Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Golden Knights 27-16-4   Hawks 16-22-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

SEARCHING FOR ELIZABETH SHUE: SinBin Vegas

It sounds strange to say that the Hawks have never beaten an expansion team. You’d think you’d have gotten one by accident, all things being norma.. But the Golden Knights aren’t really a normal expansion team, and these haven’t been the normal Hawks. So in five tries, the Hawks have drawn an 0-fer. And they rarely have been close. Last out where they took the lead against the Knights in the 3rd is about as good as they’ve done, and they promptly hocked that up like a smoker’s phlegm as quickly as they could. This is also the same team that put a snowman on the Hawks at home. So yeah, let’s just say it’s not a great matchup.

The Knights come in after just having a seven-game win-streak snapped at home on Thursday by a San Jose team they’re having a tussle with at the top of the standings. After some wonky health and dips in performance, the Knights were getting both back at the time, with Marc-Andre Fleury shaking off some of the malaise that’s draped on him most of the year. Paul Stastny returned to give the Knights a second line worth worrying about, though now Reilly Smith and Cody Eakin have ended up on a trainer’s table. Eakin looks like he’ll slot back in tonight on the third line, though.

It’s not quite the fireworks of last year. Vegas’s leading goal-scorer is Alex Tuch with just 15. They’re only middle of the pack, averaging an even three goals per game even though they have some of the best possession-numbers around. And it’s some of the same problems that Carolina has had for years. You have to have some front-line snipers to turn that possession into goals, and not just William Karlsson vomiting up a 25% shooting-percentage for a season out of nowhere. The Knights have a bunch of good players, but perhaps not enough premier scorers to avoid some ruts at times, especially when Pacioretty has been subpar.

That hasn’t stopped them from being a major headache for the Hawks, as they simply can’t live with Vegas’s speed. With Brent Seabrook returning from illness tonight, that doesn’t figure to get any better either. The Knights move the puck out of their zone quicker than the Hawks’ forecheckers can bother them, and their forwards can beat the Hawks’ D all over the ice. especially to the outside. This causes the Hawks’ defense to back up and provide more space at the line, which is where the creative destruction happens. The last time these two met Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom weren’t in the lineup, and Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta were. We’ll see if that makes any difference.

For the Hawks, Slater Koekkoek, their new toy from Tampa won’t play tonight but they say he’s going to get a look. So one would have to believe that Brandon Davidson can start packing his bags. How Koekkoek will then get into the six is another questions, but one thing at a time, people. Henri Jokiharju will flip to the left side to accommodate Seabrook, and one has to wonder how much more accommodation and how much longer the Hawks can afford Seabrook. We’ll start to get answers on that soon.

Collin Delia will get the start again as he should, and shouldn’t see too many other lineup changes from the team that played well against Nashville. That means Caggiula and Saad on a third line and Top Cat in the top six. So y’know, fine.

Whenever the Hawks plan on being relevant again, they’re going to have to find a way to play a game this fast and play it well and beat the teams that already do it. Maybe that’s not tonight, maybe it’s next year. But I for one am a little tired of the Knights’ act, especially against the Hawks. So it would be enjoyable to finally get one over on them, just to see there’s been any progress whatsoever. That means none of this bullshit, three-passes-out-of-the zone ploy. Get it out and up and to your forwards as fast as possible. As little passing to someone standing still or moving backwards as possible, because that’s what the Knights feast on. Forward, forward, forward. You’ll give up chances, sure, but you’ll get Top Cat, Kane, and Toews in space too. Let’s have some fun.

 

Game #47 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Sinbin.vegas is your home for anything Knights. Ken Boehlke is at the heart of it. Follow him on Twitter @kenboehlke.

Last time we talked the Knights were still flickering on and off a bit.  Now they’ve won seven in a row, are a point behind the Flames. What’s been the difference?

The biggest difference has been getting players back in the lineup. It started with Nate Schmidt coming off the suspension, then Paul Stastny got back into the lineup, and then Max Pacioretty got fully healthy. As that happened they began to start playing more consistently and it’s continued even through this recent rash of injuries. They look a lot
like the team they did last year once again with a simplistic style of defending, a tenacious forecheck, and transition game that gives many teams nightmares.

Paul Stastny has recently returned from a long-term absence. How is he  fitting in?

Unbelievably well. He’s such a smart player that almost on every shift he does something that makes you say “Damn, Paul is good.” Playing with Alex Tuch has been a perfect match for Stastny as Tuch’s speed helps settle defenses into the zone and Stastny then picks them apart with his vision. Almost all of Brandon Pirri’s unbelievable run of success has come because of his linemates helping to set him up in great positions to score. Of course, you’ve got to score them, which Pirri has done, but that line has what I call the “homerun hitter feeling” which is that every single time they are out there you are expecting something big to happen. When a homerun hitter in baseball is absolutely smoking, he hits one out once every 10th or 11th at bat, which is a fairly low number when you consider everyone watching feels like it is coming every single AB. That’s how Stastny, Tuch, and Pirri/Pacioretty have felt and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Still doesn’t seem to be clicking for Max Pacioretty. Two goals in his last three but only 12 on the year, and some of the worst metrics on the team. Anyone getting impatient?

He’s been in and out of the lineup with injuries which culminated in a nasty looking one that kept him out for a bit. Since he’s come back, he looks like a completely different guy. He looks faster, he’s around the puck more, he’s popping up in dangerous areas more often, he looks like Max Pacioretty. People were growing very impatient with him (at one
point I called for him to be healthy scratched), but when he came back I decided to completely throw out the first portion of the season, give him a fresh start, and try to re-judge him as a player. In the four games since he’s been back, he looks terrific. I expect great things from Pacioretty for the rest of the year… as long as he’s healthy.

Is Wild Bill Karlsson’s contract going to get straightened out? Seems
weird this hasn’t been resolved yet given how the Knights have generally
conducted business.

It’s such a tough contract because he’s playing in a role that could easily command $9-10 million but his history suggests paying him that much would be ludicrous. Everybody involved seems to be in this holding pattern basically just wanting to gather more information. Is he really a 30-40 goal scorer? Is he really a #1 center? Is he really a consistent Selke candidate? He’s played for a year and a half, and we kind of have answers to those questions, but the more he plays the clearer it gets
for each side. Nothing would surprise me in these negotiations. I can see him taking a five-year deal at $5 million AAV, and I can see him getting a seven-year deal at $8 million AAV. I could also see it being signed tomorrow and I could see it going to all the way arbitration again (technically he signed minutes before the hearing). Either way, I don’t think William Karlsson is going anywhere any time soon.

 

Game #47 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 @ 

Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, SN affiliates, WGN-AM 720
Indecent Proposal: Sin Bin, Knights on Ice

Because getting territorially dominated by a Randy Carlyle coached team without two of its best ice flipping defenseman wasn’t insulting enough, the Hawks now have no time to even sit in the corner and feel shame for it with a tilt tonight in Vegas against a Knights team that completely clowned them on national TV and in their own building two weeks ago.

Everything Else

Ken Boehlke is one-half of sinbin.vegas. This was the Q&A we did with them when the Knights were in town just a couple weeks ago. Follow them @SinBinVegas.

We know the Knights benefitted last year from insane goaltending along  with their more than solid even-strength play. But having among the worst save-percentage and shooting-percentage this season seems a violent market correction. Is there something systemic here more than just rotten luck?

What it really comes down to is Grade-A scoring chances and the subsequent execution of them. Early in the season the Golden Knights were having a hard time creating anything in the dangerous areas (in the house, if you know that term) but what was worse than their inability to create the chances was a consistency in not finishing those chances when they did arise. Luckily, as tends to be the case in hockey, that has turned recently, especially since they’ve begun to play more
Pacific division teams.

How big is the injury to Paul Stastny?

To be completely honest, it hasn’t had a major impact to this point. It’s the loss of Haula that seems to be more of a detriment to the team. Stastny certainly would have been, and hopefully will eventually be, a nice center for the 2nd line, but Eakin has stepped in incredibly well and appears to be thriving with goal-scorers on his line again. The loss of Haula however has definitely taken an level of speed away from the team and at times they don’t look like the quick, ferocious, probably considered annoying team that won the Western Conference. They’ve been searching for anyone to make the 3rd line go since Haula’s gruesome injury, but it hasn’t really happened yet. Would they be better with Stastny back? Of course, but if you gave me one or the other right now, I’d rather have Haula.

And the suspension to Nate Schmidt? While he’s unquestionably a good player is he really a top pairing d-man that a team would miss so heavily?

I’ll be completely honest in saying I heavily underestimated the impact Schmidt would have in the lineup upon his return. When a guy is out for the first 20 games of the season and the last memories of him are the Cup Final when not a single defenseman was any good, there certainly has to be a level of skepticism about how good the player really is, especially a player who has only a one year track record of being a top pair defenseman. But this guy is everything and more on the ice that made the hockey world realize that he’a a top 20 defenseman in the league and maybe even better. He’s kind of been this a stabilizing force to the defense in that they aren’t allowing an odd-man rush a period anymore, but it’s added an element of transition back into Vegas’ game and most importantly, it’s meant the return of Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to more familiar, less defensively responsible, roles. All of that was a long way to say, YES, Nate Schmidt is that good.

Max Pacioretty started slow, there was concern, and now he’s bagged six goals in four games. Was this just a product of all scorers going through hot and cold streaks?

I don’t think it was simply a cold streak that a scorer tends to go through. We’ve all seen those cold streaks and they tend to mean lots of great saves against, post hits, miraculous backchecking, and the likes. That’s not what this was for Pacioretty. He was just not good. He wasn’t creating much by means of scoring chances and he was uncharacteristically a liability defensively. When I say he was bad, I mean, he was legitimately one of the worst forwards on the team. However, he’s definitely not that anymore, and it’s not because he’s scored a bunch of goals recently. It seems to have much more to do with
his linemates. Playing with Alex Tuch isn’t as simple as it would seem. He’s so much faster than he looks and he plays with a power that’s not horribly common in the NHL. Pacioretty seemed to always been a half  second behind Tuch, likely because he didn’t expect Alex to be able to pull off some of the stuff that he does. Now, Pacioretty expects Tuch to win every puck, to undress guys at the blue line, and to fire passes through people every shift. Pacioretty is starting to find himself in much better positions when Tuch and Eakin create turnovers, and the three of them are starting to look dangerous every single time out as a unit rather than individually. Pacioretty told me about two weeks ago that he thought he was thinking too much and it was slowing him down. That’s a huge problem when you play with Tuch. That appears to be over
and the flood gates might just be open.

 

 

Game #30 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We, or maybe just I, spent most of the season bitching about the Vegas Golden Knights, and specifically how stupid they made the league and really the nature of the sport look. Because they didn’t reinvent any wheel here, despite what some would like you to think. They just put together a bunch of fast players, got somewhat lucky when other teams overvalued complete stiffs and gave them useful parts instead, and then told them to get the fuck up the ice as fast as possible and score. And because hockey is decided on such tight margins, you only need a few bounces and a division made up of partially digested foodstuffs to suddenly find yourself with more than 100 points and in a Stanley Cup Final.

But really, the indictment wasn’t on the Knights but on the league that A.) couldn’t see what the Penguins had been doing the previous two years and replicate it and B.) fanbases and front offices who still can’t see how arbitrary all this can be.

It could very easily go sideways on the Knights, and it wouldn’t take too many of those bounces reversing themselves for it to do so. They’re not getting .927 from Fleury again. Wild Bill Karlsson is not shooting 25% again. Without Nate Schmidt, other teams might discover that this blue line actually sucks, though the Knights system and speed shelters it just about as well as any team can.

But they’re also buffeted against that better this year. And the division still requires golf shoes to wade through. We’re goin’ in…to Sin City…

2017-2018: 51-24-7 109 points  272 GF 228 GA  50.9 CF% 50.6 xGF% 8.3 SH% .921 SV%

Goalies: No reason to not run it back from last year, though handing Marc-Andre Fleury the contract extension they did is going to end up with everyone covered in expired pudding (does pudding expire? I can’t even remember the last time I had pudding, honestly. Do adults eat pudding? They do, right? How come I never do? Has it all gotten away from me?).

I know how it goes whenever I say something definitive, as the “Fels Motherfuck” is becoming Chicago lexicon right up there with “Zorich To Linebacker!” But there’s simply no way Flower gets back to a .927 SV% this year. We have 13 years of data to look at with him. His career-mark is .913. Last year’s spasm of godliness was a career-high by six points. Fleury put together back-to-back .920+ years in Pittsburgh in ’15 and ’16, but bottomed out in ’17 with a .908. What exactly he’ll put up this year is hard to pinpoint, so I’ll go safe and general and say it’s probably between his career mark of .913 and .920. Which is fine. Can the Knights do as much with just “fine” in net? Probably not. But they can still be good.

Fleury’s “Starry Season” masked the fact that the Knights also got highly competent work out of Malcolm Subban, both as a backup and when Fleury was hurt. And Subban had struggled in the AHL his last two seasons there, much less the NHL. He’s still only 24, and we know the learning curve for young goalies is steep and treacherous. Maybe last year is a glimpse of what he can be, but the Knights will not be wanting to turn too much over to him this season.

Defense: Whatever you think of Nate Schmidt’s suspension–and you think it’s ridiculous because it really is given his very plausible and backed-up defense–he’s gone for a quarter of the season. It’s a big miss. Which is weird to say, because we’re fairly sure he was never top-pairing quality, and yet he was in Vegas and they were a good defensive team.

So before delving any further into the Knights’ blue line, it’s important to remember how their system protects what is a unit that lacks talent. They aren’t asked to break themselves out of trouble. They barely have to pass. The defense is merely asked to get the puck out to the neutral zone for the forwards to skate onto. It can be the fly pattern or simply a chip off the glass. And because the forwards are so frenzied and make everything look like Smash TV, the Knights d-men aren’t in the d-zone all that much. Their forwards also help a ton on the backcheck. Because they have to.

Because when you look at a list of names like Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland, and Nick Holden, we know everyone pretty much sucks aside from Theodore. And the sample size isn’t huge on him yet. They’re not even that quick. But again, the Knights ask of little of them as possible. So every piece of logic and evidence I have says it’s not a good blue line. But it also might not really matter. Fuck, the Penguins won two Cups with defensive corps that were just above mop-bucket residue. It’s kind of the way things are going.

Forwards: Let’s clear this up right now. Jesse Marchessault and William Karlsson are not combining for 150 points again or 70 goals. I just can’t believe that, because alone Karlsson is not going to shoot 25% again. Seriously, the dude had one of every four shots go in. In the past 10 years, only two players have managed more than one 20%+ shooting season, and they are Alex Tanguay (who somehow did it five times and I don’t know why we even bother trying to figure out this world) and Mike Ribeiro. Karlsson has a date with a Lady named “Regression” and she just ordered the lobster.

Marchessault could actually consider himself a touch unlucky, as even with his 27 goals last year he saw his SH% drop from 15% the year before to 10% last campaign. We’ll see what he is this year. The Knights are simply better supported though for any kind of sinking from the top line because the second line is Alex TuchPaul StastnyMax Pacioretty, which is probably their first line when all is said and done. That’s going to generate more scoring than Tuch-Doofus Du Jour-James Neal. Though with Stastny and Patches, it’s probably not as quick but if Neal found a home in this system, they’ll find a way to get something out of those two as well.

The bottom-six is still comprised of the hopped-up gnats it was last year like Erik HAULA!, Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, and because they have to give away at least one roster spot to galactic stupidity Ryan Reaves is here (please let Gerard Gallant use him with the goalie pulled again. I need as much mirth in my life as I can get right now). The names don’t do much for you but again, they’re all quick and they’re told to be quicker and most teams can’t live with it with their third-pairings.

Outlook: They’re not the Sharks. Regression is going to hit them in a few spots. But with that second-line and all the games they get against the other teams wandering the countryside with no particular plan or urgency, it’s hard to see them losing the 15-20 points that would make a playoff spot suddenly in jeopardy. Maybe Fleury falls completely apart. Maybe Subban can’t bail him out at all. Maybe Karlsson and Marchessault shoot like 7%. But those seem extreme. Second place seems like home, a comfortable 98-102 points. Who who else in the Pacific can you safely say gets there?

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Everything Else

In the end, what everyone hated or loved about the Vegas Golden Knights is that they were a mirror. When you watched them, you saw everything that this league is, good and bad.

On the bad side, the Knights exhibited for all that basically, no one knows shit and that it can be totally random. While those in the media were so quick to dub George “Tiger Punch” McPhee a genius–this being the same guy who hired Dale Hunter and Adam Oates in Washington, thus ruining a good three to four years of Alex Ovechkin’s prime–all he did was take advantage of a system that wouldn’t allow GMs to keep all the talent they’d drafted. And that system was in place because too many teams were too dumb to acquire a lot of talent. Sure, he was able to grift a couple GMs who had gone to cottage to huff white-out a bit early (hi Dale! Hi Bob! Say, why did all these guys used to work for the Hawks?), but it wasn’t he who conjured a .928 season out of Marc-Andre Fleury or a 25 SH% out of Wild Bill Karlsson (and we here eagerly await Karlsson’s 22-goal season next year with only 648 articles entitled “What’s Wrong With William Karlsson,” which of course no one will say the answer is “He’s William Karlsson, for fuck’s sake).

No, when you watched the Knights it became clear just how random the sport is. Find a goalie or two that spasm a .925+ SV% for no reason other than the gods enjoy a good chuckle now and then and a couple guys to shoot the lights out and you’re halfway there. Throw in some spice of being in a division where every goddamn team is built to be “tough to play against” (i.e. dumb and slow) and just skate by them and then anything can happen. A few bounces, a few one-goal wins, and suddenly you’re the most magical team this side of…. well, any MLS expansion team.

And if you can garnish it all with the fact that apparently no NHL player had ever heard of Las Vegas before, and every opponent showed up to your arena looking like Mia Wallace after she got into Vincent’s coat pocket and well, the sky’s the goddamn limit, isn’t it?

Watch the Knights long enough, and unless you were a fan of a certain few teams, you could see just how stupid your team was run. The Knights ran over the Kings, who are on their fourth consecutive season of trying to ice a rec rugby team, and then they could tell everyone they play rugby within the first three minutes of any conversation because that’s apparently what rugby players do in this country (and if you ever meet a rugby playing vegan, run for the hills, friendo). They got to show the Sharks just how old they are, as Pete DeBoer replaced their only young d-man with whatever wasn’t falling off of Paul Martin, and whatever was.

Then came the Jets, who actually rolled them for a fair amount but Fleury snorted an infinity stone or something and everyone chalked it up to “magic.” Of course, a series later and everything looked exactly as it did against the Jets except Fleury was doing a reasonable impression of muppet running an Iron Man (i.e. being Marc-Andre Fleury circa 2010-2016) and suddenly they’re getting their magical, Cinderella ass paddled (insert your Cinderella pansexual fanfic here).

And yes, even the architect of all this, Gerard Gallant, had his brain drip out his ear in the final round. Anyone who’s surprised by this must’ve never watched him play for the Red Wings, where during his 11-year career he actually touched the puck 12 times. But hey, this is the NHL, if you’ve got a leathered up face, were a grinder once upon a time, and have some sort of weird nickname, the press will slather you in their saliva. So there’s Jack Adams winner-elect putting out Ryan Reaves, not once but twice, as the extra-attacker when down a goal. Why? Because he had managed to rhino-hump his way into two goals into two games. I’m sure James Neal didn’t consider Marty McSorley-ing his coach at all during this stretch. He scratched David Perron, who granted really does suck but did manage to put up 66 points this year in a series where no one but the top line could do anything other than stare at the lights. And this is the best coach during the season. #EndHockey.

All of it led the hockey world declaring Vegas as the best new hockey market, and you’re not really a hockey town until Pierre McGuire declares “I haven’t heard a building this loud all spring…” and then NBC edits out the part where he concludes that sentence with, “…except for Mississauga last week when they were playing Sudbury!” Give the ash-white Canadian media three days anywhere where it’s warm and has running water, because wherever they’re from assuredly doesn’t, and suddenly you’re Hockey Mecca.

While the pregame antics were cute, much like every other Vegas act it’s going to feel camp real soon. Especially when this team has 92 points next year at best and Fleury’s SV% is .907. Sure, Vegas is going to be a free agent destination given it’s lack of state income tax and the climate. How’s that working out for the Panthers? Your glorious pre-game Knight stabbing some dude waving a flag (how tough!) is going to look a little different when it’s in front of 9,000 Flames fans and that’s it.

So thank you, Knights, for showing everyone what we all knew about the league and hockey all along. It doesn’t make sense, there is no system to it, and just about anything can happen. And it’s going to happen to you soon, like trading Karlsson for a 2nd round pick at best in two years.

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE THE NHL IS A BUNCH OF STUPIDHEADS!

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Sharks fustigated the Ducks in 4, and the Knights did worse to the Kings in 4

At some point, the bubble has to burst. Thanks to the Kings deciding to play their first-round series like they were relegation fodder, the Knights got to simply waltz into the second round in their first playoff asking with barely a sweat. A steam-room for half an hour would have been more taxing. The Sharks won’t be as cowardly or stupid, but then they don’t have a horseshoe and salt and a rabbit’s foot jammed in their colon like the Knight have had all season. The Sharks come with no less playoff savvy than the Kings had, they just have a much better roster. One hopes this is where the Knights dance of the seven veils finally comes to an end, because this has been a bit silly.

Goalies: Whatever we said about Sergei Bobrovsky, the opposite just might be true of Martin Jones. He threw a .970 at the Ducks in the first round, though to be fair the Ducks didn’t post much more of a threat than a veiled suggestion at him. But this follows his .935 in the first round loss last year to the Oilers, and his .923 in the Sharks’ run to the Final in ’16. Jones just might be a playoff goalie, and he’ll get more support than Jonathan Quick got.

You used to toss all sort of jokes at Marc-Andre Fleury, and then he’d let those jokes pass by his glove or through his legs into the net. Not so now. Fleury was even better than Jones in the first round with a .977, but then again he faced even less of a threat than Jones did as the Kings barely sent one forward over the red line all series while Dustin Brown looked at things with his Dustin Brown face. We can say for sure that Fleury will get tested more here, but this is the same guy who backstopped the Penguins through the first two rounds last year. Where and if the Knights break, it’s unlikely to be in net.

Defense: While it doesn’t get the pub outside of Brent Burns, this is the Sharks’ strength. It’s not as good as it could be, as for reasons he can’t even understand or explain Peter DeBoer has eschewed Joakim Ryan for the smoldering husk of Paul Martin to play with Brent Burns which is a really bad idea. The Sharks defense actually spent a lot of time on the back foot against the Ducks, though with all of the Ducks merely looking at their watch the whole series they didn’t give up a lot of good chances. You’d still take this top four, and Vlasic and Braun have a better chance at nullifying the Knights’ top line. It’s not the quickest outside of Burns, making the not-playing of Ryan even more curious, and they might have to play it cautious to keep from the Knights getting behind them a lot. Which was the Kings’ problem.

I feel like I’m done trying to explain anything that goes on with Vegas. On paper, this defense sucks. Nate Schmidt is the only one you’d want. Maybe Shea Theodore if you’ve had one too many, which is the state I assume most NHL general managers operate in. But McNabb and Engelland suck and we know this. I couldn’t pick Colin Miller or John Merrill out of a lineup. And yet because the Kings didn’t do anything other than occasionally try and spread germs to them, they were untested in the first round. You’d think they’ll get no such breaks from the far deeper Sharks, especially as Donskoi and Hertl seemed to get going in Round 1. This has to be the weak point the Sharks can exploit.

Forwards: Hanging over this series is when and if Joe Thornton will return. The real question is whether the Sharks are better without him right now. Pavelski has been a much better center than wing, and he was a pretty good wing. The Sharks play faster without Thornton, and their goal-, attempt-, and scoring chance-rates have all risen since Thornton got hurt. If the Sharks jump out to a lead in this series they can hold Thornton back even longer, though it sounds like he’s never going to be healthy. Even without him, this is a deep team. The Sharks got contributions from all four lines in their ass-stuffing of the Ducks, which has been a calling-card of the Knights. When Thornton does come back it’ll be interesting if they don’t try and simply get what they can out of him and just have him replace Eric Fehr on the fourth line. For right now, they’ve got enough.

The Knights were a little more top-heavy than the Sharks in Round 1, though given the way the Kings tried to play a Panic Room game there weren’t a lot of chances to go around. They only needed seven goals to get through. Seven goals won’t get it done here, and while the Sharks will be more open than the Kings were the Knights are going to have to get more from the likes of Eakin, Nosek, Haula, and the bottom six to get out. Because the likelihood is that Pavelski, Kane, Hertl, Donskoi are going to match whatever the Knights’ top six does.

Prediction: This one’s going to go a while, because both goalies are playing too well to see either team get out of this in four or five. Each will get at least one goalie win. And while everything seems to be breaking the Knights’ way, I trust the Sharks’ defense and bottom six more than theirs. The Sharks also probably get an emotional boost from Thornton’s return, especially as it looks like it’ll happen, in whatever form, at home in Game 3 or 4. Sharks in 6. 

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday, Game 2 Friday, Game 3 Sunday, Game 4 April 17th

Amazingly, the Kings and their fans are going to take a break from complaining/campaigning for their players to win awards they don’t deserve to play a playoff series. But as we all know, what really counts is what individual awards your team garners. Anyway, the Kings might have drawn the sweetheart spot here and play a fading Vegas team that still was able to hang onto the division because the rest of the Pacific blows goats. Anyway, this could be a long series, but it won’t be all that much fun to watch.

Goalies: There will be a ton of talk about Jonathan Quick’s playoff pedigree, and it will ignore the fact that Quick has as many crap playoff campaigns as excellent ones. He was terrible in 2014 but his team was so high-octane it didn’t matter. And he wasn’t any better when the Kings got trounced in 2016 by the Sharks. Quick closed the season pretty roughly in three April appearances but that shouldn’t nullify how good he was in March. This was his best regular season since that 2012 triumph, so one should expect something closer to the dominant Quick in the playoffs than the one who couldn’t stop a sloth in the sand.

There may be a lot of talk of Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff foibles, but that was a long time ago. Fleury has been at least good and sometimes excellent in his last three playoff runs, and was possibly the biggest reason the Pens got a second Cup last year when Matt Murray was hurt. And that Penguins team was not defensively sound. Again, he’s much more likely to be average or better than he is to have a full body burf that he did in 2012.

Defense: Well, they’ll try and tell you that Drew Doughty deserves another Norris, and he’s been good as he usually is. But he’s not Norris-worthy, and the Kings probably need him to be because the rest of this crew sucks. Dion Phaneuf is terrible, has pretty much always been terrible, and with how quick the Knights are you’re going to see how terrible. Alec Martinez is fine, I guess. Christian Folin is not. When you need Jake Muzzin, you’re in a place you need to get out of. Look or the Knights to get behind this team a lot.

I don’t know how the Knights did it, because this blue line should suck. The only one you’d want is Nate Schmidt, and maybe Shea Theodore if you squint. I’m not sure the Kings have the forward depth to attack this weakness, and if Jeff Carter is feeling frisky the Knights are going to have some problems. There should be chances and both goalies are going to have to be on their toes to keep there from being a lot of goals.

Forwards: The Kings are top heavy, with most of the heavy lifting being done by Anze Kopitar, who somehow also re-exhumed Dustin Brown. Toffoli and Carter on the second line have dovetailed into a playoff boomstick before, and that’s the Kings hope. If Adrian Kempe pops off that could tilt this. But there isn’t much on the bottom six.

Again, we don’t know much about what the Knights here, because we haven’t seen their top six forwards as top six forwards in the playoffs. Wild Bill Karlsson isn’t going to shoot 25% this series, you wouldn’t think. Can Marchessault and Smith get goals when it’s hardest? We know Haula does when he plays the Hawks. But they’ve gotten this are, and if they can replicate their “get it the fuck up there quick!” style from the regular season a plodding Kings blue line is going to struggle. If they convert those chances, this fluke might go a little farther.

Prediction: I don’t think too many people want to see either of these teams in the second round, but one’s going. The Kings hardly inspire, but the Knights won eight games in regulation since Feb. 23rd. Four of those were over Vancouver, Calgary, and Detroit. That’s not exactly roaring into the playoffs (and an indictment on the division that no one could run them down). I feel like the Kings are just going to attrition this. And it’ll take a while. Kings in 7. 

Everything Else

You can’t distill the Knights to just one surprise. They’re all over the place. At least Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith had flashed previous NHL scoring ability. Marc-Andre Fleury had been a good goalie before. Erik Haula had scored big goals in Minnesota. We could go on.

But it’s probably safe to say no one saw William Karlsson coming.

Karlsson was a second round pick for the Ducks, so he did come with some pedigree but not like top-10 stuff. He was a useful player in Columbus, a third- or fourth-line center who did enough to stay in the lineup. But he never threatened to rise above Alex Wennberg or Brandon Dubinsky in the pecking order. When it came time for the expansion draft, due to no-trade clauses and standing the Jackets basically had to choose between Boone Jenner and William Karlsson. Seeing as how Jenner has a 30-goal season on his resume, it didn’t seem like there was much of a decision.

So off Karlsson went, and 29 goals later the Jackets might just be wondering if they hadn’t fucked up royal.

There’s no point in going any further in discussing Karlsson without mentioning his shooting-percentage of 25%. That’s simply ludicrous and shouldn’t have even been sustainable this long. And that’s not even power play boosted, as that’s his SH% at even-strength. If the Knights think this will be the norm from here on out, they’re going to be sorely mistaken and sorry they’re tossing god knows how many millions at Karlsson. We’ll circle back to this.

Certainly, there are leaps in all of Karlsson’s numbers simply because he’s playing top line minutes and assignments. He’s starting more in the offensive zone than he ever has, which makes sense because you want him, Smith, and Marchessault near the other goal as often as possible.

What’s interesting about Karlsson’s season is that he’s not really averaging more attempts per 60 than he did in Columbus. He’s just out there more, so there’s more shots. He actually averaged more shots per 60 in his rookie year in Ohio. What has gone up is his individual expected goals per 60, which means those shots are coming from way better areas. That number has leapt up by 50% from the previous season. That wouldn’t excuse a 100% increase of his career-high shooting percentage, or a 500% increase from last year’s, but an increase would scan.

To be fair to Karlsson, he is facing by far tougher competition than he ever has, as you’d expect. And yet he keeps scoring. And it wasn’t one binge. He had 16 points in November, 10 in December, 11 in January, and four so far in six February games. He’s not riding just a hot start or a month of anger or something.

What the Knights have to figure out is how much of this is a mirage. Karlsson will be a RFA after the season, so they have all the leverage. Karlsson’s agent will point to what looks to be a 60-point season, his age of 25, and say he’s due $6 million or something. But the Knights don’t need to, nor should they, pay him that. If anyone needed a bridge deal, it’s probably Karlsson. If you’re the Knights, you have to know what he looks like when he’s not shooting 25%, a mark that comfortably leads the whole league by three percentage points. No one’s coming with an offer sheet, we know that. The Knights need to slow play this.

Not that the Knights don’t have a ton of cap space, or a wealth of guys they need to pay. They’ve locked up Marchessault. But other than Karlsson only James Neal and David Perron are due new deals, and neither figures to be around when the Knights are doing this for a real (yes, the bubble will pop next year. It simply has to). We’ll see what George McPhee has in store, which is probably something dumb.

 

Game #57 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Does The Real Caesar Live Here?: Sin Bin

The Hawks finally return to West Madison tonight for the first time in 2018 after their longest road trip of the season that saw them volley back and forth between coasts to welcome for the very first time the Vegas Golden Knights, who inexplicably sit atop the Western Conference with games in hand on basically everyone who is their closest competition for the top overall seed.