Hockey

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Game Times: 6:00PM (5/9), 7:00PM (5/10)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, SportsNet (5/9), NBCSN (5/10), WGN-AM 720
JerryWorld: Defending Big D

First of all Happy Mothers Day out there to all whom it may apply to. And anyone who actually cares for the mother figures in their lives would be best served to keep them as far away from watching these games as possible. Seats still available!

Hockey

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RECORDS: Hawks 27-26-8   Stars 35-20-6

PUCK DROP: 2pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

LET THE CHILDREN BOOGIE: Defending Big D

Well this is an interesting one. The Hawks will play their last game looking like this. How much they will change by the time they play again in St. Louis on Tuesday night, well that’s something of a mystery.

We know Erik Gustafsson is a goner, as he wasn’t even brought on the trip. The Hawks will probably only get a 3rd or 4th rounder for him, making the refusal to move him at last year’s deadline when he would have been worth a first even more frustrating. Corey Crawford is starting, which makes you think that Robin Lehner could be on the move as well, if not Crawford himself. But someone has to play in goal. If the Hawks keep both, you’ll know they either have no vision or plan whatsoever or the balls to execute one.

Is this Brandon Saad’s last game here? Dylan Strome’s? Drake Caggiula’s? There are more options beyond Gus and Lehner, but how many will the Hawks take? You’re not wrong to bet on the low end, but anything is possible.

That’s the intrigue off the ice. On the ice the Hawks will have a new piece to look at, which is Lucas Carlsson. Carlsson has been Rockford’s best d-man, and arguably best player, for a while now, and the Hawks have no reason not to spend the rest of the season seeing what they have here. They should do that with other players as well. Carlsson is definitely the type of player the Hawks should be looking at more often, i.e. one with skill and mobility that can move the puck and himself quickly. Instead we’ve gotten the Dennis Gilberts and Matthew Highmores of the world, which is how the Hawks have ended up here. Maybe Carlsson isn’t anything, but with nothing more to play for it’s an evaluation time. In fact, this is how the Hawks ended up with Gustafsson as a regular, though they’ve clearly botched maximizing his value.

As for the rest of it, the Hawks played a spirited game at home on Friday, which was at least entertaining. Can they keep that going on the road for four games against teams who have real stakes? Much harder to do, and while the Hawks will claim they’ve been better on the road this year, the last road trip that left their season in ashes makes its own testimony. And these games on either side of the deadline could see some killed spirits.

To the Stars, who have won five of their last seven and are still very much in the discussion for winning the division even though they’ve had to lose a coach and surf some injury problems this year.

How are the Stars here? THE BISHOP! and The Khudes, the lates emo band to storm Dallas. Has an emo band ever stormed Dallas? We’ll save that discussion for later. Anyway, the Stars are back to being the same boring-as-all-fuck outfit they were last year that locked up their playoff spot and saw them upset the Preds in the first round and nearly do the same to the Blues (sigh). They don’t limit attempts all that well but they collapse around their net and limit chances, and Bishop and Khudobin are rocking SV%’s over .920, leading the Stars to have the second-best ES SV% at evens.

Because they certainly don’t score much. The Stars don’t have anyone with 20 goals or averaging anywhere near a point per game. They’re 24th in goals per game, but you can get away with that when you’re third in goals-against. There is some spreading out of threats here, with Seguin, Benn, and Radulov now on three different lines, but it also tamps down their threat when not together. Benn particularly seems to be on the spiral down, and we know how he feels about going down.

It’s still a stout defense, which has been buffeted by the return of Stephen Johns after he missed a season and a half with concussion problems. He and Heiskanen have dovetailed well which makes for a hell of a second pairing behind Klingberg and Lindell.

This is the first time the Hawks and Stars have seen each other since right before Thanksgiving, when the Hawks played well enough to win twice but only gathered one point. Penetrating the middle of the Stars zone will be the order of the day for the Hawks, but that’s much easier said than done.

It’ll be a stripped down Hawks team soon. They’re only playing for the future. But hey, maybe that’s when you find something.

Hockey

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RECORDS: Hawks 9-9-4   Stars 13-8-2

PUCK DROP(S): Tonight and Tuesday at 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago Saturday, NBCSN Tuesday

TEXAS FLOOD: Defending Big D

It’s a bit strange that almost two months into the season, the Hawks have only played three divisional games. They haven’t seen St. Louis, or Colorado, or Minnesota, or Dallas yet. That will change over the Thanksgiving holiday, as the next five are within the Central and four of them will be amongst home-and-homes. It kicks off tonight with the first saunter of the campaign down to Texas, where the Hawks will start two against the hottest team in the league.

It’s been a miniature version of last season for the Stars, who won one of their first nine and now have ripped off 12 of their last 14. But whereas last year Jim Montgomery switched gears midseason to go all Trotz/Lemaire to shoot the Victory Green up the standings and into the playoffs, this year he’s loosened the reins a bit to give his team a little more freedom. But basically what both seasons boiled down to is either Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are scoring or they’re not.

Montgomery even pulled the same switch as the owner last year, calling out his two stars in the press. He walked that back immediately, because he knows they’re the reason this team will be good or not, especially with John Klingberg out injured (again). Not that it didn’t work, as Seguin has piled up eight points in six games since and Benn seven. These two were playing well before of course, just weren’t getting the bounces.

It also helps that THE BISHOP has started flashing Vezina form again, which is the real strength of the team. Whatever the Stars do he is the backbone, and a .942 in November will backstop just about any system or teammates Montgomery would choose. The Hawks will duck Bishop tonight by the looks of it, but will probably see him on Tuesday in the return. Not that Anton Khudobin is some easy task either, as he also has a .942 in four November starts.

The Stars are a bit beat up, as Klingberg is a big miss and Roope Hintz being out erodes some of their depth as well (both returned on Saturday and both scored last night, so it’s pretty much the full strength Stars now). Miro Heiskanen has made up for a lot of what Klingberg would do, and has even inspired Jamie Oleksiak into some form of competence, which is a true upset.

That doesn’t mean the Stars are without depth. Joe Pavelski has gotten used to being in green and not teal of late, and is dovetailing with Alex Radulov on the second line. Even shit-demon Corey Perry has chipped in on the bottom six, and you know what Andrew Cogliano (NBA Jam voice: COGLIANO!) can do to the Hawks (and Fifth Feather’s little cartoon hearts).

Perhaps the main feature of the Stars forwards is they can adapt to a variety of styles given their IQ and speed. Montgomery certainly hasn’t shied from trying just about everything.

To the Hawks, who shouldn’t see too many changes from Thursday aside from putting the seven d-men plan into the freezer for good. As we’ve said, in a vacuum it makes sense and would make more with Adam Boqvist around. But this isn’t a vacuum, the players clearly hate it, and we likely won’t see it again for a while unless Colliton has a point to prove tonight. Certainly Dominik Kubalik has no business being scratched other than he’s the lowest hanging fruit to do so being a rookie. Enough of that shit.

The Stars are almost already out of touch for the Hawks, six points ahead though having played a game more. Still, the Hawks aren’t going to climb the standings if they can’t get wins within the division, and if they fall on their face in the next five they could be season-boned as it is. The Stars aren’t quite as stout as they insisted on being last year, but their goalies are so the Hawks will need a big performance from Lehner tonight you would think. And probably Crawford again on Tuesday. Montgomery might sense that without a puck-moving d-man, the best route for the Stars is to back up for these two and just trench the neutral zone and see what the Hawks can do about it.

The most familiar rivals for Thanksgiving. Isn’t it that way for everyone?

Hockey

We, and many others, have long lamented that NHL coaching and GM hires seem to come from the same shallow and brackish pool they have for decades. Once you get one job in the league, you get 17, as comrade McClure is often fond of saying. And with that, there’s always going to be a lack of new ideas and creativity. The league just keeps rehashing the same ol’ shit.

Of course, it would help if when the new blood do get a chance, they didn’t prove to be a complete pillock. David Hakstol flamed out in Philadelphia pretty hard. You’ve seen what Jeremy Colliton can do, or can’t. Guy Boucher was an original hire a while ago. He proved he could only trap and that worked for one season. David Quinn is currently fucking with every young kid’s head in New York.

So perhaps we should take some satisfaction that the one in Dallas, Jim Montgomery, has found a path to success. Whether it involves any original thinking is up for discussion, and we’ll get into that forthwith.

Monty came in with about as much pedigree as you can get outside of the league and paying your dues as an assistant or slogging in the AHL. He turned a good U. of Denver program into a power, with two Frozen Four appearances, one NCHA conference championship, and an NCAA one to cap it off. Denver did it with a swarming, up-tempo style, which he had hoped to bring to the Stars.

It didn’t quite work that way. The Stars were a middling team last Christmas, right around .500 and just kind of treading in the fetid water of the bottom rungs of the Central and West. From there until the end of the season, the Stars went 25-16-3 to get into the playoffs, where they then upended the Nashville Predators in the first round before taking the Blues as far as you can go without winning.

Sadly, Montgomery had to do that by turning the Stars into the most boring outfit around. From Christmas on, Dallas was the most defensively tight unit in the league. They had the lowest goals-against at even-strength, top-10 in expected goals against, all the while eschewing offense as they also had the lowest goals for at even strength. They were dull as shit, trapping the will to live out of everyone but their own players and fans. Which is all that matters, really.

But when you have one of the league’s best goalies in Ben Bishop, and really a plodding defense behind John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, and really only one line of offense, what else are you supposed to do? Montgomery fit the system to the parts, which must be really nice.

When a coach goes the Mourinho route, generally you’ll get results for a year because limiting things means you can get a coin to land on your side more often, and when you’re reducing chances and goals you’re basically turning more and more games into coin flips. Or more likely, teams in the middle of an interminable regular season just aren’t going to want to work through you, and you are more desperate because you need the results more. And then good results start to pile up, the confidence and belief in what you’re doing grows, and there you go.

But after that, players really don’t want to work that hard without the puck for very long. Not without at least getting to play a bit more and try and score a bit more and make games easier. You can only work in the gulag for so long before you spirit breaks.

It would appear Monty figured that out, too. The Stars started the season horribly, and stood at 1-7-1 after nine games. They’ve gone 12-1-1 since. And check out their expected goals numbers as the season has gone along:

They have opened things up, and traded a little security to allow Seguin, Benn, Radulov, Pavelski et al some more space. They’ve scored 49 goals during this 14-game spree, or just about 3.5 per game.

Now it’s not all that simple. Some is just luck. Tyler Seguin has been Tyler Seguin, but only bagged two goals in the season’s first month due to just rotten luck. Ben Bishop has posted a .942 in November. Heiskanen has eight points in his last four games. Players get hot, players get cold. But the Stars have also had to negotiate around injuries to John Klingberg and Roope Hintz, two big pieces. Maybe it evens out.

It at least feels like Montgomery knows which buttons to push and when to maximize what he has. And we look on with longing eyes…

Everything Else

A loss in double overtime in a Game 7. There is supposed to be glory about it. A beautiful death. Honorable defeat. Going out on your shield. Something to earmark and build upon. A loss, but one you can still hold your head high after when the cloud of shock and disappointment clear.

The thing is, that kind of glow requires that you actually try to win the game in the first 60 minutes, not have five Buddhas out there grinning childishly sitting on their collective ass while their goalie is fending off all sorts of threats and creatures by the minute. But that was the Dallas Stars method, who both tried to rope-a-dope and be-a-dope method last night and then were beaten by perhaps the biggest dope on offer, Pat Maroon.

It was all there for the Stars, whose entire style is basically push the dude over after he punches himself out. And there is no more push-over-able dude in the league than the St. Louis Blues. Game 7 at home and finding every way to not score, you could feel the DrinkScotch/Enterprise/Blue Live Matter Center accept their fate. They were going to lose after more than doubling the Stars in shots and almost tripling them in attempts. This was the way it had to be. This was nature. They could barely lift their arms anymore, struggling to breathe as most of their fans do.

But the push never came, as the Stars became so infatuated with short shifts they didn’t bother to do much other than just change on the fly. One player would hop over the boards, maybe get get to within touching distance of the middle of the ice, and then go fleeing back to the bench like a small child seeing how far away he can get from mom before he gets yelled at. Oh sure, they had their chances to win, but that’s the buy-in from the Blues.

So even in a double-OT Game 7 loss, you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything else about the series, the Stars playoff run, or the Stars as a whole. I’m fairly sure their coach is bald. That’s about all I can tell you. Because the Stars essentially became the energy vampires of the Western Conference and happily so. They straight up admitted to copying Barry Trotz’s system and then removing all the whimsy from that.

I guess this is what you do when your GM has had six years to get secondary scoring and has come up empty each time. Perhaps by sheer dumb idiot luck secondary scoring has landed on him through Dickinson, Zuccarello, and Hintz, but let’s not be too hasty. There are a raft of names before them that flashed being able to finally support the top troika of Radulov, Seguin, and Benn and his case of reverse-fear of heights. But they all slink back into the ether, unrecognizable from the other, trailing in Jason Spezza’s apologetic and wheezing wake. Which is how you end up with four goals in 10.5 periods over the last three games and packing for the summer. Which is pretty much how the Stars wanted it, fearing crossing the red line as if it was No Man’s Land. Happy in our trench are we, sang the green-clad throng.

Speaking of Jamie “The Retort To The Downward Spiral” Benn, you have to whisper this because he’s earned such gravitas with the hockey world thanks to always looking like the garbage bag busted all over his kitchen floor, but he’s starting his slide into Future Lucic state. Two goals in 13 playoff games, 53 points in a souped-up league, the lowest amount of shots in eight seasons. He’ll turn 30 over the summer, and the aging curve for power forwards looks akin to drunk dick. The cliff is coming for Jamie, and we know how he feels about going down. Soon he’ll have no choice. Dive for the crevice, Jamie.

The Stars will be confident is being right back here next season, with their hopes built in the sand of a 6-6 goaltender with various hip and leg problems who hasn’t taken a full slate of starts in four seasons. Seems real sturdy, that. Radulov will be 33, and even Seguin is starting to slide out of his prime years.

None of this might matter, as Jim Montgomery continues to abandon his principles to play a system that’s essentially singing campfire songs in a bomb shelter. The margins become so thin, and any long-term injury to THE BISHOP! can undo it all. The Stars could change this if they had any puck-movers on the back end…oh I know what you’re going to say, but it can’t be long before Monty’s system and Texas itself kills the spirit of Klingberg and Heiskanen. Didn’t they fire Hitchcock for this very reason?

This is about as good as it’s gotten for the Stars, and probably as good as it will. Two playoff series wins in 10 years, and both followed by Game 7 spit-ups. One conference final appearance in 20 years. Even the Blues have more, Dallas. Think about that for a second.

The Stars will continue their seeming never-ending journey to/occupation of the middle, that team you stumble upon on NHL Center Ice on a Thursday night and are surprised you haven’t checked in on in a while. Then after 10 minutes you remember exactly why that is. You will merely be intermission acts for Luka Doncic from here on out. Just like you were for Dirk. Maybe you can drop Hintz’s stretcher one day to get anyone to take notice of you.

It was there for you, Stars. Next time, try.

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE

Game 1 in St. Louis – Tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in St. Louis – Saturday, 2pm

Game 3 in Dallas – Monday, 7pm

Game 4 in Dallas – Wednesday, 8:30

I said it on the podcast, but I’ll say it again. If you have literally anything else to do, do not watch this series. The Stars are boring as fuck, and on purpose because it’s how they hang, and the Blues don’t have the speed the Predators do and that series was its own energy vampire. I’ll be shocked if any team gets to four goals in any game this series. Cue the 5-4 series opener tonight, of course. Let’s do this together.

Goalies: Perhaps the biggest reason this is going to be a tough watch. Ben Bishop threw a .945 at the Preds and sent them home, including a couple 40+ save outings. He’s a Vezina finalist for multiple times for a reason, and carries a career .930 in the playoffs. He also has the added spice of being from West East St. Louis, and playing against a team that gave up on him long ago (I watched Viktor Stalberg light him up in a Presidents’ Day matinee live in St. Louis, once, and believe me everyone hated him there).

On the other side, Jordan Binnington wasn’t that great against the Jets. It was enough, but a .908 probably isn’t going to get it done against the complete opposite of Winnipeg, a team that’s only interested in playing defense. He was kind of all over the map, with three really good games, two bad ones, and a meh one that didn’t matter because the Jets had already quit. He’s unlikely to see a ton of shots here because that’s just not what the Stars do, but there will come a game or two where he’s probably going to have to make a lot of saves and rob the likes of Benn and Seguin on big chances. Let’s call us skeptical still that he’s ready to do that. Edge here for the Stars.

Defense: On the sheets, the Stars are better off here. Somehow a child shall lead them, as it was Miro Heiskanen that led them in ice-time against the Predators. Klingberg and Lindell were actually marvelous against Nashville’s top line, and that’s at least equivalent to O’Reilly-Schenn-Tarasenko. No matter how many draws ROR wins and the broadcast won’t shut up about. Still, Roman Polak is here and playing significant minutes and when that happens calamity is never too far under the surface. Same goes for Ben Lovejoy. Still, with Heiskanen and Klingberg, that’s two better puck-movers than anything the Jets could boast, including the very disinterested and bloated Dustin Byfuglien.

We’ll never buy into the Blues blue line. Alex Pietrangelo is overrated. Colton Parayko was turned into sawdust and vomit by Mark Scheifele. Jabe O’Meester is a zombie that isn’t particularly interested in eating brains. Vinnie Dunn might be something one day, but not yet. Still, they turned back a deeper crop of forwards than the Stars can dream of. The task will be awfully different here, as the Stars are going to dare them to carry or pass their way through a barbed-wire filled neutral zone, and there’s no one on the Blues who can do that. And if they force it and turn the puck over more, that’s what the Stars are feeding on right now.

Forwards: Same drill as with a lot of teams now. The Stars are one line. It’s a hell of a line, but that’s it. There were flickers of light of a second line between Hobbit Zuccarello, Roope Hintz, and Jason Dickinson, and if that can continue they’re on to something. But the top line has to score and it has to score a lot. Good thing the Blues don’t really have a shutdown pairing.

The Blues will tell you they have depth. And they do if Jaden Schwartz builds off his series-clinching hat-trick. We’ve already talked about the top line, they seem to believe pretty heavily in Oskar Sundqvist (whatever), and they have foot soldiers like Maroon and Thomas and Perron who might chip in a big goal or two. Overall, the Blues do have a deeper set here. They just don’t have the top.

Prediction: Again, this will be cruel and unusual. But the Blues simply are not built to bust through a trap consistently. And even if they do, it’s a much better goalie waiting playing better. And the Stars have just more of a top end. Because of how awful this will be to watch, you know it’s going the route. Which screams a Bishop shutout on the road.

Stars in 7. 

Everything Else

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Schedule

Game 1 in Nashville tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in Nashville Saturday, 5pm

Game 3 in Dallas Monday, 8:30

Game 4 in Dallas Wednesday, 7pm

The only series that might become more staccato than the Penguins and Islanders is this one. The Stars are going to have no interest in making this open or fast, considering their lineup is filled with soldiers of The Foot after their top line and top pairing. And while the Preds boast three or four trap-busters on the blue line, they also don’t have much beyond their top line, thanks to injuries and every deadline acquisition they made being an utter flop. If the Jets are vulnerable, then the team that couldn’t put them away until the final day of the season in the division isn’t much surer of a bet either. Smells like a real upset possibility.

Goalies: This one’s about health. If THE BISHOP! is healthy, then the Stars do have something of an advantage. Bishop is the Vezina candidate behind Vasilevskiy, and also comes with playoff pedigree as he has the same single Final appearance to his name that Rinne does, along with another conference final the following season. But still, health. Bishop is slated to go tonight, but he’s returned from injury a couple times in the second half and then had to go back on the shelf again. He did start the last game and didn’t die, but missed time at the end of March and in February. If he’s playing and upright, it’s hard to see him giving up a ton.

There are teams over which that would give the Stars a bigger advantage than Nashville, though. Pekka Rinne recovered from a midseason wobble to close with a .927 in March and a .935 in April. While we seem to be the only ones to point out that aside from 2017, Rinne has been a playoff pothole, no one else cares. He was good until he wasn’t last year, and then the Predators went home. There isn’t going to be much margin for error here, because the Stars just aren’t going to give up much with a healthy Bishop. If it’s not 2017 again, the Preds might have to turn to Saros or be in serious trouble. Rinne can’t get away with being fine here.

Defense: And this is where the Preds’ big advantage is. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are awesome, but that’s about all the Stars can boast. And they don’t really take the hard assignments, and if you trust the likes of The Circus Bear and Esa Lindell and Ben Lovejoy to quiet Forsberg and Arvidsson, then you see more good in the world than I ever could and I envy your view. If Jim Montgomery can get cute and get those two and his top line out against the softer underbelly of the Preds, maybe they play them even. But that’s no given, especially without home ice.

This has been the strength of the Preds for a while now. The only complaint you might be able to lodge against them is that Ryan Ellis hasn’t looked great against harder competition, but that’s nitpicking. And as much barbed wire and landmines the Stars will plant in the neutral zone, the Preds just keep rolling out guys who can get through it like Josi or Subban or this new asshole Fabbro. At some point they can find a weakness, and then it’s just up to the clods on their bottom two lines to actually convert those opportunities. That’s up in the air.

Forwards: If the Stars had slightly more depth, I’d be tipping them here. They have Radulov-Seguin-Benn, and Hintz has actually allowed them to slide Benn down a bit. But Jason Spezza is basically metamucil now, and even with the return of The Hobbit Zuccarello, they’re still short. Jason Dickinson is playing second center for this team, and you didn’t know he existed until right now. Much like last year’s first round, once the Preds figure out how to keep the opponent’s top line from light flares, they’re almost all of the way there.

Not that the Nashville group is all that impressive. If it proves that way, Seguin could make Treat Boy’s life hell, and Kyle Turris is nothing but a bemused expression. Granlund, Simmons, and Boyle have failed to do anything since donning yellow. But with Craig Smith and Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons and one or two others, there’s just slightly more depth in piss yellow than victory green.

Prediction: You know I desperately want to pick the Preds to spit it here, as their organization’s and fanbase’s piousness combined with their claims to still be adorable have both proven full of horseshit and tiresome. And Bishop is a goalie capable of doing it himself. That’s the only hope for the the Stars here though, as they have pretty much the same holes as the Preds do, just bigger. They’ll make it awfully difficult though with a healthy Bishop. This one feels like seven home wins.

Preds in seven. 

Everything Else

We’ve often bitched about the Old Boys Club that NHL coaches are chosen from. Same goes for GMs. It feels like you only get an NHL job if you had one before, or served as an assistant for years. We think the game could use new ideas, and they need to come from new places.

And yet those coaches picked from different places…it really hasn’t always worked out, has it? In fact, the success rate is pretty low.

Dave Hakstol flamed out in Philly pretty quickly. You can argue about the roster he was given, but no one with the Flyers or who follows them was too upset with his dismissal. At best, you can say the jury is still out on Jeremy Colliton. Remember Dallas Eakins? Boy, that went well. Guy Boucher turned out to be a fraud, twice. About the only coach who worked his way up through the levels and got his first coaching gig without being an assistant is John Cooper in Tampa Bay. It can happen, it just doesn’t all that often.

Jim Montgomery is a name that will get tossed out as a success. And on the surface, that seems correct. Montgomery had a glittering record at Denver University. Over five seasons the Pioneers went 125-57-26, made two Frozen Fours and collected a national championship. If any coach was screaming out for a promotion to the pro ranks, it was Montgomery.

And Montgomery has the Stars in the playoffs. They missed out last year. Except dig anywhere beneath the surface, and there isn’t much difference between the job Ken Hitchcock did last year, which everyone panned, and the one Montgomery is doing now.

The Stars could finish with a max of 95 points, which is only a small improvement on the 92 they collected last year. They could finish with less than those 92 points as well. That’s just a bounce here or there.

On top of that, by any measure the Stars are actually worse than they were last year. They take less attempts, and they give up more of them. They take less shots, and give up more of them. Their expected goals, or types of chances, they both create and surrender are both headed in the wrong direction. The difference is that Ben Bishop has been way better, as they had an ES SV% last year of .925 and this year it’s .934. That’s a difference of about 20 goals just at even-strength, which is about four or five points in the standings. The other difference, of course, is that the conference is so much worse.

The Stars have roster flaws of course. There’s only one line here. They’ve been racked by injuries, as Radulov, Benn, Klingberg, Bishop all having missed time. Maybe for Montgomery to have their peripherals where they are is something of a job. Hard to say, though.

Perhaps hockey is more like football in that the transition from college to pros is just rougher than you’d think. Maybe it’s a path that needs to be more well-worn. It’s also worth noting the Denver has rolled right along without Montgomery, into the Frozen Four again. But those are his kids there, so we know he can recruit. Sadly, that doesn’t do much for you in the NHL.

If the Stars get Montgomery a second and third line, then we’ll see what he’s made of. If they can make noise in the playoffs and Bishop is injured we’ll know. But until then, maybe the exclusive club isn’t as bad as we thought.

 

Game #81 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

None of our Dallas friends wanted to talk to us. So here’s what Logan Stark had to say a month ago when the Hawks were in Dallas. (@LoganStark)

Let’s get this out of the way up top. While the CEO swearing about the team’s two stars is good for comedic value out here, isn’t it nonsensical as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are just about the only reason the Stars are anything? (not to mention Benn’s long-standing place with the team and fans)
– First of all, Bishop and Khudobin have been absolute brick walls this season. They’re a large factor of why the Stars are still in a playoff position this late in the season. Second, Miro Heiskanen is a godsend for this team, especially when half the blue line was injured during the first half of the season. Okay, on to the real question. CEO Lites’ comments were beyond nonsensical. Not only did the tirade tarnish the team’s reputation around the league (what high-profile player would want to sign with the team now?), but it also made them a laughing stock. Benn and Seguin have proved Lites wrong with their on-ice performance, but those comments are continuing to hang over them and the team almost two months after they rocked hockey Twitter. Benn and Seguin are the faces of the franchise and are fan-favorites, and they were definitely fan-favorites for their classy responses to the comments. In the end, Lites’ comments backfired, I think, landing egg on his face – while getting some good splatter on the team that will come off with time. CEOs come and go, but Benn and Seguin are here to stay for a long, long time. In the end, it’s their on-ice performance and leadership in the locker room that matters the most. The team and coaching staff still support them, so why should fans do any different?
Why has Julius Honka not worked? The pedigree is there, he seems to have a coach that wants to play faster, and yet four points is four points…
– Do we have time for me to draft a graduate dissertation on why Honka hasn’t worked? No? Okay, let’s give this a shot: The yo-yo effect under Hitchcock last season did absolutely nothing for Honka. Not only was he bounced between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but he was bounced with such frequency that he never had a chance to settle into the lineup and make a real impact. When Honka did spend time in Dallas, it was most often as a healthy scratch or with sub-par ice time. None of that helped his development and can only have hurt his confidence on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on the ice, but not this season. He’s been a healthy scratch with regularity under Montgomery, which leads me to believe that Montgomery doesn’t know where to slot him in within the current lineup. There’s just not room in the lines for a player struggling to produce (hush, let’s not talk about Nichushkin) and who needs time on the ice to get his skates back under him, so to speak. At this point, I would say it’s time to trade Honka, use him to bring in fresh talent that’s capable of producing at a steady rate.
Jim Nill has gotten three coaches. At what point does the cannon point at him?
– If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this spring, I think there’s going to be a turnover in the front office. It’s pretty clear that management expects this roster to be a repeat contender, yet they’ve failed to make a real postseason splash. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs (or fail to make it past the first round), I would place good money on Nill being let go. The lack of postseason performances and his lackluster record at the draft table would definitely be grounds for his exit from the team. At a certain point, it’s not about the coaches, but about the guy in the front office saddling said coaches with questionable trades, picks, and players.
What are the Stars gong to do before the deadline (assuming they don’t do anything before we print this, in which case I’ll just switch whatever you said to what they did and make you look like geniuses)?
– Nill has gone on record saying they’re looking for offensive power and depth at the deadline, and Dallas scouts have been checking out Zuccarello and Panarin (they got Zuc, and then he got hurt-ED). I would keep an eye out for the Stars to make a move for either of them on a rental basis (with an extension option on the table). One thing to watch for: the picks and/or players they send the opposite way. Just what is the front office willing to part with in exchange for a player that just might help the Stars get to the playoffs? In the past, Nill has been pretty good about not giving up first round picks or developing players that will aid the team. However, the Stars are getting desperate to make that playoff push this year, so is this the year Nill finally parts with the golden ticket of a first round pick?

 

 

 

Game #81 Preview Suite

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vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 28-30-9    Stars 35-27-5

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WE ARE STARDUST: Defending Big D

I used to think that the elimination of the Circus Trip and Ice Show, and not having a road trip longer than three or four games, would be a boon to the Hawks. But looking over the recent schedule, you can see why the players are not exactly pleased with how things shake out. They just came back from a West swing, one they’ll have to do again in another week or two, were home for one game before bouncing down to Texas, then back home for just one before a Canadian swing, and then back home for just two before bouncing out again. Of course, this would matter more if the games did…which they don’t.

Anyway, the schedule says the Hawks have to provide the opposition for the Stars tonight. There they’ll find a Stars team that is starting to bunker into the playoff spots. They’re four up on the Coyotes and are only three points behind the Blues for the last automatic spot in the Central. They’ve done that by winning six of their last eight, five of them in regulation, including being the only ones to remember it’s still the St. Louis Blues after all and beating them twice in that stretch. They’ve shut out the Rangers and Avalanche back-to-back at home, so this isn’t exactly the time to catch them.

It’s not like the Stars have cracked some code or radically changed how they play. They’ve just benefitted from Ben Bishop (THE BISHOP!) shooting lightning bolts out of his arse. THE BISHOP! threw a .936 at the world in February, and is at .989 in March so far, having conceded one goal in three games. The injury layoff has done him some good, obviously.

The Stars have mimicked what the Wild have done the past couple seasons. They’re not a good possession team when it comes to attempts, but as you move up the charts in terms of quality of attempts the Stars get better and better. They’re just about even in scoring-chance share, and then just a tick under 52% in high danger chance share. They’ll let you have it to the outside, but you can’t quite get to the middle on them.

The Stars have moved wunderkind Miro Heiskanen with John Klingberg and they take all the offensive responsibility while the bottom two pairings take turns manning the bunker. While they tried to use the acquisition of Mats Zuccarello to spread out some scoring, he lasted a period and a half before something went CRACK! on him. So even though Seguin and Benn are on separate lines now, they still do the heavy lifting here with assistance from Alex Radulov.

For the Hawks, the chance of a real clunker feel tangible. They weren’t very good against the Sabres but got away with it, and now you have this one game trip in a season that’s lost. You could see where weariness would combine with carelessness and against a team with it all still to play for, it’s not hard to envision where it gets ugly. Corey Crawford will do his best to keep it from doing so. Would guess the lines look pretty much the same as Thursday, which means they’ll be a mishmash because John Hayden sucks and won’t skate with Toews and Saad for more than five minutes. Maybe Sikura slots back in for Kunitz or Hayden, but…whatever.

Keep on keepin’ on…

 

Game #68 Preview Suite

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