Hockey

So far for this organization, the narrative has been followed—the team is bad, the offense is bad, the expectations are low, and games were lost. There is very little to enjoy about the Hawks but I’m gonna try to point out the good where I can. But before we get to anything positive, let’s call it like we see it: the Hawks have only scored twice so far this season on even strength, which is pretty fucking terrible. What is worse is that they are currently considered the 10th-worst team in the league, which doesn’t bode well for the whole “tanking-for-a-#1-draft-pick” plan the front office has laid out. From a numbers standpoint, other teams factually have it much worse than us. Let’s review.

Wednesday 10/12
Hawks 2, Avalanche 5
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Did you expect this to go any better? The Hawks had to start their season against the reigning Stanley Cup champs after they raised their banner in Colorado and were outskated, outmatched and outplayed the entire night. The only genuine highlight was Toews scoring the first Hawks goal of the season on the powerplay, with an assist from Andreas Athanasiou. The powerplay was the only time the Hawks could score, which means having one extra man on the ice was the only way to even out the talent level enough for the Hawks to have a chance. Otherwise, our d-men were getting pantsed by Cale Makar and domed in possession for 2 of the 3 periods.

Within this game scored the only goal by Kane’s line all god damn week which is not a promising start—very underwhelming, in fact. If the goal wasn’t to tank this season, our first line scoring 1 goal in the first three games would certainly be a red flag, especially since Kane is flanked by the shiny new free agent acquisitions that were supposed to placate us. But red flags like that are positive for a tanking team, right?

Thursday 10/13
Hawks 0, Knights 1
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

The theme for this night was that it genuinely could’ve been worse. The still-undefeated Golden Knights with their new #1 center in Jack Eichel were only able to score one goal against the Hawks as opposed to the 5 goals we’d let in the night before. Alex Stalock made 36 saves and didn’t look too bad except for when he seemed to lose his net at one point in the 1st—luckily Vegas wasn’t able to score on a wide-open net.

The Hawks’ main issue of having shit and nonexistent offense continued into this game, and of course this was their second straight game without having an even-strength goal. The Hawks had 10 less shots to the Knights’ 37, and their 2-shots-per-powerplay formula was helping nobody here. In fact, the only goal of the game came right after the Hawks powerplay in the 2nd period, directly after a shorthanded opportunity for Vegas. Vegas is looking like a top team right now whether you like it or not, however, so the fact the Hawks only held them to 1 goal when their average so far this season is over 3 per game, that’s somewhat surprising.

Saturday 10/15
Hawks 5, Sharks 2
Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

Of all the teams the Hawks had to face, only the Sharks match them in pitifulness. Both teams showed up in the building with a goose egg in the win column so someone had to pick up the points. The Hawks jumped out ahead for the first few minutes of the game and the Sharks were unable to register a shot for the first 11 minutes. But the Sharks ultimately did score first, getting a shot past youngins Philipp Kurashev and Filip Roos that Peter Mrazek didn’t even see (shocking). The Sharks scored again shortly after as a shot deflected off Amy’s Eldest and went in to wrap up a shitty 1st period. Surprisingly, the Hawks were able to take control from here and turned the game around.

It was Jason Dickinson’s first night in a Blackhawks uniform, and his line with Philipp Kurashev and Sam Lafferty took the game’s opening faceoff. The line would then go on to have 7 points between them that night (2 goals for the line). Lafferty’s 2 shorthanded goals meant the special teams scoring was starting to add up for the Hawks, although that’s not too hard when the Sharks can barely get a shot off. Still, the Hawks collected the win and the plan to tank for Connor Bedard was put on a temporary pause.

This weekend, the Hawks have their opening night game against Scum, but considering the team to the northeast is without a regulation loss this season, it appears the losses for Chicago will continue to stack up. That shouldn’t be unexpected news, however.

Hockey

While most of the luminaries of this site are not fans of the Foo Fighters, I absolutely am. So when the news broke Friday night that drummer Taylor Hawkins had been found dead in his hotel room, my heart dropped down to my knees. I see a LOT of live shows, as concerts are my kryptonite. Most summers I’ll try and attend 10-15 shows at least, from whoever happens to be touring that year. Out of all the bands and shows that I’ve been to, there are few that can match the level of energy or just plain fun that a Foo Fighters show contains. Taylor Hawkins was a huge part of that experience, and his presence behind the kit will be sorely missed if the band decides to continue. Hawkins’ name is added to an impressive list of talent and creativity that has been lost to us over the past 20+ years. While I’ll never have the pleasure of seeing him hammer the drums on the intro to My Hero again, or listen to him cover a Queen tune, I’ll always have the happy memories of all the awesome times I had at his shows. Rest in peace.

 

Also the Hawks played some hockey this week:

 

Wednesday 3/23

Hawks 4 – Ducks 2

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

Sometimes there are teams out there that no matter how hard you try, they simply have your number and you can’t beat them. For the Anaheim Ducks, that team is the Hawks. With the win on Wednesday the Hawks have themselves a clean sweep of the series against the Ducks, and the Ducks have themselves an extended off-season to think about how losing 3 games to the Hawks contributed to the eradication of their playoff hopes.

As for the game itself, the Hawks really only controlled the 1st period with a CORSI of 61%, then proceeded to hang on by the skin of their teeth (and some solid goaltending by Kevin Lankinen) in the 2nd and 3rd period with 34% and 40% shares. That’s the kind of domination that usually results in 6-7 goals in a given timeframe (just wait for the Vegas 3rd period recap), but the Hawks managed to somehow keep the Ducks at bay long enough for Dylan Strome to continue his dominant March by pocketing the GWG with 4:00 to go in the 3rd.

The Hawks special teams were helpful here as well, with their first 2 goals coming on the man advantage (Raddysh with a Y…many people are saying it) and the PK blanking the Duck’s power play on their one attempt. This is the kind of win we’re gonna see a lot of going forward, with the Hawks getting owned on the possession side of things but somehow eking out 2 points thanks to decent goaltending and some timely goals by high caliber forwards like Kane and Cat.

 

Thursday 3/24

Hawks 4 – Kings 3 (Hawks Win Goat Rodeo)

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

With the mishmash of talent on the back end, the Blackhawks breakout of their own zone is a disaster right now. What that results in is them getting skulled in CORSI night in and night out. What they DO have that most teams don’t is Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat (and also Seth Jones as well), who can singlehandedly ignore whatever forecheck the opposing team is pressing them with and go end to end to put the puck in the net. This is exactly what happened in this game, as the Hawks got fucking smoked in the possession department (31%, 32%, 42% CORSI) and yet managed to score a win in the shootout despite all that. Kane and DeBrincat both tallied (along with Sam Lafferty somehow, who isn’t quite “a thing” but bears watching going forward) to help the Hawks overcome miserable play by the special teams unit. Colin Delia was fine in this one, not looking terrible but also not amazing as he kept the Kings off the board during the juggling competition in OT.

They can’t all be beautiful, and when the West Coast has typically been a house of horrors for your team you take what you can get and move on.

 

Saturday 3/26

Hawks 4 – Knights 5 (OT)

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick 

This one stings.

With Vegas missing both goalies AND about 4 top players on their front and back ends, going up 3-0 after two on this squad with a chance to put a nail in their playoff coffin then coughing it up is a bummer. Kevin Lankinen did himself no favors by allowing a very soft goal to start the shenanigans rolling  less than 60 seconds into the 3rd period. Once that happened, you could feel the air go out of the Hawks tires as the Knights smelled blood in the water. Less than 5 minutes later it was 4-4 as the Hawks were just trying to get into OT and salvage the disaster the game had become.

They had plenty of chances, too. With Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat bearing down on rookie goalie Logan Thompson in OT, only to have the puck skip over Cat’s stick into the boards. Dylan Strome had a chance a few seconds later only to be stoned by Thompson (who, credit where it’s due, did an admirable job stopping some seriously high danger chances from Strome, Kane and The Cat). Ultimately it was the guy Vegas had tried to trade away only days earlier firing the GWG home after Kane, Strome and Jones got stuck out there for an extended period of time and were completely gassed.

 

In the end, taking 5 of a possible 6 points on a West Coast road swing is absolutely considered a success. As the Hawks move into full on rebuild mode, you have to enjoy these games while you can as the next time they show up in Vegas the roster may look considerably different than it does now. Same can be said for the outcome. So much to look forward to!

Hockey

The rebuild is officially underway, what with the Hawks trading away Brandon Hagel, Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Carpenter before Monday’s deadline, which was accurately summarized by McClure in the wrap last night. I was surprised there wasn’t a fire sale akin to the level of the 2021 Cubs, although Kubalik, de Haan and even Strome probably couldn’t have fetched the level of returns that some of the Cubs did, theoretically. However, I’d consider late-round picks better than letting some of these guys walk for nothing, which will be in the plans for de Haan at the very least, as we around here continue to wonder when the hell we’re going to see Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell back in the NHL now that we’re playing for nothing.

Yes, there’s still hockey to be played this season, amazingly. And a Hawks lineup without Hagel, Fleury and perhaps a disinterested and checked-out Toews will not be fun to watch. The Hawks have an easier matchup tonight with fellow deadline sellers, the Anaheim Ducks, before facing more difficult matchups against playoff-contending teams like the Kings and the tire fire Golden Knights later this week.

3/23 at Anaheim

Game Time: 9:00 PM CT
TV/Radio: TNT, WGN 720
Day Was Gonna Come When I Was Gonna Mourn Ya: Anaheim Calling

This website wouldn’t be called Faxes from Uncle Dale if we weren’t going to laugh at a GM not reading the fine fucking print. It was not the fault of Ducks GM Pat Verbeek, however—his team instead had the front row seat for the Vegas Golden Knights trying to somersault their way out of the cap hell they find themselves in (more on that later). I’m sure Verbeek won’t be losing sleep over not receiving Evgenii Dadonov, some AHL player and the ghost of Ryan Kesler from the Knights once this trade doesn’t go through. Plus, the Ducks had a selloff of their own at the trade deadline to start this week, moving out older vets on expiring contracts who we all know and love: Hampus! Hampus!, Rickard Rakell, Josh Manson and Nic Deslauriers are no longer part of the club.

The Ducks have the kickstart to the rebuild that Kyle Davidson can only dream of in our current state: two 1st-rounders and two 2nd-rounders in the 2022 draft, plus two 1st-rounders and five 2nd-rounders for the two drafts after that. Now that there’s nothing to play for in Anaheim (outside of watching Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras, I guess), Ducks fans, like the Hawks, can pray their shiny new GM doesn’t fuck some of these draft picks up and they get back into contention sooner rather than later.

3/24 at LA

Game Time: 9:00 PM CT
TV/Radio: ESPN+/Hulu, WGN 720
Los Angeles, Come Scam Me Please: Jewels from the Crown

Unlike the dumpster fire the Blackhawks organization has been for the past 6 years, the Kings were able to rebuild on the fly from their Cup teams, finding themselves snugly in 2nd place in the Pacific Division and positioned for the playoffs (and I have no trust that the Oilers will catch up to them, frankly). It’s likely they don’t go far in the postseason considering they aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts and they’re likely poised to get crushed by Colorado or Calgary or even Minnesota now that they have cemented their goaltending with Fleury. But postseason time can be invaluable to younger players, especially Quinton Byfield, who had two goals in a big win against the Predators last night. The Kings are the 6th-youngest team in the NHL, and getting a taste of playoff hockey will help inspire their young players to get back there again and win.

The Kings were quiet at the trade deadline, despite notable jackass Drew Doughty recently getting injured and the timetable for his return being a big mystical secret—yet another reason why this team likely won’t go too far in the playoffs. Someone has to play on the right side, however, so they acquired Troy Stecher from Detroit to ensure they could put a warm body on the ice. His career so far has been “meh”, and he seems to average multiple giveaways a game so I’d like to see the Hawks capitalize on that if possible.

3/26 at Vegas

Game Time: 2:00 PM CT
TV/Radio: ESPN+/ABC, WGN 720
Ride the Snake:
Knights on Ice

Perhaps the impending doom of the Vegas Golden Knights shouldn’t be so amusing to me, but it’s been telenovela levels of drama swirling around this organization for months as they literally cling to dear life for the final wild card spot in the West, despite Dallas being only a point behind them with four games in hand.

The Knights are, hilariously, in desperate need of goaltending after picking the wrong half of their previous season’s tandem in Marc-Andre Fleury to trade away. The reports are saying Robin Lehner could be out the rest of the season because of a lower body injury, leaving the Knights with Logan Thompson (young and unproven) and Laurent Brossoit (middling at best) to tend net into the playoffs, if they even get that far (they won’t). They were unable to add a goaltender at the trade deadline to help them out, as I am sure Fleury gave them the finger if Kelly McCrimmon even had the balls to ring up Davidson and ask about his services.

Meanwhile, arguably their best player in Mark Stone continues to sit on LTIR until the playoffs since the Knights are up against their cap ceiling and then some after trading for Jack Eichel. (Seriously, look at their CapFriendly page, it’s a fucking disaster.) The city nearly had a meltdown when Eichel left the game last Thursday after blocking a shot with his hand, and despite him returning for a game against the Kings, it sounds like there’s probably definitely something wrong with his hand that he is just gutting through, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the future, or playoff success in general, as the curse of Jack Eichel continues.

All this and the Hawks as currently constructed are still no match for this team. This could get ugly, folks.

Hockey

Pardon the title of the preview, but I watched Get Back on Disney Plus the other day and have been listening to Beatles tracks ever since. Anyways, the Hawks played as expected the past 3 games since coming back from their extended Xmas Vacation, getting smoked in all facets in the Nashville and Calgary games and then playing a solid 58 minutes against Colorado but ultimately falling to a simply disgusting Makar OT goal.

What is becoming clearer by the minute is that the Blackhawks are desperately short on skaters that can finish off their shots. Outside of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat (who is shooting absolutely lights out at a 19% rate, and will eventually come back down to earth) the cupboard is bare at the NHL level. This was never more apparent when Kirby Dach got run down in the 2 on 1 in the 3rd period against the Avs. Ultimately this will result in more of the same for the Hawks, making it only so far in games as Marc Andre Fleury can carry them and hoping Kane and Cat are able to pot a few before the dam breaks.

Reading the tea leaves as to why Lukas Reichel hasn’t been called up from Rockford yet is a pretty clear statement from Kyle Davidson as to what he thinks of the Hawks chances going forward. Why waste a year on his rookie deal for half of a wasted season? While the analytical part of my lizard brain agrees with this, the hockey fan in me wants to see what this kid can do. It would at least give us something to write about other than “the Hawks sucked again,” which feels like what I was doing in 2017-18 covering the White Sox for this joint.

Anyways, here’s who’s next for the Hawks this week:

 

1/6 @ Coyotes

Game Time: 8:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Hockey Fans More Depressed Than Us: Five For Howling

 

If there were ever a salve for a hockey team that just had it’s ass lit on fire by 3 top tier teams, playing the Desert Dogs would be aloe vera. Not only are they constantly playing under the threat of being locked out of their own arena, the city they call home is actively trying to get them to leave. Not a very conductive work environment, and it shows. Sitting at or near the bottom in every advanced metric the internet could concieve of, the Coyotes are the A#1 team in contention for the first overall pick in the summer. While the Hawks are terrible in goal differential, the Yotes are taking it to an entirely new level with a -56 mark less than halfway through the season. To put that into perspective, the worst goal differential in 2018-19 for the whole SEASON was -64 (hello, Ottawa), so yeah. They’re bad.

There are some pieces that can be salvaged at the deadline for them, however. Professional Hot Dog Man Phil Kessel is here, and 3rd on the team with 21 points and entering his free agent season. Shayne Ghost Bear has one year left on his 4.5 million dollar deal and is producing nicely from the back end on the PP. Assbag Antoine Roussel is also here, and brings that idiotic element that teams so love to acquire for the playoff run. Nick Schmaltz is also here and has 6 points, so…I guess that’s one trade that Bowman actually won.

The only player worth talking about with a future in the organization is Clayton Keller. Drafted 1st overall in 2016, the Yotes handed him an 8 year, $57 million dollar extension last season. He’s rewarded them for doing so by being the team’s leader on the ice night in and night out. While he’s generously listed at 5′ 10″, Keller plays a much bigger game than you would expect, and has the type of finish that reminds you of Alex DeBrincat. More impressively he does most of his damage at even strength, as only 3 of his 21 points have come on the man advantage. If the Hawks D can keep a lid on him, the odds of picking up 2 points goes up exponentially.

 

1/8 @ Vegas

Game Time: 9:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Degenerates Unite: Sin Bin Las Vegas

 

After a very rough start to the season (7-8 in their first 15), the Knights have righted the ship and find themselves back atop the Pacific Division having gone past the surprising Ducks of Anaheim in the last week. Much of this is due to the Knights forwards finally remembering which end to shoot at. And boy do they shoot at it, because if the Knights don’t pot more than 3 goals a night it’s tough for them to win. After choosing Brain Genius Robin Lehner over MAF, the Knights GAA sits above 3.00 for the first time in their existence. As a team, the Knights have given up merely 2 more than the Hawks have (granted they’ve played 3 more games) and 37 more than conference leader Calgary.

The flip side of that is the Knights lead the West in scoring by a pretty large margin. Leading this charge is Washington castoff Chandler Stephenson who is tops on the team with 34 points. After him come the usual suspects in Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore and Mark Stone. The Knights can run 4 lines out there and have all of them score, and this is even before the eventual debut of ole Slinky Neck Jack Eichel. Take the over in this one.

 

1/11 @ Columbus

Game Time: 6:00 CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Did You Know Ohio State Is In Columbus?: Jackets Cannon

 

Another team slumming it at the bottom of the league statistically, the Blue Jackets are another opportunity for the Hawks to pick up some points on this Sherman-esque march to the sea. Columbus is very similar to the Hawks in terms of being unable to keep other teams from scoring, and only getting their own goals from very limited sources. The good thing for the Jackets is that all the goals they ARE getting are from the younger draft pick crowd. Alexandre Texier, Oilver Bjorkstrand and Zack Werenski are all going to be bright parts of the Jackets future. Even some of the “older” players like Boone Jenner and Gus Nyquist are still well South of 30, and could be a part of that future.

Boone Jenner currently leads the team with 11 goals, half of which come on the man advantage where he does most of his damage between the dots. Bjork Bjork Bjork leads the team with 23 total points, and is a lot of fun to watch with his combination of speed and hands. Also Jake Voracek is here.  In between the pipes is where the Jackets have issues, as their GAA over the last month and a half is North of 3.50. CBJ had brought up Daniil Tarasov up from the AHL to fill in for the broken (and terrible) Joonas Korpisalo, where he performed pretty admirably before leaving the game against Carolina with a lower body injury. Korpisalo is back now, and he’s been teaming with Elvis Merzlikins to be extra terrible. The Jackets have given up 7 goals in each of their last 2 games, and weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before that. This game seems like a good chance for Fleury to steal one for the Hawks, but again I’d still take the over.

 

Hockey

Against the Oilers, the Hawks could get away with the fact that their defense skates like slugs fuck and leave a similarly sticky trail of entrail ooze in their wake, as the Oilers gave the Hawks a run for their money in defensive ineptitude. They won’t be so lucky against Vegas (GET IT?), who has one of the top possession defenses in the game, a trend that has continued through the playoffs.

Knights Probable Defensive Pairings

McNabb–Schmidt

Martinez–Theodore

Holden–Whitecloud

In the one game the Hawks looked dominant (Game 1), they were above water in possession. Each game after, and especially Game 4, they were overrun. We can expect this matchup to mimic the latter games, as the Knights are a possession powerhouse.

Those are their CF%s at 5v5 against the best three teams in the West. That includes the Colorado Avalanche, who sport probably the deepest forward corps in the league. The top two pairings have the classic free-safety setup, with McNabb covering for Schmidt and Martinez covering for Theodore. Not that it makes much of a difference, as these pairings almost always find themselves away from their own net.

In the three playoff games Vegas has played, only Alec Martinez has taken fewer than half of his faceoffs in the offensive zone (42+%). Literally every other Vegas D-man takes more faceoffs in the oZ than not. That’s fucking breathtaking.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! In terms of xGF%, the Knights whip ass too, with only Martinez (48+) and Zach Whitecloud (49+) barely underwater. Schmidt and Theodore, who are two of the best D-men in the league, are each above 60% in the playoffs. Sixty fucking percent! The top two pairings are relentless, and if there’s any weakness in it, it might be Martinez’s speed. But all he’s asked to do is play free safety for Theodore, who can control possession by himself.

Think the Hawks might have an opening against Holden and Whitecloud? WRONG AGAIN ERNIE! Though they’re a routine stay-at-home pairing, and Nick Holden sucks, Whitecloud has introduced himself as someone capable of not entirely filling his diaper against actual offensive threats. I guess if you can get the Toews line out against this pairing, maybe you can made shinola out of shit? But again, given the possession numbers, there’s not much daylight.

Advantage: C’mon

DeBoer could play Theodore and Schmidt all 60 minutes in every single game and they’d still run circles around the Hawks. They’re too fast, too skilled, and too deep. Even their slow guys (Martinez, Holden, McNabb) would be top 4 guys on the Hawks. The Hawks will have to shoot at better than the 14% they’re already shooting at to have any hope, because the Knights defense is going to have the puck for 60% of the fucking game.

We’re out of our element.

Vegas Forward Preview

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-12-6   Knights 15-12-5

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

DIAMONDS AND DUST: SinBin Vegas

You most certainly don’t feel like it, but if the Hawks were to get a point out of this one, and they only just got their first two points ever in Vegas in four tries last month, they would have something of a points-streak. I don’t know if four games count as a “streak,” but these days we have to take what we can get. And it’s going to take an extended one if the Hawks are going to leap all the teams they need to get into the playoff discussion. They’ll start the desert swing tonight before wrapping up this small road trip in St. Louis, which is only a desert of the mind.

They’ll find a Knights team that isn’t quite having its own way as it had in its first two years. They hold the last wildcard spot at the moment, but somehow find themselves trailing both the Coyotes and the Oilers by five points. They won’t expect either of those teams to hold up, and you’d think when those bubbles burst the Knights will be there to pick up the pieces and go home. It’s still the smart money.

In some ways, the Knights are the opposite of the Hawks. They do all their good work between the goal lines, but when it comes to making it count on either end they’ve been a little shy. They rank in the bottom 10 in both shooting-percentage and save-percentage, which kind of undoes their top-1o standing in both Corsi and expected goals percentage. Whereas the Hawks can’t do any of that in-between shit but do get saves and do get goals because they have experts on that at both ends.

It would be easy to point to the aging Marc-Andre Fleury and think that’s the problem, but only his injuries have been a problem. The real issue is the Knights don’t have a representative backup. Malcolm Subban has been thoroughly mediocre, with a .901 and the sub-.500 record he and the team has when he starts. Fleury has bee fine, but has missed the past couple weeks. Luckily for the Hawks, he returns tonight.

At the other end, the Knights just haven’t made their chances count even if they get more of them. The days of Max Pacioretty being amongst the league’s best marksmen are probably past. Mark Stone never was. Wild Bill Karlsson was never going to match the 25% shooting-percentage of two years ago. Marchessault and Smith haven’t really made up the difference while also doing just enough. It’s likely the Knights won’t have a 30-goal scorer, but might end up with six or seven 20-goal ones. But if Smith or Patches or Marchessault catch fire for a month, they will most likely rocket up the standings.

It’s still the lightning quick squad that has been a nightmare for the Hawks for most of their meetings. Get it out, get it up, get it the fuck up there as quick as possible is always the plan with the Knights so they can get their forwards in space. And their defense, thanks to Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore mostly, is just mobile enough to give themselves just enough time to do so, whether it’s one pass or off the glass or chipped out to the red line. When it’s on song it can be impossible to live with, but you also need to make those things count by actually finishing, which has been something of a struggle so far this year.

To the Hawks, who will start Corey Crawford tonight. Adam Boqvist is up, and is the only Hawks d-man who can play at the Knights’ speed. Where he’ll play hasn’t been determined yet, or if he’ll play at all. It’s likely he’s in for Koekkoek while everyone still worships at the altar of Dennis Gilbert. And he is likely to get very exposed tonight, chasing hits he won’t come within five feet of as the Knights forwards gleefully sprint into the space he vacates. The rest of the lineup should remain the same.

The Hawks have gotten three of four points available against Vegas so far this year, which seems a miracle given what we saw the first two years. Without Keith and this plodding blue line, you really don’t look forward to this one much. But the Hawks can’t afford to deem any game beyond them if they’re serious about playing games that matter later on in the season. So they’ll have to be quick with the puck, no 17-pass breakouts, and perhaps collapsing a bit more to their crease instead of chasing forwards they can’t catch all over their zone would be helpful.

Off we go.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 6-7-4   Knights 9-7-3

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN

DIAMONDS AND DUST: Sinbin.Vegas

The Hawks will begin a mini-roadie through the nouveau riche of the NHL, with tonight’s stop in Sin City before heading to Music City on Saturday night. Clearly Sin and Music go together, as every person who’s thrown a bible at you has told you.

And these are not two venues that many in the following will be greeting giddily. We know what happened to the Hawks the last time they were in Nashville, and they have yet to get a point out of Vegas in two seasons and three trips. In fact, they’ve been done to the tune of a combined 13-7 there, and last year’s 4-3 loss was the only time they were within a zip code of the Knights in their own resort.

You can debate whether or not it’s a good time to catch a team after they’ve lost four of five and six of eight. Clearly, they’re not playing well. But also clearly, they’re probably pretty angry and going to come out with a fair measure of piss and vinegar. Especially as those four losses for the Knights were on the road and this is their first home game since. The archers and drummers will be even more amped up.

Not that there weren’t some bad losses for them on their recent trip. There are few excuses you can come up with to justify losing to Detroit and barely squeaking by Columbus in regulation. OT losses in Winnipeg and Toronto are more understandable, as is getting kicked to shits by the Caps in DC. Just kind of a thing they do these days. That all happened to Vegas.

And it’s mostly because the offense has dried up. They scored 10 goals in those five games, and they haven’t managed more than three goals in any game in November, nor more than two in their last four. They only managed 19 shots in their loss to Detroit, which was definitely a “Let’s get this the fuck over with and get home” kind of effort. They kind of did the same thing against Columbus, which sort of indicates they’re picking their spots a bit.

Don’t worry, the Knights are still going to be annoying all season. They’re still one of the better metric teams around, and they produce just about as good and as many chances as anyone, ranking third in xGF/60 at evens. They’ve had issues with the other side, as they’re barely middling in the ones they’ve given up, and that might have something to do with having a pretty immobile defense beyond Nate Schmidt. They’re also unlucky in that they’re shooting less than 7% as a team, and they can’t get too many saves with just a .909 at evens. The former will straighten itself out before too long. The latter…

…maybe not so much. As you know by know. Seabiscuit lookalike Marc-Andre Fleury is old and has been abhorrent of late, with an .877 SV% over his last five starts. Malcolm Subban isn’t going to save any team, and counting on him for more than a spot start here and there is going to lead to a downfall. The Knights had better hope for that goals-explosion soon, because there’s a more than zero chance their goaltending just never quite comes around again. They’re just going to count on a soon-to-be 35-year-old Fleury to find it.

Still, this is a test of the Hawks apparently new “system” of being more open and adventurous…which saw them give up 57 shots to a barely interested Leafs team. If the Knights are fully engaged, then they might give up 75. This is a team the Hawks really haven’t come close to being able to run with since they came into existence, and now they apparently seem intent on going toe-to-toe with just about anyone, it could be ugly. It could also be the only way.

The Hawks almost got their first regulation win against the Knights the last time they played, but that involved maxing out while the Knights were kind of only there. And even that got them a last-minute equalizer. The Hawks were able to skate with them in the neutral zone and Duncan Keith had his best game in three seasons or so to cut off things at the blue line. That game also cost the Hawks Connor Murphy, which indicates some of the strain of the effort.

The tweaks the Hawks have made are meant to get their forwards out against d-men they’re either faster than or more skilled than or both, and usually that will be the case. It will be here, as you want to get isolate in space against the likes of McNabb and Engelland and Holden. The problem is you have to sacrifice a bit the help you’re giving your d-men to get out from under the frightening speed of the Knights forwards, so how the Hawks escape will go a long way to indicating where this one will go. Can the Hawks D find enough time to even just chip off the glass and behind the Knights defensemen for their forwards to skate onto?

Good test for Boqvist tonight too, as this is the exact type of opponent the Hawks need him for while also being the one he has to figure out how to get out from under. He has the feet to actually open himself up and get the Hawks into the neutral zone and beyond, and he’s the only one, but he also has to navigate his way through the furious Knights forecheck which has buried basically all of his teammates on the blue line in every meeting. See how he handles it.

If the Hawks are serious about taking their hand off the throttle, then it won’t be boring. At this point, we can’t ask for much more.

Hockey

If you want to feel better about organizational methods, it’s always good to laugh at someone else. It doesn’t mean your team is run any better, but at least you know there are other idiots along with you. Misery loves company, and so does idiocy. AMERICA.

Cast your mind back three years ago, when the Montreal Canadiens traded PK Subban to Nashville. Part of the reason they did that was they felt he was a problem in the dressing room, and the reason they felt like that was their captain Max Pacioretty pretty much made that clear. Because Pacioretty is the most boring person in the world and adheres to the strict hockey code that no one can ever be interesting in any way, or something.

Well, less than two years later Pacioretty was gone to Vegas, so that’s some excellent long-term planning there. And the Habs haven’t won a playoff series since all this started anyway. Sounds a touch familiar. Strange that Les Habitants are run by a former Hawks employee, no?

Not that Pacioretty has been all that glorious himself. A big reason the Canadiens decided to punt him before he hit free agency is they felt he was already on the decline. And there was reason to think that. His last year in Montreal saw him play only 64 games, and score just 17 goals. And while a 4.7% shooting-percentage at even-strength and an 8% overall just aren’t Patches numbers, there were other warning signs. We would never trust Marc Bergevin to actually heed them, but maybe he got it right anyway.

Pacioretty’s chances and attempts were dropping. After topping out in ’15-’16 with exactly an 1.00 xGF/60, he had declined in the next two seasons. His attempts per game also fell by a quarter in the next two seasons. Same with his scoring chances. Pacioretty simply wasn’t getting to the same areas. A shooting-percentage spike saved one of those seasons, but he fell to just 17 goals in his last season in the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.

Things didn’t improve much in his first year in the desert, either. Patches once again saw his body let him down, as he only played 66 games last year. He did manage 22 goals, but still wasn’t anywhere near the 35-goal machine he had been in Montreal and which the Knights probably thought they were getting some version of when they traded for him and gave him an additional five years on his contract. Again, his metrics continued to slip.

It appears that slide has arrested, at least in the open environs of October hockey.

So far, Patches is averaging more shots per game than he has at any point in his career. His expected-goals is higher than at any time since he became a genuine top-line threat. His attempts per 60 are up around 2016 levels. So even though he’s getting no luck with a 7% shooting-percentage overall, he’s still managed six goals and you’d expect with the chances he’s getting that he’s going to have a binge here pretty soon. Just hopefully not tonight, but when has anything like that worked out for the Hawks against the Knights?

You can probably thank Mark Stone‘s arrival for this. All of Patches’s numbers took a bump up when Stone was on the other side of Paul Stastny from him, and that’s continued this year. Although it could be argued he’s having just as big of an impact on Stone, as in very limited time without each other (just 57 minutes or so), it’s Stone’s numbers that fall off a cliff more than Pacioretty’s. Either way, they make for quite the force. Especially in the playoffs last year, where Pacioretty threw up 11 points in just seven games against the Sharks. Too bad he doesn’t kill penalties though, huh?

They’d better. Pacioretty’s contract was starting to have real potential to become James Neal-like if he’d continued tumbling down the mountainside. He’s signed until he’s 34, and power forwards do not tend to age well in a league that keeps getting faster. And we’ve been over how capped out the Knights are in the near future.

That’s a worry for another day though, because the Knights look primed to take another serious run at a less and less impressive Western Conference. Pacioretty is going to have a major role in that.

Hockey

Ryan Reaves: It was ever thus. In the latest instance of why garbage cans like this have to be tossed out of the league but never will, we present Reaves’s bullshit with Adam Lowry. Last week, Lowry hit Alex Tuch. Was it totally clean? Perhaps not. It certainly wasn’t completely malicious either. But of course, whether it was clean or not doesn’t really matter, does it? Because players and teams lose their mud over clean hits all the time. Which is another thing the league needs to do away with.

So on Lowry’s next shift, and this is something that actually happens in this league that any other sport would suspend a coach a quarter of a season for, Gerard Gallant sent Ryan Reaves to take the draw against Lowry. You can imagine where it goes from here, and no, he doesn’t fix the cable.

This is clearly, patently ridiculous, and the only reason a player like Reaves–who can’t do anything else–is even in the league. The fight didn’t make Tuch less hurt. It didn’t take the hit away. Nor will it deter Lowry from hitting anyone else. This is just macho bullshit so everyone can feel like they did something while accomplishing exactly nothing but making the league look Mickey Mouse and opening up even more players to concussion problems. Oh you so tough, Gallant.

But of course, you’ll find it championed on the league’s broadcast partner’s site. Which pretty much tells you what the league thinks of this stupid and seedy underbelly.

You may think we’re being hypocritical, given that Jonathan Toews went after Jake Muzzin on Sunday for a clearly dirty hit on Alex Nylander. In the moment, it’s hard to not understand. And also, Toews is an actual player. This isn’t his only use. He doesn’t have to justify his existence through this kind of thing, which makes it even more noticeable when he does this kind of thing. It was also in the spur of the moment, not planned out like Gallant and Reaves to exact a pound of flesh for perceived injustices.

Gallant planned this out and sent Reaves out to do his dirty work. We know Gallant played in the 80s with the asshole-riven Wings, but that time is past. But the league will never look twice.

Brayden McNabb: Sneaky dirty. We didn’t realize until last meeting. But as he gets slower he gets much more cross-check-ier.

Cody Glass: PUNCH THAT FACE.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Knights 6-4-0   Hawks 2-3-1

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I NEEDED SOMETHING TO CUT THE LIMES: Sinbin.Vegas

We’re staying on the theme of the day, aren’t we?

Let’s get it out of the way at the top. The Hawks have never beaten the Knights. They’ve only gotten a point off of them once in six tries. They’ve been outscored 30-17 in those games. If there’s any team that has spent the last two years illustrating how far behind the Hawks have fallen in team speed and style, it’s the Knights. Most of these contests, the Hawks haven’t been anywhere near them. If the Hawks want to show that they can actually compete in this conference, or have figured out how the game is played now and how they can live in it, tonight would be something of an indicator.

And they might not get a better chance. They have the Knights at home, and on the second of a back-to-back. The Knights got walloped in Philadelphia last night, though some of that was having Oscar Dansk in net and not Marc-Andre Fleury, whom the Hawks will get tonight. So yeah, whole “ANGRY TEAM” thing, but also a tired one. Which means they’ll only be faster than the Hawks by a factor of six instead of eight, or thereabouts.

Let’s start with the Hawks. Robin Lehner will take his turn in net, and seeing as how he had to Atlas the Hawks to two points against the Jackets, he’s probably more in shape for what will almost certainly be a 35+ save effort if the Hawks are going to get something out of this. No word on what the Hawks will do lineup-wise, though they might want to reconfigure their top six again and get Kirby Dach on a wing for this one. Unless they want him dealing with any of William Karlsson, Paul Stastny, or Cody Eakin, Which they definitely do not.

So far, they appear to be sticking with Sunday’s lineup, but look for changes as this game rolls along.

Right, to the Knights. At times they’ve looked utterly unstoppable this season, such as when they pulverized the Sharks twice to open the season or gave the Flames a colonoscopy for fun. They’ve also been well-beaten by the Preds and Flyers, and tied the Senators, so it’s been a bit goofy–as hockey tends to be.

They haven’t been quite the possession monster of years past, at last in terms of attempts. They don’t generate or prevent that many, middling in both categories. When it comes to actual chances though, they’re one of the better teams around, generating far more than they give up. So they’ll let you have the outside, but nothing in the middle and as soon as they block a shot they’re off to the races.

At the moment, it’s their second line that’s the real danger. Mark Stone is a supernova at this point, and taking Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny along for the ride. Not that the Hawks have been able to do anything about Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, or Wild Bill in the past either.

Cody Glass and his eminently punchable, smirking rich kid face is the new hotness on the third line, and whenever Alex Tuch returns to flank Eakin on the other side this third line will be as dangerous as many top six units in the league. And that’s if they don’t move Glass to center, which is his natural spot.

At this point, the drill with the Knights is well-known. They have a profusion of speed at forward on all four lines, and their game is simply to get it up to them and up the ice as quickly as possible. One pass or one chip out into the neutral zone and they’re gone. When not doing that, they have no compunction about sending two forecheckers below the opposing goal line to free up the puck and get chances while the other team is scrambling.

The Hawks struggle, at least for one reason, against this team because they still try their intricate breakouts or exits, and it just won’t work. They also don’t have the foot-speed on defense to even give themselves enough time to inhale and bank one off the glass to get out of the zone. That’s the game against the Knights, is you have to get the puck past their forwards that constantly look like the Tasmanian Devil in that cloud he would create when really losing it. Once you do that you can get at this defense as the Flyers did last night. It’s not that good, but it’s well protected and not asked to do much more than clog the middle of their zone, and wing the puck in the general direction of their forwards.

The Hawks think they’re equipped to do this now. We’ll see.