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The Blackhawks visited Sin City tonight, and what they did in the third period was certainly sinful. That sentence sucked let’s just get to the bullets:

– Overall I actually didn’t think this was that bad of a hockey game on the Hawks part, especially given the lineup Q went with. I will give him immense credit for finally laying his pride down and scratching Jordan Oesterle, but he went two moves too far in scratching Duclair and Hinostroza to re-introduce Sharp and Hartman to the lineup. I understand that something had to be done after yesterday’s shellacking at the hands of an ECHL team, but Duclair and Hinostroza have both been damn near excellent since they’ve been in the lineup. It would have made immensely more sense to swap out Bouma and Wingels, but instead Wingels somehow found himself on the top line and Bouma still got to hold DeBrincat back. My only possible excuse for this lineup construction is that Q is either trying to get fired or really wants to coach Rasmus Dahlin next year.

– To stay on the last bullet for one more beat, part of me wonders if keeping Bouma and Wingels in the lineup, and putting them with good players, isn’t part of a directive from above as they continue to dangle those two in trade talks. You’re not gonna get much for either, but then again Brandon Bollig got you a third round pick a few years ago. Nothing wrong with trying to pump those tires a bit more before you try to sell them. Then again, it could just be Q doing what Q does. Neither would surprise me.

– We know that the defense and goaltending have been major issues, but tonight was another indication of how bad the offense has been as well. CSN had a graphic last night showing how the Blackhawks have scored the least goals in the NHL since January 10, and tonight was another really tough showing for them. They never really got any really good chances, and certainly not as many as they gave up to the Knights. But with another 2-goal game, they’ve managed to score more than a pair of goals just three games since Jan. 10 and just seven times since The New Year. So there’s more too it than just the bad defense and goaltending. However…

– The bad defense and goaltending really proved to be their undoing in this game, and especially the third period. The Hawks took a 2-1 lead into the third, and while it didn’t feel like the most secure lead in the world, it was still a lead. They gave up a PP goal to bring the game level, which I’m willing to forgive them for because the Knights moved the puck really well to open a shooting lane and Glass had two bodies screening him. But then Erik Gustafsson left the whole slot wide open for Reilly Smith to walk in and fire, and the GWG was had. And then to really finish things off, after a turnover in the neutral zone, Glass let a shot by him that he definitely should not have, and any glimmer of a comeback was dashed away. And what’s sad is that, as Sam has pointed out on Twitter over the past few nights, people got so used to complaining about Crawford every time he didn’t completely steal a game for them, that they didn’t even know what really bad goaltending looked like. And this is it, in all its glory.

– John touched on this yesterday, but it bears repeating after his performance again tonight – Alex DeBrincat’s ability to elevate the bad players around him is truly special. He was with Hartman and Bouma for a good portion of the night and ended up with Sharp at times as well. And yet he was able to create some pretty good offense and still found the back of the net after he and Sharp showed a little persistence. It wasn’t the best game overall for Top Cat – his Corsi wasn’t good and he was also the culprit on the turnover before Vegas’ fourth goal – but he’s showing that he’s a special player and he is going to be really good for this team moving forward.

– We’re one step closer to Rasmus Dahlin, folks. Always find the silver lining.

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Corsica

Hey, the bottom-feeding Coyotes came back against the Wild and erased a 3-goal lead, maybe the Hawks could do it too? Hahaha, that’s adorable. To the bullets:

–It’s a familiar tune, but tonight the Hawks could. not. finish. They destroyed the Wild in shots (in just the first they led 17-5), ending the game with a mind-numbing 44 to the Wild’s 19. If only this were the number that mattered. Whether it was Toews in the first fumbling a point-blank shot, Our Cousin Vinny missing on a one-timer off a Kampf faceoff win in the second, or Kampf later that same period whiffing on a backhand on an open net, none of the Hawks could capitalize on any of the chances they had. In the third period they had a 91.7 CF% and yet did not score. They finished with eight high-danger chances, which isn’t a crazy high number, but it’s still a decently sized handful of good chances they choked on.

–Which leads to a related point: Devan Dubnyk had a damn good game. A lot of the Hawks’ mistakes were missing the net or just plain fucking up, but when a guy faces 44 shots and gets a shutout, you gotta tip your cap.

–Foley and Konroyd worked REALLY hard to convince us and themselves that the Hawks played well in the first, but that’s not exactly accurate. Yes, they led in shots and they were well ahead in possession, but they did jack shit with two minutes of a 5-on-3, after Marcus Foligno picked a fight with Lance Bouma in a show of sheer uselessness and stupidity. We all know the power play sucks, but at that point the game was still, well, a game, and a goal would have tied it at one. Blowing those types of opportunities is what this season has been all about, and while of course we don’t know what would have transpired even if the Hawks had scored there, they could at the very least have ended the first down by one instead of two. It may have ended tied. Either way, their incompetence on special teams was extra egregious tonight. Another example (in case you needed one): in the second while on the power play for Cullen’s hook on Kampf, the Wild started a 2-on-1 against Oesterle and Nick Schmaltz busted his ass in a sort-of backcheck which broke up the developing disaster. That was literally the best play they had on that man advantage.

–Oh, and Glass Jeff sucked. I get it that after Forsberg let in that Pitlick goal that Q was all too happy to bench his ass, but Glass gave up three goals on 19 shots. That equals out to a stellar .842 SV%. But tell me again about what a great story he is, and also let’s destroy any remaining confidence Forsberg may have had by punishing him for a stupid mistake.

–So Carl Dahlstrom started in his first NHL game, and at this point I’m all for getting a young defenseman some experience. But not at the expense of Michal Kempny for fuck’s sake. With Rutta being out they could have played Murphy with Keith, or Kempny with Keith and let Murphy babysit Oesterle, or they could have sat Oesterle all together and replaced him with Dahlstrom; there were so many other options! Dahlstrom ended the night with a 54.5 CF% and wasn’t particularly good or bad either way (understandable), but Oesterle was generally worthless. He truly can’t do shit QB’ing a power play. Q’s infatuation with and confidence in this guy—as opposed to his disdain for both Kempny and Murphy—is reaching TVR status. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s close.

–At one point Lance Bouma was on a line with Kane. That should tell you all you need to know about the misplaced priorities of this coaching staff and the quality of play right now. Bouma proved he could be a punching bag for a moron and since he didn’t start crying he gets to play on the second line? Yeah, that’s what this team needs to turn things around.

I’m not gonna tell you that NOW IS THE TIME that the Hawks have to start winning if they’re going to have a shot at the playoffs, because we all know that time has passed and where this season is going. It was a frustrating night just on its own—we don’t need to pile on unrealistic expectations too and decry how it didn’t meet them. It wasn’t going to in the first place.

 

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Well, I guess anything is better than last Saturday’s shitshow against the Islanders, right? Anything is better than the, well, I won’t even call it a half-assed attempt against the Red Wings, it was a no-assed attempt. Is this the most pathetic way to rationalize a season that is quickly disappearing down the toilet? Yes. Yes it is. To the bullets!

– The Hawks actually didn’t play badly—they got Glass’d. By the latter half of the second, they had outshot the Lightning by a decent margin (they ended that period leading in shots 30-17), and they dominated possession. They had a 64.5 CF% at evens in the second, and in the first they (barely) had the edge as well (51.7 CF%). The Hawks were pressuring on offense and had four high-danger chances in the second period, yet the Lightning got a short-handed goal late in the period, which blunted the momentum the Hawks had going that whole frame. And how did that come about, you ask? Chris Kunitz banked a shot off Glass and the Feel Good Story kicked it into his own net. And making it worse was the fact that it was on a delayed penalty thanks to Mikhail Sergachev being a general dumbshit. Yes, it appears that Kunitz made a hand pass prior to the goal and the play technically should have been blown dead. But shit happens, the Hawks were already getting the benefit of a penalty being called, and when your goalie scores on himself in that situation, you can’t really blame it on a missed call.

– Isn’t it just the damndest thing, when Kempny and Murphy play and Forsling and Rutta don’t, our opponents have fewer shots and we have fewer defensive breakdowns? Now, in full disclosure both Kempny and Murphy had pretty shitty numbers possession-wise (36.7 and 42.4 CF% respectively), and of course the Hawks still fucking lost, but giving up 31 shots to the league’s best team after they had given up 46 in the game before? You can’t tell me the personnel changes and these numbers aren’t related.

– In the most obvious statement of the night, Andrei Vasilevskiy is really fucking good. The Hawks had plenty of quality changes—e.g., Jurco in the second, Duclair in the third—and they had six power plays including a two-man advantage. Yes, their power play remains as terrible as ever, but Vasilevskiy still stopped 40 shots on the night. I just made the second-most obvious statement when mentioning the dismal power play, but we’ll just leave it at that. Still complete clown shoes.

– It felt like Patrick Kane was triple-shifted all night. In fact he wasn’t, but he did have a shitload of ice time: 23:30. Kane spent more time on the ice than four of our six defensemen (only Keith and Oesterle had more time, and for Oesterle it was a matter of seconds. Same goes for Toews but I’m not talking about other forwards here). Kane finished the night with three shots, and he and Schmaltz were moving even if they were dragging Sharp around most of the time. So I get why this happened, but when you have to play Kane that much it feels like a desperate move by a team running out of options, time, and trust, which is most certainly now the case.

On Wednesday the Hawks play the Leafs, who lost tonight to the inexplicably-on-fire Avs, who are in the process of leaving us in the dust in the Central as they’re tied with Minnesota and chasing other also-relevant teams. Have we passed the point of no return on this season and playoff hopes? It’s not entirely certain, and keeping a game like tonight’s close—when we’re playing a far superior opponent—almost gives you reason to hold onto hope, but that in and of itself is a harsh indictment of where we’re at. Onward and upward.

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As the last few weeks have limped by with a Crawford-less Blackhawks team, the questions and murmurs about what the hell is really going on with him have grown in volume and intensity. But now we’ve gotten word from nebulous sources via a Sun-Times piece by Mark Lazerus that Crawford has “vertigo-like symptoms” and may be out the rest of the season.

Cue this:

OK, hysteria aside, what now?

  1. Fake News? We’ve made it no secret here that the NHL’s convention of not telling anyone shit about what’s happening with players pisses us off to no end. The league as a whole practices this nonsense, and the Hawks in particular are offenders in this regard. And when I say “what’s happening with players” that extends beyond injuries, which of course are always categorized in the non-helpful, binary world of “upper-body” or “lower-body,” as if there weren’t myriad variations among the parts of those halves. I also mean personnel decisions (this is where the Hawks are most problematic). Whether it’s something like moving Top Cat to his off side, marooning Keith with Cody Franson for a quarter of a season, throwing Kempny in the Sarlaac pit, what have you (and these are just some recent examples), the Hawks’ decisions about who plays when and where are given the air of secret priestly knowledge by the club, which cannot be shared with the illiterate peasants. And this Crawford situation has been shadier than most injury or personnel non-announcements. Was he rushed back from a lower-body injury earlier in the season? Their “upper-body” designation when he went back on IR would say no, but I’ll tell you honestly I wasn’t really convinced at the time. Taking them at their word, one would think concussion, but then with no timetable for his return and zero information from the team, speculation grew that it was something more sinister, which wasn’t helped by some cryptic quotes from Toews last weekend about how “He’ll do what he can to get himself better….” Is it really a concussion? Probably. It’s probably some brain-related issue just by virtue of him being a goalie who gets hit in the head with discs of hard rubber flying at enormous rates of speed. But admittedly, “vertigo-like” symptoms is a diagnosis just specific enough to make fans think, oh, OK, it’s a head issue, yet vague enough that it could be something really serious, like say, keeping him in net for a while when he already had a concussion. With this club’s history of obfuscation, I’ve got no reason to believe this is actually vertigo and not a more serious concussion issue, short of an official announcement with some actual medical information.
  2. The Trade Deadline. Given the Hawks, uhhh, issues this season, there has rightly been speculation about whether they should trade for a top-tier player who could get them into the playoffs, or if they’re in some rebuilding-on-the-fly mode (again, that whole non-communication thing). Crawford’s Vezina-quality season up to the holidays made a stronger case for landing an Erik Karlsson or Oliver Ekman-Larsson (or someone else, there have to be a couple other d-men out there, these are just the two most tossed-around names). The problem with any of these moves is of course the harsh reality of the salary cap, which would likely mean needing to move Anisimov and his banged-up ass, but they managed to swap Panik for a younger, faster Duclair, which gave me some optimism that Bowman can still sell magic beans to the other dipshit GMs in this league. However, now you have to ask if putting Crawford on LTIR and the resulting freed-up cap space would allow them to get a comparable goalie and/or any other top-tier guys. The former seems unlikely (who’s out there that could play at the level Crawford was?), and with another trade the risk of having to sweeten any deal by including some of the young guys goes up. Is it worth it to trade Schmaltz, Kampf, Hinostroza, or, god forbid, Top Cat? If the Hawks were going to be able to capitalize on what was likely Crawford’s last excellent season (now “likely” seems to be “definitely”), before Toews declines more precipitously, Keith gets slower, and Kane eventually joins them, then a case could be made that trading away our future would be worth it for the present glory. The same goes for a situation where they land a dark horse Vezina candidate to replace Crawford plus another defenseman. But that looks to be a pipe dream now. As much as I dislike rebuilding-on-the-fly with seemingly little direction, I’d rather see the Hawks pause for a moment and figure out what the fuck they’re going to do with these guys, unless there is some perfect maneuver out there that only Stan knows about. I may be an illiterate peasant, but I’ve got my doubts about that.
  3. The Jeff Glass Experience. So in the short term, meaning like next week when they come off the bye, Q needs to get over whatever allergic reaction he’s having to Anton Forsberg, or conversely get over whatever infatuation he has with Jeff Glass, and let Forsberg play consistently. Forsberg hasn’t been lights-out, don’t get me wrong, but we can’t have Glass flopping all over the crease against the Lightning or the Leafs next week (or the Islanders, for that matter). Whether playoff hopes are dashed or not with the Crawford news, there is still no reason to shatter Forsberg’s confidence any further by playing a quadruple-A level goalie instead of him (also where the fuck is J-F Berube? Does he have vertigo too?). I’m quite confident that Glass will get way more playing time than he should, and an already desperate and confusing goaltender situation will only get worse. But it’s just a few weeks until pitchers and catchers, right?
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The Blackhawks and Red Wings played a hockey game at 11:30am on a gosh darn Sunday morning. On the same weekend as an NFL Playoff Game. That decision by the NHL alone was stupid, but it was not the stupidest part of this game. Just let me get through this:

– The Red Wings got started early with a goal less than five minutes in. This goal was comical on the Blackhawks part because Anthony Anthony-see-you (or something like that) took the puck wide below the goal line and then somehow put it through three Blackhawks to a waiting Dylan Larkin. He had a wide open net, and even if he didn’t Jeff Glass was in goal, so he scored. The three Hawks that allowed the pass through them were Keith, Oesterle, and Schmaltz. So.

– The second goal came from Mike Green, who slammed a one-timer home after a not-very-intimidating rush by the Wings was answered by a completely uninspired and careless back check by the Blackhawks. There were 3 Hawks going back with the play to try and stop 4 Wings, and right after Green scored the other two Hawks came into the picture – they were Brandon Saad and Vinostroza. First banner moment for this line of the day, more to come!

– The second period was basically nothing worth noting, though one moment that did stick out was an actually good save that Jeff Glass made! Except it was only a necessary save because he completely overcommitted as Ant-man came up the wing wide below the net (funny, he kept doing that and kept getting away with it), then basically froze up and looked around like “well shit, I’m fucked” before realizing the puck was still behind the net and he reacted like a lame duck, flopping across the crease and and barely stopping the puck. So good job cleaning up your own mess, Jeff! Please go away now.

-Goal number three. Oh, goal number three. A two on two rush toward the home team’s net, as both teams change, in the third period probably *should* bode well for the home team, because their bench is closer to the net. However, as Ray Ferraro emphasized for us, Anthony Mantha left his bench and skated 100 feet to take a pass and score a goal before a Blackhawks forward even got into the camera shot. That forward was Jonthan Toews. Hooray.

– I don’t even care about what happened on the fourth goal. It was a mess and the game was already over when it happened. The game was probably already over when Larkin scored.

– PLEASE LET THIS BE THE END OF JEFF GLASS. He isn’t a good story, no matter what every single fucking broadcast team on the Hawks games say. Pretty much every good moment he’s had has just been him cleaning up a mess of his own making, through bad rebound control or a bad read or both. 30 year old NHL rookies do not suddenly become actually good NHL goalies. Just end this pain before it consumes us all. And Corey Crawford please come back soon.

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Remember a few years ago when the Hawks were really truly good, and they’d lose some dumbass game to some dumbass opponent that you knew they should have won, and you thought to yourself, how are they losing this right now? Well, it appears we’ve become that dumbass opponent for the seemingly-legitimately-good Jets. To the bullets!

– Let’s get right to the new guy: Anthony Duclair had a solid first game as a Blackhawk. He sported a 57.1 CF% at evens (70 CF% in all!) and got an assist. And overall, the third line was fast and kept the puck in the offensive zone. It was Duclair maintaining possession in a sequence that got it to Top Cat, who got it to Murphy, who got it to the net with Kampf redirecting it in along the way. A speedy and skilled third line? Please and thank you.

– Speaking of the third line, David Kampf had a big night (and on his birthday too, yay). The aforementioned redirection was his first NHL goal, and he got an assist on Rutta’s goal as well. Everything I just said about the third line, I would repeat here (don’t worry, I won’t).

– Kyle Connor on the Jets was snakebitten tonight. Dude had three points in his last game (granted, it was against the Sabres), but the correction came tonight. Oesterle and Glass both foiled his breakaways in the second period.

–Which brings me to: the defense had some flashy plays tonight. Forsling was the proverbial bat out of hell getting down the ice to save what would have been an empty net goal in the first. Duclair had drawn a penalty and Glass left the ice but the puck, as they say, squirted loose (I hate that characterization) and was hurtling toward the open net, and Forsling hurtled himself faster to pull off a last-second save. Then, in the second period Oesterle was marooned with a 3-on-1 as he came off the bench, yet he managed to poke check Kyle Connor while laid out on the ice. Connor Murphy’s huge shot led to the first Hawks goal. (Way too many “Connors” in this game.) And Jan Rutta scored a soft goal that you can be sure Hellebuyck will see in his nightmares.

Now make no mistake, Forsling and Rutta had plenty of dumb-fuckery in the defensive zone, and Seabrook fumbled a pass into a turnover also in his own zone (which Foley and Konroyd of course spun as a positive thing when he managed to scrape the puck out of the crease), but at least we got some relief from the defensive circus with some acrobatics that were actually landed.

– I know Jeff Glass only gave up one goal, but you’re still not going to convince me he’s an NHL-caliber goalie (he’s a nice guy, it’s a great story, I’m not arguing that). He certainly shouldn’t have been the first fucking star. Oesterle in particular bailed him out multiple times tonight—he deserved the damn first star. In general Glass’s positioning is just wonky, for lack of a better term. Yes he kicks out a leg to make a second stop but it’s because he’s lunging all over on the first stop or giving up rebounds. I get nervous any time the puck comes near him because he’s shimmying like a backup dancer for Tina Turner.

However, the Hawks need every point and especially when they’re playing a division opponent, despite the fact that they won’t come close to catching this one but hey, whatever. Ideally this will give them some momentum going into Sunday when they play the crappy-ass Red Wings, and we can hope they don’t have a repeat of what happened earlier this week when they followed a win with a foolish loss to a team that’s not any better than them. Good start to the weekend; onward and upward.

Beer de Jour: Two Hearted by Bell’s

Line of the Night: “Not many good entries when you’re standing still.” —Pat Foley, describing a shitty power play zone entry (or lack thereof).