Hockey

While most of the luminaries of this site are not fans of the Foo Fighters, I absolutely am. So when the news broke Friday night that drummer Taylor Hawkins had been found dead in his hotel room, my heart dropped down to my knees. I see a LOT of live shows, as concerts are my kryptonite. Most summers I’ll try and attend 10-15 shows at least, from whoever happens to be touring that year. Out of all the bands and shows that I’ve been to, there are few that can match the level of energy or just plain fun that a Foo Fighters show contains. Taylor Hawkins was a huge part of that experience, and his presence behind the kit will be sorely missed if the band decides to continue. Hawkins’ name is added to an impressive list of talent and creativity that has been lost to us over the past 20+ years. While I’ll never have the pleasure of seeing him hammer the drums on the intro to My Hero again, or listen to him cover a Queen tune, I’ll always have the happy memories of all the awesome times I had at his shows. Rest in peace.

 

Also the Hawks played some hockey this week:

 

Wednesday 3/23

Hawks 4 – Ducks 2

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

Sometimes there are teams out there that no matter how hard you try, they simply have your number and you can’t beat them. For the Anaheim Ducks, that team is the Hawks. With the win on Wednesday the Hawks have themselves a clean sweep of the series against the Ducks, and the Ducks have themselves an extended off-season to think about how losing 3 games to the Hawks contributed to the eradication of their playoff hopes.

As for the game itself, the Hawks really only controlled the 1st period with a CORSI of 61%, then proceeded to hang on by the skin of their teeth (and some solid goaltending by Kevin Lankinen) in the 2nd and 3rd period with 34% and 40% shares. That’s the kind of domination that usually results in 6-7 goals in a given timeframe (just wait for the Vegas 3rd period recap), but the Hawks managed to somehow keep the Ducks at bay long enough for Dylan Strome to continue his dominant March by pocketing the GWG with 4:00 to go in the 3rd.

The Hawks special teams were helpful here as well, with their first 2 goals coming on the man advantage (Raddysh with a Y…many people are saying it) and the PK blanking the Duck’s power play on their one attempt. This is the kind of win we’re gonna see a lot of going forward, with the Hawks getting owned on the possession side of things but somehow eking out 2 points thanks to decent goaltending and some timely goals by high caliber forwards like Kane and Cat.

 

Thursday 3/24

Hawks 4 – Kings 3 (Hawks Win Goat Rodeo)

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

With the mishmash of talent on the back end, the Blackhawks breakout of their own zone is a disaster right now. What that results in is them getting skulled in CORSI night in and night out. What they DO have that most teams don’t is Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat (and also Seth Jones as well), who can singlehandedly ignore whatever forecheck the opposing team is pressing them with and go end to end to put the puck in the net. This is exactly what happened in this game, as the Hawks got fucking smoked in the possession department (31%, 32%, 42% CORSI) and yet managed to score a win in the shootout despite all that. Kane and DeBrincat both tallied (along with Sam Lafferty somehow, who isn’t quite “a thing” but bears watching going forward) to help the Hawks overcome miserable play by the special teams unit. Colin Delia was fine in this one, not looking terrible but also not amazing as he kept the Kings off the board during the juggling competition in OT.

They can’t all be beautiful, and when the West Coast has typically been a house of horrors for your team you take what you can get and move on.

 

Saturday 3/26

Hawks 4 – Knights 5 (OT)

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick 

This one stings.

With Vegas missing both goalies AND about 4 top players on their front and back ends, going up 3-0 after two on this squad with a chance to put a nail in their playoff coffin then coughing it up is a bummer. Kevin Lankinen did himself no favors by allowing a very soft goal to start the shenanigans rolling  less than 60 seconds into the 3rd period. Once that happened, you could feel the air go out of the Hawks tires as the Knights smelled blood in the water. Less than 5 minutes later it was 4-4 as the Hawks were just trying to get into OT and salvage the disaster the game had become.

They had plenty of chances, too. With Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat bearing down on rookie goalie Logan Thompson in OT, only to have the puck skip over Cat’s stick into the boards. Dylan Strome had a chance a few seconds later only to be stoned by Thompson (who, credit where it’s due, did an admirable job stopping some seriously high danger chances from Strome, Kane and The Cat). Ultimately it was the guy Vegas had tried to trade away only days earlier firing the GWG home after Kane, Strome and Jones got stuck out there for an extended period of time and were completely gassed.

 

In the end, taking 5 of a possible 6 points on a West Coast road swing is absolutely considered a success. As the Hawks move into full on rebuild mode, you have to enjoy these games while you can as the next time they show up in Vegas the roster may look considerably different than it does now. Same can be said for the outcome. So much to look forward to!

Hockey

There’s no time to waste in this season of cramming games in wherever we can—the Hawks are now going to be playing a double-header this weekend against the Wild, the first tilt between these teams this season. What could go wrong?

Game Time: 7:30 PM Friday / 8 PM Saturday
TV/Radio:
NHL Network, NBCSCH+, WGN 720
-30 wind chill:
Hockey Wilderness

The Wild started out the season hot, winning four in a row to begin the season and going on an eight-game win streak in late November and early December. Following that, however, the Wild have only won three of their last nine games and are now holding onto the 1st wild card spot in the Western Conference, four points behind the Predators because neither of these teams can ever leave the mushy middle of the Western Conference for some reason.

Offensively, the team is led almost exclusively by Kaprizov (first on the team in assists, points, shooting percentage, and offensive point shares according to hockey-reference). Just about as offensively productive is his 1st-line centerman and our old friend Ryan Hartman, who is having a career year and blowing all of his past stats completely out of the water. In just half a season, he’s surpassed all of his previous seasons’ stats, including his one full season he had in Chicago at the beginning of his career. Mats Zuccarello rounds out the Wild’s first line, who like Hartman is likely also benefitting from Kaprizov’s elite playmaking abilities.

The points production definitely tapers off from there, especially considering the myriad of COVID and injury-ridden players they’ve been dealing with. However, Wild fans must be pleased to hear that Joel Eriksson Ek will be making his return Friday to center the 2nd line. Additionally, they are hoping that Cam Talbot can start one of the games—he’s 34 and hasn’t started since January 1, so he could be a bit rusty if we do see him. Finally, Jared Spurgeon may or may not be returning this weekend, but I’m pretty sure nobody gives a shit.

Overall the biggest issue facing the Wild is their bonkers schedule coming up. Wild fans and media members are mad as hell that they have to play 40 games in 77 days thanks to COVID-related cancellations because of their opponents, apparently, and not the Wild themselves. The NHL certainly could’ve spaced more of their rescheduled games out, especially when you look at the multiple stretches of off-days the Wild have had during the month of January. The team will probably be exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around, and that’s if they don’t go on another cold streak and lose their wild card spot. Everyone up north is hoping their top line will see it through to the end, though.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, Seth Jones returns this weekend after missing his return to Columbus and then some with COVID. Dylan Strome is slated to return this weekend as well; he’s only had three assists in his last five games played but seems to be slotting right back into a first-line center role in practice, and with Dach still out he’ll likely stay there. The Hawks’ lack of center depth continues, I guess.

Interestingly, Rockford goalie Cale Morris has been placed on the Hawks’ active roster, despite both Fleury and Lankinen at practice and seemingly healthy. We’ll see how things shake up there, though I would be surprised to see Morris play. Without Fleury in net making every save imaginable, it’s much harder for the Hawks to win as they continue to be out-chanced and out-possessed by most of their opponents. More players stepping up and scoring goals this weekend would be advantageous, as the Wild are going to be the playoff-contending warmup for the Hawks before two games against the Avalanche later next week—God save us.

Hockey

What seemed inevitable after last week’s trade of Duncan Keith to Edmonton where Caleb Jones came in return finally came to fruition on Friday evening where the Hawks traded for his brother Seth, and what a price they have paid and are going to continue to pay until well after the environmental extinction event that’s slated to occur in 2025 or so.

Hockey

In retrospect, Duncan Keith’s exit was paved nearly three calendar years ago when Joel Quenneville was fired and Coach Cool Youth Pastor Jeremy Colliton was brought on to do whatever it is he’s been doing since. Keith had just turned 35 and the signs of wear were finally starting to show, and what that deterioration would look like was without true precedent, as the closest comparison to Keith has always been Scott Niedermayer, who retired at age 34. Adding to that fact was a coach whom Keith was older than and had zero respect for and his passive aggressive undermining bordered into outright contempt. At long last, what it finally took for Keith to ask out was a third straight year without a playoff appearance (sorry, the bubble doesn’t count and it never did) and yet another sex crime scandal for the Hawks for him to say “Fuck this” and want to finally be closer to his son, and the Hawks accomodated him in sending him to Edmonton for Caleb Jones (Seth’s kid brother) and a third round pick while moving his salary off the books.

There simply are not enough superlatives to lay upon Keith’s career, and again it’s equally as decorated as Scott Niedermayer’s minus the WJC that Niedermayer has under his belt 30 years ago. But with the Hawks Keith earned three Cups, two Norrises, two gold medals for Canada, and a unanimous Conn Smythe in 2015. The way Keith played the game however, was quite different than Niedermayer. Keith’s stride was far choppier, and basically all of his offense came as the result of his unbelievable defense. It has long been the lament of this outlet that Keith was never a natural power play quarterback, but that didn’t stop him from firing a million and one pucks into shin pads. His assissts came from breaking up plays at the Hawk blue line as opposing forwards were funneled there in the prime era by the relentless backchecking of Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, leaving Keith to knife the puck away if a forward tried to carry it across the line, or beat that player to the corner if they tried to dump it in. He was like a shutdown corner in football, just completely eliminating an entire side of the field. Keith also had a tremendous red ass streak both towards the press and on the ice. He made some vaguely sexist remarks when pressed by a female reporter in 2010, and flat out refused to be a part of McDonough’s PR (and coverup) machine by wearing team hats in locker room interviews. He nearly decapitated Daniel Sedin, Jeff Carter, and Charlie Coyle, receiving suspensions each time, so putting him now in the same division as the Canucks ought to be entertaining for everyone involved. And then there are all the rumors surrounding everything that transpired in 2015, some of the rumors of which are very not true, and some of them very much are.

But after all is said and done, Duncan Keith is more than likely the greatest defenseman in the history of the franchise, and one of the best to ever play the game no matter how his career ends in Edmonton. Chris Chelios might have been meaner, Doug Wilson may have scored more in the cocaine-addled and goaltender averse 80s, and Pierre Pilote might have been more graceful, but none of them did it all at once for so long, and when it mattered most. And the fact that he has asked out of this radioactive situation should not be held against him in the least going forward.

As for what the Hawks got in return, well, at least credit Bowman for not retaining any salary. The third round pick this year is a lottery ticket, and the Caleb Jones aspect of this is interesting and slightly disconcerting. As far as Caleb Jones the player is concerned, he’s 24 and has played a total of 93 NHL games with 5 goals and 14 assists for the Oilers, and has played 125 games in The A at Bakersfield putting up 11 goals there, so the offensive upside is tepid at best, and he’s certainly not the behemoth his brother is at 6’1″, 194 to Seth’s 6’4″ 215. But therein lies the intrigue. Clearly this is a precursor to making a full on push for Jones via trade, as he has asked out of flailing Columbus, with whom he has a No Trade Clause he can submit a list of 10 teams he does not want to go to. As John put it on twitter, this is Stan signing Yonder Alonso in the hopes of landing Manny Machado. As far as a player goes, Jones at 26 (27 in October) still should have plenty of time left being a two-way force and power play weapon as he has been to this point in his career, and is as legit a #1 defenseman as there is in the league, though playing in Columbus did nothing for his possession metrics. And with only one year left at a $5.4 mildo cap hit this year before hitting unrestricted free agency, he figures to be motivated. However, putting all of that into Jeremy Prinze Jr.’s absolute horse shit defensive “system” isn’t likely to improve any of those metrics, and that system is so bereft of any structure that even a player of Jones’ caliber can’t make any difference in team results. Furthermore, while no one should expect athletes to be great people or agree with them, the fact that the culture in Columbus was on the record as being so conspiracy-minded in the locker room that Pierre-Luc Dubois asked out of it is certainly not nothing, and Jones was one of the stronger voices in that room as a lettered alternate. A quick glance at the Jones’ social media feeds (along with their mother’s) backs that claim up, and is a very real concern as far as public health goes. But if nothing else has been made clear over the past 13 years, the Hawks clearly don’t give a shit about the greater good when there’s money and winning at stake. Either way, take all of this with a massive grain of salt.

In any event, farewell Duncs. It was a great run. See you at the number retiring ceremony.

Hockey

@

Game Times: 6:00PM (4/10, 4/12)
TV/Radio, NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
Bro-Hio: The Cannon

In this weird, plague afflicted, abbreviated intradivision only season, this will mark the conculsion of the truly monumental eight game series between the Hawks and Blue Jackets, and the first series that the Hawks will conclude. And as both teams apparently half assedly approach the deadline, they’re both not trying to trip over their own dicks too intentionally.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 16-17-6   Jackets 17-14-7

PUCK DROP: 4pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SNAPPING TURKS?: Jackets Cannon

For once, it won’t be the Hawks making the locals sad and despondent. The Hawks will head into a city-wide black veil in Columbus as the place mourns the death of another Ohio State season, because Columbus is creepy and weird and strangely southern and no one needs it. Some will try and ease their pain by watching the only pro team in town take on whatever it is the Hawks are these days.

It was supposed to be a disaster of a season for the Jackets. The departures of Mssrs. Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel, and Bobrovsky were supposed to leave them bereft of any identity, strip them of any goaltending, flatten out their offense, and leave them facing yet another rebuild for an organization that’s seen just a little too many of those. It hasn’t worked out that way quite yet. That’s because for all his self-celebratory bluster and nonsense this is probably where John Tortorella is at his best–getting the best and more out of an unheralded bunch. Recall his Rangers teams only really had star power in net, and yet they were frequent visitors to the later rounds of the playoffs.

It did come to fruition that the Jackets don’t score much, 26th in goals per game. But like a true Torts team, they defend well and are getting goaltending, mostly through blocking a fuck ton of shots. The Jackets are middling at best when it comes to attempts against per game, but in the top five when it comes to shots against. Hence their overall expected goals share is pretty good, especially for a team where you couldn’t pick their first line out of a crowd if they were all nude and painted blue.

The Jackets have also survived a raft of injuries, with Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, and Josh Anderson missing out today and Zack Werenski and a few others missing time earlier in the season. You know it’s bad when Nathan Gerbe is suiting up for your side.

The goaltending hasn’t crashed down around their ears like expected. The Jackets are getting top-ten SV% at evens, and Joonas Korpisalo is carrying a .913 overall. He’s been decent shorthanded as well, so that isn’t why the Jackets are currently out of the playoff spots, as their six points out of a wildcard and eight from an automatic spot.

It’s the lack of firing talent that’s keeping them back. Especially without Atkinson, who murders the Hawks with his speed and has done for far too long now, there just isn’t any top line scoring here. They may claim it’s supposed to be Pierre-Luc Dubois and his superfluous first name, but without Panarin he just hasn’t looked it. If Jones and Werenski aren’t filling the net on the power play as they did two years ago, they’re short of goals.

That doesn’t mean the Jackets won’t be a continued headache for the Hawks. They’re still filled with speed that works hard because they have to, and are coming off a win in DC which are something of a collector’s item these days. So they’ll be feeling themselves. They keep it pretty simple, which is just fine against the Hawks as their defense is happy to give you things.

For the Hawks, Adam Boqvist will return to the lineup, and they’ll need his mobility if he’s given license to use it. Robin Lehner is likely to get a stretch of starts here, as Crawford has stumbled and this might be something of a last stand for the Hawks before they decide if it’s fire-sale time.

They’ll talk about consistency and doubling up on Thursday’s effort. But that’s their thing, and they’re not good enough to keep putting those kinds of games together. Also, they won’t be facing a team that flew in that morning after a Christmas break. But that’s the assignment.

Hockey

Well, hope it was all worth it.

GM Jarmo Kekkelainen wasn’t going to let his squad go quietly into that goodnight last spring, and went all in at the trade deadline, bringing aboard Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel for the Jackets playoff push. It got them a stunning, historic sweep of the historically good Lightning. And that’s it.

Is that enough? For a fanbase that had seen their team accomplish exactly dick for their entire existence, it may be. Those memories will last a bit. But not that long, and soon they’re going to crave real success, like a division title or conference championship, two things the Jackets haven’t come within a $50 cab ride of. And neither of those look to be coming any time soon, as the squad that brought a playoff victory for the first time to Ohio has been shorn of three big pieces…and Dzingel. It’s not exactly a husk that’s left…but it’s the h-u-s of that.

Let’s run it through.

2018-2019

47-31-4 98 points (5th in Metro)

3.12 GF/G (12th)  2.82 GA/G (11th)

50.0 CF% (12th)  50.3 xGF% (14th)

15.4 PP% (29th)  85.0 PK% (2nd)

Goalies: Jarmo probably should be sued by the season ticket holders for negligence for heading into the season with Joonas Korpisalo as the starter. The story they’ll try and sell is that Korpisalo is 24, and heading into his prime, so there’s always a chance for a big step forward. It’s going to have to be an awfully big step, because Joonas hasn’t shown much in his brief cameos as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s backup. He’s played 90 games, and has a career .907 SV%, which would be just about league-average now. League-average isn’t going to get it done for this Jackets squad.

The wildcard is Elvis Merzlikins, and no he doesn’t have the traditional back-to-school parade here in Chicago. But I will allow for all the Fu-Schnickens jokes you want to make. Merzlikins was great in the Swiss league the past few years, but it’s impossible to know if that means anything. They seem pretty high on him, but he’s going to have to do an awful lot of heavy lifting if this team is going anywhere. That would also mean Korpisalo snuffed it, which is almost certainly doom for the Jackets.

Defense: The one unit that wasn’t scorched by free agent departures. Columbus can still roll out Seth Jones, Zach Werenski (assuming he ever signs), Ryan Murray, and Markus Nutivaara for two-thirds of the game, which is a nice place to be. It’s not Carolina’s blue line, but it’s still one of the better ones around. And they’re just running it back, as there’s been no additions to it in the offseason. So the top four will still be supported by David Savard, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, and Adam Clendening. Or some combo thereof, to be more precise. There’s a chance that Vladislov Gavrikov is part of the equation as well. The Jackets can at least point to this and know what they’ll get, which is more than you can say for the rest of the team.

Forwards: Ouch. At the moment, the Jackets are maybe one line and a lot of questions and hope. Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are still a formidable tandem, and Atkinson scored before Panarin arrived. They signed Gustav Nyquist possibly to put on that line, but Nyquist is a support-scorer these days, not a main man. Alex Wennberg and and Josh Anderson will probably anchor the second, but that’s where it starts to sound short for the Jackets. Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are still here to belch and fart and call it leadership, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner are going to have to seriously build on promising seasons from last campaign for the Jackets to score enough, and that’s always a dicey bet. They might need to toss prospect Liam Foudy into the deep end right away to up the amount of skill to even acceptable.

Prediction: The Jackets are in deep. They’re clearly behind the Penguins, Caps, Canes for the automatic spots in the Metro. The Islanders may have fallen farther than they did, which helps, and the Rangers and Devils probably aren’t ready to cycle back up past them just yet. Who ever fucking knows with the Flyers? So that leaves them tangling with the other division for wildcard spots, but there just doesn’t look like there’s enough scoring up front with this lot. And Jarmo already scraped the savings vault to go for it last year.

Hope those Tampa memories keep them warm for a while. It might not be enough to keep Torts from throwing himself off the roof in January.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston – Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Columbus – Tuesday, 6pm

Game 4  in Columbus – Thursday, 6:30

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. And the Jackets aren’t even in this division! We’re not supposed to be here today! Hockey is weird and stupid but that’s kind of why we’re here. For the first time in their history, the Jackets will play games in May. Maybe just one, but it’ll happen. Can they keep the miracle run going? Let’s find out.

Goalies: Are four games enough to declare a former playoff-barfer suddenly a dynamo? That’s the question you’ll have to ask about Sergei Bobrovsky. He was very good against Tampa, after a so-so regular season, though thanks to the Jackets forecheck he didn’t have to do that much. Which probably should have been the plan all along. He never faced 35 shots in a game, and really in only Games 1 and 4 did he face what you would call anything close to an abundance of good chances. Those were the games he gave up three goals, so really this might depend more on what the Jackets make Bob do than what he does. The Bruins shouldn’t be that hard to hold to a reasonable amount of shots and chances, except for that one line. But that one line is an expert at moving the puck around quickly, which is where Bob’s athleticism kicks in. But he’ll have to toe that line of athleticism and losing his positioning. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Amongst the Toronto wailing is that Tuukka Rask was marvelous against the Leafs, with a .928 over seven games. Rask’s playoff performance have become basically metronomic at this point, almost always in the mid-.920s if not better. He’s got a career .928 in the postseason. He may not steal a series, but he’s as sure a bet as there is left to not lose it, and the Jackets are going to have to work a hell of a lot harder here than they did against the very jumpy Vasilevskiy.

Defense: This comes down to how tinker-y and match-y up-y John Tortorella wants to get. The first round acted as a coming out party for Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, racking up nine points combined in four games. However, possession-wise, that pairing got kicked around a bit and not by the Lightning’s top line either. The natural inclination is to think that they’ll take on Bergeron’s line. Judging by what happened last round, that’s probably not the case. Strangely, it was David Savard and Scott Harrington who did the heavy lifting, and at least held their own. But if you trust those two against arguably the best line in hockey that is also playoff-proven, you go right ahead. I’ll be over here. Maybe it’s whether or not Jones and Werenski can do enough on the power play and against lesser and whether that cancels out Bergeron and Marchard against Savard and Harrington. I don’t know what a Dean Kukan is and I don’t care.

For Boston, they already know the plan here. The Jackets are going to do the same thing they did against Tampa, which is push their trap up the ice, try to get their forwards on the Bs defensemen as quickly as possible and bring da ruckus. The Lightning’s defense is pretty slow beyond Hedman, especially when Sergachev was having a nightmare. You’d think this would be a problem for Zdeno Chara and the tennis balls on the bottom of his skates, and maybe it will be. It just rarely seems to be. In theory this is why you have Moonface McAvoy and Torey Krug, as they can skate themselves out of trouble. But they also blow chunks in their own zone. Then again, they just survived a more skilled and better forward crop in the last round. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Forwards: The Jackets forwards certainly were buzzing against Tampa, with that forecheck getting them the puck back below the circles and only requiring a pass or two for chances and goals. That’s clearly the plan here, and in transition and with things scramble-y that’s when Atkinson and Panarin and Anderson are lethal. You can’t catch back up to them and how quickly they can start moving the puck around. If the Bruins can keep things stable, the Jackets lack a little shot-creation, especially if Panarin isn’t in the mood to do it. There are grunts here who can scrum in a goal or two, but you can’t beat the Bruins if your top isn’t your top (not a sex joke).

The Bruins are one line and David Krejci. And yet that’s enough for 100+ point seasons and at least a round win. The Bs got contributions from Charlie Coyle and Joakim Nordstrom and the like, but those aren’t the things you can count on. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it’s (Gorilla Monsoon voice) highly unlikely that Marchand and Bergeron and Pastrnak aren’t going to produce. And it’s hard to see a way that the Jackets stop them from doing that, even if they try and cut it off at the source by harassing the Boston D before they can get the puck up to them.

Prediction: This isn’t going to be easy for the Bruins, and the argument that the Jackets just dispatched a better team before we had time to fart into the couch is always lingering there. And as we’ve stressed a ton, it’s not like the Lightning didn’t have playoff pedigree. Their recent pedigree is actually better than the Bs. But I don’t trust Bob yet, and Rask is pretty much a rock. And that feels like it’ll be the biggest difference here. It’s just going to take a while.

Bruins in 6.