Everything Else

Well here’s a week to analyze. Clocked twice by actual real teams (neither of which is higher than third in their division though, so that’s fun!), and then getting past two dregs with 13 goals combined. Let’s do the thing:

The Dizzying Highs

Brandon Saad – Two goals and four points in four games might not sound like much, but it’s a little more than that. Also, Saad being a point per game and goals in every other would be a very fine season, obviously. What’s drawing my eye to The General is that possession-wise, he’s been flattening everyone in front of him. He threw up 70%+ Corsi against both the Devils and Jackets, and even in the loss to Boston where he was under water he was actually well ahead of the team-rate. Only last night was he below what the team was doing, and he managed two points anyway.

It would seem Saad has found a home on a third-line, which is obviously not what anyone pictured when he was brought back. I’m still a big proponent of putting him back in the top-six after he’s had his longest stretch of dominant hockey in these two seasons, just to see what he can do with better talent and the gained confidence. But he’s a weapon to have there where most teams can’t defend him, and if you were to swap him with say Kahun you’d only get the proper defensive work on a third line without any of the dash. That would probably work better when David Kampf is back in the lineup. Perhaps most impressive about this little streak is that Saad basically has had to create all his own offense (with a little help from Dylan Sikura, who needs a goal to validate the good work he’s been doing), which is something we’ve cudgeled him with before.

As we’ve said, it’s probably past time to give up on what you thought Saad could be, or ever winning that trade. That doesn’t mean Saad isn’t useful, and very much so, and you’ll find life easier if you just appreciate what the Hawks have. That probably won’t stop his name in trade rumors in the summer, and maybe that will be something the Hawks have to do to get what they really need. For now, let’s leave it.

The Terrifying Lows

Carl Dahlstrom – The numbers look ok on Dahlstrom, at least the last two games do. But these are ones you have to get past the numbers and see with your eyes. And it’s horribly unfair on Dahlstrom, who went from in and out of the IceHogs lineup to taking on the dungeon shifts and assignments with Connor Murphy after like a game and a half up in the big league. He is not cut out for this, and you can even have a debate whether he’s cut out for more than #6 or #7 duty. Still, there have been some ugly, ugly shifts.

Dahlstrom isn’t as slow as you might think, but that doesn’t mean he’s fast. And while he’s shown a willingness the past two or three games to try and skate himself out of trouble, sometimes the results have been icky. And that’s not even the main problem, as he’s been wildly chasing out of position, ending up in a corner or behind the net when the puck isn’t there anymore. Perhaps he thinks he needs to be the aggressive one with Connor Murphy more built for the safety role, but that doesn’t mean he’s built for it. The Hawks and Dahlstrom don’t have much choice because this is what they have, but there are going to be more shifts and nights like these as we finish up whatever the hell this is.

The Creamy Middles

Alex DeBrincat – It might be a tad harsh on someone to describe their seven-point week as merely par for the course, but despite what a whole lot of scouts trying to cover their ass think, DeBrincat being a premier scorer in this league is just the facts of the case. He’s now 10th in goals in the league, and has an outside shot at getting 40 this year. You could look at his 18% shooting-percentage as wonder if it’s not a touch lucky, but that’s not that much beyond his 15.5% last year when he was rookie. Some would probably want to dismiss most of his total on merely being dunks from the left circle. But if it were so easy, wouldn’t everyone do it? The kid scores. He gets where he has to without anyone noticing, and he finishes. Now imagine what he could do in a season where he’s taking as many shots as Kane is this year (currently 240 for Kane and 170 for Top Cat). And seeing as how he’ll be playing for a contract next year, it might only get better (and William Nylander‘s deal is probably making Stan Bowman awfully sweaty).

Everything Else

It would seem a near impossible task to ferret out who should stand atop the pile in a week when the Hawks have lost every game, a couple in bad fashion and a couple in heartbreaking fashion. But that is our charge, and why you come here, dear reader. Because we run the hard miles over the tough obstacles. Or something. Anyway…

The Dizzying Highs

Jonathan Toews, I guess? – I suppose it’s symbolic in a way. At a time when we thought we’d seen the last of Jonathan Toews bending a game to his will, to take over pretty much every shift and pretty much force a win from his team, he can’t do it. Not because the effort wasn’t enough, because it was. It’s just too much to ask one person on this team to lift it above the morass it’s created for itself. I’m sure afterwards, Patrick Kane looked at him, put an arm on his shoulder and said, “Y’see?” The numbers aren’t wholly impressive, as Toews racked up two goals and three points in the four games. But if you watched the games, especially in Vegas, it was a glimpse of what Tazer used to be every night. Winning every puck battle, forcing the puck up the ice and toward the net, creating things out of sheer want-to. It’s comforting to know that it’s still in the chamber. It’s dispiriting that the final amount of bullets, however many there may be, are wasted on this outfit. Will there be any left when it matters again?

The Terrifying Lows

Corey Crawford – It hurts more and more to keep doing this. But we can’t run from it. .901 is .901. And while he has no defense in front of him, there are other goalies in the league facing almost as many good chances as Crow is and doing more with them. David Rittich, for example, as the same xSV% at evens as Crow. His ES SV% is .943. Crow’s is .903.

It is a herculean task, what Crawford has been asked to do, of course. Step in from 10 months out in THE GREY and then stabilize a Hawks team that essentially looks like kindergarten recess in its own zone. Where was Andreas Martinsen going last night and what was he doing out there with a minute to go? Another time for that question.

Crow let the Hawks down in Vegas when they had actually fought well and played better and deservedly had taken the lead. Same in Anaheim. It’s not good enough. And maybe this was always going to be part of the process, that his recovery would be longer and uglier than we anticipated, and more to the point, hoped. Maybe the new pad restrictions are also combining with everything else to make for hard adjustments. The rebound control would suggest.  But the Hawks simply aren’t getting a save right now. And against the Ducks and Canadiens last night, he wasn’t tasked with an abnormal load.

Thankfully, there’s basically nothing riding on this season now, and the Hawks can spend it finding out if Crow can be saved (he almost certainly will round out again sometime) or whether they start have to plan for a transition of influence to Collin Delia (who’s seeing a similar workload in Rockford so at least they’re training him well).

The Creamy Middles

Patrick Kane – I’m not sure he cares. I’m not sure he’s got the patience to see out whatever this is (I know his dad doesn’t and he’s calling the shots). And there are still shifts where you can tell the give-a-shit meter has collected at the bottom. But he still makes goals happen, as he racked up points all three games this week and had two goals last night to bring the Hawks back into it. While we weren’t looking he’s back up over a point-per-game, which is mightily impressive considering some of the linemates he’s been dragging around at times. Some think this could be the end of his time here. or we’re starting that path. I’m not so sure. And there will be a lot of writing to be done if it is.

Everything Else

Who was good, who was bad, and the in-between on another week on the Good Ship Blackhawks. 

The Dizzying Highs

Brandon Saad – In a week where your team only scores four goals that involved beating an actual goalie (so not Kahun’s empty-netter) and you’ve got two of them, I’d say you’re making a difference. Saad also spent the week playing on three different lines. His Corsi-relative an scoring-change-relative numbers against the Kings and Wild were miles ahead of his teammates, even if most of those games were spent with the nuclear option of Kane and Toews. But hey, if they’re Khalil Mack-ing people around the ice (it’s a verb now), no one’s going to care. His goal last night is actually what you think of when you think of a Saad goal, streaking past a confused d-man who only made one wrong half move, holding him off with barely a thought, and getting around the goalie. Yes, maybe it should happen more often. But it’s happening now, and maybe it will continue. Let’s just be happy about it, all right? All right.

The Terrifying Lows

Duncan Keith – If you’re going by metrics, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook spent the week getting their brains beaten in by whatever opposition was on the ice. They didn’t top a 40% share of attempts in any of the three games, nor in scoring chance share, and on Friday against L.A.–who are staffed by interns on quaaludes, essentially–they managed an 18% mark in scoring chance share. In the words of Muhammad Ali, “THAT’S BAD!” And not like he meant it. If you want to be fair, and you do because this is Duncan Keith we’re talking about, he and Seabrook have been taking more defensive zone shifts than usual. And their ice-flipping days are probably over. But the Hawks also probably need something more than them turtling when their on the ice if they’re going to go anywhere. Pairing them together isn’t helping, but we also saw what happened when Keith was paired with someone he was supposed to take a backseat to in the aggressive department. I’m not sure what the answers are here, and whatever they are and are discovered I’m fairly sure Keith isn’t going to like them.

The Creamy Middles

Corey Crawford – Hmm, Crow’s back to a .922 SV%. The Hawks took five of the six points on offer in his last three starts when he put up only a .981 SV%, including his first shutout of the season. Isn’t that strange how that works. But this is what you expect of Corey, or at least what we expect, given that he’s been, y’know, one of the five best goalies in the league for like five seasons now. Sure, don’t make him have to come up with 39 saves every night. But this team isn’t going to get him down around 27 or 28 a night either. They’ll go as far as he does. Like this, that’s five of six points.

Everything Else

I guess that’s what you’d call the first speed bump of the season. If that speed bump came to life and chomped on your skull for like an hour while you just sat there contemplating the meaninglessness of it all. At least that was last night. It saw the Hawks suffer their first two regulation losses of the season. Though it did include their first regulation win. So yeah…this season is weird. Anyway, let’s see what was bad, what was good, and what was right where it should be.

The Dizzying Highs

Alex DeBrincat – Able to remain above the fray, and I feel like we’re going to say that for most of the season. Set up the only goal they got against the Coyotes, scored against the Jackets to put the Hawks ahead (admittedly one Bobrovsky should have had, but the hands and quickness to get to that spot and get that shot off after a middling pass from Kahun was worthy or reward). Top Cat’s scoring-streak came to a stop last night, as did any illusion about this team, but he was still the Hawks best skater this week and has been all season. I also love the added bonus of scouts and pundits trying to wheel-pose themselves to cover their ass for not thinking or making him a first-round pick because he happens to be small in a league that’s getting more and more away from size.

Oh hey, the only three players who have outscored Top Cat from that draft are Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Matthew Tkachuk, and all have played a season more than he has. Everyone can go pound.

The Terrifying Lows

The Entire Defense – Boy, this is going to be the subject of several posts this week I feel, and certainly the subject of this week’s podcast (recording tonight, send in your questions!). The Hawks were basically mullered for both games on the weekend, and had Corey Crawford to thank for any points they got let alone the two they did. Cam Ward had the unusual feat of giving up five goals and still maintaining a 900 SV% last night. I’m not even sure how mad you can get about the actual players, because they are what they are and have been. Duncan Keith is old. Henri Jokiharju‘s balls haven’t dropped, at least in a hockey sense. Jan Rutta, Brandon Manning, and Brandon Davidson (at this point we should just call them, “Davidson Manning” because really what the fuck does it matter?) are big bags of suck. Seabrook is old too, and Gustafsson is a cowboy. There really are no surprises here.

No, the anger should be at a front office that thought this was an acceptable defensive corps to toss out there with a straight face and still run your “One Goal” ads about a revival season coming (while knowing Connor Murphy was going to miss two months!), and a coach who is still insistent on a defensive and breakout system this group has no hope of being able to run. And really, it won’t work in this league any more. The Hawks coach needs to adjust his system to his players, not the other way around. Until that happens, nights like Sunday are not going to be isolated incidents. You’ll be reading a lot more about this in the coming days.

The Creamy Middles

Corey Crawford – It may seem harsh to not put Crow in the “Dizzying Highs” category. Because he was really good in both of this games this week. But here’s the thing: Corey Crawford is really good. Vezina-worthy performances don’t really surprise me, because he’s a Vezina-worthy goalie. Sure, the fact that they came after 10 months out is startling, and unexpected. But the actual games themselves are what Crow has been serving up for four or five seasons now. Maybe having gone without him so long people will realize just what he means to this team while he can still do it. The Hawks can put Toews and Kane on their marketing drive all they want. The player whose importance to his team rises to the level of Bryant, Rizzo, Mack, Trubisky, Eloy is Crawford. That’s just how it be, kids.

 

Everything Else

Time for our weekly review of who’s gettin’ it done, who ain’t, and who’s just there like the dead skin on my left thumb. To it!

The Dizzying Highs 

Alex DeBrincat

Only two games this week, so there isn’t much to choose from. But when you pile in four goals in two games, one of which should have been a game-winner, one that was a game-winner, and another that tied a game you were trailing in the third, it makes the pick pretty easy.

Top Cat is pacing the Hawks with nine points in five games, and is a big reason why Jonathan Toews doesn’t need Paul Bearer following him around at all times (not that I would complain if this were to happen, if Paul indeed were still with us. SKY POINT). He’s been showing off his all-around game as well, as there was a fear he might just be a one-dimensional sniper (which has worked out pretty well for Phil Kessel, but that’s another story for another time). Top Cat has showed off his vision and passing skills, and has been far more hellacious on the backcheck than anyone would have guessed for someone of the Lollipop Guild.

I’m going to spend all season giddily laughing about the “scouts’ take” article from Scott Powers about how DeBrincat would top out as a 25-goal, 45-point guy. He’s already a fifth of the way to both and the Hawks have played five games. No, he’s not going to continue his 98-goal, 144-point pace he’s on now (BUT WHAT IF HE DOES?! THAT WOULD ASSUREDLY MEAN THE END FOR US ALL!!!). But yeah, I’m totes excited to see where this goes.

The Terrifying Lows

Brandon Saad

We’re going to be the last on the Knives-Out-For-Saad tour, but this is getting a little worrisome. Demoted to the fourth line on Saturday night and barely getting five minutes of even-strength time. And perhaps more upsetting, he doesn’t seem all that fazed by it. He did manage an assist, but Brandon Saad should not be on the fourth line in this or any other universe.

Perhaps Q needs a different method than the “tough love” one, as it’s never really been something Saad has responded to. Ask John Tortorella. Actually, don’t, because there are far better uses of your time, but you get the idea. Something is amiss, and if the Hawks have any hope of actually turning this start into something prolonged, they’ll need Saad to be what he’s promised on the good side of the spectrum, not the glorified Patrick Maroon on the bad one.

The Creamy Middles

Cam Ward – wait, huh?

Yeah, I know that sounds strange, and he let in a bad one on Saturday night when he and Brandon Manning decided to rehearse their “Who’s On First” reenactment on the ice. Still, Ward was the only reason the Hawks got a point in Minnesota and had to be just about as good in the last half of the game against the Blues. It’s not winning the Hawks much but it’s giving them a platform. In those two games his SV% is .916, which will work just fine as a backup. Which he very well might be starting as soon as Thursday. The Hawks schedule picks up after that though, so it’s likely he’ll be splitting starts with Crawford to start. If he can give the Hawks .910 or so, you’l settle.

 

Everything Else

I thought I’d knock this out today, with two games to end the season and attendance at HockeeNight’s thing on Saturday making Sunday completely useless. So let’s do our full season Atop The Sugar Pile.

The Dizzying Highs

Niklas Hjalmarsson – I named him The CI’s Player Of The Season in last night’s issue. And for me, everything has basically centered around him this campaign. Yes, Duncan Keith is the main cog in the engine, or maybe even the engine himself, that drives the Hawks game. But Keith was allowed to be that this season because Hammer was so good and earning the top assignments. It allowed Keith to dominate lesser competition, and when Keith is controlling the ice everything about the Hawks’ game opens up.

While we can look at almost every other Hawks and find a portion of their season that dipped or had a slump, it’s hard for me to remember a time when Hammer’s game varied 5% either way. The only time he looked vulnerable was lately when he had to be paired with Sheldon Brookbank. But who wouldn’t? Hammer’s poise defensively and with the puck has been startling to watch when you consider where he was two years ago. He never panics, he’s always in position, and his short but assured passes to the middle simple deflate every forecheck and start the Hawks the other way.

Has he been the all around game that Keith has? No. But he’s the best defensive defenseman on the team this year. He might be the best kept secret in the NHL, but I don’t think it’ll stay that way for much longer.

Everything Else

It’s back. Our weekly feature… or one of them, at least. Let’s get to it.

The Dizzying Highs

Brandon Saad – Well this was easy, wasn’t it? Four points in two games, and when he wasn’t piling up points on the third line he was dominating pretty much every shift. As we suspected, Saad is relishing being away from the other teams’ top pairings, not that he did all that badly when he had to deal with them last year. A physical force, and turning into a premier power forward right before our eyes. While Smith and Nordstrom have been tested on the top penalty killing pair with Kruger, will it be too much longer before Saad gets his chance? I doubt it.

Everything Else

Holy shit, we can actually legitimately put someone in The Terrifying Lows category and not have it be a stretch! We can bitch again! I feel whole once more!

Right, to it.

The Dizzying Highs

Jonny Revelator – The Captain had five points in four games this week, including two beauty goals. As things started to actually crack and chip, Toews’s line was still dominant in every game. It seems like Toews, Hossa, and Saad create a turnover in the offensive zone whenever they want. And they want to all the time.

General Saad – Only topping Toews this week was Brandon Saad’s six-point week. That included his three-point period against Minnesota, where he was so far and away the best player on the ice it was basically laughable. Saad has become such a weapon that we talk about him improving other lines now, not where he can be protected. Should he be clearing space for Bolland and Kane? Can he skate on the 3rd? Were we asking this a couple weeks ago?

Most players ask that you stand. Saad only asks that you kneel….