Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’m sure we’d all like to call a “time out” and give the Blackhawks a week off where the team, coaches, and management get to assess what’s wrong, figure out how to fix it, and get this train back on the tracks again. But there’s no rest for the weary, as Chicago is back in action tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The bad news: Phoenix is on a 4-game winning streak. The good news: they have the second-worst power play in the league. So maybe if Coach Joel Quenneville gets his head out of his ass and leaves Nick Leddy on the bench during the penalty kill, we’ll have a shot tonight. More on that in a few moments…

The Coyotes are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference by a mere point over Dallas and Colorado, but of late Phoenix is playing like a team trying to grab home-ice advantage. To see why, look no further than the crease. The heretofore mediocre Mike Smith is playing like his life depended on it: 6-3-1 in his last 10 (consecutive starts, by the way), going 3-0-0 in his last 3 starts with a .964 save percentage and a GAA below 1 (pronounced, “one” — as in, barely above zero). Sure, Smith is streaky. But he’s on a hot streak right now, and the Blackhawks forwards will be staring at him between the pipes when they take the ice this evening.

The Coyotes roster still looks like a who’s-who of “Really? This guy’s still in the NHL?” And then you look at their salary cap layout and discover that not only is the guy still playing, he’s making over $3 million a year! It really is unbelievable. But hey, it’s getting the job done. However, change is in the wind.

With the Coyotes ownership situation nearing the end of it’s please-somebody-buy-the-team-and-keep-it-in-Arizona phase, the Coyotes may decide to part with a few of its high-paid personnel in order to secure a larger number of draft picks and entice potential new buyers. It has been suggested, and not so subtly, that Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, and Daymond Langkow — all $3+ million per year and UFA at season’s end — may already be on the block. That’s 2 of the Coyotes’ top 3 scorers. If Phoenix drops more than 3 games back in their playoff hunt in the next 2 weeks, expect those guys to be wearing different jerseys in March. There is the small matter of all 3 having no-movement clauses, but who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get out of Phoenix and on to a team that’s playoff-bound?

On the blueline it’s another collection of cast-offs, but again, ones that get the job done. Former Blackhawk (and Flame, and Islander, and Lightning, and…) Adrian Aucoin is still averaging (!!!) 20+ minutes a night; Keith Yandle is second on the team in assists while owning the Iron Man title (all games, most minutes); and the unpronounceable Rostislav Klesla along with young pup Oliver Ekman-Larsson round out the top 4. That quartet is a combined plus-12, which explains why veteran Derek Morris (at minus-10) is seeing fewer minutes.

And speaking of defensemen seeing fewer minutes! Time to talk about the youngster on the Blackhawks roster who has been the subject of much consternation throughout the year.

If you looked at the box score from last night — without seeing the game or watching the highlights — you’d think Nick Leddy had a pretty good game. He had an assist on Marcus Kruger’s first goal, and was a plus-1 on the night. That’s good, right?

Watch the highlights.

See, they don’t credit you with a “minus” when you are on the ice for a power-play goal against. If you’re killing a penalty, and the other team scores, it doesn’t count against you. So Leddy’s plus-minus from last night is DRASTICALLY misleading. What that plus-1 doesn’t tell you is: Leddy was on the ice for all 3 power play goals against, and in two instances was standing within arm’s reach of the guy who scored the goal.

Now: if I’m covering my man in front of the net, that guy never gets to put his stick on the ice. My stick is lifting his stick every minute we’re close to the goal. I’m not pushing him or knocking him down, but there’s no way on this earth he gets his stick on a loose puck. Not while I’m standing next to him.

Nick Leddy was apparently too busy taking everybody’s cappuccino orders to pay attention to his man in front of the net. Because both times the forward was able to pop the puck right past Crawford as if he was standing all by himself. Completely unencumbered. Leddy didn’t do much more than stand there in bewilderment. The Phoenix player didn’t have a care in the world, because Leddy was covering him. It’s like a free pass: stand next to Nick Leddy, and you’re wide open.

Folks, I’ve been patient. I’ve been understanding. I’ve given the kid 55 games to show me that he can play defense. In that time, he’s shown us that he can deliver the goods offensively; but he’s also shown that he gets caught out of position several times a night, that he goes on Bobby Orr safari below the hash marks and ends up turning the puck over every time; that his one-on-one coverage skills are lacking at best and downright pathetic at worst; and now, that he’s a liability on special teams.

The kid has had his chance. He would be a great two-way forward, but he’s not a defenseman. My recommendation is: make a highlight video of all of his fuck-ups so far this year, give him a portable DVD player, and let him watch that video over and over and over again on the BUS FROM PHOENIX BACK TO ROCKFORD. That’s where he belongs until he decides which position he wants to be good at, and learns how to do it right.

Administrative nonsense: somebody by the name of David Schlemko is out with an upper-body injury for Phoenix, don’t think he’ll be missed. For the Blackhawks, Steve Montador will be out tonight, and though we haven’t heard any official word so far today, it is expected that Niklas Hjalmarsson will miss tonight’s tilt as well. (One interesting note: CBS Sports lists Hjalmarsson’s injury as a concussion. Haven’t heard that until today, not sure of its degree of accuracy.) We will face Mike Smith in goal, as mentioned; and Ray Emery gets the nod in the second of the ‘Hawks back-to-back games.

Decent start time for a west coast game: puck drops at 7:30pm Central time. Television coverage is on WGN; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; XM subscribers can find the game on channel 215; and Sirius Premiere customers should tune in on channel 214.

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