2010-11 Game Previews

Blackhawks vs. Ryan Mill— umm, Buffalo

Photo: viewfrommyseats.com

Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.

Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”

The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.

If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.

However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.

Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.

Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.

Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.

Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.

On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.

After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.

I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.

The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.

Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.

Follow BlackhawkUp.com @blackhawksup and on Facebook
Download Blackhawk Up’s FREE iPhone and Droid apps

Detroit (*spitting noise*) vs. Chicago: Invasion Of The Colostomy Bags

Photo: AP

Seems the Red Wings organ-eye-zation didn’t care too much about my vicious evisceration of their geriatric lineup, as the only assisted-living candidate that was cut from the team late in the pre-season was Kirk Maltby.

Don’t let the oxygen tank hit you in the derriere on the way out the door, gramps.

But you can be sure to see five more of the skating senile on Saturday night, all north of 37 years of age: Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood.

As predicted, barely any of the young mustangs in the Detroit stables made the team: Justin Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz will bring his -11 rating from last season to the forward ranks; and Jakub Kindl, still fuming from his not-unexpected defeat during the copyright infringement lawsuit with Amazon.com, will be on the blue line.

Detroit brings with them the usual cast of characters: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen, and prodigal Euro-trash Jiri Hudler fresh off an I’m-taking-my-football-and-going-home contract dispute that landed him teaching pre-schoolers how to tie their skates in Russia for a year. Or something.

Our pre-season win against the Motor City’s limp and incontinent came with leaky sieve Osgood in net, and however I’d be surprised if we were so lucky this outing. You can bet Jimmy Howard will be between the pipes, and he’s a more formidable backstop, if only due to the fact that he doesn’t soak his teeth between periods. We’ll see what Coach Cranky Pants decides to do.

All kidding aside, whatever the Scum are doing, it appears that they are firing on all cylinders to start the year: last night they blanked Anaheim 4-0. Let’s hope the back-to-back games gives us the advantage.

For the Blackhawks, it’s likely the same lineup we saw against Colorado, with the likely exception of defenseman Nick Boynton replacing either Jordan Hendry or John Scott. You will continue to see the same 12 forwards in the lineup for the foreseeable future, as injuries and salary cap restrictions mean we can only carry 12 on the roster right now. So everybody plays. Yee-ha…

The fun begins at 7:30pm, and what fun it will be. Expect Lord Stanley’s Cup to make an appearance at center ice, as the Blackhawks raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center prior to dropping the puck.

And won’t that be a treat for the Detroit (*spitting noise*) players to watch. Chicago is “Hockey Town” now, bitches.

Follow BlackhawkUp.com @blackhawksup and on Facebook
Download Blackhawk Up’s FREE iPhone and Droid apps


Defending the crown: ‘Hawks open season vs. Big Falling Snow Pile

Photo: nhlsnipers.com

The Colorado Avalanche come into the 2010-11 season confounding even the most dedicated fans and the most astute prognosticators. Where will they finish this year? Well, anywhere from last to first. That’s all anyone is willing to commit to.

Well, maybe not first.

So what gives? Last year at this time the Avs were considered to stink like a month-old urinal cake. But then they rode the borderline spectacular play of goaltender and former Blackhawks draft pick Craig Anders(s)on — inside joke, for those of you who remember that far back — into the eighth place spot in the Western Conference and earned a trip to the playoffs. They were dispatched handily by San Jose, but nobody expected to see them anywhere but the golf course and self-help seminars beyond April 4th.

Last year’s miracle performance is exactly why nobody is willing to commit to any firm predictions about this year’s team.

From front to back: the forwards are a huge question mark, as a team just as young as the Blackhawks has the potential to deliver either the season of their lives, or fall victim to the sophomore slump. Paul Statsny leads the team up the middle, with two 19-year-old centers behind him in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Can they follow up last year’s performance? Pre-season would suggest otherwise, as the club managed to score more than two goals in only one of seven outings. So right away the offensive situation gets called into question.

Defense is even less inspiring, as 39-year-old Adam Foote is the only marquee name on the blueliner corps. The group will have to cut down the 31 shots against that they *averaged* last season if they want to have any hope of succeeding this year.

Which brings us to goaltending, and the out-of-nowhere performance of the afore-mentioned Mr. Anders(s)on, played this Thursday by Hugo Weaving.

After several failed attempts to ascend to something more than a backup-to-the-backup with both the Hawks and the Florida Panthers, he was acquired to play a similar role with the Avalanche. But fate stepped in, and before long he found himself in the starter’s role and rescuing a team of rookies and misfits night after night.

So was this a fluke? Can Anders(s)on keep it up? Again, pre-season suggests otherwise, as Peter Budaj was the one in net for the only two wins of pre-season, with Anders(s)on between the pipes for three losses.

So as you see, no easy answers. What team will show up on any given night, including this one, is anybody’s guess.

And just for your amusement, attendance is not quite what the Avalanche were experiencing in the Patrick Roy/Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg days. To entice more Denvernians to the Pepsi Center, the team is offering a free day lift ticket to the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort for every seat purchased. Remember folks, this is for the HOME OPENER.

On the Blackhawks’ side however, more is known about the team we will see when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season. Underachiever Ryan Potulny and career minor-leaguer Jassen Cullimore lived down to everybody’s expectations during camp, and were placed on waivers Tuesday. They cleared on Wednesday, and with luck that’s the last we’ll see of either of them.

Nick Leddy was at practice wearing a number 8 jersey, a move that we can assume is permanent for him. There does not appear to be any historical significance to the move; he wore number 5 at the University of Minnesota.

Coach Joel Quenneville was tinkering with lineups at practice the last two days, and for the first ten minutes of the game at least (until he gets impatient and plays musical wingers like he usually does) we could see Fernando Pisani alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. The only other move that could surprise fans is seeing Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line with Jake Dowell and Jack Skille. But don’t expect that to last either, this may be a what-do-we-do-with-Stalberg experiment that will last maybe one period.

Nick Boynton was suspended for one regular season game by Colin Campbell and the NHL Thought Police for what was very obviously a semaphore signal meaning “I enjoyed the cannoli very much, please thank your wife for me.” He can return Saturday against Detroit (*spitting noise*).

Late start for this one, puck drops at 9pm Chicago time. Carried on TV nationally by Versus and VersusHD, radio is WGN. No Comcast pre-game, since they are carrying the Bulls(hit) vs. Mavericks exhibition game.

Follow BlackhawkUp.com @blackhawksup and on Facebook
Download Blackhawk Up’s FREE iPhone and Droid apps

Blues In G

Photo: iOrder.com

The St. Louis Blues made the first, and one of the biggest off-season moves by snitching playoff hero goalie Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal management was pilloried in the local media, as fans in St. Louis wondered if their team had just acquired a gift from the hockey gods or just another flash in the pan.

But Blues GM Doug Armstrong was not anywhere close to being finished. Before the summer was out, he had acquired Vladimir Sobotka from Boston and prospect Stefan Della Rovere from Washington, drafted Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and re-signed a solid core of restricted free agent veterans.

The bad news for Blues fans was that 18-year vet Keith Tkachuk (bless you) decided the time had come for a permanent Saturday morning tee time, and the shadow-of-his-former-self but still lovable Paul Kariya would sit out the year in the hope that lingering post-concussion syndrome symptoms would subside and let him continue his hockey career.

But the new offensive guns should more than make up for the loss in production from those is-he-really-still-playing vets. The story with the blues will be, will spectacular goaltending show up, and will it be enough to make up for a sizable but ineffective blue line corps.

For the Blackhawks, I can just imagine Joel Quenneville’s speech to the guys before the game tonight: “Okay, you young guys, I’m SERIOUS now! I want to see some effort out there! This REALLY REALLY IS your last chance to make the opening night roster, or Stan is going to go out and sign Robert Lang and Kyle Calder and ship the load of you to Toledo!”

Tuesday’s effort was middling at best, though none of us got to see it. The same can be said of tonight’s tilt, as you’ll have to be sneaky to find yourself a live video stream of the game outside of the St. Louis area. If you do, post below as a comment please.

The Blackhawks’ final roster cuts will come tomorrow, but honestly I think that Coach Q has his mind made up already. Guys that only turn it on when threatened with a demotion to the minors don’t belong on this team.

Puck drop 7pm, and we’ll see tomorrow what our 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks will look like.

Follow BlackhawkUp.com @blackhawksup and on Facebook
Download Blackhawk Up’s FREE iPhone and Droid apps

Detroit (*spitting noise*) Preview

Photo: http://www.bittenandbound.com

When the Detroit Red Wings open the regular season for 2010-11, it is likely that nine of the twenty players on the bench that night will be 35 years of age or older.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the team has entered into a sponsorship deal with Depends(tm) Undergarments.

The usual suspects are back — Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary, Nick Lidstrom, yadda-yadda-yadda — leaving very few openings for youngsters. So I’m not going to bother reviewing them, they won’t be in a Wings uniform this year.

Red Wings management lobbied hard in the off-season to get permission for Tomas Holmstrom to bring his walker on to the ice, but were ultimately denied.

Coach Scowl is back, trying to continue his quest for the Guinness Book of World Records for the most time without smiling.

Veterans not in the lineup tonight: Todd Bertuzzi (gout), Kris Draper (rheumatism), Brian Rafalski (attending the wedding of his granddaughter), and Chris Osgood (“Oy, my back!”).

The league has granted an additional :30 during each TV time-out, to allow trainers to empty Ruslan Salei‘s colostomy bag.

The only roster moves of any significance are bringing in Mike Modano for reasons nobody can figure out, and the return of prodigal son Jiri Hudler from the KHL.

And there you have it: the 2010-11 Detroit Red Wings. Brought to you by the AARP, AmeriGlide Mobility Aide Power Scooters, and Island Pines Residential Assisted Living Center of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

Corey Crawford starts in net for the Blackhawks; Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, and Kyle Beach are all expected to be in the lineup. Puck drops at 6:00pm Chicago time, TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet.

Follow BlackhawkUp.com @blackhawksup and on Facebook
Download Blackhawk Up’s FREE iPhone and Droid apps


Lightning To Strike in Winnipeg

Photo: Nick Moir

Much was made of the off-season moves by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they first brought in Steve Yzerman as GM, who then brought in AHL and Major Junior coaching enigma Guy Boucher as Head Coach. Many trades ensued and free agents were signed, and the result is that the Lightning team that will take the ice against the Blackhawks in Winnipeg may be a little (*ahem*) shocking.

First, to the personnel. Consistent, if past-their-prime forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis return to join young powerhouse Steven Stamkos. Those three players accounted for just over half of the goals scored by the Lightning last year, so more scoring punch was definitely needed. So Simon Gagne was acquired from the Flyers, and Coach Boucher must now fill out the ranks with the least of many evils from the youth and middling veteran talent that remains in camp. Two long-time veterans from the KHL were acquired in the form of Johan Harju and Niklas Persson, but only time will tell if that experiment delivers the jolt it was intended to.

On defense, youngster Victor Hedman is now joined by four relatively steady, but by no means spectacular veterans: Pavel Kubina, Matthieu Roy, Brett Clark, and Randy Jones. Defense was Tampa Bay’s biggest problem last year, allowing 260 goals against, fourth-worst in the league. However it is puzzling to try to figure out what Yzerman’s strategy is, not bringing in a marquee defensive pair to anchor the team. One problem at a time, I guess.

Which brings us to goaltending. To replace the departed Antero Nittymaki, Yzerman has acquired yawn-inducing Dan Ellis, who spent last year with Nashville amassing a barely-winning record and a .909 save percentage over 31 games. Not exactly the kind of guy who can energize a team or its fans. In fact, the biggest headline Ellis has made in his NHL career actually came about because of a comment he made on his Twitter account.

But there appears to me some method to Yzerman’s madness. Believe it or not, it appears that what the first-year GM is hoping to do this season is win using the member of the organ-eye-zation least likely to score a goal, block a shot, or make a save: his coach.

Guy Boucher holds a post-graduate degree in Sports Psychology, and has implemented a radical offensive system not seen before in the NHL with any consistency, called a 1-3-1 forecheck. The first man into the zone pushes the puck to the outside, while the strong-side defenseman and remaining two forwards press to that side three-across, leaving one defenseman to cover counter-attacks.

Boucher has run the system with significant success. In his first year behind the bench with the Hamilton Bulldogs he racked up 52 wins, good for the second-best record in the AHL. The 1-3-1 has been the exclusive focus of the Bolts’ training camp efforts. The specific details are either a big secret, or so complicated that nobody is willing to talk about them and risk looking like an idiot. Even the Tampa Bay press is mostly cloudy on the subject.

Boucher and the Bolts will premiere this new strategy Tuesday night against Dallas. What success they have with it remains to be seen, and it should be noted that the three big offensive threats mentioned earlier will be resting against the Stars to be fresh for when they meet the Hawks in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

So they’re throwing the big guns at us right out of the gate, and word late Tuesday is that Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith, will all be in the lineup for the Blackhawks. Add to that some fully-loaded up-and-comers in Igor Makarov, Viktor Stalberg, and Jeremy Morin, plus Nick Leddy on defense. And Coach Q, not being one to keep the public waiting, is giving us a taste of Marty Turco in his first outing as a Blackhawk. He will split the game with moderately talented and definitely unpronounceable Hannu Toivonen.

So the fans in Winnipeg should be in for a doozy. Or, depending on whether Boucher’s 1-3-1 can work at the NHL level (and if the Lightning players have had enough practice to execute it properly), we may see a game of shinny erupt and a 15-2 Blackhawks victory.

Either way, it will be one Blackhawks fans won’t want to miss. And thankfully, with Comcast Sports Net covering this and two other home games, they don’t have to!

Follow BlackhawkUp.com @blackhawksup and on Facebook
Download Blackhawk Up’s FREE iPhone and Droid apps