The Hawks are officially off to their worst 18-game start to a season since 10-11* (not 09–10; thanks, Feather). That team this is not, but hope springs eternal. Let’s look at how we got here.
The Dizzying Highs
Alex DeBrincat: Since we last did this, Kitten Mittons has been a point per game player, thanks in part to his utter explosion in Carolina. Of course, it would be fitting that DeBrincat would find the handle on everything after Q put him on both the right side and the 4th line, even if DeBrincat did most of his scoring away from that gulag. He still has his moments where he doesn’t finish a shot or makes a curious pass, but you can see the instincts coming out with each game. One thing I especially love about watching him is that he’s got a knack for positioning. His giveaways to takeaways is a +4 right now (8 GA to 12 TA), so while he may be diminutive, it’s possible that he’s got some defensive smarts blooming. Couple that with the dynamism he’s starting to show and baby, you got a stew goin’.
Nick Schmaltz: It’s entirely possible I’m still rolling on the vapors of that obscene backhand, through-the-defender’s-legs Royal Road pass he served to DeBrincat yesterday (which DeBrincat just couldn’t finish), or really everything Schmaltz did yesterday, but here we are. Of course, many of Schmaltz’s highlights recently have come off the wing, because why not, but coming off an early injury, Schmaltz has been the silk that lines DeBrincat’s Kitten Mittons. He’s running a solid 55.1 CF% through 14 games (1.3 CF% Rel), and now that he’s on the wing, it looks like he’s playing with more speed and less tentativeness. You still want to see him develop into the 2nd line center the Hawks have been searching for ad infinitum, but if moving to the wing is going to give us the Orange Ninja Turtle art Schmaltz has been providing, so be it.
The Terrifying Lows
Toews, Kane, Saad’s Shooting Percentages: Respectively, they’re sitting at 7.8 (-6.6% vs. career), 10.2 (-2.1%), and 11.9 (+0.1%). However, Saad’s is misleading: If you remove the first two games, he’s sitting at 5.5% (-6.3%). On top of that, he carried a six-game pointless streak along with a 10-game goalless streak, and has seemed to struggle to pot chances close in. My love for Saad knows no bounds, but even I’m getting itchy watching him struggle to score. I’ve talked about my worries about Toews’s shooting woes becoming a trend, but these are the three guys whom you expect to lead the scoring charge, which would partially explain the Hawks’s scoring drought. While it’s great to see Schmaltz and DeBrincat starting to get a handle on it, these are the guys the Hawks are going to need to do more of the heavy lifting if they want to make the playoffs.
The Power Play: This is admittedly lazy and redundant, since, like Seabrook, we could probably always get away with putting the PP here. But I can’t remember any of the past iterations of the Hawks’s PP being this gruesome. They currently sit at 27th in the league, and that’s with the two PP goals they scored at the Chuck E. Cheese sugarfest at the UC last night. You’ve undoubtedly become familiar with the clarion calls for MORE MOVEMENT and SHOOT DA PUCK, and this time, it doesn’t reek of giardiniera-fart stink. The solution to this, apparently, is to put the most dynamic playmaker in Kane at the point and have the guy whose one job it is to QB the PP in Franson float around between the top of the circle and the blue line. There are a lot of potential solutions to this problem—such as continuing to let Kitten Mittons play on the PP at all—but this isn’t it.
The Creamy Middles
Connor Murphy: Sample size is the only thing keeping him from being a Dizzying High this week. In the three games he’s played on his off side, Murphy scored his first goal, has taken four shots (versus 11 through his first 12), and has looked a lot more aggressive and confident, which is a big deal, given his propensity to lose his confidence at times. Even more promising have been his shot-share percentages, which, since taking over the left side, have come in at 65+, 43, and 60. That 43 CF% looks out of place, doesn’t it? That was the Carolina game, in which Murphy played just north of 11 minutes. Would you like to guess whom he played more than half of his time with in that one? I’ll give you seven guesses, and the first six don’t count.