Hockey

It was sloppy. It was confusing. It was a total fucking rush. Warts and all, the Blackhawks are now a win away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs. I’m way too drunk to taste this chicken, so let’s rush through whatever it was we just saw.

– As the Toews line goes, so go the Hawks. Each of Saad, Toews, and Kubalik ended up with 56+ CF%s at 5v5, and most of their time came against either McDavid or Draisaitl. Both McJesus and Leon the Ladies Man were underwater when up against the Toews line, which echoed the success the Hawks had in Game 1. It’s clear that when this line can possess the puck, the Hawks have a shot.

On top of it all, Jonathan Toews found himself in the right place at the right time twice tonight. Both of his goals were of the tip-in variety. On the first, he pulled a [insert whoever’s a good goal scorer in soccer here, I dunno, what’s that one guy’s name who committed tax fraud or whatever], toeing a loose puck past Koskinen without even knowing it. On the second, he tipped a point shot from our sweet boy CONNOR MURPHY for the game winner. This guy fucks.

And Saad had a game of almost himself, janking two pucks off the post. When this line is on, the Hawks can.

– Now THAT’S the Corey Crawford on whose hill I will die to have his number in the rafters. Despite The Harlem Draisaitls featuring Connor McDavid, Crawford managed to keep this fart-powered jalopy of a defense from completely dicking the outcome, with at least four high-quality saves at crucial junctures. Aside from a minor puck-handling snafu in the second, Crawford was poised and on his game all night. Had this been the Crawford of Games 1 or 2, the Hawks would have given up eight.

Kirby Dach. It’s amazing what this kid can do when given the chance. He came up with just one “excuse me” primary assist, but he contributed so much more. He had a 54 CF% for one. He managed to enter the zone with speed on a power play in the second period, which is as monumental a feat as discovering extraterrestrial life that shits Cheesy Gordida Crunches. He even played a decent amount on the penalty kill. Whenever he’s on the ice, the Hawks tend to find success, and it’s been a joy watching him grow into what looks to be a legitimate #1 center for the future.

– Although we love the outcome, the process of getting there is untenable. While it’s little surprise that the Hawks managed just one power play goal on six motherfucking attempts, it’s the reason why that continues to annoy.

It’s cool that they managed to wet dream themselves a PP goal on a 5-on-3 with five forwards on the ice. But every other PP opportunity they had fell back into the old Carmelo Kane routine on the right-side boards. On top of that, Coach Nathan For You has continued to place Toews as a rover and Kubalik in the high slot, which is the exact opposite of each player’s strengths.

It’s easy to forget that the Hawks were a top 10 PP team last year. And as we discussed way back then, a lot of that had to do with Toews’s positioning in the high slot. He’s much more apt to tip a rebound or sweep a shot in than to fire one off a hard slapshot from the top circle like Kubalik can do. Had Coach Galaxy Brain had the wherewithal to understand that this was one the few things he’s managed to get right in his tenure, perhaps we don’t have to prolapse our collective anus in anticipation of a late game winner.

Dominik Kubalik ought to be the rover, not Toews.

– When the Blackhawks inevitably refuse to buy out Olli Maatta and point to his two goals in this series as justification, remember that he was not only on the ice for each of the Oilers’s three goals tonight but also a direct contributor to each of them.

On the first, Maatta tried to one-hand a pass up the end boards under pressure, despite knowing that the leading scorer in the entire goddamn motherfucking game was on the ice. While the puck took a funny hop off the end boards and eluded Koekkoek and Carpenter, there’s no reason for it to get to the point where Tyler Ennis (skypoint) can simply shovel a pass through the blue paint to a horny and prepared Draisaitl. But Maatta is too slow to catch up to plays like that. Thus.

On the second goal, Maatta had a front-row seat to watch Draisaitl pot a rebound after a good Crawford save following Highmore’s egregious turnover. If he had a speed greater than dripping pitch, it’s unlikely Draisaitl has a lane to crash as unopposed.

On the third goal, Maatta found himself on the penalty kill, which is a problem per se. Admittedly, it’s hard to blame Maatta for this one, given how fucking good Connor McDavid is. But also, the Hawks need to buy out Olli Maatta this off-season. So there.

–Feather’s guy Slater Koekkoek had himself a good night for Slater Koekkoek. He was a little bit underwater in possession, but he fired home the shot that Highmore tipped for the tying goal. That’s all you can ask.

– Alex Nylander was unnoticeable, which rules for a change.

Jesus Christ. It’s like losing to your virginity to a shy crush. Though McDavid and Draisaitl CAN do it all, if this Crawford shows up again on Friday, it might not fucking matter.

Drink that whiskey. Rock over London. Rock on, Chicago.

Booze du Jour: Firestone Nitro something, then about half a handle of Maker’s

Line of the Night: “He’s not going to beat you from out there.” –Jamal Mayers, describing an instance in which Leon Draisaitl beat Olli Maatta from “out there,” leading to McDavid’s PP goal.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Absolutely fucking terrible. Until the last 10 minutes of this game, the Hawks were out-possessed and outclassed by the worst NHL team of the 21st century in the middle of a run that they’re calling a playoff push. A completely botched circumcision of an effort.

– The big story of the night is Adam Boqvist’s scratch. He was having trouble with his right wrist, which forced Dennis fucking Gilbert into the lineup to expected results. It’s the right call to play it safe with him, although based on the pre-game skate it looked like Boqvist had to take himself out rather than his absolute embarrassment of a coach doing it for him.

If you’re an optimist, you look at Boqvist’s absence and the fact that the Hawks had no drive whatsoever without him as portending to a good future for the kid. If you’re a pessimist, you look at Boqvist’s absence and the fact that the Hawks had no drive whatsoever without a 19-year-old defenseman who’s actively being bridled by his complete fraud of a coach as comprehensive proof that this fucking coach and this fucking front office have absolutely no fucking idea what the fuck they’re doing. Take a wild fucking guess where we land.

– You can talk about how the Hawks beat the Lightning and Oilers recently and use that as proof that this is a team THAT DOESN’T QUIT and HAS A LOT OF MOXIE, which is exactly what Coach Nerdlinger wants you to think. You can also eat the shit end of my ass with that horseshit. Beating playoff-entrenched teams at the end of February, when they have no reason to give a full effort, is smoke and mirrors. Beating the Panthers and Ducks should be a fucking given. But losing to literally the worst NHL team of the 21st century in an absolute must-have game is inexcusable for a team with so-called playoff aspirations.

Slater Koekkoek, Nick Seeler, and Dennis Gilbert all played real, meaningful minutes tonight. If we weren’t 100% convinced that Colliton and Bowman are pants-shitting morons in terms of blue line signings and favoritism already, tonight would hammer that nail into each and every one of our skulls. Fuck your injuries and excuses. This is unacceptable at a professional level.

On Detroit’s first goal—and please remember that going into this game the Wings had a -121 goal differential as a team—we got to see Slater Koekkoek show us why Jeremy Colliton should not be coaching a fucking professional hockey team. He did that thing that Colliton tells them to do and went onto the far boards to cover Trevor Daley. Yes, THAT Trevor Daley. You know, the one who if you give him enough room and time will fuck up on his own because he fucking sucks? Koekkoek’s by-design coverage led to a wide-open Tyler Bertuzzi in the slot, with Olli Maatta screening Crawford just cuz. Outstanding. Playoff caliber.

On the second goal, Dennis Gilbert did Dennis Gilbert things, such as picking his ass in the crease and wondering which mix of rocks he’d have for dinner on his bus ride back to Rockford, God willing. By the time he had all the synapses firing to lay out on the ice, Fabbry Robbi or Robby Fabbri had picked his spot and potted his shot. But boy was Eddie quick to blame Crawford, because of fucking course he was.

And though Nick Seeler wasn’t directly responsible for any goals, when your presence makes the question “Is Dennis Gilbert not the worst defenseman on the ice?” one worth asking, well.

– Everyone on the broadcast made sure that you knew that the Hawks got in late last night and that the scheduling was rough and that the Hawks really had something to overcome. Fuck you. Jonathan Bernier had a .906 SV% going into this game. Detroit has allowed the most goals of all teams, with the next closest, Ottawa, allowing 26 fewer goals on the year. And again, -121 goal differential going into tonight. Playoff teams do not lose games to teams like this, especially not when it matters as much as it did tonight.

Connor Murphy did not have a good game. Two penalties, one of which turned into a PK goal against. But babysitting Nick Seeler might do that to you.

– And as much as we love Murphy, we absolutely do not need to see him on the ice in a 6-on-5 situation at the end of a game with the goalie pulled. As if we needed even more evidence that Jeremy Colliton should be fucking up someone’s taxes on purpose and getting rewarded by his boss for “accessing a new revenue stream” instead of doing whatever it is he calls what he’s doing behind the bench, not having Dominik Kubalik, who you may know as the Blackhawks’s top goal scorer along with Kane going into this game, on the ice in a situation where you need a motherfucking goal might be the dumbest fucking thing anyone has done since Stan Bowman hired Jeremy Colliton to coach this team.

The 2019–20 Detroit Red Wings will go down as the worst team of the 21st century thus far. And the Hawks—in the midst of a playoff run they’re just prematurely ejaculating over to tell you about—lost to them in a must-win game. It always sucked losing to them when they were the better team. But this?

Fucking pathetic.

Until Sunday.

Beer du Jour: Evan Williams and Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “Force Detroit to come out of their comfort zone.” –Eddie O describing how the Hawks could overcome the worst statistical team in almost every single category in hockey.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

This was always going to be a tough one for the Hawks, especially the way the Stars are playing right now. While the Hawks do struggle with teams that are open and play fast, there’s a better chance they’ll leave the spaces the Hawks need to create and score. Teams like the Stars, which basically turn the whole surface into a mudpit (and the ice didn’t help), are less likely to leave gaps. That’s what you saw today. That game could have been four hours long and the Hawks probably don’t get more than that one goal.

Let’s to it.

The Two Obs

-The Hawks had one high-danger chance in the game. One. So while the shot totals might look even, the Hawks weren’t really close. And the reason for that is it’s hard to find a team that fights harder at each blue line than the Stars. They keep that third forward high and their d-men up, and they can double at the points to keep you hemmed in. When they can’t do that, they still stand up at their line with three, and they can do that because not only is their defense big, but it’s mobile. Only Oleksiak in today’s lineup would approach “plodder” status, and he’s actually mobile for his size. They don’t have to win the race to dump-ins that they force, they just have to be close enough to lean on you when you do. And that’s what they do. The Hawks don’t have a lot of puck winners, and aren’t built to grind out chances…which is how you end up with one.

And if you get through all that, you have to weave shots, passes, and bodies through an enchanted forest in the middle of their zone. The Hawks have one d-man who can fit a shot through in Boqvist, and they’ve robbed him of any confidence. They’re not going to bull their way through much either.

Now you may ask where the Hawks would be if they opted to collapse like that instead of whatever it is Colliton asks them to do. The Stars have two really good goalies and play to that. The Hawks have those, too. They wouldn’t be the Stars, they don’t have the mobility or size on their defense. But they would be better off than they are now.

It’s hardly galvanizing to watch, but it’s effective and the Stars stick to the system. Compare that with the Hawks running all over like kindergartners nearing the end of the school year and you begin to understand why there’s some 15 points between them in the standings.

-You don’t want to base much of anything on one game, but we can say we’d like to see Lucas Carlsson more on this trip. And it’s frustrating to see a team that lacks movement and skill on its blue line so badly wait this long to give someone like Carlsson a look instead of Dennis Gilbert Elmer Fudd his way around the ice. It’s unlikely Carlsson can prove that the Hawks don’t need additions beyond Ian Mitchell next season in these last 20 games (if Mitchell even signs), but he can at least take a shot at it or showcase himself. He’s got hands, he’s got feet. The Hawks sport three other d-men with both right now. One’s 36. One’s 19. Give us more and let’s see, because there’s nothing to lose.

-Meanwhile, it’s quite the message I can’t decode that Slater Koekkoek can take three penalties in a game and not get demoted in the lineup, whereas Adam Boqvist was benched for the third on Friday for…well I don’t fucking know.

Koekkoek was at fault for the first goal, as Keith stepped up to block a shot and Fetch decided the guy at the side of the net was more dangerous than Joe Pavelski loitering right in front of Crawford. That’s Joe Pavelski of the 368 career goals, 200 of which at least have come within five feet of the net.

Koekkoek has been fine most games as a third pairing guy because the Hawks didn’t have anyone else. But he’s not an answer for any team that means to be taken seriously. He’ll get to finish the season in the lineup thanks to the Hawks trade of Gustafsson to follow and Nick Seeler being a clod, but it shouldn’t be ahead of Carlsson.

-Putting DeBrincat in front of the net on the power play is one of the dumber ideas Colliton has had, and I realize the enormity of that statement. He’s 5-7. His main skill is as a sniper, which you can’t do with your back to the net from two feet away. And the guy in front also has to be able to get below the goal line to retrieve the puck in traffic. Again, he’s 5-7. It’s not a use of the things he does well. Just as it probably isn’t when Dach is stationed there. I’ve had quite enough of this. I’ve had quite enough of all of Colliton’s ideas.

Ok, that’s enough of this. We’ll talk again post deadline, when the Hawks will hopefully have a direction for the first time in three years.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

They had 49 shots. They had the puck for almost 70% of the game. They scored zero goals.

They were two points out of a playoff spot just a couple of weeks ago. They have now lost five in a row and have next to no shot.

They aren’t bad because they’re inconsistent. They’re inconsistent because they’re bad.

– At the beginning of the year, the Hawks were an at-best bubble team whose only real shot at a playoff run was the offense bailing out the defense. Tonight was a microcosm of what happens when it can’t. Despite allowing just 19 shots on goal, it was the hideous combination of lack of blue line talent and quite possibly the worst system in the NHL that did the Blackhawks in. Look at what the system shat out on the Canucks’s first goal.

That’s Slater Koekkoek, a defenseman, above the dot covering J.T. Miller on the penalty kill. This is by design. Having a D-man on the PK going up to cover an obscenely low-chance shot instead of the motherfucking slot is what Jeremy Colliton is asking him to do. Holy shit, look at how much space Sutter and Horvat have. It lost them the game.

Here’s another coverage play following Caggiula getting leveled and turning the puck over. Once again, Slater Koekkoek leaves a high-danger area to cover a man in a low-danger spot. Just look at this.

Why? Why are you pointing in this direction instead of sagging back? Because this is what Jeremy Colliton wants him to do. It’s absurd, and it lost them the game. We all know that Slater Koekkoek sucks in general. But a system that accentuates his suck (and the general suckage on the blue line) is something Colliton has direct control over. And he just keeps fucking it up. Over and over again.

We can go on about how Zach Smith and Ryan Carpenter each got more time than Brandon Saad—the Hawks’s hottest scorer over the last eight games, mind you—on the power play. In fact, Saad had no power play time at all. But it really doesn’t matter.

This blue line is too bad, the system is too fucked, and Jeremy Colliton is too blockheaded to fix anything. The best thing he’s done all year is scratch Seabrook, and the shelf life on that accomplishment has passed. He’s walking whiskey dick: a constant tease buried under a mountain of failed deliveries and broken promises. We all saw it coming, and it somehow still stings.

Corey Crawford did what he could, and that’s all he can do. It’s going to suck watching him leave on these terms.

Kirby Dach’s hands are still excellent. Once he learns that he can’t make that one extra move he could in juniors, he’s going to score more. He’s a small bright spot to look forward to for the rest of the year.

Dominik Kubalik is getting first unit power play time thanks to DeBrincat’s struggles, apparently. Though Colliton may not realize it, he IS allowed to put Kubalik and DeBrincat on the same unit, if only he could find a place for Zach Smith and Ryan Carpenter. Kubalik didn’t score, but he wasn’t afraid to shoot, at least.

Adam Boqvist looked more confident bringing the puck up the ice tonight. He made a few juke moves that ought to make the drop pass obsolete. But until this pretty lunkhead gets the heave-ho, it won’t matter.

What had looked like a relatively weak schedule and a chance to squeak into a weak Conference’s last wild card spot now looks like a month and a half of agony; a slow, painful death rattle that’ll deliver enough slop to let these fucking pigs in the front office think they can still compete. But they can’t, because their coach is a bonafide moron who—despite efforts to convince myself otherwise—really is as bad as we all thought.

Fucking 49 shots. Nearly 70% possession. No goals, and two systemic defensive flaws leading to a loss.

Ya blew it, Jeremy. Ya blew it.

Beer du Jour: Death by King Cake

Line of the Night: “But it was floppin’ around on him.” -Foley on a DeBrincat dump pass.

Hockey

Cleaning up some stuff before the back-to-back gets going tomorrow night.

-It’s clear to everyone that the power play has become an issue. Well, that’s been obvious to everyone for a while. Now it’s become a blot on society. Last night was one of the worst performances we’ve seen from it in years, and that includes some of the Quenneville power play incompetence. Not only did it not produce anything but actually was a detriment in that it gave up a ton of chances against. The reasons for that are clear, but we’ll circle back.

For me, the power play issues haven’t been as big as some might think because the PK has been so good. There’s a theory out there, and one Quenneville almost certainly believed in, that if your PP% and your PK% add up to 100, then you’re fine because you’re breaking even and you can win the games at even-strength. Which you should do if you’re a good team. This is why Q never really gave a shit about the power play (it was bad for most of his time here even with the wealth of talent on it) because his PK was always very good and the team was very good at even-strength. That’s what mattered. The Hawks only have 25 goals with a man-advantage, but they’ve only given up 26 shorthanded. So essentially, they’re even.

However, we know that the Hawks aren’t a good even-strength team, and they need to be better than just even if they’re going to go anywhere. I might wish for them to be a good ES team, and that would be the ideal outcome, but as last night was Exhibit AAG or whatever they’re just not going to be.

It’s particularly frustrating that the Jets had this so well clocked, because one, they’re one of the worst PK teams in the league and two, Paul Maurice is one of the bigger inattentive dopes behind a bench in the league. So the cat is obviously clearly out of the bag.

The whole league knows what the Hawks want to do, and the Jets last night were even content to let the Hawks enter the zone. Because they knew how it was going to go down. There would be the drop pass to Kane, who would gain the line and then spray out a chipped pass to Toews on the boards and on the rush. You feel like this should be a good thing, as scoring off a rush on the power play is allowed and the Hawks should try and do it more. But the Jets were also clear that Toews having the puck outside the circle wasn’t really a threat, and as long as they closed off the passing lanes to the middle and had one forward behind him for the bump-back to the point, they were covered. Not only were they covered, but when the puck was turned over the Hawks would have at least three, if not four, skaters ahead of the puck, whether that turnover was along the boards behind Toews or a blocked pass to the middle that same forward trailing Toews could pick up the pieces to. That’s an odd-man rush every time the other way.

Without Adam Boqvist, this is hard to change. Erik Gustafsson, though he thinks he does and can occasionally miracle his ass through a couple checkers, does not have the speed to weave through the neutral zone. The fix, or one solution at least, is obvious and we’ve been screaming for it for a while. Boqvist, and only a handful of times, needs to fake that drop pass to get the first PK’er behind him, and then take the line himself. Given his skills he should be able to find space amongst three opponents, or even two if he can beat one with his feet (which he should). This should back up all four penalty killers after a short time, so that the long-loathed drop pass to Kane has the effect desired of him attacking four guys basically standing still. It also opens up those wings a bit more, so Toews isn’t blanketed when he gets the puck along the wall.

Freeing up Boqvist is about more than the neutral zone, though. He doesn’t shoot enough when the Hawks are set up, and for a while the Hawks should be looking to open him up, not doing everything in service to the cross-seam pass from Kane to Top Cat that teams figured out months ago.

The Hawks have the right set-up right now, as Dach, Boqvist, and Top Cat give Kane three-right handed options looking at him from the right wall. This is what you want. But the Hawks are too consistently placing Dach at the net instead of the high-slot, or having Toews in the corner and no threat of going to the net because Dach is taking up that space or his reluctance to simply try and slam it home. They’re not making that PK’er low on that side make a decision. He can simply leave Toews alone and block up his passing lanes. Toews also hasn’t really been the guy in front much, but it’s in his locker and would be more valuable bouncing between there and the corner than Dach abandoning the high slot to go down low as well.

The other option is to let Dach run stuff from the other wall with Kane, Gustafsson, and Toews looking at him from those spots, with maybe Strome down low? But that’s just a mirror of what we’re talking about. That could leave you with a second unit of Boqvist, Top Cat, Saad, Kubalik and Idiot du Jour which is better than what they’re rocking now.

It’s really not that far away from being threatening. But they have to make these changes.

-Lots of talk recently about how DeBrincat can’t seem to buy a bucket, and he was especially awful last night. His turnover on the PP led to the shorthanded goal which changed the game, and the whole night he just seemed like his gloves were filled with rubber cement. Rough nights happen, whatever.

Still, and this is more of a product of my unmatched skill of being unobservant, I only noticed today that the DeBrincat-Kampf-Strome line is starting just 33% of its shifts in the offensive zone. Which really doesn’t add up. The temptation is to rant and rave about Colliton, and he is the one making the decisions. But it’s kind of another example of the misshapen nature of the roster.

You want to use Kampf as a checking center, because that’s what he does. But the Hawks don’t really have the wingers to go with him to do that and have a “3+1” model that I think they’re shooting for. Smith is too slow, Highmore too inexperienced and bad. Nylander? Forget it. So you have Kampf and Carpenter and that’s about it.

The urge is then to say that Kubalik-Toews-Caggiula should take some more defensive starts to get Strome and Top Cat up the ice more, but we’ve remarked the past two seasons that Toews isn’t really a do-it-all guy anymore who can push the Hawks into the offensive zone from the defensive one consistently. So if you started the top line in their half more often, you just might lose out on some of the scoring they’re providing right now.

Top Cat’s line needs to start up the ice more, but there is no perfect solution.

-Another weird number: Maatta’s and Koekkoek’s metrics being so in the black (52.4 CF%, 55.1 xG%) while only starting 40% of their shifts in the offensive end. Maybe this is a way to juice Top Cat’s line a bit, catching the right matchups and seeing if they can’t get up the ice more. Maybe it’s all an illusion. But the Hawks need to try everything at this point.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

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

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

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

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

He’s got the potential to be a cornerstone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward in 10 days.

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

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

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Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Funny, on a night when the Hawks finally defeated a direct competitor for the playoffs, it won’t even grab the headlines. And maybe that’s the way they want it. They’ll have to do it more than a few more times between here and April, but every journey begins with one step. On the second of a back-to-back, where the Hawks have been strangely dominant, against a Jets team that should give them problems (though they have far more of their own), the Hawks not only got the win but eased to it.

I’m not saying you should get excited, but if you want to start at least inching that way, go right ahead. Maybe the bye comes at the wrong time for them.

Of course, none of this is why it’s a historic night. Let’s get to it.

The Two Obs

-The headline will be Patrick Kane reaching 1,000 points, and it should be. I have more than a few tangled thoughts about it, which I’ll get to tomorrow. But we should probably start labeling him, rightly, as the best the organization has ever had. Again, more tomorrow.

-I mentioned in the preview that a big reason that the Hawks have ripped this off is that they’ve settled the bottom of the roster a bit better. Koekkoek and Maatta have gelled on the third pairing, and while neither are world-beaters or even definite NHL players, they’re better options than both Dennis Gilbert or Brent Seabrook right now (sorry, it hurts to say, but it’s true). Both were once again above water in possession tonight, and it’s a bigger deal than you might think to not have to run for the bomb shelter for 12-15 minutes a night when you toss out your third pairing.

To boot tonight, the fourth line came up with two goals, and you’re going to win most times that happens.

-Not a night Keith and Boqvist will want to hang on the wall, as they’re going to struggle with the size the Jets boast. Whatever, they got through it.

-Flip side, Kirby Dach’s line had a great night, capped by Kampf’s goal. Kampf still is wildly a fish out of water playing as a wing on a scoring line but let’s leave that aside for tonight as his goal was the result of what Kirby Dach can be. A 150-foot rush where he looked pretty springy and got to the net and at least caused a rebound. The Hawks have shown the proper patience with Dach even though he hasn’t scored in ages, and you hope tonight’s performance is something he can build on. Certainly fatigue has to be playing a role and the bye will do him good. Wouldn’t mind seeing Caggiula on his line in the future as he’s a puck-retriever who isn’t lost on a scoring line, but that’s another discussion for another time.

-Didn’t notice Patrik Laine until the goalie was pulled. It seems the Jets have done and are doing just about everything they can to bend the team around him, and he’s still giving second-line production. The dude might just be a passenger. Wouldn’t be shocked to hear trade rumors this summer.

-Also their defense blows, and if you miss Tucker Poolman or an aged and swelling Byfuglien that much I can’t help you.

-It would be easy to go pessimistic about this streak–pointing out that the Leafs were about to be on their bye, or that the Ducks, Habs, and Sens suck out loud, or that the Jets are a mess–but these were five games the Hawks had to have. And they got them. They’re still three points out, but now have no other teams to leap. They probably have to play at this pace for a long while to stay in it. But you have to believe there will be a Top Cat binge somewhere around here. And probably the power play will have a good few weeks just because. The goalies will always provide a high floor. And while I’d still bet the Knights and likely the Preds to eventually  zoom up the standings, i wouldn’t count on any of the Yotes or Oilers or Canucks to get too far away from the Hawks either.

Basically it’s not going to take acts of God to keep the Hawks at least in it until the end of the season. And hey, it’s more fun and interesting when there’s something riding on the games. So let’s have some fun.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Flames 22-17-5   Hawks 19-18-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

COVERED IN HORSESHIT: Flames Nation

This week, the Hawks get a chance to put a couple things…well, not right but at least improve. One is their home record. They moved just over .500 with the win over Detroit, but they simply have to be better on Madison St. Second, they can get a couple wins over teams around them in the standings, which they can claim they are competing with for wildcard spots. They did get one over on the Flames last week, which was a departure, but generally this has been a sore spot for them. Calgary is visiting tonight and Nashville on Thursday, and those just happen to be two of the three teams between them and the final playoff spot.

Obviously, not much has changed with Cal and Gary since these two spent New Year’s Eve together (I assume loudly singing along to Lizzo like everyone else). They beat the Rangers at home on the 2nd and then snuck out of St. Paul with a shootout victory on Sunday. So the issues are basically the same. As we like to say around these parts, they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They have the fourth-worst SH% at evens in the league, which belies the talent on display here through Monahan (Lisa needs braces…), Gaudreau, Tkachuk, et al. You still have to figure that will correct at some point and send the Flames toward the automatic spots in the Pacific, which they’re only two points behind and two of which are occupied by the Coyotes and Oilers. Most would guess those teams will deflate before the end of the season.

Still, something is more amiss up in Southern Alberta. This team was something of a possession monster under Bill Peters, which is something he just tended to do for his teams (as well as kick them and be racist toward them). This year, even before his dismissal, that’s not been the case. Some of it is Mark Giordano aging, and some of it is just no one else stepping up to fill in some of that gap. Recently they’ve split Gio and T.J. Brodie, perhaps to get some more push from a different pairing. But Brodie’s always been a bit lost without Giordano, so that’s a risk.

Another problem for them is a top line that just hasn’t fired at the pace they’re accustomed to. Monahan and Gaudreau have been point-per-game players before, and neither are there at the moment or anywhere close. Gaudreau especially seems to have eschewed getting to the middle of the ice, and is doing something of a mini-Getzlaf act on the outside. This has hurt Monahan’s game, as he thrived on the havoc Johnny Hockey used to cause in the offensive zone. They attempted to replicate this by moving Mikael Backlund to wing on the line and getting him in the middle, but that had middling results. Now they’re shuttling Elias Lindholm between 2C and 1RW, which is also having the benefit of making it clear what the Flames need to go get before the deadline.

Either way, this was a team that until the last meeting had given the Hawks fits, because it’s one of the many that is significantly faster than them. They weren’t much at the races against the Hawks for the first 30 minutes last Tuesday, allowing the Hawks a 4-0 lead. But once they realized they were about to be embarrassed, traffic flowed in only one direction and the Hawks were even somewhat lucky to get out of there with a rare regulation win. You can expect the Flames to be a little more attuned tonight.

Still, their goaltending has been a little wayward. Big Save Dave has given up 11 in his last three starts (including the Hawks game), and Cam and Magic Talbot gave up three at home to the Rangers. So maybe the Hawks can find some joy there.

As for the Hawks, I wouldn’t expect any changes. Robin Lehner wasn’t in the starter’s net at the morning skate and is still working through his minor leg problem. Look for him Thursday. There’s no reason to change any of the lineup, though Dennis Gilbert took a shot off the ankle at practice. But that couldn’t make him any slower. Maybe Fetch slides in for him, which whatever. After scoring his first NHL goal it would be heavily cruel to sit Dylan Sikura and lose the confidence he just gained. So Alex Nylander’s useless ass can stay in a suit.

As we’ve said, this is a part of the schedule the Hawks can make their season meaningful in. The Flames are a confused bunch, and the Preds even more so after firing their coach. The Ducks suck, and then they’ll get two games against either a rebuilding dreck like the Senators or yet another confused bunch in the Habs before having to try and catch the Leafs in Toronto. Either you are or you aren’t, and these next two weeks should tell us which. Even if you think you already know.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Afternoon hockey always has the agonizing sting of digging out an ingrown hair from your inner thigh with a hot pin and missing. And for the first 40 minutes, it remained a tradition unlike any other. But a tip here, and a couple of redemptions there, and the Hawks come out of Columbus with two points. We may have learned all the same lessons we knew, but it was fun, and that’s all we ask. To the bullets!

Erik Gustafsson scored the game-tying goal, and that’ll probably be all that matters. That’s a good thing, because before that goal, Gus had had one of his most embarrassingly bad games of the season. Just look at his positioning on the Murphy penalty:

First off, any defensive structure that makes Alex Wennberg look like Wayne Gretzky is fucking bad. There’s no reason whatsoever for Wennberg to have that much time and space on what’s essentially a 2-on-4. Yet, here we are. But after Gus fails to clear Wennberg’s botched shot, look how far out he goes to defend Ryan MacInnis. This is a low-danger spot. Yes, Matthew Highmore sucks and shouldn’t be behind the play. (Notice that he couldn’t even skate backward trying to keep up with Wennberg as the play developed, which is definitely something you should see happen at an NHL level.) But there’s little point in meeting him out there, especially when Wennberg ends up occupying the spot you just vacated to cover a low-danger chance.

Gus was also directly responsible for Columbus’s second goal. His turnover pass into the slot in his own zone is the kind of mistake Gus makes all too often. Toews was nowhere near where the pass ended up, and so Dubois had nothing but time and space to set up the shot that led to the rebound that set up his goal.

Despite these boners, Gus managed to tie the game with a knuckling slapper past a good Carpenter screen, which is enough to get you a second star in this Late Rites of a hockey game.

– The DeBrincat–Dach–Strome line was dominant in possession, with respective 68+, 64+, and 66+ CF%s. DeBrincat is having a terrible season shooting the puck, with his S% sitting at around 8%. His two previous years produced 15+ and 18+. With Dach and Strome’s passing skill, and especially Dach’s constantly improving and impressive vision, you should expect that to jump at some point. Today simply wasn’t that day. But it looks like Colliton might have found something nice with this, even if it means putting Kane with Nylander and Carpenter.

Ryan Carpenter was a good signing. He was toward the top on the possession ledger and had an excellent fly-by screen that contributed to Gus’s game-tying goal. He probably shouldn’t be playing with Toews and Kane regularly, but when asked to step into an outsized role tonight, he did well.

Duncan Keith also had himself a pretty strong game, aside from getting blown away by Seth Jones in the third. His positioning and anticipation were good throughout. Playing him with Boqvist seems to bring something out of him.

– We can only wish the converse were true. Adam Boqvist is only 19 years old, but he’s already looking concerningly tentative. While QB’ing the PP1, Boqvist turned the puck over in his own zone to start, then spent the rest of his time demurring, relying on Kane to set everything up. You get it, but that’s not why you’re up here. He did have an excellent one timer that Korpisalo almost let get by, but outside of that, he looked lost and scared. At some point, he’s got to let loose on the offensive side. How he can do that when he chooses to defer as his first option is hard to see.

– We understand that there are lots of injuries and not many options on the blue line. But Slater Koekkoek is not, has never been, and never will be an answer to any question other than “Which player would you ice if you were actively trying to lose a hockey game?” He doesn’t ever do anything right. Look at this positioning on Nash’s goal:

Why cheat to the outside when you have Gilbert covering that spot? How are you letting Riley Nash break your ankles on an inside move? Why are you giving him that much space in the first place? So many questions, and the only real answer is that he’s not an NHL-caliber player. Yeah, Robin Lehner should have had that, but he was likely distracted thinking about what he’d say to the media about Koekkoek’s positioning after the game, because he’s SUCH A GOOD QUOTE or whatever. And yeah, it went off his skate. But if he closes the gap earlier and doesn’t cheat to the outside for whatever reason, we probably don’t see that shot.

Dennis Gilbert is high comedy at the very least. Getting bulldozed by Nathan Gerbe is an all-time laugher, as was his missed hip check in the third.

– Robin Lehner won in a shootout because hockey is the beautiful game. And if Torts isn’t lighting his own pubic hair on fire in front of Gary Bettman after losing his goaltender because of a shootout, it’ll be a first. What a stupid gimmick.

They made it fun and got two points to boot. Not a bad way to close out the penultimate game of 2019. Flames on NYE.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: Zombie Dust

Line of the Night: “You know, the players can’t hear you.” Eddie O doing his best Neil DeGrasse Tyson impression about fans who slap the glass.