With the Hawks shuffling back and forth from east to west coast and back again, it’s time to reassess how things are trending heading into the new year.
The Dizzying Highs
Connor Murphy – It’s getting a bit redundant at this point, but this site’s Large Adopted Irish Son continues to flip the ice and keep his partner Bottomless Pete from drowning in a sea of burrito coverings on a nightly basis. Murphy sported a 57.8% share in the month of December, and currently is 5th in the league among all regular defensemen with a 56.69% mark overall, with two of the players ahead of him being Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton who have the advantage of being paired together. Murphy is doing it while playing on his off side which hes’s never played before, and while paired with an oaf who was relegated to babysitting duty three years ago. If this trend continues, having him be able to absorb if not flip top competition in a series will be highly advantageous, provided the Hawks get out of 2nd gear sometime in the near future.
The Terrifying Lows
The Hawks’ Finishing Ability – This goes for both even strength and the power play. While the Hawks have steadily climbed up the possession leaderboard as a team while also cutting down the total number of attempts even if they are allowing far too many dangerous opportunities, this team simply hasn’t been able to put the puck in the back of the net on any consistent basis. The power play in particular has dipped to 29th in the league, scoring only 4 goals on the advantage all month. In that same timeframe, the Hawks have shot just 5.77 at evens, third worst in the league during December behind the obviously bad Coyotes and the similarly bafflingly impotent Penguins. While some of this can be attributed to luck, if the opening night 10 goal outburst is tossed out the window for Bell Curve purposes, they’re shooting 6.54% on the season, sixth worst in the league. There’s plenty of skill here, and the Hawks are directing the most rubber at the cage in the league, but it’s not going in. Some of it can be attributed to luck, some to score effects, but the fact of the matter is that these percentages have to normalize soon, or help needs to be found, because they’re getting enough looks.
The Goaltending Situation – Look, this probably isn’t fair to anyone involved, but deserve’s got nothing to do it. Obviously having Corey Crawford on the shelf with crotch detatchment or some such lower body affliction while he was in the middle of arguably his best season and a Vezina favorite is going to result in some dropoff. And Anton Forsberg has been for the most part a serviceable backup by league standards if not by the Hawks’ of recent vintage. And Jeff Glass was a fun story. But with word coming that Glass is going to get his third consecutive start tomorrow night at The Garden, the horseplayer in Quenneville might end up biting his team in the dick during a critical stretch of the schedule. With the Hawks’ inability to finish combined with their propensity to give up quality chances to the opposition, many nights superb goaltending behind them is necessary to grab 2 points. And jacking around with the backup platoon at the moment isn’t going to do anyone any favors. And the hope has to be not only that Corey Crawford heals soon, but that this doesn’t become a lingering issue, as groin problems don’t exactly go away for dogmatic butterfly goalies in their mid 30s.
The Creamy Middles
Brandon Saad – Earlier in the week, The Athletic published a piece about what a disappointment Brandon Saad has been to this point in his second tenure on West Madison, and that’s more than a bit misleading. Saad remains the possession driving force that the Hawks were desperately missing last year, and he and Toews can basically erase any other team’s top line at this point regardless of which wing Saad is on and who is patrolling the opposite side. But as mentioned above, the pucks simply aren’t going in. Saad’s individual attempts per 60 are are at a career high of 17.61, as are his individual scoring chances (however much stock you take into that subjective stat) at 11.65 per 60. And this was already one of the most widely regarded possession wingers in the league with his prime years still ahead of him. The thing is his goal production and shooting percentage are right in line with his career averages too, it’s the assists that have dropped precipitously, which likely has something to do with the shaman’s curse putting Mike Bossy’s hands on Richard Panik’s body finally wearing off, which nobody could have possibly seen coming.