Hockey

Systems, Weirdness, Toews…A Grab Bag

Some things to clean up on a much less busy week for the Hawks. Or at least before they head to Vegas and Nashville, where things have not exactly gone well in recent trips. Anyway…

-I guess let’s be positive at the top. There’s a lot of talk lately about the Hawks changing how they’ve attacked teams the last three games. Here’s some. Here’s some more. And I guess it’s a step in the right direction that anyone’s talking about it at all, given how hockey coaches and players used to put all information on lockdown and how hockey media rarely bothered (and some appreciation for the Sun-Times Ben Pope who really seems to want to get to the bottom of this consistently, making him truly unique).

And I also suppose that we have to give Jeremy Colliton something for showing some flexibility in his plans, and realizing what wasn’t working and deciding to try something else. There are a lot of coaches who wouldn’t.

Now that we’ve done that…what was exactly the point of MAGIC TRAINING CAMP if most of the tenets are getting scrapped just 15 games in? And why was this roster ever thought of as one that could play a defense-first game without just straight-up trapping? And who plays a defense-first game these days anywhere else? The Islanders and that’s kind of it, and they probably don’t have a choice. That’s not the key to success. Vegas, Nashville, Tampa (at least last year), Boston, teams that have been consistently at the top of the standings the past two or three years are trying to get out and up as quickly as possible and play in space. Why would the Hawks think they could do anything else, given their set?

Also, I’m not convinced it’s made that much difference the past three games, and we’re looking at the record and mistaking correlation for causation.

It depends on where you look. The Hawks didn’t generate that many more attempts the past three games, with 38 against the Leafs, 40 against the Pens, and 47 against the Canucks who played one of the stranger defensive games you’ll see against what the Hawks had been struggling to do (though maybe some of that was caused by a more aggressive gameplan from the Hawks). But the Hawks had generated over 40 attempts in plenty of games before, Some of that was score-effects as they were chasing plenty of games and had to throw a lot of rubber in any direction to catch up, so fair play.

Chance creation is slightly better I guess, depending on your metric. The Hawks had 1.98 xGF against the Leafs, which was the most they’d managed since their win over the Kings at home at the end of October. Some of that is the Leafs complete ignoring of defense as they attempt to get Mike Babcock fired, but hey, can only play who’s on the schedule. But before that the Hawks had created xGF totals over two and had just gotten stonewalled by goalies on the Caps or Hurricanes. Again, some of these totals were inflated by having to catch up and having to get more aggressive, but still there isn’t a sea change. At least not yet.

If you go by straight scoring chances, then you see a difference. The Hawks created 24 and 25 of those this weekend, respectively, which are season highs except for a 36-scoring-chance performance against the Caps that they were unlucky to come out of with nothing. The 12 high-danger-chances they created against the Leafs were also higher than what they’d been doing, so I guess that’s something.

Still, this seems an overreaction to the game in San Jose where the Sharks, desperate for points remember, just trapped the hell out of the Hawks and there was no choice but to dump the puck in. Which is something the Hawks were never built for. They’re just not fast enough.

Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on. The Hawks have talked a lot about transition in the past couple days, but this is still a team that will get little to no transition from its defense. Adam Boqvist can do it and that’s about it, and he’s on third-pairing minutes right now. Seabrook could facilitate it with his passing if ever could open up space for himself, which he can’t. Gustafsson thinks he can but joining the rush from behind isn’t the same thing, which is more his thing. So the forwards have to do everything, and I’m all for them having license to get creative between the blue lines and carry pucks in. But that also gets easy to counter, as the Sharks showed you.

I will say on Sunday it was more noticeable how quickly the d-men were joining the rush and getting ahead of Leafs forwards up the ice. If that’s a major change, fine, though it’s going to lead to a lot more high-event hockey. Which is what the Hawks were destined for anyway, and they’ll face teams way more interested in getting back than the Leafs are at the moment.

-A strange quirk of Sunday’s game was though the Hawks gave up 57 shots, they only gave up four high-danger chances against and actually dominated the high-danger chance count and expected-goals one. It’s hardly prudent to give up 25 shots in a period, and the Hawks simply are not equipped to protect a lead in any fashion. Still, we’ll settle for them being able to keep things to the outside. For now. This is a trend I’d definitely want to see more of, just not quite in this volume.

-One problem Colliton is going to have to solve is what to do with Jonathan Toews. We’ve remarked all season that Toews is no longer a do-it-all player, and the Hawks have to pick a lane. It might be it’ll be picked for them because Toews hasn’t proven he can handle going up against other #1 or even #2 centers this year.

He got domed by Auston Matthews all night on Sunday. He was better in the previous two games when either Colliton or the opposing coach (in this case Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh) didn’t really bother to match up that much. Logan Couture didn’t have much problem with him in San Jose. It was fine in Southern California, and ugly in Nashville.

Obviously, David Kampf can’t face everyone, and even if Colliton tried to get Kampf out against Matthews every shift there’s still the John Tavares problem (though with his slower speed that’s probably a better matchup for Toews). It may be time to view Toews as just a scoring center, and perhaps use Kampf and Carpenter as defensive specialists? That would move Dach to a wing, but that might not be the worst idea at the moment. Anyway, Vegas and Nashville are the kind of challenges we’re worried about, so we’ll reconvene after those.

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