs and the precious juice. Not much has changed, with either the Avs or the juice. 

So Rantanen and MacKinnon were awesome last year, and MacK could have easily won the Hart. But they’re both on points for 130+ points this year? Why is this line putting a foot in the ass of the world?
If you did an Inception-style deep dive into Don Cherry’s wettest dream, MacRantaskog would be in it: open mouth-kissing policemen, playing with Blue, and wearing suits made out of the furniture in Dom DeLuise’s opium den. Mikko Rantanen has evolved from Large Baby Deer into Jaromir Jagr’s blonde, blue-eyed second cousin. Defending Nate MacKinnon is the hockey equivalent of trying to catch a fire hose with a goldfish net, and Babe Landeskog’s good looks distract from the fact that he’s morphed into a Marian Hossa/Richard Kuklinski hybrid. This line has everything all the old school shitheads like to burp up every time some weepy Canucks fan starts pissing through their butthole about what a pretty finesse game the Sedins played. They’re talented, fast, and all three of them play with varying degrees of open hostility. I love them a lot.
 
It felt like the Avs wanted to transition from Varlamov in net to Phillip Grubauer, but Grubs hasn’t really grabbed that brass ring in limited appearances this season. Are they just going to have to ride it out with Varlamov?

Sure beats riding it out with Cal Pickard or the Hamburglar. Varlamov is who he is: occasionally spectacular, occasionally a Farrelly Brothers script. When he’s hot, he’s a top 3 goalie in the league. When he’s not, he’s every goalie the Flyers have run out since Ron Hextall. Grubauer has had his moments where he looks good and his moments where he looks like he’s playing behind Patrik Nemeth and Mark Barberio, because that’s what he’s doing. If the Avs are gonna do anything in May, they’re gonna need one of them to go full 2003 JS Giguere.

 
With the top line doing what they’re doing they should be gobbling up the toughest opponents every night. Yet no one has been able to really benefit yet. Is this where Tyson Jost or someone else should come in?

In theory, yes. In practice, you’re relying on the entirety of your depth scoring to come from second year pros (Jost, Kerfoot, Compher), waiver wire guys (Andrighetto), An Actual Cyclops (Soderberg), and Colin Wilson. This year is “sit tight and see what we have with the young guys”, and next year is where they go out and overpay a UFA.

 
Samuel Girard seems to have at least established himself in the top four, no?

The Duality Of Man: I love Girard and I love his game and I love his potential, yet I spent the late 90’s with a recurring grundle cramp because every time Sandis Ozolinsh touched the puck, my sphincter collapsed into itself at roughly the speed and density of a dying star. Girard may not have the offensive upside of Ozolinsh, and may not have the defensive downside of Ozolinsh, but I can foresee a scenario where he becomes Ozolinsh 2020. I’m too old for that type of gooch pain, so let’s hope he doesn’t.

 

Game #41 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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We traveled deep into the jungle, past his many followers who eyed us warily, to find the warlord Anthrax Jones. He was kind enough to grant us this, and we had to exit quickly before being disemboweled. 

 

Game #38 Preview Suite

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I Make A Lot Of Graphs

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Avalanche 39-25-8   Hawks 30-34-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

REAL MEN OUT OF SNOW: Mile High Hockey

The Hawks will get some say in the bottom of the Western Conference race, or in that they can decide who they’ll gift two points in that race on most nights and greatly anger someone somewhere. Sunday they blew three leads to keep St. Louis in it (we can only hope to set up a deeper heart-cutting for the last week in April when they play twice), and though Colorado holds the 1st wild card they’re only two points from dropping completely out of it. So the Hawks can play spoiler again, a role which they’ve been particularly shit at ever since it became their calling.

Not much has changed since the Avs were here just two weeks ago. Meaning they still have the best player on the planet in current form right now, so not much else matters with them because Nathan MacKinnon will make it all ok. Since he was last here, when the Hawks miraculously held him to just one goal, he’s poured in 11 points in six games. He’s four points off the scoring lead in the NHL even though he missed eight games. He leads the league in points per game at 1.39 and if he would have played a full 82 would’ve ended up somewhere around 114 points. Quite simply he’s been freakish, so if you’re headed to the UC tonight you’ll be treated to the sight of a player playing about as well as anyone has managed in years.

And because someone has to come along for the ride, Mikko Ratanen has 11 points in his last five games as his linemate. Ratanen does more than simply stand around and let Mac K bank the puck off of him into the net, and given his size and where he shoots from his 16.4% shooting percentage might be closer to the norm for his career than just a spike. The following years will tell, but the Avs might have a budding power forward on their hands if they can introduce him to a kettlebell this summer.

Adding to the roll for Denver is that Semyon Varlamov has gotten hot, letting in only six goals in his last five appearances. Between these two, the Avs really should lock up a playoff spot no one saw coming. Their schedule is somewhat kind to them from here on out as well. They get the Hawks twice, the fading Knights twice, the Flyers at home, and then a California swing that will probably tell the tale. Those Knights games ought to be interesting, as that very well might be the first round matchup and the Avs will have the pleasure of pilfering that outfit in their first real test. It basically will come down to the Avs have MacKinnon and the Knights don’t.

And then it gets scary, because if the Avs are slung out to the Pacific and can put the knife into the false gods of Vegas, there’s really no reason they can’t beat San Jose or LA or Anaheim or whatever other dreck is left out there. The Avs in the conference final? God help us and this league is a hell toilet. Anyway, pretty impressive for a team that was supposed to be at the beginning of a rebuild. But then I guess all it takes in this league is for your #1 line to freak the fuck off and there you are, along with goaltending. We did watch the Hawks the past two years, after all.

For the Hawks, Matthew Highmore dinged himself on Sunday and is out, so they’ve called up Andreas Martinsen who can’t do anything but will run around like a meth-head for a while and pick a stupid fight and Foley and Konroyd will slather themselves in Worcester sauce over it and “DATS WUT DIS TEAM HAS BEEN MISSING ALL SEASON MY FRENT!” bullshit that already has me kicking various wood furniture around the house. After JF Berube was given the chance to grab the brass ring of backup next year and let it and Patrik Berglund’s shot through him, Anton Forsberg will get another chance to shoot his confidence in the face with a bazooka tonight.

Yeah… I don’t know. Only seven of these left after this. Also, we’ll be recording the podcast during this one, so send in your questions on Twitter during the day if you have something you want to know or just hear us bitch about .

 

Game #74 Preview

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Avalanche 35-24-6   Hawks 28-30-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

DISPENSARIES AND BREWERIES: Mile High Hockey

As they will spend the rest of the season pretty much, the Hawks will gaze across to the other bench and see a team they used to barely give a thought now playing for the things they want, i.e. a playoff spot and a future. While the Avs always gave the Hawks fits even when the Hawks were dominant, at least we could laugh those losses off as something to be washed away in the irrelevance of regular seasons. Not so much anymore. as the Avs are right in the thick of a wild card chase, with an MVP candidate in their midst, a couple other kids worth watching, while the Hawks can only try to mind-meld with the sand in the hour glass, forcing it into the bottom chamber faster.

How the Avs have got here is basically saddling up on Nathan MacKinnon and running him until he stops. Mac K has the best point-per-game mark in the league, and if he hadn’t missed seven games he’d be running away with the Hart Trophy discussion. Writers are going to bend themselves in all sorts of directions and binds to keep it from him should the Avs miss out, and Taylor Hall winning it sure would have Brooks-ian levels of comedy to it. But no one has played better than MacKinnon, and he’s caused a Gabriel Three-Yaks-And-A-Dog revival as well as kick-started the career of Mikko Ratanen.

Beyond that though, if you’re getting a hint or whiff of 2014, when the Avs were good because they shot the lights out and got Varlamov’s Vezina year and actually weren’t all that good and were quickly exposed in the playoffs, you’re not entirely wrong. Because it’s not exactly easy to point to what this team does well other than “have Nathan MacKinnon and his career-doubling SH%.” They’re not a good possession team, or a terribly good defensive one, They give up a ton of attempts but are better at limiting the quality of those, as their expected goals-against per game is 11th in the league.

The one thing they do well is kill penalties, third in the league, and you’d think with all that speed that would go hand in hand. So if you don’t give up many power play goals and can just win things at even-strength, you’ll be ok. The Avs have done that, mostly thanks to their top line.

There’s a touch more to them than that. Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot on the second line portend to a pretty nice future if they continue to evolve. Nikita Zadarov on the blue line has been effective in his first season as a top-pairing guy. Tyson Barrie has the points but not the possession numbers he’s put up in the past.

And they stop the puck. At even-strength, this team has the fifth-best save percentage as both Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier have been excellent this season. Their overall numbers of .913 and .914 aren’t exactly inspiring, but they’ve combined for a ,925 adjusted at evens for the Avs. You’ll win a lot of games that way.

For the Hawks… I mean I don’t know that it matters anymore but it will be interesting to watch Keith and Murphy have the last change and get thrown out there against MacKinnon every shift so we can see how Murphy deals with that. He’s certainly looked ok in the role in the two games in Southern California. Other than that, I don’t really know what to tell you. More of Eddie O telling us how much they like Matthew Highmore and Pat Foley slowly turning into Caray and Piersall circa ’79? I’m not sure any of you hate this team more than Foley does right now.

Could be an ugly week for the Hawks. Then again they pretty much all have been since January. They face two teams scrapping for wild card spots in Colorado and Carolina, and then a home-and-home with somehow the second best team in the league in the Bruins. So that’s a good time for everyone.

Eat Arby’s.

 

Game #67 Preview

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For Hawks fans my age, the Colorado Avalanche probably has an outsized presence in our psyches. It’s the scars from having them parachute that unholy team into the conference from Quebec at a time when the Hawks were probably icing their best team in a decade. And while we knew the Hawks couldn’t hang with the Wings, there was always a puncher’s chance in a series (1992 wasn’t that long ago then). But once the Avs showed up, we knew the Hawks were doomed. They couldn’t get through both, and promptly didn’t get through either.

Those two Cups the Avs managed in ’96 and ’01 seemingly have given them an outsized presence on the national stage, too. Because the Avs haven’t mattered in a very long time. In the past 10 years, they have the same amount of playoffs berths as the Panthers. They’ve won less rounds than the Coyotes. They haven’t won a game beyond the first round in 13 years. If it wasn’t for the Varlamov-inspired, PDO-from-hell season of ’13-’14, the Avs would be embarking on their eighth-straight playoff-less season. But we don’t put them in the same category as the Arizonas and Floridas of the world. Flags fly forever, I suppose.

Anyway, let’s get into this muck.

Colorado Avalanche

’16-’17 Record: 22-56-4  48 points  (dead ass last everywhere)

Team Stats 5v5: 48.5 CF% (23rd)  46.6 SF% (28th)  48.0 SCF% (26th)  6.2 SH% (29th)  90.6 SV% (30th)

Special Teams: 12.5 PP% (30th)  76.6 PK% (29th)

Everything Else

Avalanche Snowman Christmas vs. 250px-Ozymandias

PUCK DROP: 6pm Central

TV/RADIO: WGN for both

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY: Mile High Hockey

Avs Stats

Avs War On Ice

Our Avs Q&A

It’s the sound of the Avalanche coming to the United Center. Because they’ve won five of the last six here, even though by any measure the Hawks should be painting the walls of their new dressing room with the brains and innards of the Avs. But they don’t seem to here. Certainly not last time, when Semyon “Kiss With A Fist Is Better Than None” Varlamov walked out with his 73rd shutout of the Hawks, or at least that’s how it feels.

Everything Else

250px-Ozymandias vs. Avalanche Snowman Christmas

PUCK DROP: 7pm Central

TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio

COMIN DOWN THE MOUNTAIN: Mile High Hockey, Anthrax Jones Twitter Feed (if you’re really into punishing yourself)

Avalanche Stats

Avalanche War On Ice

The Hawks will close out 2015 at altitude, taking on an Avalanche team that’s probably been their biggest headache over the past few years. Strangely, the Hawks have done much better in Denver than they have at home against the Avs. They won two of three there last year, and the one they lost was the last game of the year where half the team didn’t play and the Hawks certainly didn’t think it mattered in any way. Contrast that to losing both home games against the Avs last year, the first one this year, and two of three the year before that.

Everything Else

AltLogo at avalanches

Game Time: 8:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
The Blasting Room: Mile High Hockey

For being in the same division for the first time ever, it sure feels like the Blackhawks have played the Avs 45 times already this season. But in reality, tonight will close out the first ever divisional season series between these two clubs, with the sixth and final meeting coming tonight at the Pop Can in downtown Denver.