Photo: US Presswire

With the bulk of the hockey headlines coming out of southern Arizona being about legal battles and ownership changes and Gary Bettman stomping his feet like a child being told he can’t have candy at the supermarket, it’s easy to forget that there’s actually a hockey team there.

A team that is in fourth in the Western Conference, nipping at the heels of Division leader San Jose. A team on a five-game winning streak. A team that has scored the seventh-most goals in the league, yet has not one single 20-goal  scorer. Although with two of their players named Lauri and Adrian, I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to take them.

One word to describe this team is ‘big’. The Coyotes boast five players at 6′ 3″ or taller, and that doesn’t include their goaltenders who are both that same height. Muscle on the back end takes the form of Ed Jovanovski and Rostislav Klesla, but it’s the young and comparatively diminutive Keith Yandle who is leading from the rear: he leads the team in assists, points, and penalty minutes. He needs to these days, as Jovanovski is out with an eye injury.

Up front is a wide arsenal of productive and dangerous veterans: Shane Doan, Ryan Whitney, Taylor Pyatt, Lee Stempniak, and Radim Vrbata among them. We have had good luck shutting down these weapons so far this year: our games against Phoenix have all been decided by one goal: one in regulation, one in OT, and one in a shootout. In none of these games has either team scored more than 3 goals in regulation. This is our last meeting with the Coyotes this year, and a win will tie the season series at 2 wins apiece.

On the Blackhawks’ side, the news is slightly better than last game. Brian Campbell and Dave Bolland are still out, however we should have the services of the previously-puking Bryan Bickell. Word from the team is that Bickell was a go, skates on and chinstrap buttoned, right up until the moment the rosters had to be turned in. But at that point the proximity of his afternoon meal changed, from his stomach to the floor, and he was unable to take the ice. The Blackhawks skated with 19 men on the bench as a result.

On Saturday, Head Coach Joel Quenneville and other members of the management team tried to squirm their way out of that predicament, saying there was nothing they could have done, that anything can happen to put a team a man down, and on, and on. But apparently they are unwilling to take the abuse hurled at them from all points along the blogosphere and Twitterscape another time, and as such are not taking any chances. Today forward Ben Smith was recalled from Rockford and will be joining the team in Phoenix. His appearance today will depend upon the health of Bryan Bickell.

The effort in the 5 – 0 loss to Dallas can charitably be described as “poor,” and less-charitably described as “horst-shit.” The quote from Captain Jonathan Toews said it all: “We all picked the same night to crap the bed.” So Coach Q put the team through what he described as a “more workmanlike” practice on Saturday — which is a Quenneville-ism for “I skated them until somebody hurled.”

The weakness in the game against the Stars was odd-man rushes. Dallas would catch our D-men pinching, lob a pass up to the red line to catch the cherry-picker making for our net. We gave up three goals that way, and I sincerely hope the ‘Hawks have spent HOURS in front of that video trying to permanently engrave the following phrase on the memories of our blue line corps: “DO NOT LET ANYBODY GET BEHIND YOU.” Today’s game will tell the tale.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the highlight-reel bone-head play by our back-up netminder, “Myocardial” Marty Turco. Once again his instincts got the better of him, and he went on safari in search of the puck with an attacking player bearing down on him. One stupid clearing pass; one simple interception; one open net with a pathetic goaltender trying desperately to regain his position to defend it; and oops, they scored. And once again, there’s Turco lying face down on the ice while the bullhorn blasts, reminding himself — about 15 seconds too late — that he isn’t supposed to do that shit anymore.

Now, we all know that Corey Crawford is going to be our number one goaltender in the increasingly-unlikely chance that we make the playoffs. But Crow has some off games, and how is the team going to respond to the back-up taking his position between the pipes when they know he has a propensity for that kind of stupidity?

Plays like the one Turco made take the wind out of a team’s sails. In this game it didn’t matter a whole lot: the ‘Hawks were down by 3 and playing like crap. But if the ‘Hawks were mounting a comeback, or if this was a close game, or it happened in the last two minutes of a close game while the ‘Hawks were mounting a comeback, such a play would have been a back-breaker.

The long and short of it is this: Turco needs to be sat down, one-on-one, and be told that he is not to leave his crease with an attacking player on our side of the red line. If he does it again, even once more, he’ll be released from his contract the following business day. Put it that plainly, do it soon, and make sure he knows we’re not bluffing. That’s something a high school JV goalie knows, and Turco better get with the program. Right fucking now.

Not surprisingly, Corey Crawford gets the start for Chicago tonight; we expect to see Ilya Bryzgalov in net for Phoenix. Bryzgalov is 4-0-0 in his last four starts, which includes one shutout.

7:00pm puck drop Chicago time tonight. WGN has the TV coverage, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should look for the game on channel 207.

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