Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 32-31-10   Avalanche 33-29-12

PUCK DROP(S): 2pm Saturday, 7pm Sunday

TV: NBCSN Chicago Saturday, NBCSN Sunday

BUCKWHEATS, ALL OF ‘EM: Mile High Hockey

“It’s come to this,” is a cliche, but that’s where the Hawks are. They have three games over four days to rescue whatever barely flickering light might be there for their playoff chase. Or any meaning for their season. Quite simply, the Hawks have to take all three of these–two against Colorado, one against Arizona–and they have to do it in regulation. The part that gives you pause, of course, is that every game the Hawks have had where they had a chance to really turn the season into something, they’ve stepped on a rake. At home to these Avalanche, at home to the Stars, at home to the Canucks, and last out against the Flyers. And maybe they got goalie’d in one or two, but they’ve lost the right to get goalie’d with all the points they’ve pissed away in truly bewildering and comedic fashion earlier in the season.

Good thing they’ll be seeing a goalie who’s carrying a .967 SV% in March, then.

The Avs sit four points ahead of the Hawks, and were in the last wildcard spot until Minnesota won last night, having played a game more. They’ve won three in a row, including two wins over fellow wildcard chasers Dallas and Minnesota. They had lost five of seven before that, which is why they’re in this mess. A few more wins and they may get themselves out of it. And if Phillip Grubauer keeps this up, they’ll get them.

The last time the Hawks saw the Avs at the end of February, Grubauer has watched a chance to grab the starter’s role pass over his shoulder and into the Avs’ net. It was Varlamov who stoned the Hawks that night, and it looked like the Avs plan to pass the crease from Varly to Grubauer and letting the former walk off in the summer had fallen to pieces (somebody put me together). It looked as if the Avs were at a crossroads in net, which is the last place you want one.

Grubauer got another chance a few days after, and so far he’s taken it and run with it. In his seven starts since that time, he’s given up six goals. They’ve needed it, because their forwards are starting to drop like flies. Mikko Rantanen is questionable for the weekend. Gabriel Landeskog is out until the Avs make the playoffs and maybe not even then. Matt Nieto, a reliable foot soldier, might be done for the year as well. Vladislav Kemenev has been a long-term casualty.

Which means the Avs offense is basically what Nathan MacKinnon can come up with. He’s doing just about what he can, with 10 points in his last 10 and 20 in his last 24. Carl Soderberg chips in where he can, with 22 goals. But other than that, the Avs are still a group of a lot of guys who have a little. They have a bunch of 10-goal scorers when they need 15- or 20-goal ones. Maybe Tyson Jost or J.T. Compher become that one day, but they’re not there yet.

So it’s Grubauer, it’s MacKinnon, and it’s ride or die for the Avs. Which makes the task simple in statement for the Hawks, if not action. Keep MacKinnon from going off for three or four points, and you have a real good chance. Coach Cool Youth Pastor might have to get cute and switch out lines on the fly, whether he wants Toews or Kampf dealing with MacKinnon. Or if he wants Murphy and Dahlstrom out on the back end. He might have to work to get those matchups, if that’s something he wants, on the road. It should be easier at home, but MacKinnon did whatever he wanted his last visit here.

The Hawks have won both games in Denver this year, one in overtime. Both were Collin Delia magic tricks, so the Hawks might need that from Corey Crawford. Beto O’Colliton has hinted that Crawford might take both starts, which seems a risk but these are desperate times. Whatever plays are left in the playbook have to be pulled out now.

It would be encouraging to see the Hawks actually step forth in a game with something at stake. Just to know their coach is up for it, and that players who are doing it for the first time have it in them. None of that has been shown yet. And the Hawks are going to have to get it from a new source for these three games, or likely will, because Patrick Kane appears to be getting awfully tired. He can’t keep pulling out a rabbit. Insert your “white rabbit” jokes here.

Come Tuesday night, it could all be officially done. Or maybe this empty calorie fun continues a little longer. Strap on in.

 

 

Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite

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For the final time this year, we pick up our torch, arm ourselves, and head into the depths where Anthrax Jones lives. 

Look, ain’t no one complaining about 87 points. But your large adult son Mikko Rantanen‘s pace did drop off in February and March from the ridiculous pace he was on. Anything to be read from that or just flattening out of luck a bit?

On a team as deep as a puddle in the Sahara Desert, I’m not sure it wasn’t just a matter of time before other teams threw their entire checking efforts at MacRanteskog. The Avs have ten players with at least 10 goals apiece, so the “LACK OF DEPTH, HUH” crowd has an argument, but that argument falls apart when you consider that five of the ten have either 10 or 11 goals, and none of Colin Wilson‘s 10 count anyway. It’s not the 1983 Islanders, kids. It also doesn’t help that Rantanen has spent 54 minutes in the box almost entirely due to careless stick fouls, including a punishing late-game high sticking penalty last Friday that cost the Avs at least one point to human sewage drain Corey Perry and the corpse of the Ducks.

*deep breath*

That said, Rantanen’s game is still maturing, and it’s very evident that he still hasn’t put it all together yet. When he does, you’re going to need to spend two weeks training in Siberia with “Hearts On Fire” playing on continuous loop in order to shut him down. We’re getting there.

On the other side of the coin, Phillip Grubauer is on a real heater in March. Is this enough for the Avs to feel comfortable letting Varlamov walk in the summer and giving the job to Grubs?

I think the plan all along was to let Varlamov go at the end of this season, whether Grubauer came around or not. I think Jared Bednar is playing this perfectly: Grubauer is the short-term future of the Colorado net, with a chance to become the long-term future, and he should be getting the majority of the carries down the stretch in what’s still really a “practice year” for this generation of Avs. Grubauer has shown he has the ability to carry a team for stretches in Washington and now Colorado, which is essentially the same playbook Varlamov followed. The potential difference for Grubauer will be whether or not Bednar is able to build a coherent system around him, and the jury remains out on that one.

We asked you about him last year, but it still feels like the Avs are tapping their foot and looking at their watch when it comes to Tyson Jost

By March of 2021, I could see myself looking at a stat line of 10 goals and 20 assists for Jost and be willing to admit yeah, this is just the player he is. I’m not there yet though, because every time I’m ready to accept that he’s probably not going to break out in any meaningful way, he shows me something good that lures me back in. The Avs sent him to the AHL over All Star break, and when he came back, he was a different player: more assertive, less tentative, and it made a visible difference in his overall game. My biggest concern with Jost isn’t his skill level or his hockey IQ, it’s the way he seems to struggle with the physical aspect of the game. At 5’11” 190, hes not the smallest player, but he seems vulnerable to guys who play him hard. He’s not shy about contact, but he more often than not finds himself on his ass when he engages. That’s not something that can be coached or taught, and maybe it’s something he can work on during summer training, but maybe it’s just not in his makeup.

Are they getting in? Does it really matter? What’s the way forward here?

It doesn’t really matter. If they make it, great! That’s more playoff experience for guys like Rantanen, Jost, Sam Girard, and Illinois legend JT Compher, guys who got a taste of it last season and seemed to improve as the Nashville series progressed. Plus, it would be our first chance to see Rockstar Makar in an Avs uniform, and it would be cool to see how he performs under an immediate spotlight.

If they don’t make it? Another potential high pick to add to Ottawa’s pick, which is absolutely going to turn into Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko because god hates Ottawa’s fans and loves dark comedy. I’ve kept a level head this season, whether it was the early hot streak or the mid-season slumpmother, because the target all along has been 2019-2020.

And if we’re still in this position at this time next season, your boy is gonna be having a cow.

 

Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite

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It was only eight days ago that we visited the deranged warlord Anthrax Jones to consult him about the Avs and the precious juice. Not much has changed, with either the Avs or the juice. 

So Rantanen and MacKinnon were awesome last year, and MacK could have easily won the Hart. But they’re both on points for 130+ points this year? Why is this line putting a foot in the ass of the world?
If you did an Inception-style deep dive into Don Cherry’s wettest dream, MacRantaskog would be in it: open mouth-kissing policemen, playing with Blue, and wearing suits made out of the furniture in Dom DeLuise’s opium den. Mikko Rantanen has evolved from Large Baby Deer into Jaromir Jagr’s blonde, blue-eyed second cousin. Defending Nate MacKinnon is the hockey equivalent of trying to catch a fire hose with a goldfish net, and Babe Landeskog’s good looks distract from the fact that he’s morphed into a Marian Hossa/Richard Kuklinski hybrid. This line has everything all the old school shitheads like to burp up every time some weepy Canucks fan starts pissing through their butthole about what a pretty finesse game the Sedins played. They’re talented, fast, and all three of them play with varying degrees of open hostility. I love them a lot.
 
It felt like the Avs wanted to transition from Varlamov in net to Phillip Grubauer, but Grubs hasn’t really grabbed that brass ring in limited appearances this season. Are they just going to have to ride it out with Varlamov?

Sure beats riding it out with Cal Pickard or the Hamburglar. Varlamov is who he is: occasionally spectacular, occasionally a Farrelly Brothers script. When he’s hot, he’s a top 3 goalie in the league. When he’s not, he’s every goalie the Flyers have run out since Ron Hextall. Grubauer has had his moments where he looks good and his moments where he looks like he’s playing behind Patrik Nemeth and Mark Barberio, because that’s what he’s doing. If the Avs are gonna do anything in May, they’re gonna need one of them to go full 2003 JS Giguere.

 
With the top line doing what they’re doing they should be gobbling up the toughest opponents every night. Yet no one has been able to really benefit yet. Is this where Tyson Jost or someone else should come in?

In theory, yes. In practice, you’re relying on the entirety of your depth scoring to come from second year pros (Jost, Kerfoot, Compher), waiver wire guys (Andrighetto), An Actual Cyclops (Soderberg), and Colin Wilson. This year is “sit tight and see what we have with the young guys”, and next year is where they go out and overpay a UFA.

 
Samuel Girard seems to have at least established himself in the top four, no?

The Duality Of Man: I love Girard and I love his game and I love his potential, yet I spent the late 90’s with a recurring grundle cramp because every time Sandis Ozolinsh touched the puck, my sphincter collapsed into itself at roughly the speed and density of a dying star. Girard may not have the offensive upside of Ozolinsh, and may not have the defensive downside of Ozolinsh, but I can foresee a scenario where he becomes Ozolinsh 2020. I’m too old for that type of gooch pain, so let’s hope he doesn’t.

 

Game #41 Preview Suite

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We traveled deep into the jungle, past his many followers who eyed us warily, to find the warlord Anthrax Jones. He was kind enough to grant us this, and we had to exit quickly before being disemboweled. 

 

Game #38 Preview Suite

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It was only five games ago we lowered the shark cage and let @AnthraxJones snarl and yell and chew on the bars Not much has changed since. Here’s what he had to say then. 

Nathan MacKinnon is on a 110-point pace, even though he missed a little time. Why has he become Asgardian this season?

We knew he had this in him, we saw it in the World Cup with the NAU23 team when he stood out over everybody on the roster, including Connor McDavid. Two days earlier this season may have been what evolved mild-mannered Nathan MacKinnon from “maybe we should’ve taken Barkov or Seth Jones” to “Indestructible Cyborg Nathan MacKinnon”: a late-October 7-0 loss to Vegas that saw him wheel and fight Brayden McNabb after a bad hit, and you could tell he was taking out his frustration from a slow start on McNabb. Second was when the Avs traded Eeyore to Ottawa and suddenly there was a vacuum at the top of the lineup, which happened a few days after the Vegas debacle. Part of me wonders if something in Duchene’s attitude was keeping MacKinnon from wanting to really take ownership of the team in a leadership capacity, but whatever it was, it seemed to lift after the trade.

Your Special Boy Mikko Rantanen is also a point-per-game. Tell us why he’s your Special Boy. 

He’s our Big Baby Deer. It’s remarkable that he’s had the season he’s had so far, because he’s one of the most awkward-looking players I’ve ever seen. He looks like a large horse that still hasn’t figured out its legs yet. It makes me hopeful that he still has another gear to get to when he does get himself coordinated. He’s a smart player who finds himself in the right places at the right times, he has murderous hands for a kid his size, and he benefits from playing with Cyborg 29 and Angry Hossa, Babe Landeskog.

Two kids in Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost are on the second line. How have their rookie seasons gone?

Kerfoot and Jost have inverted one another so far. Kerfoot started the season blazing hot, and has really cooled down since then, which is natural for a kid who isn’t used to playing this many games against adult men with Dad Strength, instead of physics majors at RPI. Jost started slow and battled injuries, but for the past month or so it looks like something is clicking with him. They’re both gonna be good NHLers, but I think their future roles are still undetermined.
 
Are the Avs done treating Tyson Barrie like a redheaded stepchild and accept he’s actually quite good and necessary?

If the Avs don’t, they better listen to their superstar player, who’s not only best friends with Barrie, but also shares a brain with him on the ice. Their chemistry is ridiculous, and it’s truly a symbiotic benefit where they both make each other better. I haven’t always been on board with the idea of Tyson Barrie as a long-term piece on this roster, especially once Cale Makar hits the NHL roster, but I think it would be a mistake to trade him this offseason.

They going to make the playoffs?

They shouldn’t, but they’re gonna, and it’s because the Central Division beyond Nashville and the Mole People in Winnipeg ranges from desperately mediocre to downright bad. I’d love to see a first round matchup between Colorado and Vegas so we can never pay attention to pre-season “expert picks” ever again, but also because I think Vegas is gonna get picked off by whoever they play in the first round. The Avs aren’t deep enough to beat a Nashville type team in the second round, but every great team has to experience that first tough loss sometime, and I think this is that season.

 

Game #79 Preview

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@Anthrax Jones is a truly scary individual. We asked him these questions and then ducked behind the couch. You should too. 

Nathan MacKinnon is on a 110-point pace, even though he missed a little time. Why has he become Asgardian this season?

We knew he had this in him, we saw it in the World Cup with the NAU23 team when he stood out over everybody on the roster, including Connor McDavid. Two days earlier this season may have been what evolved mild-mannered Nathan MacKinnon from “maybe we should’ve taken Barkov or Seth Jones” to “Indestructible Cyborg Nathan MacKinnon”: a late-October 7-0 loss to Vegas that saw him wheel and fight Brayden McNabb after a bad hit, and you could tell he was taking out his frustration from a slow start on McNabb. Second was when the Avs traded Eeyore to Ottawa and suddenly there was a vacuum at the top of the lineup, which happened a few days after the Vegas debacle. Part of me wonders if something in Duchene’s attitude was keeping MacKinnon from wanting to really take ownership of the team in a leadership capacity, but whatever it was, it seemed to lift after the trade.

Your Special Boy Mikko Rantanen is also a point-per-game. Tell us why he’s your Special Boy. 

He’s our Big Baby Deer. It’s remarkable that he’s had the season he’s had so far, because he’s one of the most awkward-looking players I’ve ever seen. He looks like a large horse that still hasn’t figured out its legs yet. It makes me hopeful that he still has another gear to get to when he does get himself coordinated. He’s a smart player who finds himself in the right places at the right times, he has murderous hands for a kid his size, and he benefits from playing with Cyborg 29 and Angry Hossa, Babe Landeskog.

Two kids in Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost are on the second line. How have their rookie seasons gone?

Kerfoot and Jost have inverted one another so far. Kerfoot started the season blazing hot, and has really cooled down since then, which is natural for a kid who isn’t used to playing this many games against adult men with Dad Strength, instead of physics majors at RPI. Jost started slow and battled injuries, but for the past month or so it looks like something is clicking with him. They’re both gonna be good NHLers, but I think their future roles are still undetermined.
 
Are the Avs done treating Tyson Barrie like a redheaded stepchild and accept he’s actually quite good and necessary?

If the Avs don’t, they better listen to their superstar player, who’s not only best friends with Barrie, but also shares a brain with him on the ice. Their chemistry is ridiculous, and it’s truly a symbiotic benefit where they both make each other better. I haven’t always been on board with the idea of Tyson Barrie as a long-term piece on this roster, especially once Cale Makar hits the NHL roster, but I think it would be a mistake to trade him this offseason.

They going to make the playoffs?

They shouldn’t, but they’re gonna, and it’s because the Central Division beyond Nashville and the Mole People in Winnipeg ranges from desperately mediocre to downright bad. I’d love to see a first round matchup between Colorado and Vegas so we can never pay attention to pre-season “expert picks” ever again, but also because I think Vegas is gonna get picked off by whoever they play in the first round. The Avs aren’t deep enough to beat a Nashville type team in the second round, but every great team has to experience that first tough loss sometime, and I think this is that season.

Game #74 Preview

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