2010-11 Game Previews
So what can you say about last night’s game against Dallas? How do you put a positive spin on that? “At least we had a good first period?” “Marty Turco was great up until the shootout?” “We managed to get a point out of it?” “Look on the bright side: we could have been playing the Islanders?”
Wednesday was a busy day for the Blackhawks in a couple of ways. The ‘Hawks traded under-performing winger Jack Skille and two forward prospects to Florida for C/W Michael Frolik and what some say is an outstanding young goaltender now playing in Europe. Following that news, the team then took the ice and beat last-place Edmonton in convincing (but by no means impressive) fashion, stopping their losing skid at two games and pulling even on their 6-game road trip.
Hopefully these two events represent a turning point for everyone in the organ-eye-zation. The playoffs are 28 games away, and right now we’re not in them. It appears that Stan Bowman is getting serious, hopefully the team will follow his lead as they head south to take on the Stars.
The reaction following Monday’s loss to Calgary was swift and severe. Duncan Keith’s F-bomb from the post-game interview expressed the frustration felt by players, coaches and fans alike: no matter what the solution is, the ‘Hawks need to find it. Fast.
Tonight’s game will most likely tell the tale. Are the Blackhawks going to learn from this, get their shit together and start playing like they are capable of? Or are they going to fold and let the teams in the highly-competitive Western Conference relegate them to the “also-ran” category for the post-season?
Tuesday the Blackhawks were greeted at practice with what’s called a ‘bag skate.’ The precise origin of the phrase is a point of contention, but the definition is undisputed: doing skating drills so hard for so long that somebody starts shouting groceries. Watch the movie ‘Miracle’ for a classic example. In pre-season it is sometimes used to help whip summer-softened players into game shape. With 30 games to go in the regular season, this was punishment.
So the message has been sent, and received. Monday’s performance was crap, it won’t be tolerated, and the time to start playing up to expectations is right fucking now.
The Calgary Flames lost in a shootout to Los Angeles on Saturday, ending their 6-game winning streak. In the last 10 games, the Flames are 7-1-2. That’s 16 points out of a possible 20 — more than the last-10-game stretch for any other team in the Western Conference, and topped only by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the East. They have earned enough points to now leap-frog the Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings by a single point. To say this team is “streaking” is like saying the sun is kinda warm.
Jay Feaster’s ascension to the GM post has had its desired effect, so it seems.
Canada is known for its pacifism, however if you wear a Blackhawks jersey in downtown Vancouver you’re likely to get the snot beaten out of you. Mention the Canucks in Chicago, and the response will likely be, “Yeah, we’ve had their number for years.” Mention the ‘Hawks in Vancouver, and you’re likely to get spit on. They HAAAAYYYYTTTEEE us up there. And with good reason.
We bounced them out of the playoffs the last two years in a row, when they were convinced that they were going all the way.
Sure, the Blackhawks had a great time down in Raleigh rubbing elbow pads with the rich and famous. Sure, Patrick Sharp was named MVP of the All-Star Game with a goal and four (that’s right, I saw the replays, FOUR) assists. Sure, Patrick Kane tossed a did-he-just-do-that saucer pass to former mate Dustin Byfuglien that he buried so deep in the net the refs had to use repelling gear to retrieve it. Sure, Jonathan Toews did a spin-o-rama move before potting one of his own. Sure, even former Blackhawk Martin Havlat had a decent night, and every current and former Blackhawk on the ice on Sunday ended up on the scoresheet. And sure, aside from all the shenanigans in Dixie, Brian Campbell got engaged.
Hopefully our arms aren’t still sore from patting ourselves on the back, are they boys? Because vacation’s over. Enough putzing around. It’s time to go to work. Now listen up.
Has it really been seven months?
Seven months and twelve days, to be exact. The rosters have changed somewhat, the puck is still missing, and Chris Pronger is still a consummate fucktard. Philadelphia still has goaltending problems, Chicago is still relying on a rookie netminder to carry the load, and I think we’ll see later today that these two teams still hate each other’s living guts.
The Chicago Blackhawks have an important two games this weekend with the division rival Predators, who just had a six-game win streak come to an end with a 3 – 2 loss to Florida. We know this team and their strategy well: aggressive two-man forecheck; three-across modified trap defense; and stingy — but not impenetrable — goaltending.
The Preds are 2nd in the league in goals against, but 24th in goals scored. Their leading scorer Patrick Hornqvist has a whopping 13 goals. Patrick Sharp has 25 goals, and the Blackhawks have 6 players with 10 goals or more.
So the key for this weekend will be breaking out of our zone, smashing through their defense, and pummeling their goaltender. Also mission-critical: ZERO mistakes in our own zone. Having Nick Boynton out of the lineup should help to minimize that problem. We lost the first two games to these guys this season, but took the third in a definitive 4 – 1 victory at home on December 22 — battering goaltender Anders Lindback with 35 shots. Repeat that performance, and we’re golden.
So that’s the Predators in a nutshell: now on to more important matters. There are several things to be on the lookout for with the Blackhawks, first among them rookie goaltender Corey Crawford. Craw-daddy has a 120+ minute shutout streak going, and will start again tonight in Nashville.
First up, let’s dispense with the “gotta be a record” talk. The modern era record is 323 minutes set by Brian Boucher with Phoenix in 2004. But the longest shutout streak in the history of the NHL is held by Alec Connell of the Ottawa Senators back in 1927 — 461 minutes, 29 seconds. Seven and a half games.
But the really interesting talk involves a certain trophy that starts with a ‘C’ that is given to the top rookie in the NHL. This, to my way of thinking, is the Chicago media types getting WAY ahead of themselves and creating something fun to write about.
After all, when Steve Mason won the rookie of the year back in 2008-09 he racked up 33 wins. Corey Crawford is currently at 15, and there are 37 games left in the season. Assuming he gets 4 out of 5 starts, he’d have to win 18 of those 30 games to meet Mason’s mark. Not that 33 wins is the minimum requirement, I’m just saying — it’s a long shot. Let’s be happy that we have a hot starter with a strong, veteran waiting in the wings, and hope it continues.
The other thing to keep an eye on will happen when the puck drops, and will be invisible to the naked eye. Rookie defenseman Nick Leddy is playing his 10th game with the Blackhawks tonight. The minute the puck drops, Nick Leddy is likely to be with the Blackhawks for the rest of the season.
The ten-game threshold is the point at which the team “burns” the first year of Leddy’s entry-level contract. That means that the team has decided that Leddy is ready for the NHL, and is willing to back up that opinion by tossing aside a half-million dollars. From a practical perspective, the team would not breech this limit without a firm intention to keep Leddy in Chicago for the remainder of the season. No sense in blowing 500 large if you aren’t going to get your money’s worth.
Get used to seeing Nick Leddy as the fifth D-man with the Blackhawks. A welcome change.
Game time is 7:00pm tonight in Music City. TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 239.
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The Colorado Avalanche are an enigma. They are 3 – 5 – 2 in their last 10 games, the most recent of which were a win over Detroit and losses to the Islanders and Phoenix. But the start of the season they were on a tear, and they currently sit one point ahead of Chicago in the Western Conference standings.
There is simply no telling which Avalanche team is going to show up on any given night with this bunch. They could skate circles around the team leading the league in points, or they could give up 6 goals to some cellar dweller.
However, we know one thing: they’ve beaten the Blackhawks three times already this season, including back-to-back defeats in a home-and-home in mid-December. So the four-game season series is blown: now we’re just playing for the two points, and pride.
Go to the Senators home page, click on “News.” You’ll laugh your ass off.
“Senators Working Towards Major Turnaround.” “Alfredsson: We believe that we can be better.” “Sens GM Maintains Belief Turnaround Is Possible.” “Senators Carrying Optimism Into Season’s Second Half.”
Translation: “We know we suck, we’ll try to do better.”