the Fifth Line: the Home Stretch

Hey, wanna see something totally not at all depressing if you’re a Chicago fan?

Arizona and Buffalo, the two teams whose front offices are tanking the hardest, are teams that have been gutted in an effort to land a top-two draft pick. Their games against each other are so awful, and filled with fans cheering against their own team, that such games have been likened to existentialist avant garde performance.

Chicago’s offense has been so bad the last couple months, they’re playing at these teams’ level.

That was tweeted on Monday, and the ‘Hawks did get a few goals since then. But if you go to war-on-ice.com, you’ll see that February & March were brutal for Chicago. The five worst teams at scoring goals during 5v5 play are Arizona, New Jersey, Chicago & Buffalo (tied), and Toronto. If you include all situations, they’re only sixth-worst in the entire NHL for those months.

It’s tempting to point to the absence of Patrick Kane as the reason for this offensive decline. And his injury is a contributing factor, no doubt. But Kane played most of February, so it’s more than that. It’s probably not a coincidence that Chicago’s even-strength possession numbers have fallen off recently (since possession stats are primarily based upon shot attempts). Even beyond stats, it seems like Chicago is spending a lot more time than it used to in its defensive zone, and is giving up more turnovers and breakaways.

As we’ll see below, this is something the ‘Hawks will need to address posthaste. They’re in the toughest division in the NHL, and their playoff bracket is not going to do them any favors.

The Eastern Playoff Picture

If the season ended before tonight’s games, Boston and Washington would swap divisions in the Eastern bracket, since the wild cards are meant to be at a disadvantage. This would put the Canadiens against the Capitals in the first round, with the Lightning vs. Red Wings as the other part of the Atlantic bracket.

Over in the Metro division, this means the Rangers would face the Bruins, while the Penguins took on the Islanders. I absolutely love all these Eastern matchups — each has a compelling narrative. The league’s top goalie (Price) meets the top goal-scorer (Ovechkin). Steve Yzerman’s new team battles his old team. New York versus Boston. And Metro upstart (Islanders) meets Metro stalwart (Penguins).

Thing is, Boston and Washington are looking to improve their lot. They’d prefer to sneak in as the 3rd division spot instead of wild cards, and the gap is shrinking for that scenario. (And the Senators still have a chance, albeit a shrinking one.)

The Situation Out West

The Western conference would like to remind us why the divisional bracket setup is kinda bullshit. The Central is the strongest in the NHL, if you look at standings, and they’re going to be punished for it. In the old system, the top four teams in the Central would be ranked #2-#5. Only one of those teams would be guaranteed to miss the second round (as #4 would face #5). In the bracket setup, we’re guaranteed that half those teams will not survive the first round. Meanwhile, we’re guaranteed that either of the #6 or #7 seeds will advance, since they’ll be sheltered by the weaker Pacific bracket.

Grumbling aside, here’s what it currently looks like: Nashville faces Minnesota, and Chicago takes on perennial playoff rival St. Louis. These are all teams that look play like they belong in the second round, and before last year all but one might’ve made it. This year, two are guaranteed an early exit.

Over in the Pacific, Anaheim would take on the slipping Winnipeg Jets, and the Canucks would face the Flames. It’s the weakest bracket in the playoffs, which I guess is finally a tangible benefit for the presumptive President’s Trophy winners in Anaheim. Because the Ducks have the easiest path to a conference final berth, unless…

…Los Angeles remembers that it’s Los Angeles. The Kings still have a good shot at supplanting the Flames or Jets, which would at least give some semblance of challenge to Anaheim. Otherwise, the Ducks will have no excuse to miss the Western finals.

Senator-Watch: Down to the Wire

Savior of Ottawa and BGSU alum Andrew Hammond missed a few games due to injury, and the Senators saw their odds at making the playoffs slip. But he’s back! Ottawa has three points to make up in six games, while Boston only has five games to escape the chase! Excitement!

What I find amazing is that I don’t think, in the long run, that Hammond will put up better career numbers than Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner. But for whatever reason, he’s become the Senators’ good-luck charm who puts up gaudy numbers that fly in the face of expectation. Whoever ends up in that final wild card spot, be it Boston or Ottawa (or Detroit, after their dive), they better stock up on four-leaf clovers and horseshoes if they want last more than one round in the playoffs.

How Would You Even Enforce Against a Byfuglien?

The Jets have been scuffling of late, and now they’ll be without their big blue-liner for most of (the rest of) the regular season. Dustin Byfuglien did a bad, bad thing, and the Dept of Player Safety suspended him four games. I have no desire to discuss what the DoPS should or should have done. I’d rather discuss the predictable goon chorus that resulted:

“This never would’ve happened if New York had an enforcer.”

Nevermind that Byflugien doesn’t have a history of cheap shots, or that his physique makes him an unlikely target for enforcers. Forget that there’s nothing but anecdotal evidence that enforcers have any sort of deterrent effect. Ignore the fact that the last three Stanley Cups went to teams who rolled four full lines instead of starting an enforcer. It was so long ago (last year) that an “honorable enforcer” who sent Brooks Orpik to the hospital for a cheap shot. Disregard the reality that enforcers don’t get the benefit of the doubt from refs, making it more likely that their team will be at a disadvantage. Don’t wonder if PIMs is the most stupid fucking stat in any professional sport (it is).

Y’know what? Nevermind. Don’t forget any of that stuff the next time someone laments the slow, deserved death of the enforcer role. Maybe we’ll get more teams willing to take a chance on exciting young players instead of giving the roster spot to a pugilist who can barely skate, much less play hockey.

Frozen Four

I have no idea what went on here. I mean, I see the results, most of which made sense, but those that didn’t? Yikes. To recap:

Home Ice Advantage Is Real: North Dakota was expected to roll through its bracket, even though they faceplanted in the NCHC tourney. Providence was a potential upset against Miami (OH), but there was no way they could ride over both them and Denver, right? Wrong. The two teams who had home-ice advantage both emerged from their brackets to take part in the Frozen Four. Guess that means you should bet on Boston U., eh?

The WCHA Let Me Down: It was bad enough that BGSU barely missed the selection, but then Michigan Tech and Minnesota State both went one-and-done. Minnesota State did it against the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, to boot.

Unbalanced Four: Two #1 seeds are playing each other in a semifinal, and two not-#1 seeds are playing in the other. Two eastern teams, two (mid)western. One team has Jack Eichel, half of the McDavid-Eichel duo who are causing so much tanking and consternation in the NHL. One week from today, we find out who makes the final.

-J.

-J.

The entity known as -J. would be at home in a place like Carcosa or Night Vale, but instead lives near a far more dreary place -- Wrigley Field. He is the patron Addisonian of whisk(e)y and tabletop games, and is often adorned with a waistcoat & his ridiculous mustache.

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2 Comments

  1. -J. -J.

    (I have no idea if the above comment is a mass effort to get attention for a change.org petition, but I’m all for an NHL team in Milwaukee. Let it be seen!)

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