Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

These kinds of wins from the Hawks are always simultaneously thrilling and frustrating. Obviously, skullfucking any opponent that is so much better than the Hawks on paper like the Leafs appear to be feels incredible, but then you check some of the metrics on the game and they seem to tell something of a different story. On top of that, it makes you wonder where performances like these are the rest of the season. But I also don’t want to complain about awesome wins like this. Let’s do it:

THE BULLETS

– His surge of late has been so sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, that I am still consistently in shock about Dominik Kubalik coming on so strong recently. Before the season I felt like he would be a solid middle-six contributor, but recently he really seems to be hitting a stride and showing that he might be a bit more than that. His second goal tonight, batting the puck of thin air and into the net, was some incredible shit and personally I would like to see if he can play right field on the South Side with contact skills like that. Hopefully this isn’t just a scoring surge that will peter out and really is the result of a strong coming-out campaign.

– On top of that, Jonathan Toews is continuing his Fuck You Tour from last year, adding another four points tonight that give him 43 total in 49 games this year. His first goal was literally just him telling the entire Leafs roster to eat his dust, going full on Fuck It mode and undressing Freddy Andersen, and his second was him doing that *again* for good measure. Don’t let any dumb motherfuckers tell you that he is not good at hockey, and if people do tell you that, call them a dumb motherfucker.

Patrick Kane added himself a point to get within one of 1000 on his career, but overall he had something of a rough night. It felt to me like he was pressing really hard to get that 1000th point once he got 999, but through that pressing he was making a lot of bad plays in the offensive zone. I hope he gets that point ASAP – preferably though a goal – so we don’t have to deal with that kinda stuff much more going forward.

William Nylander was far and away the best player for the Leafs tonight while Alex was basically unnoticeable, which is further reminder that the Blackhawks trading Henri Jokiharju for the wrong Nylander.

– Andersen had such a bad night, and the Leafs have had such a strange up-and-down goaltending season, that Geek Boy Dubas should not let Robin Lehner leave town if he knows what is good for his roster. Just give the Hawks your first round pick and move on with the season.

– Hawks go again tomorrow, hosting the Jets. Until then.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 22-20-6   Maple Leafs 25-16-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network

ALL DAY: Pension Plan Puppets 

We’ve been doing this all season. The Hawks string together two or three wins, generally over bad teams, and look good in at least one of them, and a part of you wants to believe that something has clicked and just might go on a run to make the season interesting. They’re only four points out of a playoff spot, with only one team between them and that last wildcard spot, and you don’t even have to squint all that hard to make a case they could make a run at it. Especially when they’re chasing the Oilers, who are more guaranteed to have their intestines fall out than the Hawks. Vancouver and Arizona could also still make a thud.

And then usually they get thwacked by a good team and we start this all over.

So that’s what feels like is about to happen tonight, as the Hawks take their three wins against the Ducks, Sens, and Habs up against a real team. And the Leafs are the fully operational annoyance that they were forecasted to be. Casting off the shackles of Mike Babcock has had the effect that Kyle Dubas would have hoped, as Sheldon Keefe has helped everyone realize their joy again. The Leafs are more threatening, more dynamic, and quite a bit more scary now that Keefe has allowed them to “try shit.”

Which shouldn’t have been all that hard. The Leafs still have perhaps the richest array of offensive talent in the league. There certainly isn’t a team that can match Matthews-Tavares down the middle at 1-2, and Alex Kerfoot has enjoyed the sweetheart spot that used to belong to Nazem Kadri. Nylander, Marner, Hyman, Johnsson, Kapanen certainly don’t lessen the threat on the wings. If they’re on song, they can put up a touchdown on you before you’ve finished your Timbo’s.

But the problems for the Leafs are still the same, and they’re exacerbated now. Both Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin are out for weeks with a broken foot each, and this wasn’t a great defense to begin with. It’s lead them to give Travis Dermott top pairing minutes, and use Tyson Barrie as a defensive specialist, neither of which is a path you’d choose lest your life depended on it. Keefe has at least kept Cody Ceci away from the top pairing.

And the goalie is far from sure either. The Leafs haven’t had a solid backup all season, as you saw evidenced by Michael Hutchinson KICK-ing every puck into his own net here in Chicago last time they met (get it?). But Fab Five Freddie Andersen has been bad for six weeks now, partly due to exhaustion. Also he’s Freddie Andersen, which is the definition of “just good enough to break your heart.”

For the Hawks, Brandon Saad could suit up tonight, but that’s looking like a gametime decision. Brandon Hagel could make his NHL debut after being Rockford’s leading scorer. With optional morning skates we’re guessing along with all of you. Corey Crawford will get the start, with Lehner taking the back half of the double tomorrow night at home against Winnipeg.

Once again, the Hawks have risen to at least the discussion of a playoff spot. But now they’ll be facing two teams that are either good or competing with them for that spot, and it’s a spot where they’ve generally fallen flat on their face. The Leafs aren’t invulnerable here, given the state of their defense and Andersen’s level right now. But getting into a track meet with this team almost certainly equals death, and yet the Hawks don’t have the structure generally to keep things tight. They did so for most of the game against the JV version of the Leafs in Montreal, but this is the real thing.

They were able to hilariously add on to a Leafs crisis last year in T.O, even though Duncan Keith did his best to ruin all that work. It’s a big stretch here on the weekend and then Quenneville Bowl on Tuesday. The Hawks have to put it together now, so five of six points is minimum before we even consider believing they can actually take this to the wire.

Plus, beating the Leafs is always fun.

Everything Else

This is the Q&A with @Section328 from last Thursday, because four days in an NHL season pass with the impact of a fart in the wind. 

 

Game #16 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineup s& How Teams Were Built

 

Game #18 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We only wish it was Grand Theft Auto. Most of the people we find for this don’t want to be identified because either they’re people looking for them, don’t want to be associated with us, or both. This is yet another case. Dark things lurk in the musty corners of Twitter, and we found this one called Zubes. Follow him @the_Zubes…if you love the absurd. 

While we’re sure you’re basically in a state of hysteria all the time with the rest of Leafs Nation, tell us why this blue line will be better than we think.
– It starts with addition by subtraction. Prior to the first game of the season I can admit that I didn’t know what an Igor Ozhiganov was. BUT, from the same line of thinking that brought you, “We need to get rid of Matt Stajan even if it means taking on Dion Phaneuf” and “We need to get rid of Dion Phaneuf even if it means we get literally nothing” and “We need to get rid of Phil Kessel even if it means we are gift-wrapping Pittsburgh two Cups”, they needed to get rid of Roman Polak, even if it meant throwing a random collection of vowels on the bottom pairing.
Ultimately, the answer to your question comes down to Jake Gardiner. You’re either a “Jake Gardiner is better than you are giving him credit for” or you’re “Jake Gardiner isn’t as bad as you’re saying he is.” The issue this year is that he eventually has to get paid and no matter what he gets it’ll be the wrong amount. Every year around the deadline Maple Leafs fans convince themselves the team is about to cash in on the forward depth (we’re the only team with good young forward prospects – the AHL team is almost TOO talented) and add a difference maker back there to ease the load on everyone’s back. Having already pushed so many chips into the middle with the Tavares move, the shouts to do that very type of trade will be louder than ever and I think most of us are assuming this is the year something along those lines actually happens.
If they don’t make any moves though? Oh, we’ll just add a random AHL defenceman. The Marlies are so good, man.
Also, why we’re at it, why Fredrik Andersen won’t shit a chicken in a Game 7 again. If he has a major dip in the regular season would the Leafs think about going to get someone else?
– Similar to the Jake Gardiner split, a lot of people decided to stake their reputations on Freddie (we call him Freddie because it makes him sound more Canadian) being very slightly above average last year while taking more shots than Ed Belfour before he tries to bribe a cop with a billion dollars. A lot of people are going to hope that the answer to question one will help out here in question two, but I have very little faith. The brain boys in charge seem to be all hyped up on blog posts that explain to rubes “Puck possession is all that matters and goaltending is unpredictable, no we aren’t just saying that because it is hard to quantify”, but count me in the camp with basically no faith in the goaltending. They just let two reasonably okay backups go on waivers (Wow, the whole league wants to gobble up players that couldn’t crack this roster, what a blessing to have so much talent) so I think the powers that be have more faith – way too much faith – in him than I do. It will end in tears, especially when the same problems are lingering on the blue line and crease come deadline time and all that ends up happening is a deal for a 4th line centre.
Backup goalie Garrett Sparks (with a name like a YouTube star) cried the first time he played a game here because he’s a local, so expect his leash to be longer than you would think from the average backup.
Are the problems between Auston Matthews and Mike Babcock real? Will Babs finally take off the tire chains for a team with this much firepower?
– Much like Roman Polak, the first thing noted NJPW weeb Kyle Dubas had to do with the forward group is take away Babs’ toys and force him to not play absolute plugs like Matt Martin and Leo Komarov for half the game. I think the 5-on-5 lines will remain a mix of things like “Tyler Ennis and Zach Hyman on lines with the two best players” but the powerplay units should be as legit as they come. Failing to be a top powerplay team this year would be an unanswerable failure.
More than one person that is closer than I am to the team has whispered that most of the young guys just sort of roll their eyes at Babcock, but does anyone under 25 in the NHL really like their coach? Dubas is letting them grow beards and wear whatever number they want, so the hope is that having a “successful older cousin that talks to you about emo at Thanksgiving and tags you in memes on instagram” type matters to them more than the military dad that yells at you in the car on the way home from your games.
How does this whole William Nylander thing end?
Baldness. And I think Dreamboat Willie will end up around $7M x 6 or so, but it won’t happen for another few weeks. Also, William is starting to lose the wings of his hair first, so he will keep it long so people don’t see how thin his hair is getting. It will be buzzed / shaved before whatever contract he signs is over.

 

Game #3 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build

 

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, CBC, CITY, WGN-AM 720
Jeff Veillette and Steve Glynn Are Terrifying: Pension Plan

Sure, the Hawks have improbably vaulted themselves into basically a game and a half lead in the central as they close out their eastern Canadian swing tonight in the Dark Center Of The Universe that is Toronto, but they haven’t done it the right way. They take on too many shots, even though that’s a result of having leads, they capitalize on power plays, and they do so while paying players more than their entry level contract. All of these things are instantly disqualifiers for actual success, which is truly indicated by how much cap space a team has at the end of the year, thrown into a pivot chart against their possession stats and 5v5 goal differential, along with some other stupid fucking stats Steve Burtch made up in a craven, desperate, and pathetic attempt to get hired. And naturally, the Leafs are succeeding by all of those measures, and all the good stuff is because of Kyle Dubas (who shielded sex criminal players on the junior team he was GM for), and all the bad stuff is because of Lou Lamoriello. This is how Maple Leafs hockey works.