The ghost of the Blackhawks playoff run came out to haunt tonight, but sort of like Casper: kind of fun, kind of annoying. Against a cold Sharks team that looked sloppy and disinterested throughout, the Hawks managed to squeeze out whatever ounce of hope is left in this toothpaste-for-dessert season, despite their own sloppiness in the ass end of the ice. Let’s clean it up and grasp for meaning.
– The most notable thing about this game has to be Alex DeBrincat scoring his 40th goal. His 39th was a relief to watch, as DeBrincat got in close on the 5-on-3 to stuff home two shots off a Toews rebound–pass. With Kane doing some nifty stickhandling at the far dot, Toews managed to get position in front of the net for a redirect. Martin Jone5 managed to stuff it, but Toews recovered and shoveled a pass to DeBrincat, who buried his second try. For a guy who was just missing on shots or just flubbing passes over the last three or four, you could feel the pressure come off.
Cat’s second goal of the night, his 40th, was more stereotypical of our favorite 5’7” behemoth. After Kahun showed off some good puck retrieval near the corner boards and shoved a nice pass to Strome behind the net, DeBrincat broke wide open through the slot. Strome set him up from behind the goal line for an easy one-timer. If nothing else comes from this year, we can take solace in knowing that Alex DeBrincat is without a doubt something to build around.
– Brandon Saad brought possession dominance tonight. In the first, he flashed the skill and power that had us teasing him as the second coming of Marian Hossa. He pickpocketed Brent Burns early in the first to set up a dangerous backhander for himself that he airmailed. He delivered a perfect setup pass on Connor Murphy’s goal, following an impressive cross-ice pass from Anisimov. He redirected Gustafsson’s point shot enough to create a rebound that Toews stuffed home. He had a breakaway shot attempt stopped by a good backcheck from unrepentant douchebag Evander Kane. He posted a 100 CF% (as did Dylan Sikura).
In the second, while driving the slot, he slid a pass to Toews for a good wrister that Jones blocked, and which then nearly turned into a stuff-shot goal for Sikura.
In the third, he set up the Toews–Sikura 2-on-1 that had everyone’s shitter puckered in anticipation for Sikura’s first goal. Sikura probably waited a second too long to shoot it, but everything about it otherwise was a result of Saad’s strong breakout pass.
On the game, Saad led all Hawks with a 58+ CF% (29.08 CF% Rel) and two assists. And that’s about as perfect a representation of what Brandon Saad is. He’s an outstanding rhythm guitarist who shows flashes of superstardom. He’s a quieter contributor than most of us want him to be (I screamed about him scoring 90 points this year because I’m a fool for what I want him to be), but there’s little doubt that he’s an important contributor.
Over the last 12 games, he’s had a negative CF% Rel just once (03/09 against Dallas). On a team whose defense is a filled condom that slips out of your hands before you can tie it off and throw it in the fucking trash where it belongs, dominant possession numbers ought to be treated as a premium. We’ll always wish he were more of a 65–70-point guy than the 55 tops he is, but with everything else he does well, you can live with it, especially with the firepower the Hawks still tease when the lines are constructed well.
– Jeremy Colliton obviously listens to Live From the Five Hole. After we spent 40 minutes bitching and moaning about how the lines, especially the nuclear option, just had to go for that retro 50s charm, it was no more tonight, and the Hawks manic’d themselves into a lead not even their putrid defense could blow.
– Although he gave up four goals, you have to consider this a good outing for Crawford. The Radil goal is one he’d like to have back, but each of the rest was the result of bad defensive positioning. Seabrook floating between Hertl and Nyquist with Crawford protecting against Hertl, giving Hertl an open passing lane. Duncan Keith watching Joe Thornton dribble like Prince against Charlie Murphy. Slater Koekkoek existing. Despite one near headsmack on the cross bar and taking a hard wrister in the mush, Crawford still managed to stuff 19–21 at even strength.
– Playing Brent Seabrook at this point is active sabotage. He was simply terrible all night, taking three penalties and posting a pathetic 26+ CF%. The same goes for Gustav Forsling, who was nearly as bad both statistically and by the eye test. The only redeeming thing about these two is that Seabrook has three rings, and those are nice memories. Slap Mr. Leader in a suit, buy him out, and let him coach. Henri Jokiharju should be here right now if this is a pairing that’s trotted out there in the midst of a “playoff run.”
– There’s not much to expect out of Slater “Couldn’t Beat Out Dan Girardi” Koekkoek. But what he did on Meier’s game-tying goal was beyond the pale. With Murphy properly covering on the near boards, Koekkoek was responsible for Meier, who was creeping through the neutral zone. Instead, he rushed toward the near boards inexplicably. This left Meier wide open for a Couture cross-ice pass and an easy goal. It was one of the worst defensive executions I’ve seen all year. On a team that at some time employed Brandon Manning, Jan Rutta, Gustav Forsling, and Brent Seabrook. That’s something.
– Connor Murphy had a nice game. The fancy stats are piss, but he had six blocks and a goal. He took a lousy closing-the-hand penalty too, but other than that, he didn’t lose his ass like so many other Hawks D-men tonight. If for nothing else, I’d love to see the Hawks get a legit blue liner or two just to see whether Murphy is actually as good as I hope he is or whether he’s more of an oasis in this defensive desert.
– Perlini found his ass stapled to the bench after he kicked the puck to center ice while on the wall, causing a horrid and unexplainable turnover. He had his ass punched in possession throughout the game, so it probably wasn’t a bad call by Colliton. Though I’d rather see him flex nuts on Seabrook or Forsling or Koekkoek first, he’s got more depth in his forward lines to do something like that. So fine.
The Sharks had lost six straight coming into this, but it’s still fun to watch the Hawks take advantage of a good team off its game. It’s disappointing that it took Colliton until after the Hawks’s playoff chances realistically ended to construct the lines in ways that have proven to work very well. But if the Hawks came back next year with minor changes to the forward lines (i.e., no Kunitz), a revamped blue line minus Seabrook and Forsling, and a healthy Crawford, they can be a playoff team next year.
If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, I’d have something to stop the spins.
Booze du Jour: Miller High Life
Line of the Night: “Where were we last time?” –Steve Konroyd, mirroring everyone else’s thoughts on the Arizona game in the pregame.