The regular season has come and gone, as has the first round of the playoffs. Since dead week/finals week/Breaking Bad prevented me from doing an end of the year wrap-up or a playoff preview, here’s a first round wrap-up of sorts and a second round preview for you to digest. Speaking of digestion, isn’t it hilarious that some people actually thought that Ken Hitchcock and the Blues (JAY GALLON) would win the West? I think so.
What happened; In a battle of two future Conference III teams, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild 4-1. The Wild threw everything they had at the Blackhawks and only came away with one more playoff win than the Canucks. Josh Harding (more like Hard-work-ing, amirite?) started all 5 games in place of Niklas Bäckström, who hurt himself during warmups before game one. He played exceptionally well in the first three games of the series – stopping 103 of 111 shots – before sustaining an injury in game four and being replaced by all-world goaltender Darcy Kuemper in games four and five. Kuemper let in 4 goals on the 33 total shots he faced including the first shot he faced during game four. In other words, he was about as bad as you’d expect a backup goalie’s backup goalie to be.
The Blackhawks dominated the possession game by outshooting the Wild 33.5 shots/60 minutes to 24.3 shots/60 minutes. Chicago’s depth was simply too much for the young Minnesota defensemen to handle. Norris Trophy finalist Ryan Suter’s Corsi numbers could be summed up using phrases like “really bad”, “atrocious”, “laughable”, “worse than Doug Murray’s” and “-22.82”. With a PDO of 935, you would expect that number to eventually improve, but we can still laugh for the time being. There will come a day when young’uns like Jonas Brodin (-6.10 Corsi) and Marco “local grocery store/horrible STI” Scandella (-19.73 Corsi) have developed into legitimate NHL defensemen. But last week(?) is not that day. They were repeatedly worked over by the Hawks forwards and generally looked overmatched.
When your team scores 7 goals in 5 games, you’re probably not going to go very far in the playoffs. Matt Cullen led all Minnesota players with a meager 3 points. That should tell you everything you need to know about the Wild’s scoring problem. Zach Parise, brought in to help a team dependent on Dany Heatley (lol) and Mikko Koivu to score goals, had all of 1 point in those 5 games, which definitely seems like it would be worth $98 million. Look at it this way; Zach Parise is beautiful. Does that make up for his disappearing act when his team needed him most? No. Is it nice? Very yes. Speaking of absolutely invisible, Mikko Koivu, often referred to as one of the more underrated players in the NHL, had zero points. But he also had 8 PIM, so I guess he wasn’t completely invisible. Either Koivu was playing hurt, which I doubt he’d ever admit, or he’s “underrated” for a reason.
The Blackhawks may have dominated against a much weaker Wild team, but there was still plenty of room for improvement. They played strong defense throughout the series, including the relatively new pairing of Keith and Hjalmarsson. Their Corsi numbers were off the charts but the eye test also concurred that they played well. PDO suggests they will regress to some degree, but the fact remains the same.
Nick Leddy paired with Michal Rozsival is a good thing and I’m glad Quenneville hasn’t been stupid enough to pair him with Sheldon Brookbank instead. Rozsival has been a nice compliment to Leddy’s puck-moving tendencies and has provided a calming influence for the occasional yips (YAPP IT) Leddy still shows. Brent Seabrook’s Corsi is decent (12.26) but he benefitted from playing against weaker competition in the Wild and starting 2/3 of his shifts in the offensive zone. He’s looked slow all year and his play will need to improve in order to keep up with some of Detroit’s faster forwards. I blame all of those nachos.
The third line did the real damage in this series. Shaw, Bickell and Frolik combined for 11 points in those five games. Even when they weren’t scoring points they were major factors in each game. Frolik contributed invaluable minutes on the PK, which held the Wild without a power-play goal throughout the series. Bickell brought the physical element he tends to bring in big games, which gives him the space and the 30 seconds it takes for him to unload that wicked wrister of his. He’s going to get a LOT of money when another team decides to pay more than $541,667 this summer.
Full team #fancystats can be found here.
What’s happening; The Hawks will host Detroit on Wednesday at 7:00 PM CST (f*** Eastern time). I’ll be SRO so you should stop and say something. It doesn’t have to be “hi”; it could be “high”, for example. Moving on… after the jumpFor some reason, Quenneville has decided now is a good time to screw with the lines and subsequently, the fans. In years past, Q would always shake up lines if they weren’t producing, sometimes after only a few shifts.
In contrast, he’s kept the lines and the d-pairings fairly consistent throughout this year…until now. Stalberg has found himself in a familiar place; Quenneville’s doghouse. He didn’t have a particularly good series against the Wild, but why is now the time to play mind games with your players? What type of message is this supposed to send, if there really is one at all? It doesn’t make any sense to bench (or at least consider benching) one of the fastest players in the league against a team with defensemen so bad and slow that Jay Feaster just offered them each a 5 year deal worth $25 million.
Dave Bolland will dress for the first time in a couple of weeks. Whether he decides to show up for the game is a different story. Q previously stated that Bolland will resume his previous role as the third-line center, where he’s had plenty of past success. So naturally, Q changed his mind and currently has Bolland slotted between Sharp and Kane again, where he’s been absolutely atrocious all year (-100 billion Corsi or something close). I’d like to see Sharp put back at center with either Bickell or Stalberg taking over his spot at wing. That’d bump the lines to 20-19-81, 29/25-10-88, 29/25-36-67, 65-16-hopefully 28 (Ben Smith), but probably 13/52. Of course, that’ll never happen though because Joel Quenneville.
What’s gonna happen, probably; I’m just going to lay this out there; Original 6 hockey is not “better” than other hockey. Sure, it’s cool to see matchups featuring Original 6 teams but the hockey itself isn’t necessarily any different so let’s stop pretending it is. With that said, the Red Wings/Blackhawks rivalry is one of the best in the NHL and these two teams will go at it 4-7 last times before Detroit gets to stop whining about their travel schedule. Each game these two teams play is exciting and it should provide plenty of entertainment for all involved.
Keys to the series:
More first line production. In the playoffs, you need your superstars to perform like superstars. It seriously pains me to say it, but Toews needs to be better. Two points in five games against a bad Wild team is not acceptable. Saad wasn’t very visible either, registering only one point. Hossa was the only one who played well, tying Sharp for the team lead in points with six. On paper, the Blackhawks forwards should do very illegal things to the Red Wings defense corps. Toews and Saad need to live up to those expectations.
Continued success on the PK. The Blackhawks dominated five-on-five play all year and especially during the first round. That shouldn’t be an issue. They’ll need to stay out of the box against a Detroit team that averaged about 9.4 goals/60 minutes on the PP against Anaheim. The Blackhawks held the Wild without a PP goal but they will need to continue their lights-out PK against a strong Red Wing power-play.
Goaltending. Jimmy Howard has very mediocre numbers against the Blackhawks in his career. In 17 career games, he has a 2.79 GAA and a .905 save percentage against them. If the Hawks can get to Howard early and often, it may rattle his confidence against a team he’s already struggled against. Crawford stood on his head throughout the entire Wild series. He gave up two soft goals – one in game 1 and another in game 3 – but he played extremely well overall to the tune of a .935 even strength save percentage, a shutout, and a 1.32 GAA. Needless to say, if Crawford continues to play this well the Hawks should advance with ease.
I predict a riveting series that Chicago eventually takes in six games (I’m generous). Go Hawks.