“What Are You Going To Do, Bleed On Me?” Blackhawks Host Columbus
It’s getting boring to list the woeful details of the pathetic state of affairs surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the third meeting of these two teams, and each time the story gets more unpleasant.
It’s akin to King Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight: they talk big and look imposing at the outset, and they put up a good fight. But in the end they come away well beaten and embarrassed.
The Blue Jackets have re-claimed the basement in the NHL thanks to a four-game losing streak, which caps off a post-Thanksgiving run that saw them lose 9 of their last 12. Just four (count them, 4) of their players have a plus-minus rating that is not negative, and only one of those is above zero; James Wisniewski,, the off-season mega-contract recipient and purported defensive savior, leads the race to the bottom with a minus-19 on the season. Their “best” goaltender boasts only a 2.66 GAA and still has a losing record, while “starter” Steve Mason is 4-14-1 on the year. And with nearly all of their star players back in the lineup after an injury-riddled start, the BJ’s still couldn’t ride a first period hat-trick by star center Jeff Carter to victory, losing to Nashville in their last pre-holiday outing by a final of 6-5.
“You stupid bastard! You’ve got no arms left!”
It’s no fun beating up on a team that can’t defend themselves. It’s almost as if they should just jump behind the turnbuckle and yell, “No mas! No mas!” Pity them and their fans, for they still have 48 games left to play.
Probably for the better anyhow, there’s plenty to talk about with the Blackhawks.
Oh, but do pardon me the egregious oversight: The Division, Conference and LEAGUE LEADING Chicago Blackhawks, thank you very much! And as I’ve been thinking about the situation over the Christmas break, the realization came to me very clearly: this team is leading the league, but they haven’t even been playing their best hockey yet. Not even close. Not by a hundred miles. This team has the potential to be so much better. Yet, we’re in first place right now.
Damn, man. This has the potential to be a spectacular season.
“Not playing their best hockey? Are you kidding?” No, I’m really not. Sure, the foursome of Captain Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are all sitting among the NHL’s top 20 players in points. (Think about that: we have fully one-fifth of the league’s most potent scoring weapons on our team!) But when you break down the numbers even for those four guys, we still may be pleasantly surprised in the last part of the season.
Hossa is on a pace for 89 points. That would be his best point total since his days in Atlanta, but that was also the last season in which he played a full 82 games. Kane, if he continues at his present rate, will end the year with just 21 goals. We all know that even his career-high 30 G from the Stanley Cup Championship season doesn’t show his true potential. Toews and Sharp are both on track for career years in every category but one: power-play goals.
And that’s just four guys! What if we get the kinds of contributions from the rest of the team that we know we are right to expect? What if Dave Bolland can rack up 40+ points? What if Viktor Stalberg decides to play every game like he played the last two? What if Michael Frolik un-jinxes himself? What if Bryan Bickell starts shooting the puck? What if we get our penalty killing back to where it needs to be? And what if we assert the kind of power play dominance that we did in 2009-10?
On the blue line, we watched as Duncan Keith got off to an abysmal start to the season, then continued to watch as he regained his Norris Trophy-winning form following the Alberta Catastrophe of 2011 — a combined minus-8 for Keith in those two games. His partner Brent Seabrook continues to provide a crushing welcome to forwards entering the Blackhawks’ zone, as well as passing the 500 point mark earlier this season. Youngster Nick Leddy is finding his place as the new Brian Campbell, and amassing the point totals that go along with that role. And the role-players in the bottom ranks are starting to… umm… not suck.
One player that I feel has really excelled at his role on the team is Jamal Mayers. He was brought in to fill the spot occupied by Ryan Johnson last season, and John Madden the year prior. I would have been quite pleased to have us keep Madden in that spot, but Johnson did a very solid job himself. However, Mayers has, in my opinion, re-defined what we should expect from a veteran fourth-line forward, and earned himself a contract extension to keep doing exactly what he has been: provide veteran leadership, be both a physical and offensive threat, and beat people’s skinny asses when they step over the line. I have enjoyed watching him play so far this year, and I think he was the best value for the money that the Blackhawks picked up in the off-season.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the “goalie controversy” brewing with the ‘Hawks in the last half of December, as hitherto backup Ray Emery was thrust into the limelight for all the wrong reasons, then came through with a 6-game win streak. That gave Corey Crawford the rest and re-focusing time that he needed to get his ailing game back on track, which he did with a 5-1 win over Montreal. But now, what exactly does Head Coach Joel Quenneville have on his hands? A tandem? A brewing battle for the starting position? A rejuvenated starter and the league’s most prolific backup? I’m not sure even he knows the answer to that question. One thing’s for sure, however: if both of these netminders can continue to play at this level, the Blackhawks have the potential to be — literally — unbeatable.
Administrative nonsense: Daniel Carcillo was placed on the injured reserve list just prior to the holidays and won’t be in the lineup tonight. Marcus Kruger has been diagnosed with a concussion, and is doubtful for tonight. Both Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin were re-assigned to Rockford before Christmas, though there is always the possibility that they can be recalled early today. No official word on who starts in goal tonight, but something tells me Corey Crawford gets the nod. Time will tell.
Puck drops at 7:30pm at the United Center this evening. You can watch the game on Comcast SportsNet; broadcast radio is handled by WGN AM-720; XM subscribers will find the game on channel 204; and Sirius Premiere customers should tune in on channel 218.
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About the author
Tim spent Saturday mornings playing street hockey in suburban Toronto before moving to Chicago at age 11. He played amateur hockey in Chicagoland through high school, got his B.A. in Communications, then wasted 7 years as a news/talk radio host. Today he tinkers with computers and web sites and yells at the TV a lot.
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