2010-11 Ramblings

Despite Criticism, Bowman Got it Right Choosing Crawford Over Niemi

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman decided to let Antti Niemi walk rather than match his arbitration award, the fanbase held its breath collectively.

How could Bowman not lock up the only Blackhawks goaltender in 49 years to lead the franchise to a Stanley Cup and turn to a netminder past his prime? Forget the salary-cap constraints, fans said, Niemi is the backbone the ‘Hawks needed to make another run.

Bowman instead signed Marty Turco to take Niemi’s spot in goal, though Bowman’s decision wasn’t as black and white as the critics made it seem. He didn’t choose Turco over Niemi, he chose Corey Crawford – and rightfully so.

Supposedly hamstrung after matching San Jose’s four-year, $14 million offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson, Bowman simply couldn’t afford the $2.75 million salary due Niemi following the hearing. Bowman insisted he made multi-year offers to Niemi and his agent following the Cup run, but Niemi’s camp never bit and took the Blackhawks all the way to the end.

And that may have been Bowman’s plan all along.

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The Day-After Calm: Blackhawks Haven’t Won Anything Yet

Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

I know first-hand the excitment everyone is feeling after the Game 6 overtime victory, which forced an improbable Game 7 on Tuesday in Vancouver. Battling back from 0-3 to force a deciding game is an accomplishment in itself – and a rather exciting one to boot.

After Ben Smith flipped the winner over Roberto Luongo, I was so excited I couldn’t be cooped up in a cab or on the bus. I live two miles north of the United Center up Damen Ave. in Wicker Park, and I walked every step of the way home. I even stopped in a couple bars to have a celebratory drink.

Some gloating and a nice sleep later, I’ve finally come back to Earth to realize the most important thing: The Blackhawks haven’t won anything yet, and they may have put us fans in a worse position to suffer heart failure than if they were simply swept away.

The roller coaster ride of this series resembles the entire 82-game season nearly as much as the Sedin twins do each other – and it’s been nearly just as ugly. Injuries, storylines, depths of despair, moments of hope, more painful miscues, then a rise to get us all back on the teeter-tottering bandwagon named “Repeat.”

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‘Vigneault’ Is French For ‘Wussy’

Photo: Vancouver Sun

We were all blissfully confident that we knew who was going to lead the Canucks out of the tunnel on Sunday night. Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault was adamant in his response to a reporter’s question following his team’s game 5 loss: Roberto Luongo would start. Call it stubborn, call it stupid, call it Shirley. Whatever you call it, everyone was on the same page.

So when the reports from the United Center started blazing across the Twitterscape that Cory Schneider was leading the team on to the ice for warm-ups, heads spun around. What happened? Was Luongo hurt? Did Vigneault get overruled by the Canucks’ General Manager? Did Luongo chicken out? Or was this some calculated move on Vigneault’s part intended to make bloggers and the press look like idiots?

Given some time to think about the move to start Schneider instead of the poorly-performing Luongo, it was the desperate move of a coward who cares less about winning than he does about saving his job.

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Tim’s Bits: Back To The Madhouse!

Thanks to Rich Lindbloom

Some notes for you to mull over as we get ready to welcome our Blackhawks back to the Madhouse on Madison tomorrow night.

In Thursday’s post-game press conference, Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault was asked if Roberto Luongo would start game six. The reporter didn’t even finish the question before Coach Pouty-Face snapped, “Yes.” Pride goeth before destruction, methinks.

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Seabrook travels; Luongo staying calm; Canucks brass gets earful

 

Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

Just stopping by quick to throw out a couple storylines heading into tomorrow’s Game 5 in Vancouver …

Despite suffering a concussion in Game 3 from Raffi Torres’ horrendous hit, Brent Seabrook will travel with the Blackhawks to Vancouver and could play in Game 5, according to Coach Q.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, given the recent history of players hitting the ice too quickly after a concussion. See: Crosby, Sidney. And especially since the Blackhawks just gave Seabrook a big-money extension. It was clear Seabrook was dazed and skating off balance when he came back on the ice for his next shift. He then sat out the rest of the game. That means there’s a problem, and it probably hasn’t fixed itself in four days.

Even putting that aside and looking at it from a must-win point of view, Seabrook sat out the Game 4 rout. That doesn’t mean I feel Seabrook is useless and the Blackhawks can win without him again, but why risk the chance of long-term injury when it doesn’t seem completey necessary? Of course, we said that about Dave Bolland and then saw what happened.

It can go either way, but I would rather have Seabrook sit and see how he feels for a potential Game 6.

CLICK THE JUMP FOR MORE NOTES

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No Suspension for Torres; Toews Downplays Canucks’ Dominance

 

Word came out today that Vancouver Canucks’ notorious jackass Raffi Torres will not be suspended for his crushing hit on Brent Seabrook in Game 3 on Sunday. And before any of the Canucks fans who have been chiming in on this site begin foaming at the mouth, read what one of your own had to say about Torres and his hit.

Seabrook sounded off on Torres, saying the hit deserved a suspension. Ignoring the fact Seabrook is obviously biased toward the decision being the recipient of the hit, remember that Torres just recently came off a suspension for a cheap shot on Oilers’ rookie Jordan Eberle.

In a brief Twitter discussion I had today with the The Globe and Mail’s  James Mirtle, he had this to offer regarding the NHL and their policies toward these types of hits:

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Waiting Game: Blackhawks’ playoff fate rests in hands of Minnesota Wild

Bend over, boys. (Chicago Tribune)

Here we go. It’s Dallas vs. Minnesota to save an erratic and inconsistent regular season. Dallas wins in regulation, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will be watching the playoffs from their couches.

4-3, Detroit. Goddamnit.

In roughly three hours from the time of writing this, the Blackhawks will know whether or not they’ll have a chance to defend their Stanley Cup. It’s absolutely unbelievable, if you ask me, that it’s come down to this.

And since I’m a nobody, how about we ask Jonathan Toews.

“It’s so frustrating it has come down to this. I’m pretty much speechless. When it’s the culmination of an 82-game season and you’re sitting here in this situation, after working so hard for such a long season, and with the group that we have, it’s unreal to be here. The fact that we’re completely at another team’s mercy right now. … I can’t believe it.”

I’ll leave you with my column from The Committed Indian, which was sold outside by Second City Hockey’s Sam Fels before the loss to the Red Wings.

What a difference a year makes, eh?

Sam gave me this space for the last regular season game of 2009-10, though the situations are much different. Last year, I wrote about the Blackhawks overcoming injuries and adversity to have a shot at the No. 1 seed.

I also wrote the ‘Hawks looked like a Stanley Cup contender for years to come. While dynasties are rare and down seasons will happen, this Blackhawks team taking the ice in front of you today has made sure Game 82 means everything – and not for the better.

No matter your thoughts on the moves this past offseason – though they were completely necessary – I don’t believe any of us thought the Blackhawks could miss the playoffs this season. Yet a loss in regulation today against hated Detroit and a Dallas victory of any kind later tonight against Minnesota means the ‘Hawks will be watching the postseason from their couches.

How bad do those two home losses to Edmonton look? Or the loss to New Jersey on Nov. 3 when the Devils entered the game 2-9-1? Losing seven of the first 11 at the United Center? The wet fart that has been the penalty kill?

The aforementioned deficiencies in performance have contributed to making Game 82 matter for a much different reason than last season. We’ve all tossed around the term “must-win” since February, and we’re unfortunately still saying it in April – before the postseason.

Today is the ultimate “must-win” – or at least “must-not-lose-in-regulation” – game. Have we all decided to drop our standards and justification for excitement because the situations have changed since last season? I’m having a hard time deciding whether I’ll be happy the ‘Hawks made the playoffs or be upset they barely qualified.

However, celebrating last season’s Stanley Cup victory was one of the greatest moments of my life. The only way I’ll have a chance of that repeating come June is if the Blackhawks get into the postseason. Philadelphia – and the rest of the Eastern Conference, for that matter – proved in 2010 that getting in is all that matters. Anyone can win it all by getting hot at the right time.

I hope the Blackhawks fit that bill.

Jonathan Toews has almost single-handedly brought the ‘Hawks to the brink of the postseason. Without him, this column would be more of a eulogy. With the Captain on our side, you have to believe the Blackhawks can beat anyone in a seven-game series, simply based off the fact Toews won’t let this team fold up.

Corey Crawford has been a pleasant surprise this season, and has been a huge reason for a good chunk of victories.

It’s the shell of Duncan Keith that worries me. It’s the stupid penalties that get me flustered. And it’s the lack of urgency which resonated for most of the latter part of the season that makes me wonder if the ‘Hawks can compete with a much better Vancouver team than they beat the past two postseasons.

It’s unfortunate Game 82 has become so important. But if the Blackhawks can survive to see Game 83, anything can happen.

November Flashback: Proving 2010-11 Expectations Were A Bit Overblown

Back on Nov. 7, I wrote a column for Sam Fels’ wonderful creation The Committed Indian before the Blackhawks dropped to 7-8-1 with a 2-1 loss to Edmonton.

In my column titled, “10 Reasons Why the Blackhawks Can Repeat,” I shared my optimistic viewpoints skewed by a Stanley Cup run last season. I’ve decided to go back and breakdown what I wrote in November to what’s actually happened so far in 2010-11.

If you hate my guts, you’re going to want to share this with any and all of the electronic options available to you at the end of the post. I was wrong way more than I was right, though I don’t feel I’m anywhere near alone in most of these thoughts dating back five months.

Below are each of the reasons I wrote Nov. 7, with a detailed explanation and update to current times.

Have a blast.

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Tim’s Bits for Tuesday

Fairly large amount of news coming out of the Blackhawks’ practice today, so I thought I would pass it along. This is, more or less, a good-news/bad-news situation, so bear with me.

First of all, Patrick Sharp’s knee injury is ~not~ season-ending. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he will miss several games. This puts the Blackhawks down two top-six forwards as we hit the final 10 games of the season. More on that in a minute.

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Safety, Practicality, Heresy

Photo: Eric Bolté 24H MONTREAL/QMI Agency

I have an idea, but you’re not going to like it.

You must have been locked in your room listening to your Justin Bieber CD’s if you didn’t see the uproar caused by Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara’s hit on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty’s head smacked into the stanchion supporting the glass at the end of the bench (see photo above), and he is now home from the hospital to continue his recovery from a broken neck as a result of the incident.

Now, I’m not going to open up the discussion about the hit, the league, the decision not to suspend Chara, or those who think that Chara should be waterboarded. Somebody else can beat that dead horse, my arms are tired.

But one of the subjects that didn’t get a lot of attention at the time was the safety of the rinks themselves. NHL Commissioner Gary “Napoleon” Bettman ordered an engineering review of all NHL rinks in the wake of this crisis, then galloped off to invade Portugal. But I would like to throw a simple, albeit unusual idea out there so at least somebody has said it. To some, this will be just common sense; to others, pure heresy.

Close in the benches with safety glass like the rest of the rink.

This would solve the problem of people’s heads slamming into the stanchions: there would be no stanchions. One additional benefit would be a reduction in the number of pucks going out of play and into the benches. And there would be no guys flying over the boards from enthusiastic checks.

Plus, closing in the benches would also eliminate the type of hit that knocked the Blackhawks’ Fernando Pisani out for several weeks. The whiplash effect from having your torso stop at the boards and your head and neck proceed at a jaunty clip another foot into the bench area would be a thing of the past.

There is a lot to like here, but the down side is going to make hockey fans’ stomachs churn. Closing in the benches with safety glass would mean that players could no longer hop over the boards during a line change, they would have to enter and exit the ice surface through the doors. I know more than a couple of hockey fans that will dismiss the suggestion outright for that reason alone. And frankly, I’m not sure I can blame them. In fact, I may eventually be one of them!

The practicality of this needs to be assessed. The penalty boxes are closed in, and guys can get onto the ice quickly from there. But would that necessarily be the case on the benches with 14 other guys sitting next to you? Would the existing doors need to be widened? Would there need to be a design change to facilitate faster opening and closing? Would there need to be an additional door installed? I have no idea. These are all questions for guys who have quadratic equation solution races against each other on weekends.

But despite the potential complications, I don’t think this should be summarily dismissed. The league and the fans are reluctant to let go of certain traditions, and rightfully so. However, we need to ensure that we are weighing the benefits the game could realize by doing this, as this suggestion could solve a number of problems — many of which have an impact on player safety. The league is saying that the safety of the players is their top priority. If they’re serious, they need to give this more than a passing look.

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STATS Game: Rest Corey Crawford

What’s the best thing about Corey Crawford starting every game for the past month? The meatballs haven’t been able to voice their blind hatred for Marty Turco.

OK, OK … it’s not the best thing. Crawford’s 10-2-3 record and 2.66 goals-against average takes that title. But despite those numbers, I’m still going to lobby for him to don the baseball cap Thursday in Dallas.

Here’s part of the reason why:

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Confederacy of Dunces: Overreaction To Chara Hit On Pacioretty

The last 48 hours have seen one of the most staggering displays of emotional overreaction, knee-jerk stupidity, and just plain moronic behavior, all because of 0.15 seconds of hockey that took place at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Below is the video of the check that Boston Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara leveled on Montreal Canadiens’ forward Max Pacioretty. If you have not seen this, and are squeamish in any way, take a pass. I don’t want you to vomit on your keyboard.

The end result was about what you’d expect. Pacioretty is currently at Montreal General Hospital with a severe concussion and a non-displaced fracture to the 4th cervical vertebrae. Non-medical interpretation: he broke his neck, but not enough to cause paralysis.

So that happened. And then, following the league’s disciplinary hearing with Chara, it was announced that Chara would not receive a fine or suspension. And then, IQ’s all over Christendom dropped by 50 points, and all hell broke loose.

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Lending A Hand: Blocked Shot Creates Another Mystery

Photo: Getty Images

During the third period of the Toronto matchup on Saturday, Blackhawks’ defenseman Duncan Keith blocked a shot with his right hand and appeared to get hurt. Today in Florida he was not on the ice for practice, however we got a heaping helping of zilch regarding the full extent of the injury.

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Locking Him Up: Seabrook Signs Contract Extension

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook has signed a contract extension for 5 years and a reported $29 million. This takes one of the biggest restricted free-agent headaches off the Blackhawks’ plates as the off-season approaches.

This puts the focus on GM Stan Bowman to acquire the penalty-killing defenseman he has been in search of, and he has roughly 24 hours to put a deal together. Stay tuned to BlackhawkUp for details.

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Working For The Weekend: ‘Hawks Have Day Off

Photo: Chicago Blackhawks

Some quick items to pass along as you head into your weekend.

The Blackhawks took the day off from practice, as they get ready for a 5-game-in-7-day stretch that starts this Sunday at home against the Phoenix Coyotes. From there it’s up to Minnesota to face the Wild, back home to host the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes, then up for a rare trip to Air Canada Center to take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto in a nation-wide broadcast of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada on March 5th.

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Blackhawks Beat Writers Seem Reluctant to Ask Tough Questions

Before I get into this, I would like to first say I know the difficulties that come with being a beat writer for a team. I’ve done it professionally. There’s a very thin line between being accepted and being banished, and it can often be extremely hard to tight-rope that line.

Never do you want to overstep your bounds. However, you also cannot let certain things detract from your job: Bringing the public to the forefront of issues going on within the team. There’s a reason journalism is competitive in terms of being “first to report.” Every ad for a big-market  journalism job, especially in sports, says candidates must have the “ability to break news and develop sources.”

It’s just the way it goes. Do your Blackhawks beat writers do a good job overall? I’d say yes. Can they go deeper and ask tougher questions? Without a doubt.

Are they afraid of being banished by John McDonough? It’s something we’ll probably never get a straight answer about.

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Too bad the ‘Hawks stunk, or this guy would’ve had more fun

Paul Irmen in Sec. 109, Row 14 with the help of StubHub and Blackhawk Up

Stubhub and Blackhawk Up were able to come together to give Paul Irmen a great time with two free tickets to Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Must’ve been nice not having to pay for that egg-laying of a performance.

Paul was selected in a random drawing from the Facebook fan page, which nearly 300 people partcipated in. Congrats again to Paul, and thanks to everyone who put their name in the contest. Hopefully we can get StubHub to do this with us more often.

Paul has his own thoughts on the Blackhawks, which he wrote to me in an email this morning.

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Blue Jacket Bashing: BlackhawkUp and Fire That Cannon Exchange Blows

Photo: AP

Far be it from a Blackhawks’ fan to back down from a fight. So when Mary O’Malley, lead writer at the Fansided Network’s Fire That Cannon blog came knocking, I wasn’t about to let her walk away.

After all, she’s not just a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, she’s a GIRL!

So we shot a few e-mails back and forth, and here’s the result.

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BlackhawkUp & StubHub Have YOUR Seats for the Columbus Game

Anybody out there free to go to the Blackhawks’ game against Columbus at the United Center on Friday? How does Section 109, row 14 sound to you?!?

At midnight tonight, BlackhawkUp is giving away these two excellent tickets to tomorrow’s game, courtesy of the generous folks at StubHub.com.

Here’s what you do. Go to our Facebook page, find the status that announces this contest, and “Like” that status.

Anyone doing so before midnight tonight is eligible. We will draw a winner at random, and announce who the lucky duck is at that time. Tickets are electronic, and will be e-mailed to you shortly thereafter.

It’s our way of saying ‘thanks’ for checking us out and sharing your thoughts with us.

Good luck, and GO BLACKHAWKS!

Hello, Hockey World. My name is Patrick Sharp

"Quick. Come see how good looking I am!" (AP)

Most of  Patrick Sharp’s popularity stems from his good looks.

Now, he’s the most handsome All-Star Game MVP there’s ever been.

This award wasn’t for his victory in a random Internet Sexiest NHL Player contest, nor did Sharp Dressed Man play after any of his accomplishments on a national stage — a goal and two assists. It just so happens his star shined brighter than any other Sunday in Raleigh.

Not bad for a guy who gets roughly the fifth-most attention on his own team.

It’s no secret Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are the most talked-about Blackhawks. The fans voted in the first three, despite Sharp having a better season when the ‘Hawks needed it most with the departures and injuries.

Hell, Sharp wasn’t even on the damn ballot.

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Roundtable: Blackhawk Up, SCH, Hockee Night, Fifth Feather, TTMI

Matt McClure of Second City Hockey sent out a few questions for us idiots to discuss now that we have just passed the midway point of the season. The answers come from myself, Forklift of Hockee Night, Sam Fels of The Committed Indian, SCH and NBC.com’s Madhouse Enforcer, the Fifth Feather and Chris Block of The Third Man In. Enjoy, ya’ll.

McClure: All right men, it’s been far too long since we’ve done one of these. It seems like it’s a decent point in the season to do one so let’s get at it, shall we?

1) What do you see as being wrong with Duncan Keith to this point in the season, and can it be fixed?

Forklift: I’m hoping it’s something as simple as him being a little overwhelmed at being paid $8 million, and is trying to do too much. You can see where he’s just not simplifying his game – looking for that one extra pass, shooting where there’s no lane, playing with the puck too much. All things that are not part of the Duncan Keith game. 

I’m envisioning the solution being R. Lee Ermey walking into the Hawks’ dressing room and yelling at him “What’s the matter with you, boy? You’re DUNCAN KEITH!!! Start playing like you’re DUNCAN KEITH!!! Do you understand me???”

Fifth Feather: At this point in the season, other than blasting shot after shot off shin guards, he’s been alright.  His start to the season is what everyone remembers now, but the mistakes Keith has been making lately (poor angles, firing the puck away without looking, etc.) are all things he’s been doing his whole career.  So I’m not sure those things will ever be wholly rectified.  

The difference between last year and this year was his shot finding the back of the net with a bit more regularity and his mistakes weren’t as glaring because when he did make them, it was Huet’s fault or the opposition didn’t capitalize on them.

Bartl: I’m inclined to side with The Feather here, because a lot of his mistakes are things we’ve seen before. The difference seems to be they’re happening a lot more frequently than last season. Maybe he’s over-thinking, trying to anticipate the opponent’s forecheck rather than than reacting to what it gives him to work with. The blind passes are more frequent, and when he does hold possession, he seems to be holding it too long. Far too many times he’s been caught dilly-dalying with the puck as the opposition moves on in him force a turnover or at least slow down the ‘Hawks attack. Then there’s the obvious blind shots without finding a lane before firing. Whether or not it can be fixed depends on him dealing with the mental side of getting over his mistakes, in my opinion.

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Your Turn Again: December Mail Bag

There were a rousing lot of questions from you BlackhawkUP-sters last month, here’s a sampling…

The Blackhawks seem to be teetering in and out of a playoff spot. That’s not good. What’s the problem? — Chris, Grand Crossing

The Blackhawks got off to a worse-than-average start, and are only now starting to play the kind of hockey we expect from the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Last season they took the “best defense is a good offense” approach, and it worked wonderfully — because they had nearly a dozen credible scoring threats and the most consistent and stingy top-four defensemen in the league (arguably).

They tried to continue with that strategy this season, and it bombed. Neither the offense nor the defense was delivering. In the 15 games starting October 15, the Blackhawks won only 6 of them. Out of the most recent 15 games, they won 9. So essentially we’re playing far better, and just cleaning up the mess we made earlier this season. They keep improving like this, and not only will we make the playoffs, we’ll start on home ice.

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No Other Way To Put This: End The Shootout, Or Else

I have just watched another catastrophic nightmare ending to a critically important hockey game, as Canada and Sweden went to a shootout in the IIHF World Junior Championships. Tied 5 – 5 through overtime, these two undefeated teams then subjected themselves to a skills competition, essentially a slightly more dramatic coin-flip, to decide who won the game.

Yes, I’m from Canada. Yes, the Canadians lost. That’s immaterial. I have this same reaction even when I’m watching a game where the outcome is of zero consequence to me or the teams I cheer for. The utilization of the shootout in ANY hockey game is a tragedy, and an irrefutably heinous marriage of convenience and short attention spans.

The shootout must be banned from any and every league and tournament across the entire spectrum of hockey, from the tiniest Mite house league up to Juniors, College, minor leagues, as well as the NHL and Olympic Games. This must happen without further delay.

Why? One simple and indisputable reason: it is not hockey. Hockey is a game played with five skaters and a goaltender on the ice for each team, a ticking clock, referees, and a puck. Shootouts have few of those characteristics, and in removing the primary elements from the equation it no more resembles hockey than it does a tuna fish sandwich. When fans go to a HOCKEY GAME, they expect to see HOCKEY. They expect the team that they cheer for to play HOCKEY. And most importantly, they want the decision of which team wins or loses to be determined exclusively by the outcome of a game of HOCKEY. It is becoming evident that actions must be taken to ensure that this is the only way in which hockey games are played.

What can be done? Lots. Countries should lobby the IIHF and other international governing bodies to remove the shootout from any sanctioned tournaments. If they do not, they should refuse to send their teams. Fans can call their local NHL and AHL teams and complain, then put their money where their mouths are and make it clear to the teams that their refusal to attend games is exclusively because of the shootout. Colleges and universities can petition the NCAA to abandon the shootout, and fans can vote with their pocketbooks there as well. Finally, parents with kids in hockey leagues should get involved at that level and make it clear that the shootout is an unacceptable way of determining the outcome of a hockey game.

I’m dead serious about this. Football, baseball, basketball, none of them end tie games with a skills competition on any level, amateur or professional. Hockey is disgracing itself merely by considering the possibility of such nonsense; the fact that it has actually been implemented at nearly all levels of the sport — most of whom look to the NHL for guidance in implementing such things — is a loathsome and humiliating disgrace for the sport.

The shootout must go, immediately, from all levels of hockey. If the leagues won’t do it, and the teams don’t care, it’s up to the people who are passionate about the game of hockey to make their voices heard and bring this issue to the forefront.

The fact that the game of hockey is tarnishing its long and storied reputation with such an execrable and treasonous display speaks to the vile nature of those running the sport. They should be ashamed of themselves, and passionate traditionalists should strive at every turn to let them know that.

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Tale of two defenses in one year’s time

I had planned to come home and write this anyway, but Chris Kuc’s story regarding the Blackhawks’ gap control gave me even more reason.

The problem I have with this article isn’t that it was written, but more so in the way it was written and where the focus of the story lies. The Blackhawks have always emphasized controlling the gap and taking away opponents’ easy entries into the offensive zone. They’re not just starting to put more time into practicing it, it’s simply that they’re doing it better over the past two games.

The story seems to be written as if this is a new thing the ‘Hawks are becoming good at doing. When a topic like this comes up, there’s no question it has to be compared to the way it was done during a championship campaign.

Last season,  Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy disrupting zone entries.  Brent Seabrook did a hell of a job at this as well.  Brian Campbell and  Niklas Hjalmarrson were solid at the blue line, and even  Brent Sopel played his part when he wasn’t getting caught flat-footed, though his strengths blossomed when the puck had already been in the zone.

Once again, it’s not a matter of the ‘Hawks just starting to talk about this. I don’t attend practices or hang out in the locker or film rooms, but I can put in a safe guess this has been a topic of discussion all year. The Blackhawks simply aren’t going to forget one of their main strengths which helped them win the Stanley Cup.

If a defensive unit — and back-checking forwards — can disrupt the opposition’s entry into the zone and force more dumps than controlled entries, the game can become a battle for the puck along the boards — another thing the ‘Hawks excelled at winning last season. More dumps, more board battles and less controlled entries leads to fewer shots for the opponent, simply because the offense has difficulty getting into a rhythm and setting up its offense.

Through 35 games last season, Blackhawks goaltenders faced 842 shots on goal. This season? 1,016. That’s a whopping difference of 174 shots, which averages out to roughly five more shots per game. While the latter stat may seem minuscule, remember it only takes one shot to put the puck in the net — as simple and stupid and obvious as that may sound to you.

More statistics after the jump

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