Tim Currell

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.


Posts by Tim Currell

Third Time’s A Charm? Damn Well Better Be… Hawks Visit Oilers

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 14: Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin  of the Edmonton Oilers misses a shot by Ruslan Fedotenko of the New York Rangers for a goal during the third period of a hockey game at Madison Square Garden on November 14, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Arright, now I’m fuckin’ PISSED.

I just looked at the Oilers’ schedule to date. I looked back to October 11th, nearly the entire regular season. In that span of time, the Oilers have lost nine games outright, and lost another 3 in overtime. They’ve lost four games to such bottom-feeders as Minnesota and Calgary.

They have won two games. BOTH AGAINST CHICAGO!

There is NO WAY we can lose three games to this festering sack of frog vomit in one year. It just can’t happen. If it does, I expect there to be some Seppuku at center ice after the game. That would be a disgrace no team should permit.

Speaking of disgrace, the Oilers are fresh off a colossal humiliation at the hands of the New York Rangers, to the tune of an 8 – 2 spanking. Nikolai Khabibulin was in net for all 8 of those goals: why he wasn’t pulled is beyond me. But the Rangers had no shortage of players eager to make him look like he had just failed a breathalyzer test. One can only hope that we see him between the pipes, and have similar luck.

The last time Khabby played the Blackhawks he was solid, making some genuinely remarkable saves on his way to stopping 25 shots. The fact that we only *took* 25 shots may have contributed to the fact that we lost that game 2 – 1. The prior game the Oilers needed little more than a cardboard cut-out in net, since the Hawks gave up 7 goals while allowing 41 shots, chasing Marty Turco after just one period. Our bad luck against these guys is nothing short of startling.

The rumblings in the Oiler-ogosphere are currently bemoaning the team’s defensive problems, and the latest grousing centers on their centers, specifically their abysmal performance at the face-off dot. So there’s two things the Hawks need to try to exploit when they arrive in the snow-laden northlands.

Back home, Blackhawks fans are enjoying the realization that the boys managed to scrape together three points out of a possible four during the last two games. We managed to hand out three points to Conference opponents in the process, but that’s immaterial. Just the fact that we put one in the ‘win’ column is reason to celebrate.

We’re also getting cautiously optimistic about the play of newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille. Stalberg put up his sixth goal of the season while getting the game-winner against Anaheim, and Jack Skille posted his first goal of the year — and his second — in the loss to Nashville. If both of these guys can put in consistent performances every night, they’ll find themselves getting 10 to 15 minutes a night.

Roster-wise, nothing of note for the Hawks. Troy Brouwer was absent from practice on Tuesday, but he will make the trip and is likely to play against Edmonton. If that’s the case, expect Coach Quenneville to field the exact same team and lines he did over the weekend. He’s not one to tinker with success, especially when the Hawks are teetering so close to the .500 mark.

For the Oilers, no doubt you saw the Ladislav Smid/Sean Avery sucker-punch incident from the Rangers game, the one that resulted in penalties for every skater on the ice, and even one who was NOT on the ice! The most severe penalty handed out was a 10-minute misconduct however, and despite the severity of the fracas the league issued no suspensions. Smid apparently suffered a head injury in that melee, and will sit out this tilt tonight. The Oilers have called up heavyweight defenseman Shawn Belle to replace him. Beyond that, we will be facing a full and healthy Oiler lineup Wednesday night.

Game time is 8:30pm: Comcast SportsNet for the TV broadcast; regular-old radio is WGN AM-720, as usual; XM subscribers flip to channel 205.

And for the love of crap, guys: start this road trip off right.

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Too Many Men on the Site

Hoping It’s Not Wabbit Season: Chicago Hosts Anaheim

Photo: Hanna Barbera

Last night’s game was a dramatic improvement over what we’ve seen lately from the Blackhawks. Yes, they let two leads slip away. Yes, they lost in a shootout. Yes, they only mustered four shots on goal in the 3rd.

But the team showed up. Jack Skille broke the jinx, twice. Viktor Stalberg lit the lamp. Defensively we were *far* more competent, only three players ended the night in the minus column. The Hawks were lining guys up, and standing up for their teammates. This was a good effort, and one hopes they can bring their first-period intensity into tonight’s game against Anaheim.

The big news from Duckville is that starting goaltender Jonas Hiller took a shot in the mask at practice on Saturday which resulted in a cut over his eyebrow that required four sutures. His status for tonight’s game has not been formally announced as of this writing, however one expects him to be in civvies for tonight’s tilt. That means Curtis McElhinny will likely be between the pipes tonight.

Which is good news, because the Ducks bring with them a 6-game winning streak. Forwards Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan all have a minimum of 6 goals and 17 points each. They have strong power-play conversion, they’re getting decent goal support from the blueline, and their goaltending has been solid. This is going to be a difficult test for the Blackhawks, even with Schmedley McLosermuffin in goal.

Doubtful that there will be any lineup changes for the Blackhawks, though the latest trade rumor concerning Corey Crawford and Tomas Kopecky might throw a wrench in things. Depends if they pull the trigger before the puck drops or not. Or at all. If anything happens before game time we’ll let you know via Twitter — follow us using the link below.

6:00pm start at the UC. WGN has the TV broadcast, WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio, and channel 204 for XM subscribers.

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Too Many Men on the Site

Edzo, Get A Rule Book

Photo: NHL

Sorry, Eddie, we all love you. But you’re wrong, and the tripping call by the official against Patrick Kane in overtime was complete and utter crap.

NHL 2010-11 Official Rule Book, Rule 57 – Tripping, Section 57.1, paragraph 3:

If, in the opinion of the Referee, a player makes contact with the puck first and subsequently trips the opponent in so doing, no penalty shall be assessed.

There was no “opinion of the referee” needed here. If Kane had not touched the puck first, it would not have been careening towards the boards and up the ice towards the ref who called the penalty!

So sorry, Mr. Olczyk, read the rule book. The ref was wrong, the call was crap, and that call could have cost the Blackhawks the game.

This extends the streak of badly called games by NHL officials to 35,466,907. These refs are pathetic, and the league risks the integrity of the game and the loyalty of its fans when it allows this kind of shit to go unpunished.

Sorry, had to get this up and make sure Blackhawks fans knew the truth. Jeff will have a more in-depth report on this game (plus Boxing!) later in the weekend.

Hawks have the Ducks at home on Sunday, we’ll preview that match-up right here for you, so check back and watch for our tweets!

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Too Many Men on the Site

Picking The Carcass Clean: Blackhawks Hunted By Predators

Those of you reading this are probably dreading tonight’s game. My comment to my wife yesterday was, every day the Blackhawks don’t play is a day they don’t lose. That’s what it’s come to.

How bad is it? In our last 10 games we are 3-7 including 5 losses on home ice. The losses are close, four of the seven are by one goal. Patrick Sharp in his last six games has no goals, two assists, and rates a -7. Marian Hossa is a -3 in his last six games with no points, period. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have totaled no goals, five assists and are a combined -10 in their last four games.

To call this a slump is like calling Megan Fox “cute.”

But this goes beyond statistics. When this team took the ice last year, they were intimidating. There was a confidence and a determination about them that elicited fear in opponents, and prepared crowds in other arenas for the inevitable reality that their beloved skate-monkeys were about to be treated like toilet paper.

This year, I don’t think they could instill fear into the hearts of an opposing squad of pee-wee girls. Their passing is the biggest giveaway. Last year it was no-look, tape-to-tape at full stride from the opening minute. Now it’s hard to get them to hit an open man standing still.

They’re skittish, they’re tentative, they’re trying to do too much, they’re trying for highlight-reel goals, and it’s making them look foolish. I hate to say it, but this team more closely resembles the Blackhawks of 10 years ago than team one that hoisted the Stanley Cup.

They’ll get the next chance to redeem themselves and show us that they *can* bring the intensity tonight when they take the ice in Nashville. The last time they faced the Predators it was on home ice, as they gave rookie goalie Anders Lindback his first *ever* win in his first *ever* start by letting a third-period lead slip away with two late goals. This was to become a trend, as the last two games showed us.

The significant change to the lineup for the Hawks is that Dave Bolland will be back at center between Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Bolland was activated from IR on Friday after sitting out the last two weeks with an upper-body injury.  Bolland’s play prior to being placed on IR was arguably the worst of his career as a Blackhawk, so it’s unlikely that his return will spark anything more than uncomfortable sideways glances.

Nashville comes in at 6-5-3, having just broken a five-game losing losing streak by beating St. Louis in a shootout on Thursday. Lindback has actually been their more consistent goaltender this year, as starter Pekka Rinne has shown some chinks in his armor. No injuries of substance to the Predators, and they will come in eager to get the home-town crowd back on their side.

Game time is 7:00pm tonight. Comcast SportsNet for the TV broadcast, WGN AM-720 is the broadcast radio outlet, and XM subscribers look for the game on channel 238.

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Too Many Men on the Site

It’s Not Time To Panic

Photo: AP

What it’s time for is an intelligent, measured response that has a better chance of effecting positive results. Stan Bowman, I’m talking to you.

We need a trade before the Circus Trip begins. Plain and simple.

We’ve shuffled this deck as many times as possible, and let’s face it, nothing’s working. We need some fresh, experienced blood. We also need to send a message to the team that nobody’s job is safe as long as this lackadaisical attitude continues.

What do we need? A 20-goal-per-season forward, preferably a center, and preferably from an Eastern Conference Team.

Who gets the boot? Any and/or ALL of the following:

Troy Brouwer: He’s a relatively inexpensive utility forward who could be a top-six guy on a lesser-talented team. Plus, for whatever reason, Coach Quenneville doesn’t like him and won’t play him to the extent of his capabilities. He’s a million dollars of cap space that could be used on somebody who puts goals in the net.

Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell: All three of these guys are also underachieving. Yes, they’re cheap. Yes, they’re serviceable. But they have more value to a team that sees their potential than they do here.

Brian Campbell: Yeah, we sucked while he was out of the lineup. But if we’re going to shake things up, we have to consider all options, and he is the biggest financial suck on this team. Trading him means our options for adjustments to the roster expand by an order of magnitude. Target a team with a mountain of cap space that is letting in a lot of goals, and try to work a deal.

Kyle Beach: I know everyone in the blogosphere thinks this guy is the second coming. But the reality is, he could just as easily be the biggest bust since Ty Jones. He’s got a reputation as a head-case, and that is *not* what we need right now. And currently his perceived value exceeds his actual value, which is the perfect time to put together a trade.

Corey Crawford: It pains me to say this, but the kid is good, and that’s why we could include him in a deal if it becomes necessary. He’s been solid in a backup role, and he has the potential to be a starter down the road. If teams express interest, we should jump on that. Backup goaltenders are cheap and plentiful.

So who to pursue? I’ll forward one name: Carolina center Brandon Sutter. 6′ 3″, right handed shot, 21 goals last year and on a similar pace this season. The Canes have +$10 million in cap space, they don’t have a “franchise” defenseman, and they’re going to be struggling to make the playoffs with the blueline corps they’re fielding today.

Ship Campbell and either Brouwer or Beach to the Hurricanes for Sutter. Despite sucking up $8 million in cap dollars, they get the better of that deal by a mile. But we get what we need: a change of blood for a big, young pivot with the potential to be part of the young core that solidifies our position as an offensive powerhouse.

That’s my Monday Morning Quarterback  idea. I’m sure there are many others. But it’s time. Enough screwing around, let’s get some offers on the table and move somebody quickly. Re-focusing the team’s attention and getting them out of their comfort zone before the Circus Trip might be just what the doctor ordered.

Umm, Stan? Stan? Talk to Daddy, there, Junior. And get your ass in gear. We’re bleeding here.

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Too Many Men on the Site

Rising Beyond Mediocrity: Phoenix visits the UC Tonight

Photo: AP

The Blackhawks take on the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at the United Center. After Sunday night’s disheartening loss to the Edmonton Oilers, I hope the concession stands are going to offer Maalox.

There have been some positives in the Blackhawks’ play. We are 3rd in the league in power play conversions, something that was a serious problem for us at this time last year. And our goaltending, originally thought to be our weak spot this season, has proved solid.

But that’s the end of the good news. Our penalty killing is so-so, our defense isn’t the impermeable fortress of last year, our veterans aren’t leading, our youngsters aren’t following, and the results show it. Above all, while we are showing flashes of brilliance here and there, our biggest problem is consistency.

The Oilers were a better team than the Blackhawks for about 45 seconds on Sunday. It cost the Blackhawks the game. They talk about a 60-minute effort, and that’s why. The Hawks didn’t play a bad game: decent number of shots, reduced their number of shots allowed, killed four penalties out of five, and kept the game at a defensive stale-mate against a speedy Edmonton squad. But one power play goal and a complete mental let-down on the following shift, and the visitors take home two points.

The mental lapse following the Oilers’ goal is not an isolated incident. Chicago Sun-Times reporter Adam Jahns scoured the box scores and found that the Blackhawks have allowed a goal against on the shift immediately following a goal no fewer than *seven* times this season. This is the kind of thing that makes coaches pull a Rumplestiltskin, and I would imagine it is the primary focus of Coach Joel Quenneville’s attention right now.

That, and shuffling the lines — AGAIN. Tuesday’s practice saw Patrick Kane moved to left wing (?!?!?) on a line with Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland. This can’t be a good sign, since both the Hossa/Bolland and Hossa/Kane combinations have been tried — with zero success — before. I see it as a sign that Q is simply throwing darts at a lineup sheet and seeing which ones land where.

There is something to be said for the definition of insanity here: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. When you shuffle a deck and expect to have it come up all aces, something’s wrong.

It may be time for some new cards. But we’ll address that another day.

The Phoenix Coyotes are a team without a city right now, as the ownership battle — and no-doubt relocation fight immediately to follow — has yet to be settled. They come into the United Center with more overtime/shootout losses than any team in the league. After regulation, they are a perfect 0-5. Their roster boasts plenty of names you’ll recognize, like Eric Belanger, Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, and Adrian Aucoin. But the whole, in this case, is far less than the sum of its parts.

This is another Edmonton, a team that we should beat handily. They sit second-to-last in the Conference, and goaltending has not been their strong point to date. However, as we saw on Sunday, the Blackhawks have had trouble with teams meeting this description. Let’s hope that they come out swinging and bury this one quickly.

Look for tweets from us about injuries, starting lineups, and scratches later today.

Game time is 7:30pm: TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can look for the game on channel 208.

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The Boss Returns, Hawks Look To Settle A Score

Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa takes a shot during the skate around before the game against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center in Chicago on October 20, 2010.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom

SURPRISE!

After the 5-4 shootout win over the Thrashers on Saturday, Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville hinted in his easily-decodable way that Marian Hossa will be in the lineup tonight. The collective sign of relief from Hawks fans could be heard as far away as Peoria.

The Blackhawks were 2 – 3 during Hossa’s absence, scoring an average of 3.2 goals per game while allowing 4. We forget that, in addition to being one of the Blackhawks’ leading scorers, The Boss is also one of the premier two-way players in the game today. His return will improve not only our goal production, but also our goals against. Which brings us to tonight’s game.

The game most Blackhawks fans would like to forget from this young season was when the last-place Edmonton Oilers walked into town, chased our starting goaltender after the first period, and went on to a humiliating 7-4 victory. It should have been a walk in the park. It looked more like a walk through wet cement.

While the end result was emasculating, there were positive signs. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp all tallied goals. We converted 2 out of 5 power plays, took only one penalty and killed that effortlessly. While Marty Turco was chased after one period, Corey Crawford allowed only two goals in relief. Additionally, the Hawks held the Oilers to only 10 shots in the final two periods combined, arguably the best defensive showing all year. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s good to realize that there were good signs coming out of such a spectacular failure.

But make no mistake: they came into our house, drank our beer, insulted our girlfriend, and pissed on the carpet. It’s time for some payback.

So while Marian Hossa returns, there may be another absence. Rookie Jeremy Morin was called up from Rockford to make his NHL debut against the Thrashers. He looked good, showed a good amount of hustle, won some battles along the boards, and generally made a good impression in just under 10 minutes of ice time. Then, he made the painful mistake of turning away from the shooter when blocking a shot. The slap shot caught him on the back of the leg — where there is barely a millimeter of padding — and was left writhing in agony. He did return later in the game, but was limited to one shift, and one has to assume he will be a scratch tonight.

Dave Bolland will still be out; expect pathetic defenseman Jassen Cullimore to be back in the lineup to replace even-more-pathetic-defenseman Jordan Hendry; and assuming Hossa is back and Morin is out, we will probably have to suffer another night of seeing John Scott embarrass himself by playing left wing on the fourth line.

Game time is an unusual 6:00pm this evening at the United Center. WGN completes the second half of a back-to-back TV double-header; radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers look for channel 207.

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Hey, you look familiar: Blackhawks visit some old friends in Atlanta

Fancy seeing you here. How’s everything going?

Most Chicagoans will remember Atlanta as “Chicago South” following the off-season roster-wide flea market that arose due to salary cap constraints. Atlanta worked trades to acquire forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd, as well as defenseman Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu. So the Blackhawks will see a lot of familiar faces staring back at them across the face-off circle.

So how are our former Stanley Cup winning heroes doing in A-Town? Quite well, as it turns out. Byfuglien had most of his success in a Blackhawks uniform on the wing, but the Thrashers are using him both in that role as well as on defense. The dual role seems to suit him: he leads the team with 12 points, and is second on the squad with 5 goals.

Ladd shares the most-points distinction, and is having what some NHL pundits have already called a “career year.” Leading the team with goals is second-year pro Evander Kane (no relation), who is on a pace to nearly triple his scoring totals from his rookie season. Also showing his teeth at pivot is long-time Maple Leafs disappointment Nik Antropov, who actually has the trophy for team’s biggest player at 6′ 6″, 245 lbs. When you have Byfuglien on your team, that’s really saying something.

The Thrashers have had their ups and downs. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec went temporarily tits-up during a stoppage of play in the season opener. One second he was standing there, a face-off about to occur at the other end of the ice; the next, BAM! Out like a light.

Pavelec was removed on a stretcher, kept for several days at the hospital, and doctors were unable to find any serious or potentially lethal cause for the momentary lapse of vertical stability. I guess that’s good news, but if they can’t find the cause, what’s to stop it from happening again?

Where this team is not performing well is defense. They hold second-to-last place in the league with 46 goals allowed in just 12 games, and the best +/- rating on the entire team is a +2. The aforementioned Antropov holds the basement in that category with a -9.

Chris Mason holds down the fort in net, though his 3.45 GAA is not what you’d call impressive. Let’s hope the Blackhawks take that opportunity to light the lamp in a humiliating fashion.

Because, in case you haven’t noticed, they are not doing so of late. Apart from Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, the highest individual goal total on the squad is 4 for the year. That’s Patrick Kane’s number; Jonathan Toews has 3; and the rest of the supporting cast is not contributing nearly as much as they should be.

Defensively things are more stable after Brian Campbell’s return, but still not excellent. Goaltending is starting to slip a bit, as Marty Turco may be starting to show signs of wear. The threshhold is 3 goals: when the opponent scores 3 or more, we lose. If they score 2 or fewer, we win. So be on the lookout for that.

Last game’s throw-up-your-hands-and-pray-for-a-miracle coaching decision was to put both Jordan Hendry and John Scott up on the wing, which (as anybody could have guessed) was a catastrophic failure of a magnitude not seen since the Alpo Suhonen era.

Look it up. You’ll get a chuckle.

So this morning the Blackhawks recalled rookie forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford. This, as you’ll recall, is the speedy winger who seemed to gel quite nicely with Patrick Kane during the pre-season, but was handed a Greyhound ticket due to salary cap issues. Morin will be making his NHL debut against the Thrashers: let’s hope it’s a memorable one, for the right reasons.

Game time is 6:00pm. WGN has the TV broadcast this time, and radio as well on AM-720. XM subscribers should look for channel 207.

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A Proposal That Shouldn’t Be Necessary

May 18, 2010 - Sunrise, FL - Florida, USA - United States - (CAV) PANTHERS GM 0518C.CAV - The Florida Panthers newly-named General Manager Dale Tallon is seen during a news conference at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Tallon comes to the Panthers from the Chicago Blackhawks where he is credited for turning around the former cellar-dwellers. Joe Cavaretta, Sun Sentinel.

At the NHL General Managers’ meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, the league’s GM’s will have an interesting proposal in front of them courtesy of ex-Blackhawk GM (and current Florida GM) Dale Tallon. The proposal suggests allowing each team’s coach to have one “coach’s challenge” (meaning video review) per game.

This mimics other sports, college football in particular, where a coach can call for a video review of a play if he feels the call on the field is in error. In college football the team loses a time-out if they are wrong, but not if they are right.

Tallon’s proposal is similar in nature, but it raises the question: why should he have to be proposing it at all?

I once had an argument with a friend of mine concerning instant replay/video review in baseball. His argument was that it was a human game, played by humans, and humans make mistakes. That was part of the game, it works out in the wash, and it would lessen the integrity of the game to introduce video review.

To that, verily I say unto thee, butt-nuggets.

I, as a fan, pay money to go to a game. I cheer for my team, I buy its merchandise, and I have a certain amount of emotional energy wrapped up in the team’s success or failure. For me, the fan who spends the money to buy the ticket, I want the game to be fair and the call to be right. Every. Single. Time.

Does that mean stopping play every time a player takes a shot? Every time somebody falls down? Every time there’s a line change? No. There are limits, there have to be. But any goal, EVERY goal, should be reviewed. Anything that even looks like it might be a goal should be reviewed. Any time a player gets injured — or pretends to be injured! — should be reviewed.

When will they review it? Dunno. How? Dunno. Who will do it? Dunno. Obviously there are a lot of details to be worked out, but fortunately the infrastructure for a comprehensive video review is already in place. But the fans, the players, and the coaches should have the confidence in knowing that they are playing a game that has been called accurately.

What’s the expense? Probably less than 5 real-time minutes a game. What’s the payoff? Solidifying the reputation and integrity of the game. And that’s a lot more important than you might think.

For a very long time there was a figure skating special on every Saturday or Sunday afternoon, because the ratings were dynamite. Nationals, Worlds, exhibitions, you name it. Now? I think you’d have to search long and hard to find figure skating on television outside of the Olympics.

Why? The judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City. Once the fans believed the scoring system was no longer fair, and that tainted officials had the ability to negatively affect results, they fled the sport by the thousands. Ratings suffered, and quite quickly the sport was bleeding revenue by the millions.

Integrity of officiating is no laughing matter. If the NHL is serious about its fan base and its revenue stream, it will consider a robust, if not complete video review regimen that sets a standard for fairness and accuracy in professional sport.

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Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil: New Jersey visits the UC

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 15: Ilya Kovalchuk  of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center on October 15, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So this is what $100 million looks like.

In case your attention was focused too acutely on getting tickets for the Lady GaGa “Monster” tour, there was an auction of sorts happening in the NHL this summer. Mega-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who came over to the Devils in a blockbuster trade with Atlanta at the end of last season, became a free agent. And about five team’s general managers were clamoring over each other to be the first in line to hand over the cash.

So once the deal was done, it turned out the deal really wasn’t done, because Gary Bettman — Supreme Emperor of the NHL — decided he didn’t like it. So it was back to the auction block! When the dust finally settled, Kovalchuk wound up with a deal that will put $100 million in his pocket.

Not bad money, considering he boasts only 6 points and a pathetic -5 rating through 12 games.

Big contracts are par for the course in New Jersey, as the Devils have six players making $4 million per year or more, including names like Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, and Jason Arnott. In that way, their salary structure is a lot like the Blackhawks: a handful of superstars making mega-bucks, and then the rest of the team earning at or near the league minimum. Not surprisingly, both teams are off to a mediocre start.

The salary cap hit got a little lighter on Tuesday, however: doctors performing exploratory surgery on Devils’ forward Zach Parise found a torn meniscus and repaired it during the same session. Parise is expected to miss three months, and will be one less gun in New Jersey’s arsenal when they arrive at the United Center.

But the biggest surprise for the Devils this year has been the so-so goaltending of Martin Brodeur. One hopes in such situations that your backup can carry the load. But Johan Hedberg has had two starts so far this season, and has had to be relieved in both of them. Quite the pickle to be in: your starter slumping, and your backup about as effective as a sixth-grade girl. Needless to say that, despite the coach and GM repeatedly praising the Hall of Fame goalie, the winds of change may be blowing if Brodeur can’t start delivering.

Thankfully, goaltending has yet to be a serious issue with the Blackhawks. But the rest of the team continues to be riddled with injuries, and their replacements have performed (*ahem*) underwhelmingly, to be charitable. The good news is, Brian Campbell made his season debut against the Rangers on Monday, and despite being a little rusty and a step slow, looks to be well on his way to regaining his form. The bad news is, Marian Hossa is still out, and is talking about a return to the lineup next week. Currently he is participating in practice with a “no-contact” designation.

Similarly Dave Bolland has been placed on injured reserve, though his performance so far this season has been so pathetic I doubt anyone would care, or for that matter, notice.

On Tuesday the Blackhawks made the unusual move of sending both Ben Smith and Ryan Potulny back to the AHL affiliate IceHogs. This may simply be a pre-cursor to recalling a different forward for Wednesday’s game, since even with John Scott skating at a wing position, it leaves the team short by one forward. We’ll see what today brings.

The Hawks’ defense looked far more stable against New York than any game to date. Campbell’s return eased the burden on stalwart blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, though Keith still found himself on the ice for over 27 minutes. The biggest bonus, however, was minimizing the ice time for the third defensive pairing, which has been pathetic for the Blackhawks thus far, no matter who it was comprised of.

Look for announcements about call-ups and the starting goaltender following today’s morning skate. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest as it happens.

Game time is 7:30: TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM satellite radio subscribers should turn to channel 208.

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Home On The Range(rs): Blackhawks Take Manhattan

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: Henrik Lundqvist  of the New York Rangers sits on the ice after allowing Erik Cole, of the Carolina Hurricanes, to score the game-winning goal in the third period on October 29, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. The Hurricanes defeated the Rangers 4- 3. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have been the blogosphere’s punching bag for more than a decade now, particularly as the retirement home for over-the-hill veterans to be paid ludicrous sums of money. That strategy resulted in a lengthy streak of teams that missed the playoffs, despite having boasted such luminaries as Leech, Lafontaine, Kovalev, Nedved, Lindros, Barnaby, Bure, Holik, Gretzky, and Messier.

The Hall Of Fame names aren’t as prevalent anymore, though the name Jagr graced the roster as recently as two seasons ago. But that year, the Rangers did make the playoffs. Though the same could not be said for last year. The Rangers have nearly half of their salary cap dollars tied up in just four players, and they missed the playoffs in 2009-10. Despite the reduction in marquee names, the results are the same.

Backstopping the effort is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist boasting an impressive .921 save percentage, though that comes with a 2.76 GAA because of an average of 34 shots against per game. In front of him is a defensive corps comprised of largely competent yet wholly unimpressive individuals, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi anchoring the platoon.

Offense is spread surprisingly evenly, with 11 players above the 4-point mark after 10 games, and only four players off the scoresheets entirely (and three of those having played in only one or two games). Tough guys Brandon Prust and Sean Avery provide the muscle: and as luck would have it, Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal are all out of the Rangers lineup with injuries.

The Rangers bring a 5-4-1 record back into Madison Square Garden for this tilt against the Blackhawks. They are brimming with confidence after a shutout against the Maple Leafs two nights ago, so we can expect them to put up quite a struggle. A win tonight moves them up to 6th place in the Eastern Conference — good enough to make the playoffs.

For the Blackhawks’ part, it’s another patchwork lineup again tonight, though one of the pieces we’ve been missing is reportedly back where it belongs.

Blackhawks’ announcer Ed Olczyk went on NHL Live on the NHL Network today, and confirmed that Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell will make his season debut tonight. Campbell’s return will take a huge load off of overworked blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and should help the +/- stats of Niklas Hjalmarsson — not to mention reduce the amount of playing time for pitiful fill-in Jassen Cullimore. Soupy suffered a sprained MCL in a pre-season game October 1, and his absence has been the hole most desperately in need of filling.

But not the only hole. Winger Marian Hossa is still out, as is underperforming center Dave Bolland. Off-season league-minimum acquisition Ryan Potulny and what-the-@$%$#-is-this-guy-doing-here forward Ben Smith were recently called up from Rockford to provide warm bodies to pretend to fill those voids. The Hawks’ win over Minnesota on Saturday began the process of healing from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the dead-last Edmonton Oilers the previous night. With luck that trend will continue this evening.

Administratively speaking, Bryan Bickell and Nick Boynton are the healthy scratches, no official word on who is starting in net, but there is little reason not to suspect Marty Turco will be in goal.

Game starts at 6:00pm. The NHL Network has national coverage for tonight’s game, though Chicago locals can get coverage on Comcast SportsNet. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will find the game on channel 204.

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Edmonton Remodeled the Basement, But It Still Stinks

Photo: thestar.com

Following the dead-last finish by the Edmonton Oilers last season, the first thing to do was boot Pat Quinn out of his day-to-day role, and up to middle management where he could do less damage. Tom Renney was brought in to steer the team to a better finish than last year. That hurdle could be cleared by a paraplegic tortoise.

Then the team was re-made via the draft, some trades, and the promotion of some youngsters from the minor leagues, Juniors, and the European ranks. Veterans Ethan Moreau, Mike Comrie, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ryan Stone, Chris Minard, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot and Riley Nash were all given early release for good behavior, so as to clear space for the newest victims.

The Oilers brought in some experience in the form of former Blackhawks Colin Fraser and Jim Vandermeer, but mostly young talent — first among them (quite literally) being Taylor Hall, highly-coveted superstar forward and number one overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Edmontonians hailed the super-scoring wunderkind as the next coming of Wayne Gretzky. They would soon be disappointed. Through 8 games, Hall is a minus-4 with only 3 points.

Joining Hall in the category of those most likely to have their skates filled with shaving cream were Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, both of whom had the benefit of lower expectations given the blazing hot spotlight being shined on their teammate. So far they have both performed better than Taylor Hall, but it’s still early.

Goaltending questions also plagued the Oilers in the off-season, as former-Blackhawk netminder and now Edmonton mainstay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin came dangerously close to starting the 2010-11 season in, umm… jail! Found guilty on DUI charges (twice the legal blood-alcohol limit while driving at nearly twice the speed limit) in Arizona, Khabibulin received a fine and a 30-day jail sentence. However, his legal team is appealing, and they managed to convince the judge to let him stay free on bail while the appeal is in progress.

This debacle coming so close to training camp, the Oilers were forced to sign veteran netminder Martin Gerber, who was promptly placed on waivers once Khabibulin weaseled his way out of a stint in the pokey. Khabby is backed up by Jeff Delauriers who has not seen any action to date.

So have the improvements helped? Will Edmonton be able to climb out of the basement? Not so far. Edmonton is (you guessed it) dead last in the Western Conference with a 2-4-2 record, giving up an average of 3.5 goals on 33 shots against per game. The much-hoped-for offense hasn’t materialized as yet either: Defenseman Ryan Whitney is the only player with more than 5 points.

So the Blackhawks face a team with little offense, shoddy defense and porous goaltending, that is also playing the second half of back-to-back games after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout last night. Looks like we have a recipe for an overwhelming Blackhawks victory this evening.

This is all good news, because if ever you wanted to play the worst team in the league, it is when you just lost one of your leading scorers to injury. Already suffering through the lengthy absence of defenseman Brian Campbell, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday that Marian Hossa will be out for the next two weeks with an upper-body injury. Right wing Ben Smith has been recalled from Rockford, and will be in the lineup tonight against the Oilers.

Wait a second. Ben Smith? BEN SMITH? Now we know that Jeremy Morin is not ready to return from his injury yet, so he’s out. But you still have Igor Makarov, Brandon Pirri, and Kyle Beach to choose from. Rob Klinkhammer, as un-exciting as he may be, is also an option. Yet they recall Ben Friggin’ Smith?

I swear, this guy has pictures of Stan Bowman doing the watusi with somebody’s niece. That’s the only way Ben Smith gets the call over these other forwards.

At any rate, the jumbled lines from Wednesday night’s victory over Los Angeles will be jumbled again, which won’t hurt much, since scoring output was no better than when the usual suspects were in their usual places. So expect Coach Joel Quenneville to be playing his 60-minute game of musical wingers.

Defense should be unchanged, though it’s a toss-up as to whom between John Scott and Jordan Hendry will be enjoying press box popcorn for the tilt. Since this is the first game of a Blackhawks’ back-to-back, I expect Corey Crawford to start against Edmonton. Give him the weaker of the two starts to pad his stats a bit.

Game time is 7:30: TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM channel 208.

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UPDATE: Marian Hossa Out “a couple of weeks”

Photo: AP/Yahoo Sports

Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville announced following practice today that winger Marian Hossa would miss “a couple of weeks” with an upper-body injury.

He said that the injury “was not serious in nature” and “would not require surgery.”

Hmmm…

Speculation continues to float that Hossa has sustained a concussion, which the evidence would support. Also possible is a re-injury of the shoulder that required surgery last summer — causing Hossa to miss more than one-quarter of the season.

Hossa has 7 goals and 11 points, second on the Blackhawks in both categories. The Hawks are averaging less than 3 goals scored per game. Losing his output will likely have a negative effect on the team’s standings in the Conference.

Unless some our other million-dollar men can start earning their kibble. Time will tell…

Hawks Beat Kings: Antti Who?

Photo: AP/Yahoo Sports

Blackhawks fans got to see the team put one in the win column at the United Center last night, and against one of the better teams in the league at that. But looking beyond the net result, that’s where the good news ends.

Well, almost. The undisputed star of the game was Blackhawks goaltender Marty Turco, who turned away 33 shots for his fifth win in his last six starts. Turco’s rebound control was nearly flawless, he was mindful of his now-legendary five-hole weakness, and with a little help from his three red, iron friends behind him he put on a Dominic Hasek-like display of acrobatics and aeronautics throughout the game. Turco now boasts a .927 save percentage, good for 3rd in the league among goalies with more than five starts.

Antti… Antti who?

Outside of the crease, however, the news ranged from bad to worse. The bad news was, apart from seeing score sheet contributions from unusual sources, Coach Joel Quenneville’s line shake-up could hardly be called a success. Managing only 28 shots on goal — including a mere two from defensemen whose mothers call them something other than Duncan — the Hawks goal production continues to be a disappointment. The Hawks average under 3 goals scored per game, and they did nothing to boost that statistic last night. Were Kings starter Jonathan Quick in goal instead of backup Jonathan Bernier, the outcome could have been much different. And once again conditioning showed itself to be a weak spot, as was evident at the beginning of the third period.

Then, there’s worse. Blackhawks powerhouse winger Marian Hossa left the game early in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury and did not return. No information was available after the final buzzer, and we will have to wait until a formal evaluation takes place today before we know the extent of his injury — and how much time he is expected to miss.

In case you have been paying too much attention to which porn star is in Charlie Sheen’s closet this week, Hossa missed the first 20-odd games of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery to repair. If that shoulder has been re-injured, we may be looking at weeks, or even months before his return.

Discount Hossa’s contribution to the score sheet, and the Hawks are averaging just barely over 2 goals per game. That’s not enough to keep a .500 record, let alone make the playoffs. Right now we are getting meager (that’s putting it lightly) contributions from the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland and the youngsters in the forward ranks. If Hossa goes under the knife again, and these guys don’t start to crank it up, it is going to be a season we will all want to forget.

Stay tuned here, and join us on Twitter if you haven’t already for the latest news. We’ll be watching the Marian Hossa injury reports come in as they happen, and we’ll pass it along. Say a prayer, rub that rabbit’s foot, or whatever it is you do. This could be big, for all the wrong reasons.

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Kings Visit Chicago: Pardon us while we kick your Majesty’s arse

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 21: Wayne Simmonds  of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates after scoring a second period goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on October 21, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Usually I start these previews by taking a look at our opponent for the night. But there has actually been some turbulence in BlackhawkLand, so it’s worth exploring that first and getting to the Kings in a few minutes.

As you know, Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville is not shy about moving players around the lineup, even in the middle of games. Well, Tuesday at practice he apparently had just drawn names out of a hat, because exactly *nobody* could have predicted what combinations were on display. Observe and be confused:

Line 1: Patrick Sharp / Jonathan Toews / Jack Skille

Sharp back on the wing, where he’s most productive; Jonathan Toews at center, no surprise there; and look who’s earned himself a chance to play with the big boys! Bet he was out ordering the biggest hunk of meat in the joint at Gibson’s last night.

Line 2: Troy Brouwer / Tomas Kopecky / Marian Hossa

Kopecky at center, a position he played while with the Red Wings (*spitting noise*), but the Hawks have yet to try him at this position for anything more than an in-game stint. We have seen how well he seems to work with Marian Hossa, so that seems to make sense. Brouwer will provide some defensive capabilities and a little grit.

Now things get weird.

Line 3: Viktor Stalberg / Dave Bolland / Patrick Kane

The Slump Line. Bolland has been downright depressing, Kane’s hangover seems to have lasted longer than expected, and Stalberg has shown fleeting bursts of exceptional play amid long stretches of demonstrative mediocrity. Two speedy wingers might be a good combination, as we saw with Kane and Jeremy Morin during the pre-season. But merely the fact that Kane is relegated to the third line is a message in itself: pick it up, kid. Those goals don’t score themselves.

Line 4: Bryan Bickell / Jake Dowell / Fernando Pisani

Two fourth line regulars and, in my opinion, one headed for the scrap heap. Pisani was as long a shot as Ryan Potulny, who has already rode the Greyhound out to Rockford. Pisani has been all but invisible so far this season, and while he wasn’t expected to be anything but a role player, the role he’s played so far is “Dead Weight #3.”

All of this is an attempt to get the once-potent Blackhawks offense to kick it into gear. We make a big deal out of this every time Coach Q tries new line combinations in practice. The Twitterscape and Blogosphere nearly had an aneurysm when the initial reports came out of practice. But just watch: after all of this hullaballoo, QStache will have Toews centering Kane and Brouwer, and Sharp between Hossa and Kopecky by midway through the second period.

The Blackhawks got even better news on the Brian Campbell beat: he may be back in the lineup in under a week, making my two-to-three weeks prediction from yesterday look rather foolish. But even more foolish would be bringing Campbell back too early, only to have him suffer a season-ending injury to the same MCL. I hope these doctors know what they’re doing, and don’t screw us harder by bringing him back too soon.

That leaves the defensive pairings just where they were, with John Scott and Jordan Hendry drawing straws to see who sits this one out. Later today we’ll find out who gets the start in net: bank on it being Marty Turco, but follow us on Twitter at @blackhawksup and you’ll know as soon as it’s announced. Come on, you know you want to…

The Hawks will meet up with a Kings team that is off to a very strong start. 6-2 with 12 points, good for second place in the NHL. Anze Kopitar leads the charge for the Kings’ offense, though they are spreading the wealth rather wide: ten players have one or more tallies in only eight games. On the back end, netminder Jonathan Quick boasts a 1.95 GAA with only one loss to speak of. Yikes. The only good news is, defensive wunderkind Drew Doughty will not be in the lineup tonight, having had a setback in his recovery from what is being called an “apparent” concussion.

I’ve had a concussion, and it’s pretty “apparent” when you have one. If you can’t remember getting hit, you have a concussion. Don’t know why they’re beating around the bush.

The off-season was an average one for the Kings. After losing out on the Ilya Kovalchuk Sweepstakes, they went about building their team up with mere mortals. Sean O’Donnell and Fredrik  Modin were among those allowed to walk; long-time Leafs underachiever Alex Ponikarovsky came over from the Penguins, and Canucks’ cast-off Willie Mitchell was brought in to bolster the blue line.

Suffice to say that the LA Kings are rolling, and it’s going to be hard to stop them, especially with our deficient defense and sporadic offense. Game time 7:30pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet; broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will hear the game on channel 208.

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October Mail Bag: Injuries, Trapezoids, and Fool-Idiot Suck-Weasels

Letters... We get letters...

We have a little break in the action, the Blackhawks are enjoying three days off to lick their wounds from the embarrassing losses over the weekend, so we thought it was time to open up the Mail Bag and answer some of your Blackhawks and hockey questions. Lots of new hockey fans in the Chicago area, so remember: there are no stupid questions!

How serious is Brian Campbell’s injury, and when do we expect him back?

— Dave, River North

A sprained MCL (medial collateral ligament, it’s a vertical stretchy thing on the inside of your knee) is not as serious as a torn MCL, so the Hawks dodged a bullet there. Plus there’s good news from the weekend: Mr. Campbell skated for the first time in the last couple of days. He’s on target for his return to the lineup, which is… they’re not saying. But figure at least two more weeks, and maybe three. He’s got to get doctor’s clearance for participating in practices, and then to do contact drills, both of which usually take a week. They’re talking about him returning for the Circus Road Trip, which starts on November 17th. So cross your fingers.

I’ve watched hockey before, and they’ve put some new lines on the ice behind the net that I don’t understand. What do those mean?

— Huey, Mundelein

Nothing whatsoever. It’s called the trapezoid, and in theory it is supposed to be a restricted zone where goaltenders can’t play the puck. But neither the goaltenders nor the referees really know what that means, so play continues as it did before the area was created. Just ignore it.

How come some goals get reviewed and some goals don’t?

— Mika, Kankakee

Because some refs are idiots, and some aren’t! No seriously, in theory every goal is reviewed. But when the guys that review the goals think the refs might have screwed up, they stop the proceedings on the ice and take as much time as they want to in order to sort things out. Whether each goal is *actually* reviewed, I’ve seen enough blown calls to believe that’s not the case.

There is also allegedly a “war room” back in Toronto, where every goal from every game is reviewed to make sure the *reviewers* are getting the call right. But that’s a load of crap. They just got the dedicated satellite feeds because they wanted free Playboy Channel.

Hey! They made a big deal about fool-idiot suck-weasel referee Bill McCreary retiring last year. But then I watched the Blackhawks game the other day, and there he is! What gives?

— Mark, Addison

Yes, they did. And yes, you did. Buckethead is back, and despite being 54 years old and barely able to skate two lengths of the ice without an oxygen mask, Mr. McCreary will be donning the stripes and blowing call after call after call again for the 2010-11 season. Apparently NHL Director of fool-idiot suck-weasels Terry Gregson talked McCreary out of retiring late last season, because apparently there were too many veteran fool-idiot suck-weasels retiring, and the rookie fool-idiot suck-weasels replacing them were actually worse! If you can believe that.

I once watched two games with the Blackhawks playing against Tampa Bay and Florida, during which a grand total of four goals were scored. Replays for each of the four showed very clearly that McCreary, reffing both games, blew three out of the four goal/no-goal calls. That’s a 75% failure rate, and that was over ten years ago. He hasn’t gotten any better since then.

If the Penguins offered to trade Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, do you think we should take the deal?

— Stewart, West Loop

Stew, it is my fervent hope that Jonathan Toews turns into the Blackhawks version of Steve Yzerman, playing his entire career in a Blackhawks uniform and wearing the captain’s ‘C’ until they raise the #19 to the roof of the United Center. I would be surprised if we could keep Patrick Kane that long, as the contract offers that will await him upon the day he becomes an unrestricted free agent will likely be out of reach for the Hawks.

That having been said, I think if the phone rang in Stan Bowman’s office and somebody from the Penguins organization were on the line offering that deal, I think we’d have to sedate the Blackhawks’ GM to keep him from laughing himself to death. I would be hard pressed to find two players on any team right now that match the output — and potential — of Kane and Toews. And the two flame-outs from the Pens that you mentioned definitely don’t come close.

Who do you think the Blackhawks’ biggest rival is this year, Detroit or Vancouver?

— Brian, Joliet

I think the Blackhawks’ biggest rival this year is the Blackhawks from *last* year. The fans won’t be concerned about whether we beat Detroit or Vancouver so much as whether we win the cup again. As Jeff has outlined here recently, it’s a fool’s errand to expect a championship team this year. But that won’t stop the fans’ expectations from being elevated to that point. As for Detroit and Vancouver, we’ll bitch-slap both of them enough for us to enjoy this year. Don’t you worry.

The Red Wings are going to win it all this year!!!

— Chris, Novi, MI

Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, Chris. Now go put your nuts in a toaster.

That’s it for now, but keep those letters and e-mails coming! See you in November with another edition of Mail Bag.

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Some Gotta Win, Some Gotta Lose…

Photo: Getty Images

Since Monday, players on the St. Louis Blues have been doing their usual off-day routine: daily practice, dry-land training, watching last week’s episode of “Glee” over and over and over, and cursing their agent for landing them on  such a suck-bag team.

What they haven’t done since Monday is play a game. That means they are going to be well-rested, fired up in front of the home-town crowd, and looking for revenge after blowing a 2-0 lead with 6 minutes to go in the third and falling to the Blackhawks 3-2 in OT. Their wrists will be a little sore from… well, they’ve had the whole week off, you figure it out.

No changes in the lineup for St. Louis, as Cam Janssen is still not ready to return from the concussion he suffered while masturbating running into his own teammate during a game October 9th. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin will likely split the starts on the Blues Friday/Saturday back-to-back games, but word is we will be facing Halak on Friday.

The Blues hope to win games on defense and goaltending this year, but that plan is already showing its weaknesses. They slid to a 2-1-2 record following Monday’s OT loss to the Blackhawks, and they are going to have to pick up the scoring if they expect to win anything. 14 goals in 5 games is not a recipe for a winning team.

Despite the history between these clubs, there wasn’t much to report in the penalties department from the last outing. A Bryan Bickell/David Backes rematch is possible, but judging from the way the teams played earlier this week, I’m not expecting the gloves to be dropped.

On the Blackhawks’ side, Coach Q seems to have Jordan Hendry, Jack Skille and Viktor Stalberg’s names in a hat and is drawing one after each practice to see who sits. We’ll find out after the morning skate who today’s victim is, the safe money is on Hendry.

One wonders why it won’t be John Scott, who may as well be painted day-glo orange and plopped down on the blue line for guys to skate around. Watching him out there is like watching somebody try to eat linguine with a spork. He simply doesn’t have the tools for the job.

It’s been hard not to notice the production from the “energy line” wingers Skille and Stalberg. With Stalberg displaying his sniper capabilities by flicking one past a stunned Roberto Luongo for the Blackhawks’ only regulation-time goal on Wednesday, we may see those two grow into bigger roles with the team as the season continues.

We are still waiting for the Blackhawks who aren’t named “Hossa” or “Sharp” to start scoring like they are capable of doing. Conditioning continues to be a problem with the Blackhawks, as the OT period against the Blues on Monday illustrated frighteningly. The Hawks were badly out-skated and allowed 7 shots in under 4 minutes of play before Patrick Sharp flipped home the game winner. Shots against was a factor again against Vancouver, with the Hawks giving up 29 in regulation and another 8 in the overtime period. Thank goodness Marty Turco is starting to look very solid between the pipes — but relying on him will come back to bite us, mark my words.

In Brian Campbell news, the injured defenseman is reported to be on target in his recovery from a sprained MCL suffered during pre-season, and should start skating again soon. Look for doctors to clear him to lace ‘em up next week.

Follow us on Twitter at @blackhawksup and you’ll get the latest on healthy scratches and starting goaltenders once they’re announced. Also check back here for post-game wrap-ups and our exclusive “Boxing” feature tomorrow morning.

Puck drops at 7:00, and it’s dropping from a rather sexy hand at Scottrade Center tonight: IRL hottie Danica Patrick will be on hand to help the players pitch some tents. I gotta say, as a race car driver, she’s a great bikini model.

TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 207.

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Thank You Sir May I Have Another: Blackhawks vs. Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are not off to the best start in 2010-11. Their most promising game came Sunday in a 5-1 win over Carolina, and with all the this-is-our-year talk among Canucks fans this fall, you could almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief after that outing. But they followed it up with a 6-2 beat-down at the hands of the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. Suckers…

Speaking of the Minnesota game, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time with another re-hashing of the fan-shoving incident. Rick Rypien is about to become the poster child for You Don’t Fuck With Colin Campbell, so we have one less idiot with an orca on his sweater to worry about this evening.

For those of you who need a refresher on the Canucks, they’re the team that gives us fits every year until we figure out that their goaltender is a headcase who falls apart after he lets in the third goal. Once that happens, the game turns into a shooting gallery.

I actually read an article that claimed Roberto Luongo was the Blackhawks’ “nemesis.” Holy crap: do you WATCH hockey? We made that pansy bitch cry. I got your nemesis right here, chump.

Mr. Luongo and his 3.38 GAA/.888 SVG arrive at the United Center for the first of four shellackings before we bounce them out of the playoffs for the third straight year. He has had the captain’s ‘C’ ripped publicly from his chest, and he brings with him Danielle and Henrietta Sedin, who between them have 18 points so far this year. The rest of the team combined has 24. Explains their 2-3-1 record, doesn’t it?

Some faces have departed since we last saw the Canucks in the playoffs: forwards Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood, and Ryan Johnson; blueliners Willie Mitchell and Brad Lukowich; and backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft are all out the door. Forward Raffi Torres and Manny Malhotra, as well as defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard are new to the lineup. All represent significant upgrades over their departed colleagues.

But the combination hasn’t really gelled so far. The fact that the Sedins are so far ahead of their teammates in scoring indicates that there is much tinkering left to be done. The Canucks’ rear guard has been riddled with injuries early in the season, so we can expect to see guys doing stupid stuff that allows Hawks forwards to squeeze out odd-man rushes and breakaways. Plays right into our hands.

Speaking of the Blackhawks, few changes in the lineup tonight since we’re on such a roll: Jordan Hendry is the likely scratch, Viktor Stalberg is back in, and John Scott shifts back to D. Marty Turco is starting in net, which makes sense: expect Corey Crawford to start one of our back-to-back games on Friday & Saturday.

Despite the outcome against St. Louis on Monday, few would argue that the Hawks didn’t play like crap. Additionally with 13 of the team’s 23 goals thus far coming from Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa, the rest of the lineup had better kick it into gear. Last-minute heroics and between-the-legs acrobatics works against lousy teams; good teams will kick us around like nerf footballs.

The Blackhawks’ defense is still a shambles, as evidenced by the fact that they have let in more goals than all but two teams in the league so far this season. That can’t continue, and we can’t continue to allow nearly 34 shots against per game either. Those two things go hand-in-hand, fellas. In case you’d forgotten.

The good news is, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and we’re leading our division already. This should be a fun one tonight, hard-fought and fast. Let’s hope we come out on the right end of it when the bullhorn sounds.

Odd start time of 8pm tonight, one has to assume that’s to accommodate the Canadian broadcasters. Locally it will be seen on Comcast SportsNet, catch it on broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM channel 206.

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When It’s Time For Leavin’ I Hope You’ll Understand

Photo: AP

The battle of wills appears to be over, and it ended with a wave.

In Monday night’s game against the Blues, Blackhawks’ goaltender and ramblin’ man “Myocardial Marty” Turco skated out of his net to field a puck at the left face-off dot. He stopped. He looked up ice. And he waved.

Some background for you who haven’t been following this closely. The word on Turco when the Blackhawks acquired him in the off-season was that he was a skilled puck-handler, able to deftly wander the defensive zone and become an additional mobile asset on breakouts. This, it was reported, would be particularly helpful on power plays and when opponents were trying to execute a line change. Or for beaning Mike Leggo in the melon when he misses calls so obvious that somebody standing outside the United Center and facing away from the arena could have seen them.

During pre-season we saw this in action: both the good, and the bad. In two separate games Turco wandered up-ice and fired a tape-to-tape saucer pass to our right winger on their blue line. Both of those plays ended with the puck behind their goaltender in the next five seconds. This was an incredible crowd-pleaser, and it showed the potential for Turco’s offensive capabilities.

But the down-side was when Turco would go on his fishing expeditions with opponents in our zone. Twice during pre-season Turco either mis-fired on a pass or was stripped of the puck, resulting in an open-net goal for the opposing team, and Turco himself diving frantically back towards the net looking like a leaping tree frog from a nature special on the National Geographic channel.

The TV broadcasters were even nice enough to use their super-slow-mo feature to show Turco, hanging in mid-air for what seemed like an eternity, all four limbs splayed in abject panic as the puck sails gently past him into the webbing. This was the other side of that double-edged sword Stan Bowman had bought at a discount.

So then, about a week ago there was a suggestion amongst the “legitimate” (ha-ha-ha) Blackhawks press corps that insinuated that perhaps there was the possibility that maybe Coach Joel Quenneville could potentially be growing tired of his number one goaltender making plays that made him look like the freshman goaltender on the St. Mary’s School for Girls JV team. This was whispered, few took note, and nothing more was said.

Then, last night, came the wave.

The wave was aimed at Brent Seabrook.

The wave said, “Come here and get this, I’m not passing it to you up there.” Which he did, and the play continued.

But what the wave really said was, “If I do what my instinct tells me to do, and things go badly with me 30 feet out of my net, Coach Q will have the trainers tape my wiener to my butt-crack, the long way, then make me skate side-boards with my skate laces tied together until Captain Serious believes I’ve learned my lesson.”

And thus, the battle of wills ended, with a wave.

I’m sure that we will see Marty Turco out of his net again, and I’m sure we will see him make bone-headed mistakes again. Every goalie does a few times a season. But I’m reasonably sure that the days of keeping a defibrillator charged and ready every time Turco is announced as the starter have come to an end.

(*sigh*) And I spent all that time thinking up a cool nickname for him…

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Shattered Dreams: A Sticky Situation

Pat Foley: “Welcome back to the action here at the United Center, ladies and gentlemen. Hawks down by one early in the third period, they’re fighting to get back in the game.”

Eddie Olczyk: “Hawks showing a lot of heart, they’re really turned up the gas here in the third.”

Foley: “Here’s Duncan Keith keeping it in, up the boards to Patrick Sharp… Holds there for a moment — now has Jonathan Toews racing towards the net, hits him with a pass, he SHOOTS!” OOOHHH and Toews’ stick shattered into a hundred pieces on that shot!”

Olczyk: “Great opportunity for Toews there, just couldn’t convert as the lumber cost him a scoring chance there, Pat.”

Foley: “Now the Hawks head back into the zone, Marian Hossa pulls up and waits, now hits Duncan Keith on the far point, the ONE TIMER: NO NOT AGAIN! Pieces of Keith’s stick wind up in the netting 75 feet above the ice surface.”

Olczyk: “Tough break for Duncs there Pat, he had the goaltender down and out, all he had to do was get that shot on net. But a broken twig stopped him cold.”

Foley: “Off the turnover, here’s Brent Seabrook now, gains the line, he’s got Davey Bolland with him, the pass across to Bolland— OH WHAT’S THIS! Bolland tries to field the pass, and his stick broke midway up the shaft!”

Olczyk: “Yeah, Pat, it looked like Bolland’s stick just crumpled like an aluminum can when he tried to catch that pass from Brent Seabrook.”

Foley: Now heading back to retrieve the dump-in all by himself is Niklas Hjalmarsson, he has plenty of time as he arrives to pick it — NO! Hjalmarsson’s stick exploded like a water balloon when he touched the puck with his stick!”

Olczyk: “I was talking to a rep from a stick manufacturer last week, Pat. They say they are putting new age materials in these sticks, they are so strong that an elephant can stand on one and it won’t snap.”

Foley: “All evidence to the contrary. Now ready for the face-off, Jake Dowell to take the draw, they’re ready and — GOOD GRAVY! Jake Dowell’s stick disintegrated as he began to take the draw! I don’t even think he touched the puck, did he Edzo?”

Olczyk: “Not at all, Pat. As we look at the replay, he set up for the draw, got his stick in position, now STOP IT RIGHT HERE! The referee still has the puck in his hands. As Jake Dowell gets a tighter grip on his stick, the shaft begins to fall apart like it’s made of sand. It was merely the added pressure he put on the stick when he gripped it that caused it to vaporize. All you young hockey players out there, if you’re dad is buying you these one-piece carbon sticks, you need to be on the lookout for this exact thing.”

Foley: “The Blackhawks, believe it or not, have not had a single shot on goal, but that’s not for a lack of trying. They have suffered, by my count, one hundred and thirty-one broken sticks! Trainer Mike Gapski is on the phone with the equipment manager who is in the car on the way to Total Hockey out in Schaumburg right now. Not sure he’s going to get back in time to save the Hawks tonight.”

Olczyk: “As a former player who was around before all of this one-piece composite business got started, Pat, I can tell you: there’s nothing like a good hunk of ash wrapped in fiberglass when it comes to scoring goals.”

Foley: “We’re waiting for them to clean up the debris as you look here at a picture of Patrick Kane, who as we heard this past week was a bit under the weather, in fact it looks like he’s got a bit of an itchy nose there on the bench.”

Olczyk: “Yeah, he’s asking the stick boy to hand him some tissues he has there on the — Holy Moly, Foley! Did you see that?”

Foley: “I sure did Eddie! Patrick Kane sneezed, and the stick he was holding in his other hand instantly turned to dust!”

Olczyk: “I have never seen anything like this before in my years playing, coaching and announcing the game of hockey. And look at that, the officials are now saying there’s too much debris on the ice, they can’t continue playing.”

Foley: “That will do it from here: the Hawks fall for the first time here at home, and as we sign off the United Center has asked us to inform you viewers that the Nickelback concert scheduled for tomorrow night has been postponed. Apparently the UC facilities personnel will be working around the clock to clean up the shrapnel caused by all the broken composite sticks during this game tonight.”

*     *     *     *     *

Major League Baseball only allows players to use bats made of wood. I’m now convinced they were on to something. This is getting fucking ridiculous.

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Monday Evening Blues: St. Louis Visits Sweet Home Chicago

Photo: Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT

The Blackhawks bookend this week with a home-and-home series starting tonight at the United Center against the St. Louis Blues, who aren’t looking too bad so far this young season. Boasting a 2-1-1 record with wins over Philly and Anaheim, the Blues’ new goaltender Jaroslav Halak has backstopped them solidly with a 2.00 GAA and .909 save percentage. The Blues were counting on that, and so far Halak has delivered.

So far offense has been sparse, with the Blues scoring more than 3 goals only once so far this season. All but one game has been a one-goal margin, and two of their tilts have gone to OT. So the Blues aren’t blowing anybody out of the water so far, and since their marquee player had only 24 goals last season and boasts a NHL-career minus-14 rating, you can bet they’re not going to.

It appears from the box scores on their early outings, the Blues are trying to come out at break-neck speed, score quickly, and ride their early lead to a win. This didn’t work on Saturday against Dallas, and now that the Hawks are once again showing the kind of persistence that won them Lord Stanley’s Cup, it shouldn’t work in Chicago either. Blues dirtbag Cam Janssen is still out with a concussion, apart from that the Blues are healthy and ready to be beaten like the dogs that they are.

On the Blackhawks’ end, fans were puzzled and disappointed to hear the club announce that rookie defenseman Nick Leddy was sent down to the AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs. The kid looked dazed and confused his first two regular-season NHL games, but had steadily improved since then and was showing promise. However this is likely a move designed to get him 20-25 minutes of ice time per game, and groom him for the future. I would not be surprised to see him called up — permanently — after the trade deadline to stick with the Blackhawks through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. We’ll keep the name on your locker, Nick.

With Niklas Hjalmarsson returning from suspension this past Saturday, that leaves him, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook, as our top-three on the blueline. The bottom-four are now (everybody take a deep breath, this is going to hurt a bit) Nick Boynton, John Scott, Jordan Hendry, and Jassen Cullimore. It appears, with Leddy’s re-assignment, that we are going to have to endure this combination until Brian Campbell returns from his injury. Maalox Extra Strength can be found in the handy 16-oz. size at your local Walgreen’s store.

The good news is that the Blackhawks’ offense is kicking it into gear. The plus/minus numbers are still a little dodgy, but we’re starting to see the kinds of things that made Blackhawks hockey exciting last year. Tic-tac-toe passing. Power-play conversions. Short-handed goals. Patrick Sharp snapping in rebounds. Marian Hossa toying with goaltenders and making them cry. And most importantly, sticking with games until the final horn sounds. Our two wins over Buffalo were come-from-behind victories, and that’s the best news of all.

Marty Turco gets the start, and during his last two outings he has stopped all but 5 of 73 shots against. That’s a .931 save percentage. Let’s hope that keeps up. Coach Q was tight-lipped after practice today about lineup specifics, but spies peering over the dasher boards suggest that Jack Skille will be back in the lineup, John Scott will stay up on the wing, and Viktor Stalberg will get a rest.

Puck drops at 7:30, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio AM-720 WGN. XM subscribers can find the game on channel 208. Sirius, aaaah find it yourself.

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No Excuses: Blackhawks vs. Not-The-Buckeyes

Photo: ESPN.com

Columbus, Ohio residents were shocked to learn in early October that they still had an NHL hockey team! Paying so much attention to the still-undefeated and #1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes football team, residents began calling the newspapers and TV outlets wondering who the funny-looking guys were wearing the skates and red-white-and-blue uniforms.

It didn’t help matters that the BJ’s spent late September and early October eating Lutfisk, cabbage, and pickled lingenberries while playing two regular-season games against the Sharks in Stockholm, Sweden. How could anybody pay attention to them, the team wasn’t even in town!

Alas, with so much hullaballoo over OSU and their pigskin performance, not to mention the disappointing season the Blue Jackets had in 2009-10, both media coverage and ticket sales are down noticeably for the Columbus franchise. Add to that a goalie coming off a sophomore slump and a leading-scorer whose effectiveness is waning, and you have the recipe for a, “Who Jackets?” reaction from central Ohio residents.

The just-completed off-season brought one substantial change, and little else. Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel was brought in as a permanent replacement for long-departed Ken Hitchcock, bringing with him a puck-possession style system that the team is having difficulty adapting to.

Apart from that the only brand-name addition to the roster is former Blackhawk and departed Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau who they snatched up on waivers. He is expected to bring some energy back to the team and provide leadership and confidence in what is reported to be a dour locker room scene.

KHL-banished prospect Nikita Filatov has returned to the team after personality clashes last season with Hitchcock and some teammates — many of whom are still on the squad. So while the young sniper has the potential to provide steady and crowd-pleasing offense, there is also the possibility that his attitude presents problems for the team. Only time will tell.

The Jackets have young Steve Mason between the pipes, who followed up a Calder-trophy-winning 33-win/10-shutout season in 2008-09 with a middling performance last year. Flimsy defense in front of him didn’t help the situation, and Mason will have to show his coach that he’s capable of handling the load. The other thing is, even the faithful fans are souring on Mason. If he can’t repeat his spectacular rookie season, or at least show that it’s possible, the coaching staff may lose patience as well and give him the hook.

Though it’s hard to blame Mason exclusively. Word from Columbus is that the Jackets’ defensive corps is big but slow, and they are having trouble adapting to the puck-possession system implemented by Arniel. If the blueliners can’t get with the program, Mason will have his hands full. If he lets in 3 goals on 60 shots, that’s a .950 save percentage. Not Mason’s fault if they lose that one 3-2.

The other factor that that has plagued Columbus is penalties. Their slow defensemen have been compensating with a lot of clutch-and-grab, and the Jackets have already racked up an above-average number of penalties in the early part of this year. Their penalty killing has gotten a workout, and this will likely prove to be a factor as games wear on and benches get shortened.

Let’s hope the speedy Blackhawks forwards take advantage of that, and we should expect to see all guns blazing as the Hawks come into the attacking zone. All guns except one, that is: Patrick Kane didn’t make the trip to Columbus, having sat out practice on Thursday with an illness.

In an unusual move, defenseman Jassen Cullimore got on the plane out of Rockford this morning and will be on the bench tonight. The groans from Blackhawks fans who know of Cullimore’s barely-AHL-caliber play could be heard all the way in Columbus. Goodness knows how Coach Q is going to shuffle the cards tonight — perhaps moving blueliners Jordan Hendry or John Scott up to a wing? — but this twist will make for an interesting game.

Kane’s absence is icing on the cake to a couple of weeks chock full of roster challenges. The Hawks are still without Niklas Hjalmarsson (suspension) and Brian Campbell (injury) on the back end. Expect Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to test the limits of their endurance once more, as the supporting cast behind them is still struggling to, you know, play defense. Marty Turco gets the start tonight amid unconfirmed reports that Coach QStache is growing weary of Turco’s bone-headed out-of-the-crease activities.

But regardless of who is in, who is out, who’s in net, who’s on D, and who’s playing 59 minutes per game, there are no excuses tonight. There are few scenarios where the Blackhawks can’t kick the holy living crap out of Columbus. Most pundits are putting the Blow Jerkers either last or next-to-last in the Conference this year. We should take every game from them, including this one. So I want to see nothing but elbows and assholes tonight, fellas: we need one in the ‘Wins’ column, and I’m not taking no for an answer.

Puck drops at 6pm Chicago time, TV is Comcast SportsNet, WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio, XM channel 204, and you Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers look for channel 208.

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The Evil Troll & Company Steal One In The UC

Photo: The Tennessean

By now you’ve either seen, heard, or read about the Blackhawks’ snooze-inducing loss to the Nashville Predators, Barry “The Evil Troll” Trotz leading his crew of injury replacements to a late-3rd-period game winner that sealed the deal against Chicago.

I’m not going to give you the blow-by-blow, as it will likely put you to sleep — just like the second period of last night’s game did. Typical Nashville, but just like last year’s playoff series, whatever it is they do, they seem to throw the Hawks off their game every time. Last night was no exception: the forwards could barely get anything going, and the defense looked like they all had their skates on the wrong feet.

Some quick thoughts about the ups and downs:

– Rookie Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his first NHL start. So he’s probably sitting at home milking the moose right now, thinking about last night’s win and dreaming of his Ryan Miller-esque contract demands. Well, don’t rub it raw there, Andy. Next time we see you it may be 50 shots coming at you instead of 25. Even blind mice find cheese every once in a while. This ain’t over.

Dave Bolland was easily one of the most consistent, over-performing players throughout the playoffs last year. Now he looks like he’s playing over-40 Men’s League. Is he injured? Sick, maybe? Did his hamster die? Something has to change there. He’s a liability right now.

– Viktor Stalberg hasn’t impressed me with any exceptional bursts of speed quite yet. What impressed me last night was his shot. The kid can unload, both slap shot and wrist shot. More accuracy, and he’s going to have goalies wondering how it got behind them so fast.

– If Patrick Sharp hasn’t fully recovered from whatever “undisclosed injury” he suffered last week, get him off the ice. Right now he’s playing like old people have sex: slow and sloppy. We need him at full capacity, and if that means letting him have two weeks off, so be it.

– If there is one thing I would work on with this team right now, it’s conditioning. The Hawks used to out-skate teams by 10 minutes into the second, and dominate by halfway through the third. That needs to happen again if we are going to put up good numbers this season.

Corey Crawford played even better against Nashville than he did against Buffalo. He was screened on the first goal, the second was a deflection, and the third was a PK defensive lapse that left Joel Ward standing by the far post with enough time and space to smoke a cigarette and chat up the girls in the front row before snapping in the game-winner. Crawford has great reaction time, he’s squaring to the shooter well, he’s seeing the ice much better, and his rebound control is improving. Suffice to say I have a good deal of confidence in our backup goaltender.

– When Niklas Hjalmarsson comes back on Saturday, give Duncan Keith the night off. The guy is killing himself out there, and it doesn’t help his game, and it doesn’t help the team. He can’t be two defensemen, he can only be Dunc. Right now he’s being whipped like a rented mule, and it’s going to take a toll.

– Speaking of which, I would like to see a return to the Niklas Hjalmarsson we saw during the last regular season. He’s been trying to be a cross between Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell, and in the process he’s turned into Alain Nasreddine. Stop it, Nik. You’re no good to us this way.

– The Blackhawks had four — that’s FOUR — shots on goal in the third. That means I had only four shots fewer than the entire team while sitting on my living room couch and arguing with my cat about whose roast beef sandwich that really was.

– It’s my belief that this line juggling and musical defensemen is contributing to this crappy start. I know it’s Coach Q‘s way of doing things, but you can’t develop chemistry with guys who you only play with for three shifts a game. Look at it this way: it can’t get much worse if we stick to set lines for an entire game. Why not try it once, see what happens.

The Hawks are at Columbus on Friday, and you can bet Buffalo will be puttin’ on the foil to get a crack at Hammer when they visit the UC on Saturday. Check back here for previews before and wrap-ups after each game, and we’re always good for some laughs at others’ expense. Hey, they say stick to what you’re good at.

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Cats Without Fangs: Injury-Riddled Predators Visit Chicago

Photo: The Tennessean

Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich. Ever heard of them? Me neither. But one of them will be between the pipes for their first NHL start when the injury-depleted Nashville Predators arrive at the United Center for the game against the Blackhawks.

During Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, usually-impenetrable starting goaltender Pekka Rinne suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury and is out for, well, they’re not saying.

And seriously, is this “undisclosed injury” crap ever going to end? Tell the truth: the guy took a puck in the man-jigglies.

Lindback, a gangly 22-year-old Swede at 6’ 6” tall, is the likely choice to get the start — his first in North America — after coming in to relieve Rinne on Saturday night. He stopped all seven shots in 17 minutes of play during that game. But that’s 17 minutes more than Dekanich has ever played in the bigs, so the Predators had better hope Lindback is up to the task. Not an enviable position to be in when your star goalie is out.

In fact, the Preds will be without many of their effective weapons for this tilt with their Central Division rivals, as Martin Erat, Jamie Lundmark and Sergei Kostitsyn are all out of the lineup with various (wait for it…) undisclosed injuries. In fact, the entire thing is so secretive, I’ve heard that all of the players will wear number double-zero with no names on their jerseys so that the Hawks don’t even know who is on the ice!

Incognito or not, we can expect to see former Blackhawks J.P. DuMont and Speedy Stevie Sullivan, and we can also expect Barry Trotz’s minions to play a style of hockey that could put a crack-addicted gerbil to sleep. Pinch and press, dump and loiter, four-men across at their own blue line. It’s like a concert where the band just plays “Wooly Bully” over and over endlessly.

This will be just the second game of the year for Nashville, so we have little to go on past their 4-1 win over league-scourge Anaheim on Saturday. With so many guns absent from the arsenal, it’s anybody’s guess how the Preds will respond. Look for newly-minted captain Shea Weber to try to rally the troops against the defending champs.

And speaking of the Blackhawks, getting a win under their belt was no-doubt a confidence builder. And in a move that came as a surprise to everyone, late Wednesday afternoon Coach Q named Monday’s winning goaltender Corey Crawford for tonight’s start. No suggestion that Marty Turco was either injured or falling out of favor: the Hawks schedule has them in 4 games over the next 6 days, and the Coach is merely putting his ducks in a row to get the right ‘tender up against the right opponent.

The forward corps are looking reasonably good. Patrick Sharp returned on Monday after missing the Detroit (*spitting noise*) game with — you guessed it — an undisclosed injury, and he was a factor in the win over the Sabres. Newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille are working their butts off; Patrick Kane is starting to catch fire; and Marian Hossa is already as hot as a two-dollar pistol with five points in three games.

Some of our expectations of our veterans haven’t been met, in particular Dave Bolland whose face-off percentage looks like he’s using a badminton racquet instead of a hockey stick. Here’s hoping that turns around quickly.

News on defense is not so good. Already reeling from the absence of the injured Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson has earned a two-game suspension from the league for his hit on Jason Pominville during Monday’s game. That leaves Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both already logging 28+ minutes per game, to hold down the fort with an unstable compliment of rookies and lesser-talented veterans behind them.

Never mind the fact that both Dunc and Seabs have made an uncharacteristically large number of bone-head plays themselves so far this young season. All it took was one injury and one ill-conceived hit, and suddenly our best-in-the-league defense looks barely capable of stopping a beach ball. Tonight will be a big test of who can (and does) step up.

Rallying from two goals down in the Sabres victory says a lot about this team. One of the best traits of the Stanley Cup Championship lineup was that they *never* gave up on a game. I’m hopeful that what we saw on Monday was the beginning of that attitude returning to the Hawks’ locker room.

Puck drops at 7:30 at the United Center, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, XM channel 208, Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers can find the game on channel 217.

Check back here for the wrap-up and commentary Thursday morning.

That’s Gonna Leave A Mark

Photo: Buffalo News

When you play baseball, you can tell when a hit is going for the wall. There’s a certain feeling in the bat, that perfect connection between two objects in motion, and the feel of it says, “Bye-bye.”

Slap shots in hockey have the same feel to them when you “get all of it.” Pros have that feeling pretty much every shot. My slap shot sucks, so I felt it maybe twice in my years of amateur hockey.

But hits can have that same eerie resonance to them as well. Those I was good at. My favorite setup was catching a forward skating towards me, looking back over his shoulder to catch a pass. Happened maybe once per season. Time it just right, and you drop a shoulder into his sternum at the exact instant the puck hits his stick — BOOM. He goes down like he’s been hit in the chest by a wrecking ball.

That was the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. You could see it on the replays: he dropped like a stone. After his head ricocheted off the boards a couple of times, I mean.

Late Tuesday Niklas Hjalmarsson received a two-game suspension for the hit on Pominville. I had guessed three. During the preceding 12 hours I had heard the Old-Time-Hockey chorus around Chicago chiming in that they didn’t think it even deserved a penalty, let alone a suspension. Similarly, the Buffalo faithful were advocating that the league throw the book at him. That’s to be expected.

I actually read some barely-literate chucklehead comment on TSN.ca and suggest a suspension of 40 games. Holy bird turds, it’s pro hockey, not powderpuff soccer. Get a grip.

Let’s deal with the not-even-a-penalty suggestion first. From the NHL rule book, “Rule 41″ and “Rule 42″ respectively:

Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

“Charging: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”

The ref had both of these as options for the Hjalmarsson hit, as the play very easily met both of these descriptions. It was called on the ice as a boarding major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. So it’s quite plain to all but the most biased observer that *some* penalty should have been called — and it was.

There is also the new “Rule 48″ which addresses blind-side and/or head-targeted hits, which is new this year:

Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.

The league would have announced this as the cause for the suspension if that were the case, since it would have been the first one they ruled on. They made no such announcement, so I have to believe they did not feel the hit fell into the description as noted above. I think most casual observers would agree with that assessment.

So: not a blind-side hit, no intent to injure, not targeting the head, then why the suspension? In my opinion, it’s a question of PR.

This hit made the news. It was likely shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, because they love good video that they can slow down and make viewers watch as bodily parts do things they were never intended to do in the interest of sport, while commentators who know precious little about hockey at all say, “Yeah Dave, that’s gonna leave a mark.”

It would have made the Buffalo newscasts, and other hockey markets as well. The follow up stories (when they show the hit and Pominville’s stretcher-bound exit yet again) will tell everyone that Pominville suffered a concussion, needed 8 stitches, and will be out a minimum of a week. This presents a PR problem for the league. There’s really no provision in the rule book that justifies a suspension per se, but they can’t do nothing.

If the league lets Hjalmarsson off with no suspension, then sports columnists and commentators get on their high horse about the league turning a blind eye to the needless violence that is now making a comeback. Next thing you know there’s some fool-idiot petition circulating about stopping innocent children from playing or watching hockey. And Lord love a duck, if Don Cherry says something about it on Hockey Night in Canada, then just look out. Every time that old bastard opens his mouth it’s as if somebody had skated to center ice and set a basket of kittens on fire.

Understand that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff. If you’re reading this, you can likely quote the number of games Alexander Ovechkin got for the hit that sidelined Brian Campbell last year. But 99% of the people who only see the news reports about this incident and don’t follow hockey at all. So because these people have the attention span of a gnat, the league only has one shot at controlling the message.

The only way to do that is to move quickly and give the appearance of firm and definitive action. Get the suspension, whatever it is, done quickly — and make sure it’s made public before the 6pm news sportscast goes on the air. You’ll notice that was the precise timing for this announcement.

The league brings this on itself. The rules of the game don’t — and can’t — accommodate for every single circumstance. So when something new or unique comes up, they have to wing it. This opens up debates precisely like this one, and because of the completely secretive and often-times incomprehensible means by which they choose whom and what to punish, they look like idiots, and the sport looks like a joke.

But in the absence of a set of rules that turns hockey into basketball (MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!) we’re going to have to put up with this.

So, Niklas, enjoy your two games off, have some press box popcorn, and we’ll see you next week.

*     *     *     *     *

In other news, the league also handed out a two-game suspension to Islanders’ defenseman James Wisniewski, for being a dick-head.

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