round table

It’s playoff time, finally, and we here at Cheer the Anthem couldn’t be more excited. Before the Blackhawks thump the Wild’s skulls for ‘em, Bartl, Nakis, Brown and Mighty Mike have decided to answer a few of our own questions heading into Game 1 tonight.

I wish I could say we gathered around and did this over beers at a local bar, but Mike played the whole “I live in London and can’t make it” excuse that’s getting really old. Damn foreigners.

Kidding aside, here’s what your resident idiots had to say about the upcoming series against Minnesota:

Theoretically, this series is a “Gimme” for the Hawks. However, we know that such things don’t always go according to plan. Outside of uncontrollable events like injuries, where could the Hawks come unstuck against the Wild?

Mighty Mike: It’s hard to see anywhere where the Hawks can lose this series: they out-class the Wild in every metric that counts and have just come off an insane regular season. I guess the only place the Wild could get an edge is on Special Teams and that’s not going to count for very much. Backstrom is capable of stealing games, but nothing like Mike Smith was last year. Maybe if the Hawks are complacent and looking towards the next round rather than focussing on getting the job done? The Hawks/Wild games this year have been reasonably close, so any short-attention-span stuff may get punished. Also (without wanting to tempt fate) Emery being out for the time being means that Crow is going to have to carry the load all on his own. But yeah. If the Hawks manage to screw this one up I may start writing for Hockybuzz and offering myself up as Jaeckel’s Personal Sex-Slave.

Brown: Special teams. There isn’t a better team in the NHL 5-on-5 than Chicago. 4-on-5 they’ve proven to be in the top 10% of the league through 48 games.  However, only Reimer, Lindback, Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider have a higher PKSV% than Corey Crawford among regular starting goaltenders. PKSV% has largely been attributed to both luck and the PK unit in front of the goalie whereas ESSV% is the one thing a goalie is truly in control of. With the Hawks starting netminder in the top 5 in the league in PKSV%, we should expect to see a regression. If it’s a landslide regression that occurs in the span of 7 possible games, it could undo the Hawks. Especially with the inconsistent (at best) powerplay that Chicago trots out there. Solution? Stay out of the penalty box and play 95% of this series at even strength. If Chicago does that, I do not see a way they can lose. Even if Backstrom gets hot or whatever.

Nakis: It would have to be some sort of combination of Niklas Backstrom catching some of that Wildfire Tywin Lannister used on Stannis Baratheon’s invading force during the Battle of Blackwater in ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Blackhawks getting into an ungodly amount of penalty trouble. Luckily the Blackhawks are a team that rarely loses its cool – if they haven’t lost their minds against teams like St. Louis and Vancouver, it seems unlikely that Minnesota would be able to thrown them off their game.

Bartl: On paper, this series is a complete mismatch. The Blackhawks led the NHL with a plus-53 goal differential, and the Wild enter at a minus-5. Between the vast difference in offensive firepower and the defensive units being on opposite ends of the spectrum, it doesn’t seem feasible the Wild even compete in this series. Then you look at the meetings this season, and Minnesota has hung tough. It dealt the ‘Hawks their first defeat of any kind in a shootout win Jan. 30, had an early lead and made a third-period comeback in Chicago’s 5-3 win March 5 and allowed only Marian Hossa’s unassisted goal in a 1-0 loss April 9. Series aren’t played on paper.

The best goaltending tandem in the NHL – numbers wise, anyway – won’t be fully intact for Game 1, as Ray Emery won’t dress. It appeared Corey Crawford was going to be given the keys for the playoff run no matter what, but does Crawford make you uneasy enough that Emery’s injury becomes a concern? And if Crawford has an ugly postseason similar to 2012, what does that mean for his future?

Adam: That he’ll be competing with another low cost goalie in 2013-14. I do hope that the organization doesn’t view a small sample size of the postseason against an otherwise quality regular season. Stan Bowman is steering this ship, not Mike Gillis.

Mike: I’ve been a staunch supporter of Crow even when he was struggling last season: I figured that the “True Crawford” was something in between the stellar first year and the less-so second, and that’s what we’re seeing now. Sure, he’s going to have the odd brain-fart, we just have to hope it doesn’t happen in OT and cost us a game like it did last year. We’ll likely also see some of those “Holy Crap!” point-blank saves that the bugger can pull off too. I think Crow was “The Plan All Along” (remember that?) and Razor’s great record this year was enhanced by being put out against weaker opposition, by and large. Emery’s injury does worry me because, obviously, we’ve seen almost nothing of Hutton and Karlsson. I think this only becomes a factor if Crow gets hurt or really disintegrates. If he does piss on his chips this year? The Hawks have the pieces to trade for an established Goalie. That guy at the other end of the ice for one. But I’m not worried about the goaltending. Much.

Nakis: Not at all. I don’t think Crawford will be as subpar as he was in the last Stanley Cup playoffs, but if he does falter, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the Blackhawks taking a look at a few of the many goaltenders that’ll be on the market during the offseason. However, it’s important to keep in mind that he has another year left on his contract. Additionally, if the Hawks do go out early, there will plenty of blame going around. Crawford wouldn’t be twisting in the wind alone.

Bartl: My line of thinking is that if Emery didn’t play so well this season, Crawford would have the full support of the fan base for having such a stellar season. It’s almost as if having two quality goaltenders hurt Crawford in the eyes of some of the fans, which seems ridiculous. Crawford is and always should have been “the guy,” and my feeling is that he’s going to prove that this postseason after a forgettable 2012 playoff series. There won’t be any goaltender questions heading into next season.

Is there any discernible reason that a team that is so dominant 5-on-5 should underperform as much as this one does 5-on-4? If yes, what is it?

Nakis: The power play (like our goaltending) simply baffles me. So my answer is no. When a team throws out three or four of the top ten players in the world on the ice for a power play and can’t score, it’s distressing.

Bartl: It’s a question I’ve asked myself over and over again. How a team with this much offensive talent scores at such a low frequency when having one more guy out there than the other team makes almost no sense. I can’t wrap my head around it. Considering how well they play 5-on-5, it seems just as ridiculous as considering the notion they’re just toying with teams: “We’re going to fuck around with the puck for a couple minutes to make you believe you have a chance to win this game. Then we’re going to shove it right up your ass when your other guy gets back out here.”

Mike: If I could answer that one I’d be sending my resume to Stan Bowman. It’s clearly not personnel because of course it isn’t. It’s been especially frustrating to watch the Hawks practically run a PP style offense in the opponents zone while 5-on-5 and then struggle as soon as they’re on the advantage. Zone entry was the big issue (IMO) last year but they seem to have that out of their system now. Having Sharpie injured has meant that the classic “Backdoor Pass” has been conspicous by its absence, too. I really don’t know what the issue is. The good news is that it’s unlikely to matter much: the Wild are the least-penalized team in the NHL and we know where Refs put the whistles in the Playoffs.

Adam: If you can explain to me why our powerplay is developmentally disabled I’d also like an explanation as to why Kevin Gregg is all of a sudden good again in his 2nd stint with the Cubs. I haven’t the slightest clue why our powerplay is working at a 2nd grade level.

PREDICTION TIME! Who ya got in the first round?

Bartl: Blackhawks in 6, Ducks in 7, Canucks in 5 and Kings in 6 in the West. Penguins in 5, Sens in 7, Bruins in 6 and Caps in 7 out East.

Nakis: West:  Blackhawks over Wild. Red Wings over Ducks. Canucks over Sharks. Kings over (HATE HATE HATE HATE) Blues. Over the hills and far away in the East: Penguins over Islanders. Senators over Habs. Rangers over Capitals. Bruins over Leafs.

Mike: I’ve got Hawks over Wild, Wings to Pluck the Ducks, Kings to show St Louis that “Grit+Talent”>”Grit + Stoopid” and the Nucks to take 6 or 7 games to edge the Sha-Arks
Out in SID -Land, I predict Pens (with or without SID) to sweep the Isles, Habs to beat the Sens and the Bruins to use the Rags to mop up the blood on the Ice.

But I’m REALLLY looking forward to that Kings/StL series.. 7 games of 4OT please

Adam: Hawks, Wings, Kings and the Canucks. Out of all of those, I think it’s the Canucks that I’m more nervous about than any of them. In the East I’m taking Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston and Ottawa.