Welcome to this week's late edition of the Holiday Road Ahead. Today is not Monday. It is Tuesday. I am aware the italicized text above says these are for Mondays. I am aware I am posting this on a Tuesday. I broke my made-up rule. I have failed you all, and I am indeed the worst. Unfortunately, a fun bout with strep throat has kept me bedridden for the past couple of days so that is my excuse. I wish I had more to give you than this shortened post in return for tardiness but alas, I do not. Sorry about it.
The Chicago Blackhawks took five of six points against three playoff teams so any talk of a "slump" at this point is unfounded. Special teams and dumb luck cost the Hawks a point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. The Hawks beat the Anaheim Ducks of Southern California rather handily on Friday. Chicago tied a pretty little bow around their weekend with a shooutout win over the Boston Bruins.
The Hawks outshot the Avs 48-26 and did not win because sometimes hockey is not fair. Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov played an outstanding game, stopping 33 of 35 even-strength shots and all 13 shots he faced short-handed. The Blackhawks' suddenly lacking power-play could not convert any of their five man-advantages. Their penalty-kill was not much better, killing only two of the four penalties for the night. A point was nice, but a second point would have been nicer, especially against a division rival.
The Ducks saw their eight-game win streak snapped on Friday night. The Blackhawks beat them 4-2 in convincing fashion. They outshot the Ducks 35-21, getting scoring throughout their lineup. Marian Hossa had two goals and Kris Versteeg and Bryan Bickell each added tallies. It was a great win against one of the better teams in the NHL, point-wise.
An old foe visited the United Center for the first time since late June on Sunday and boy, was it a fun visit. In an incredibly even-matched game, the Blackhawks came out "winners" as they "defeated" the Boston Bruins in a "shootout," 3-2. This game had everything; great goaltending, a 10-minute misconduct penalty for Jonathan Toews, a Brandon Bollig goal and terrible NBC audio. If these two teams could play each other 30 times a year, I would probably be ok with that.
Full Blackhawks fancy stats can be found here.
Ah, so we meet again. Rare is the time when a Western Conference team plays two Eastern Conference teams they matched up against in the previous season's postseason yet here we are. These teams play each other for the first time since last season's epic seven-game playoff series. This year's team looks a lot like last year's team, albeit with a few new faces. Drew Miller still has his weird silver hair, Justin Abdelkader will still hit unsuspecting skaters late and from behind and Henrik Zetterberg is still going to blow you away with his consistent two-way play and striking looks.
The Wings have been hammered by injuries so far this year. Pavel Datsyuk, former Ottawa Senator and #trader Daniel Alfredsson, Jonathan Ericsson, Johan Franzen and Joakim Andersson are all currently dealing with injuries, according to the Red Wings' official website. Ericsson was on their top pair and doing a good job of driving possession from the blueline before going down with fractured ribs. And then losing Alfredsson, Datsyuk and Franzen for any amount of time is going to hurt a team that already had issues denting the net. They are a middle of the road possession team, at exactly 15th in the league in 5v5 FF close percentage with 50.3 percent. Hopefully, the Hawks can take advantage of this injury-depleted old rival.
Full fancy stats can be found here.
The Blackhawks visit the Twin Cities in the second game of a back-to-back on Thursday. The Wild started off the year as a decent possession team but in almost predictable fashion, they have tailed off into mediocrity. They sit 20th in the NHL in 5v5 FF close percentage at 49.1 percent after being a couple ticks over 50 about a month or so ago. To be fair, their two best possession players on the team, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, are both dealing with injuries. Koivu had surgery to repair a fractured ankle so he is done for a while, it would seem.
Josh Harding has been sidelined for the past couple of games due to illness. It is too bad, because he has been one of the best storylines this year. Unless Harding comes back by Thursday, the Hawks will see Niklas Backstrom or Darcy Kuemper in net.
The team is 26th in the NHL in goals per game and that number probably will not go up until Parise or Koivu come back, or the Wild make another deadline trade for some offensive help. Defensively, they are a bit lacking. Jared Spurgeon leads the Minnesota blueline in 5v5 FF percentage at 54.0 percent. The only other Wild defenseman above 50 is Marco Scandella at 51.5 percent. Even Ryan Suter is not above 50 percent. He draws some of the toughest assignments on the team but possession-wise, he has struggled this year.
Full fancy stats can be found here.
The Jets visit the United for the second time this season on Sunday. It will be the last game the Blackhawks play at the United Center until March. The Jets sit last in Conference III with 49 points in 50 games. They are a middling puck possession team, currently sitting 17th in the league with a 49.6 5v5 FF close percentage. While they may not drive possession too well, the Jets do have some decent players on their team. Center Bryan Little has a decent 51.2 5v5 FF percentage while starting only 46.9 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He does this while leading the Jets in scoring with 40 points. USA Olympian Blake Wheeler is a decent two-way player, tied for second on the team with 38 points. Andrew Ladd has 32 points and, hell, Michael Frolik has 26 points. Overall, they are 14th in the league in goals per game. The scoring is average, the possession is average, why are they so bad?
If you ask the Winnipeg media, all of the blame lies squarely on Evander Kane and Dustin Byuglien's shoulders. Hmm. Hmmmmmm. There is no way Winnipeg's terribleness has anything to do with their lack of any respectability in net, nosireebob, of course not, not no way, not no how. Nope, instead of addressing why the starting goaltender cannot even keep his save percentage above .900, it is probably just best to blame the black players on the team. The black players being a 22-year-old power forward with 25 points in 38 games who leads the team in 5v5 CF percentage and the other being the best defensemen on their team in terms of scoring and TOI while still driving possession at a 51.8 CF percent rate. Yeah, it is all their fault. Totally. That is what is holding this team back from greatness. The Jets have goaltender Ondrej Pavelec under contract for three more years after this season concludes. The Red Wedding Line salivates.
Full fancy stats can be found here.
All usage charts are courtesy of www.extraskater.com.
The standings in SB Nation were not updated yet so here are poorly cropped screenshots of the NHL.com standings.
Avs head coach Patrick Roy "conceded" the Conference III race to the Blackhawks a couple of weeks ago, but frankly, they are still in the race. Their luck will have to run out eventually, but they are still within striking distance of the division lead.
#Cool thing of the week
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis almost singlehandedly beat the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. He had four goals and somehow managed to keep it in his pants. This is the only time you will ever see me type this: St. Louis kicks ass. Video.
Nebraska "fun" fact of the week
Omaha is not the capital of Nebraska, contrary to popular belief. Lincoln is the capital.
A milestone along the road
Told you it was a shortened edition.