Hockey

After watching this game I had to sleep on it. And get an extra hour. There’s another one of these tonight, not to mention a Bears game, so let’s just get to it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The story was supposed to be Adam Boqvist‘s debut, so let’s address that right out of the gate even though his performance wasn’t all that exciting. In fact, his numbers with Duncan Keith weren’t great (37 CF% with Keith) but there were flashes of what could be future brilliance. On his lone SOG, he had a lovely maneuver in the second period that was set up by a Kirby Dach pass, showing that there may be hope after all with the next generation. Boqvist didn’t quite finish that attempt but it still left everyone’s pants a bit tighter. Overall he was fine, he at least tried moving the puck, but the possession situation was an issue. At one point he and Keith spent a full three minutes pinned in their own zone because neither they nor Kampf could get control of the puck. Luckily Crawford bailed them all out but whether or not he stays paired with Keith, Boqvist needs to at least get the puck before he can move it up the ice.

–And that really gets to the larger issue in last night’s game, which was the Hawks’ general inability to be functional. Should we be losing our minds over a kid’s shitty possession numbers in his debut game? No. But the complete lack of control by the entire team was downright disturbing. Letting this awful Kings team keep the puck for minutes on end, giving up 49 shots on goal (yes, you read that right), taking endless penalties, being completely incapable of exiting their own zone—these are still major problems this team has to deal with, and no excitement over a couple of rookies can mask that. Not anymore, at least.

–And the reason all this mediocrity didn’t result in the Hawks getting completely embarrassed was…wait for it…the goaltending. Duh, of course it was. In an odd bit of theater, the officials made Corey Crawford leave the ice early in the first period for concussion protocol after he took a shot off the facemask. This was immediately after the Kings’ second goal in less than 5 minutes, so it briefly seemed like Coach Cool Youth Pastor was pulling him (which would have been dumb because he got hung out to dry defensively on both of the first two goals, well, actually on all of them). I guess it’s a nice gesture to have “concussion spotters?” Who knows what level of vigilance that actually entails. But, Robin Lehner came in and made 5 saves on 5 shots in 5 minutes. While I love the numeric synchronicity, can we stop and ask why the fuck they’re GIVING UP A SHOT PER MINUTE? To one of the league’s worst teams? It’s mind-boggling.

Crawford then came back in and proceeded to be lights out, with the very unfair exception of the overtime winner that just dribbled behind him and he didn’t realize it after making an initial save. The barrages he faced in the second and third periods could have put the Kings up by a touchdown. So the good news is he wasn’t concussed apparently, and he found his groove after the unexpected break. He and Lehner are truly a ridiculous duo this team gets to put out there—a level of talent that this organization doesn’t really deserve.

Dominik Kubalik looked damn good and was key to the first two goals, scoring the first and assisting on the second. David Kampf didn’t look so good, and that was disappointing because if Kane is going to be on that line, Kampf needs to be defensively competent. I realize that if you look at the box score, you’ll see Kampf scored that second goal on the assist from Kubalik, and yes that was pretty much the highlight of the game. Jack Campbell did his best imitation of break dancing late in the first and made a save on a nifty Toews move. He tried getting acrobatic again while playing the puck and Kubalik stole it and set up Kampft. So it’s not that Kampf sucks, it’s just he had a 28.6 CF% at evens and couldn’t get out of his own zone. Kane and Kubalik have a share of this blame too, of course, but we need Kampf to be leading the way on that.

–But the lines got all scrambled by the third anyway, so who really knows or cares? Just showing CCYP has no real answers.

Slater Koekkoek sucks, OK? He just sucks. You already knew that, but watching him fall on his ass as Michael Amadio scored was performance art at its best. And let’s not forget that Andrew Shaw getting beat along the boards led to that third goal. But tell me again about how Shaw’s energy helps the team. While we’re at it, can we stop with the nonsense of playing Dach with oafs and bums? How playing with Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith is going to help his development is beyond me.

–Hey, Jonathan Toews was sorta back to a semblance of his old self! The tying goal was of course huge, but he had a couple other good chances including the break-dancing-inducing one in the first. This team needs offense, so if Toews is going to show that this first month has been just a temporary slump, there’s no time like the present.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying last night…the Hawks were just bad except for Crawford and a few flashes from others. If this is them making an effort, then it’s going to be a long rest of the season. We knew that anyway I guess, but…onward and upward?

Hockey

The fact that we are still talking about Slater Koekkoek having actual playing time on this team shows you how far the defense has to go to get away from being called putrid. Let’s get through this:

2018-19 Stats (TB and CHI)

31 GP – 2 G – 4 A – 6 PTS

49.8 CF% (-0.71 CF Rel) — 51.6 xGF% (1.5 xGF% Rel)

52.4 oZS% – 47.6 dZS% – 15:50 Avg. TOI

A Brief History: Fun fact—last season we here at the lab forgot to review Koekkoek. Just completely forgot. It was an honest mistake but it said more than our words ever could. And we all had a good laugh. Anyway, the stats above are Koekkoek’s combined between Tampa Bay and the Hawks, since he didn’t actually have all that much playing time in either place—only nine of those games took place in Tampa, and he played all of 22 here. While with the Hawks he was essentially useless, pissing everyone off by getting more NHL playing time that Jokiharju (skypoint). Seeing as I just said how few games this jamoke played that should REALLY piss you off about Harju’s usage but we’ve covered that and I’m angry again now and THAT’S NOT WHY YOU’RE HERE.

It Was the Best of Times: The best-case scenario with Koekkoek is that he doesn’t play. OK, that sounds a little harsh but what I mean is that on a team with so many (supposedly) talented youngsters in the defensive pipeline, the ideal situation would be seeing any one of them be good enough to earn regular playing time over a journeyman (I’m being generous here) like Koekkoek.

In a realistic best-case, Koekkoek plays for the first few weeks while de Haan’s shoulder heals and/or the younglings make enough progress and the organ-I-zation decides they don’t want to see one of them decapitated in the AHL. Koekkoek could be on a bum-slaying third pairing, but not taking dungeon shifts since he’s really used to being more sheltered—that’s a thing that happens when you suck. I shudder to think of him with Brent Seabrook on a second pairing, but if he can just not do too much harm while he’s filling holes in the lineup, then hopefully Maata and de Haan, plus some of the kids and/or Carl Dahlstrom, will be enough to get Koekkoek demoted to 7th or even 8th defenseman. And, maybe he even becomes a throwaway trade piece for someone more useful.

It Was the Blurst of Times: Conversely, the worst thing would be if—whether through poor personnel choices, injuries, lack of talent development, or all of the above—we’re stuck with Koekkoek all season. He could float through pairings; maybe he’s with Keith for a while, maybe stuck as a bum-slayer with Dahlstrom, really no combination sounds promising. And I don’t want to think of him on the PK, after how bad it was last year. Please, don’t make me do it.

Prediction: I think that Slater Koekkoek is going to be kinda like having your period—you know it’s coming even if you can’t pinpoint the time, and you just hope it’s not a total mess but you know it will definitely involve discomfort and aggravation that you’d rather not have to deal with for days on end. If the Hawks can keep it to a week here and there while the youngins catch up and no one gets hurt, then we can handle it and move on easily enough.

All stats from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Corsica Hockey

Previous Previews

Robin Lehner

Corey Crawford

Adam Boqvist

Carl Dahlstrom

Calvin de Haan

Erik Gustafsson

Duncan Keith

Everything Else

Well, it’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? After shitting the bed the moment there seemed to be a chance of making the playoffs, the Hawks followed that up with barely eking out a win against the putrid Ducks, having a full-body dry heave against the even-more-putrid Kings, and then getting swatted aside like an annoying bug by the legitimately good Sharks. Let’s attempt to find any rays of hope, or at least let’s hurl obscenities at the worst offenders. Shall we?

The Dizzying Highs

Dylan Strome: There have been few bright spots this year but the growth of Dylan Strome into a true 2C is one of them. And with the way things are going with Jonathan Toews‘ defensive game, he may be our 1C before too long. This week Strome had a point per game and has four points in his last five. He scored last night in San Jose, giving the appearance of keeping the Hawks in the game. His awareness and patience during a long change in the second on Saturday led to Brendan Perlini‘s first goal, again giving a semblance of the Hawks having a chance in that game. Granted, being on a line with Alex DeBrincat certainly helps a guy, but Strome deserves credit—his shooting percentage is 18.9, second only to Top Cat’s. His possession at evens is a weak 45.6 CF%, so that’s an issue, but in this dark time that is the 2018-19 Blackhawks, right now this is the best we can do.

The Terrifying Lows

The whole damn defense. Where do I even begin? That’s a legit question—please help. OK here goes. Duncan Keith was terrible this week, even more than what we’ve come to see as the new normal. In addition to having clearly zero fucks left to give on the ice, he also managed to call out his coach off the ice and look like a whiny jerk. Which I don’t believe, or don’t want to believe that he is, but this isn’t helping. Seabrook has been his typical enchilada-filled self. Forsling and Koekkoek have been mostly lost, and aside from Erik Gustafsson scoring 48 points on the season (what??) there isn’t a silver lining to be found. OK, Connor Murphy has been decent but he’s been saddled with quadruple-A player Carl Dahlstrom or one of the other helpless fools, so he’s only able to do so much.

To wit, this team gave up 14 goals in three games, and nine of those goals were scored by two of the teams ostensibly even worse than the Hawks. Yes, goaltending is to blame here too but it wouldn’t get to that point if the defense wasn’t so awful. The only defensemen not underwater in possession are Slater Koekkoek (53.4 CF%, again, what??) and Gus (50.5 CF%). Every other member of the blue line is under 50. Oh wait, you know who’s leading the defense and the entire team in possession? Henri Jokiharju.

The Creamy Middles

Brendan Perlini. He scored two goals this weekend. This is the last we’ll ever speak of him.

Alex DeBrincat. His reliability and production, on the power play or otherwise, are better than just the middle, I know that. But that predictability is exactly why two goals against the Ducks and an assist last night are just middling for Top Cat, who again is one of the reasons to not light yourself on fire when watching this team.

 

Everything Else

I wish that I could at least tell you that the number of goals meant this was an exciting game—that it was a high-flying game reminiscent of the halcyon days between these two teams that really wasn’t all that long ago. But I can’t tell you that. This was a shitty game played by two shitty teams. The score was as high as it was because both teams have awful defenses and goalies who are a shadow of who they once were (it hurts, it’s not necessarily true every night but today it was).

The Hawks did their best to give the game away by squandering any and every opportunity, and the Kings had a mixture of bad luck and incompetence to keep things ugly, but they managed to look like they actually cared about winning this one. Let’s do the bullets…

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks did that thing where they have a downright terrible start and have to play from behind. It’s been a little while since the busted out their now-classic down-by-two-goals-less-than-five-minutes-in shtick, but we got to see it here today. Two dumbass penalties right away—one being by Dylan Strome which kills me because you know I love that guy and here he goes and has a stupid trip—and the otherwise-useless Dustin Brown and Sean Walker both scored. The third goal by Ilya Kovalchuk was the first one of the day that Crawford really should have had (it would not be the last). Seabrook’s ass saving a goal and Brandon Perlini’s goal at the end of the first were the only things that kept it mildly close. And this is despite the Hawks leading in possession (58 CF% all situations) and leading in shots (15-11). Hockey is weird and sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story.

–Wow, was the defense bad today. I mean, we all know they’re bad, but let me share with you some actual things that happened: Slater Koekkoek got burned by Dustin Brown and then screened Corey Crawford, directly helping both of the Kings’ first goals. Keith and Seabrook did a “you get it, no YOU get it” routine as they both literally watched the puck slide between them in the defensive zone. Gustav Forsling was looking to move the puck out of the defensive zone and had a wide open neutral zone, save one body in his field of vision—he managed to doink the puck off that one body leading to a turnover. Forsling later got swatted aside by Anze Kopitar which led immediately to the Kings’ fifth goal, which was the dagger in the game.

Oh yeah, and Nachos’s ass blocked literally half the net and saved a goal in the first period which, despite all the guffawing from Pat and Eddie, was actually terrible because it never should have happened. Seabrook’s ass was facing the shot because he had fallen down and was half in the net facing away from the play, and Keith got smoked by Trevor Lewis who sailed right in and had the scoring chance. Again, numbers don’t tell today’s story. Every Hawks defenseman was well above water in possession but they came nowhere near passing the eye test.

–Slater Koekkoek and Gustav Forsling were particularly egregious. In addition to the two fuck-ups that basically assisted on the first two Kings goals, our current favorite punching bag Koekkoek waved his stick inconsequentially in a passing lane doing absolutely nothing to prevent Kempe from scoring, after Jonathan Toews simply gave up. That goal was on Toews as well, no doubt, but Koekkoek was all-around terrible except for his one assist, which was really thanks to Strome (more on that later). Forsling’s dire performance behind the net on Brendan Leipsic‘s goal was painful to watch.

—Crawford wasn’t very good today, we have to just say it. One would think that if they weren’t playing an actual good team tomorrow night, CCYP may have pulled him after the third goal in the first period. Maybe not, because that wouldn’t have helped his confidence in any way, I would think. But regardless, his .760 SV% wasn’t even mediocre; it was wretched when you consider the opposition and the fact that the Hawks only gave up 25 shots.

–A small bright spot: Dylan Strome is still generally good, dumbass penalty notwithstanding. On Perlini’s first goal, Strome “hustled” to save icing (I use quotation marks because it was the slowest, most awkward hustling I’ve ever seen, but whatever I can barely even skate), and patiently held onto the puck below the goal line until Koekkoek got off the bench and into the zone, who then passed it to Perlini. Strome was by no means perfect, but hey I gotta find something, right?

–Brendon Perlini had two goals…had to be the best game of his life and it was totally wasted and useless.

Dylan Sikura had a nice scoring chance midway through the third that Quick stopped and I’m starting to believe he will never score in a Hawks sweater. Cue the Beavis and Butthead reference.

OK, I’m exhausted from this game. From watching it, from writing about it, everything, I just really need a stiff drink. The Hawks just got beat by the worst team in the conference with a 10-game losing streak. They lost despite not giving up 40+ shots, as is their wont, and despite having significantly better possession the entire game. Despite all logic and references to this as a “must-win,” and now it’s on to a game against the league’s elite. Eat Arby’s.

Photo credit: NHL.com

Everything Else

The Hawks are in a weird spot right now, and that’s being downright generous. They’ve lost seven in a row and perhaps you heard something about a recent coaching change? Oh, you haven’t? Well, let me assure that everyone around Chicago took it very well and no one is overreacting or furious or aghast in any way. Yet in the midst of these chaotic times we still need to parse who’s doing what and how (we’re self-hating masochists to do this but you knew that already). So let’s take a look:

The Dizzying Highs

Patrick Kane: Kane’s give-a-shit level was down around -50 for much of the early part of the season, but whether he wants to or not, he’s had to shoulder more of a load (literally) and is one of the few bright spots on this team right now. Colliton has been leaning on Kane for minutes—his TOI jumped up nearly 10 minutes from Quenneville’s last game in Calgary to Colliton’s first at the UC against Carolina. Kane had a goal and as assist in that game, and if you ignore the fact that neither he nor anyone else did jack shit against Philly yesterday, Garbage Dick has four points in his last five games. He’s also been kept on the ice for the entire power play a few times in this brave new Colliton era. Again, this hasn’t resulted in an offensive explosion quite yet but he belongs out there…and so much the better with some right-handed shots finally. Kane’s shooting percentage is a robust 16.9 right now, so you’d have to think that if Colliton keeps him out there as he’s been doing—both on the power play and at the even-strength minutes—then Kane’s points total, which is already leading the team at 21, will only go up. At least that’s what we can hope.

The Terrifying Lows

The Entire Defense: You know what, at this point I almost feel bad for Brandon Manning. Almost. He’s admitted publicly that he sucks, acknowledged that he was struggling with Q ignoring him, and said that he’s looking for a fresh start. And then he gets a fucking own goal in Philly. I mean, you can’t make this shit up. He’s exhausted my loathing for him (and we’re not even 20 games in!), and now it’s verging on pity.

I’m feeling something close to pity because it’s not like Manning is the one fucking things up defensively and everyone else is just peachy. Duncan Keith has had bad turnovers lately. Erik Gustafsson has joined in on the fun, with some of his own in the Carolina game. Brent Seabrook seems like he’s trying but he’s still slow, even if his nacho belly is a little smaller these days. Brandon Davidson, Jan Rutta…what can you even say?

The Hawks are second-worst in goals against right now (64) and goals against per 60 (3.72), with only Ottawa coming in worse in these stats. And you know it’s not all Crawford’s fault—it’s because they’re giving up an average of 33 shots per game. But here’s the real kick in the ass: they’re averaging that same number of shots per game themselves (33.1), yet they’re giving up more high-danger chances than they’re getting (13.66 HDCA/60 versus 11.56 HDCF/60). So while you’d think that at least based on shots they’d be closer to equal in terms of goals for/goals against, they’re giving up a shitload of the types of chances you can’t allow and hanging Crawford (and Ward, to a lesser extent) out to dry. It’s a mess.

The Creamy Middles

Jeremy Colliton: It’s the smallest of sample sizes, I know. But the pace is accelerating, they’re being more creative (or trying to), the power play is at least seeing some needed personnel changes, and by all accounts he’s trying to address neutral zone issues and many of the myriad problems this team has. The crappy results in these last two games can’t be directly attributed to coaching miscues. Colliton is still trying to figure out what the hell he’s going to do with these guys. He hasn’t been a train wreck and has appeared calm and collected despite the vitriol and dumbshit performances surrounding him this week. And that’s about all we can ask for at this point.

Everything Else

And the Jeremy Colliton era begins! So much hope, so much excitement, so much resentment by large numbers of people and…we got reminded how much the defense sucks regardless of the coach. Let’s get to it:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– Let’s set aside all of the wailing and teeth-gnashing over Quenneville’s firing because we’re going to hear about it again everywhere, from Twitter to the Score to the Metra platform tomorrow.  The first period was really the awful one where their defense dug them into the hole from which light could not escape. And you know that the giardiniera-soaked masses will take this performance as proof that DEY SHOULDN’A GOTTEN RIDDA Q MY FRENT. In the reality in which we live, however, the Hawks are still dealing with the same amount of talent that they had as of Monday afternoon, and that was made clear tonight. Far too often in the first (and to a lesser degree, the second period), the Hawks avoided the front of their own net as if they had a life-threatening allergy to providing Crawford with some support. By the time Calvin de Haan waltzed in for the fourth goal early in the second on a power play, Crow was so pissed he destroyed his stick on the net like Pete Townsend smashing a guitar.

– Beyond just hanging their goalie out to dry, the Hawks’ defense did other dumb shit such as Erik Gustafsson making multiple bad turnovers early on, and Henri Jokiharju taking a needless penalty, with Keith kind of contributing to it, which led directly the second goal. I’m sure Jeremy Colliton knew what he was getting with this defense—particularly since he sat Brandon Manning so this guy’s already OK in my book—but it was the harshest possible welcoming to the defense that is now his albatross.

– Alright, the defense sucks, we know that. Time for some positives. The Hawks were down by four goals and actually made a game of this, which tells you how shitty Carolina’s defense is, but also that not all is lost with our offense. Saad scored a pretty one (technically Kampf got credit for it but it was his ass being in front that scored, Saad did the actual work), Schmaltz did too (SEE DUMMY, SHOOT SOMETIMES), and Kane lifted TVR’s stick just enough to knock the puck in from the crease.

– On a related note, guess what guys? Trevor van Riemsdyk still sucks! In addition to Kane’s maneuver, Schmaltz also burned him in the third on his goal. Same as it ever was.

– Speaking of Patrick Kane, Colliton rode him like a rented mule tonight. Can’t really blame him either. Kane was out there for an entire power play (fine, cool, whatever), and had just over 22 minutes of ice time. The power play didn’t make huge strides but at least Kane was out there with some right-handed shots. As Sam said earlier, baby steps.

Marcus Kruger got his knee disemboweled by Clark Bishop basically taking his feet out from under him. Kruger hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire lately but the last thing this team needs is LESS depth, or for the defensive-zone-starting stalwart to be out for any length of time. It looked incredibly painful and shitty though when he hit that post.

– Back to the giardiniera-soaked masses, they’ll surely be rabid about how well Scott Darling played while Crawford gave up four goals in barely more than one period. Nevermind the fact that, as discussed, the Hawks defense completely screwed Crawford over, or that he had multiple fantastic saves after the Pete Townsend impression. If you come across one of these people tomorrow, ignore them and move on.

So it wasn’t exactly the strongest start to this brave new world, but we all knew the defense blows, and seriously Colliton has had barely 48 hours with this team. Remember, he benched Brandon Manning so there’s GOT to be hope. Onward and upward.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune