2011-12 Game Previews

Weapon Of Choice : Game Two Preview

Unknown to Johnny, Shane Doan is about to punch him in the back of the head ( Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

After suffering heartbreaking loss on Thursday night, the ‘Hawks still have a chance steal home ice in the series tonight. At the afternoon skate today the Blackhawks were rolling with the same lines they played with onThursday night. One suspects (prays) that Quenneville is just bluffing.

It’s hard to imagine that Q would be crazy enough to throw Sean O’Donnell back into lineup tonight, but this is a man who played John Scott on a regular basis. O’Donnell was consistently out of position and made horrible decisions all night long.

Niklas Hjalmarsson had one of his worst games as a Chicago Blackhawk on Thursday and one can’t help but attribute some of that to his partner. The Coyotes are a team that is ferocious on the forecheck and  getting someone who can move the puck on the other side  would probably go a long way in getting a minimally competent, non-panikly Hjalmarsson back for the ‘Hawks. Sami Lepisto is the guy who fits the bill here. But again, we don’t know what Q plans to do tonight.

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The Season Starts Now: Blackhawks at Coyotes, Game 1

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

It’s finally that time of year, folks.  The regular season is now meaningless history.  History will be made, starting now.  The two month grueling process of hell, otherwise known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, begins its 2012 chapter.

The Blackhawks start their run in Phoenix.  Everyone was begging for the 3-6 seed matchup for the past month.  Well, folks, you got your wish.  We get to face the Yotes.

Game 1 will need to be a statement game.  Mike Smith has been very stingy against the Hawks (and the rest of the league, for that matter) in every game this year.  The Hawks will need to score, and they will need to score early tonight.

Jonathan Toews practiced with the team yesterday afternoon and expects to play tonight.  I hate to be cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  His status seems to change by the hour, which is understandable with finicky head injuries.  Assuming Toews comes back, it could give the Hawks the spark they need to score early.

The Yotes are a physical team and will get after you and crash the net.  The defense needs to make a statement tonight too.  The Hawks cannot let the Yotes win the battles in front of Corey Crawford, leading to an easy tap-in.  When you’re facing a tough goaltender like Smith, you cannot give up easy goals.  The Hawks’ defense needs to make Phoenix work hard for their goals.  If they don’t, they will not win this game or this series.

The Hawks play a quick, open game of hockey, which is the exact opposite style that Phoenix plays.  They tend to grind it out.  Due to this, Phoenix will look to physically out-battle the Hawks and, excuse my language, knock the Hawks on their asses to slow the game down (see: Minnesota Wild vs. Blackhawks, regular season games 80 & 81).  The Hawks can’t afford to get caught up in the post-whistle stupidity and goonery.  The Hawks need to keep their cool and play at their level, rather than that of Phoenix.

Lastly, if Toews does indeed come back, the Hawks will need to keep an eye on him.  Phoenix will be going after him physically.  You can bet your house on it.  It will be really important for them to find the right balance of sticking up for their captain, and not getting carried away playing grab-ass.  Blackhawks fan-favorite Raffi Torres is nearing the one-year anniversary of his demolition of Brent Seabrook.  Just hope he doesn’t try to celebrate the anniversary with a gift for Toews.

Game starts at 9:00 PM Central on NBCSN.

Quick Work: Duncan Keith Returns For Wild Rematch

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago never had the lead in their game against Minnesota last Sunday, which isn’t how the Blackhawks play their best game. However they did fight back to erase 3 deficits and force the Wild to a shootout. A shootout which the Blackhawks lost, eventually. But beyond showcasing the pugilistic talents of the bottom-six forwards, this game showed that this Blackhawks team may have a lot more perseverance and “guts” than we saw earlier this season.

The playoffs are right around the corner. The Blackhawks had better get a heaping helping of guts on the menu, and start making quick work of trifling teams like Minnesota, pretty quick. Like, perhaps, tonight.

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Crushing Blow: Blackhawks Get One More Shot At Nashville

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every time the Blackhawks go up against Boris Badenov and the Nashville Predators I find myself sitting there wondering, Why the HELL does Chicago have such problems with this team? Other teams kick the crap out of them regularly, as evidenced by Nashville’s losses to Pittsburgh and cellar-dweller Edmonton just last week. Why, oh WHY, do the Blackhawks usually end up either on the short end of a close game, or being humiliated by a staggering margin against these pukes?

In the 5 games between these teams this season, the Blackhawks have come away with a only one win — and that one went into overtime. Chicago has better records this year against St. Louis, Vancouver, and Detroit (*spitting noise*). They’re laughing at us in Music City, counting the ‘Hawks as an easy win, and hoping that they manage to land Chicago as a first-round playoff opponent instead of the Red Wings.

Nashville fans are laughing at us. That has to fucking stop. Tonight. And that means the Blackhawks had better deliver a crushing blow to this Predators team, and make it clear that taking Chicago lightly will be a costly mistake.

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Blues Clues: Blackhawks Try To Solve St. Louis

Photo: Associated Press

How did the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues two weeks ago? By pounding them into submission? By Jamal Mayers making dents in B.J. Crombeen’s melon? By Brandon Bollig trying to tenderize Ryan Reeves? So many will say ‘yes’, and assert that a physical game will be imperative to beating St. Louis tonight. I’m going to disagree.

Chicago beat the Blues by first of all, recovering from a 3-goals-against meltdown by Ray Emery in the first period; and secondly, by throwing 46 shots at the Blues’ goal while limiting their shots against to just 24.

Tonight will be no different. If the Blackhawks use their speed, press their forecheck, take advantage of a demonstrably slower St. Louis defense, and not waste time and energy throwing the body, they will win. How do I know? One week prior to that game, the Blackhawks managed only 20 shots on goal against St. Louis while allowing 31 shots against. Chicago lost 5-1. And Bollig and Reaves went at it in that game too, precious little good it did.

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Speak The Truth: Blackhawks Try To Shame The Devils

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Having just done a brief tour of some of the less scenic parts of New Jersey, I can tell those of you who haven’t been there to skip it. New Jersey is to New York City what Gary, Indiana is to Chicago — except with half the smell and twice the abandoned buildings. Got the picture?

Hey, the truth hurts. And with the Blackhawks’ ranks depleting faster than they can call up reinforcements from Rockford, the truth is more painful than usual these days. But we’ll go there later.

Right now, the matter at hand is a New Jersey Devils team that, fortunately, won’t land in the basement of the Atlantic Division thanks to an Islanders team with a nice lottery position. But a team that is nonetheless in big trouble as its latest bout of losses presents the real possibility of missing the playoffs. Surging teams in the form of Buffalo and Washington may just use the last 6 games of the season to kick New Jersey straight to the golf course.

Will offensive titans Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise be able to light the lamp enough to make up for Martin Brodeur’s fading talents between the pipes? Hopefully not tonight…

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Test Of Mettle: Canucks Visit UC For Potential Playoff Preview

Photo: 2010Vancouver.ca

The last 3 years the Blackhawks have faced the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why should this year be any different? The way it’s shaping up right now, it’s a decent possibility that Vancouver will be the Blackhawks’ first-round opponent. Tonight’s game will give us a preview of what we can expect.

Tonight will also be a test of the Blackhawks’ mettle: can they continue their first period dominance? Can they beat teams that are ahead of them in the standings the way they have beaten teams below them? And can they continue their recent solid play in the absence of Captain Jonathan Toews?

Buckle up, people. This game’s going to be close: either be a hard-fought win, or a very disappointing loss. No blowout in sight this evening.

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Blackhawks and Blue Jackets Preview: Just Avoid a Let Down

Nothing New Here. Move Along.

This is really quite simple. The Columbus Blue Jackets, albeit lately playing well, are the worst professional hockey team among the 30 that make up the National Hockey League. They score the 2nd fewest goals in the NHL, give up the 2nd most goals in the NHL, have the 26th ranked powerplay, the worst penalty kill, generally don’t score first and might have the single worst general manager since Mike Milbury turned the Islanders into the Pirates of this league. In short, the Columbus Blue Jackets are absolutely terrible and probably should be competing for the Calder Cup instead of the Stanley Cup.

We got that covered? Great.

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Influx of Capitals: Washington Ovechkins Take On Blackhawks

Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Alexander Ovechkin has 29 goals this season for Washington.

The next closest guy on the stats sheet has only 18.

How do you defend the Washington Capitals? I’ll give you three guesses…

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Playoff Preview? : Blackhawks Visit South Stars

Hate Jon Casey. Love the sweater.

Admit it. You haven’t been excited about a Blackhawks/Stars game since Ed Belfour and Brett Hull wore the Star. Even when they had Brad Richards and James Neal they weren’t all that exciting to watch.

So what makes the game tonight different? Well, Dallas (39-27-5) currently occupies the 3 seed in the Western Conference standings with a ever so slim 2 point lead over Phoenix and the Sharks only 3 points behind. With the Blackhawks currently the 6th seed, Dallas would be the opponent in the 1st round.

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Chicago Gets The Blues: St. Louis Visits The UC

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

See, the Blues didn’t think it was enough to pound us 5-1 at their rink last week. They’ve just signed a 19-year-old rookie phenom draft pick, and they’re coming into our house hoping to do it again.

Jaden Schwartz, having finished up a 30-game, 41-point sophomore season with Colorado College, inked an entry-level deal on Monday and will be in the lineup tonight against the Blackhawks. Of the 15 goals Schwartz pumped in for the Tigers this year, 5 were on the power play, and 4 were game-winners. And guess what? All of those numbers were down from his freshman year!

You should insert your favorite Spaceballs joke here, by the way…

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Hawks v. Rangers : Original Six Friday Night Hockey

Gotta love these Original Six matchups.

The last time the ‘Hawks faced the Rangers they were on a 9 game losing streak and starting straight into the abyss. They marched into Madison Square Garden and put 4 goals up in the first 10 minutes of the game – including a penalty shot goal by Jonathan Toews just over a minute into the game. Tonight, they will face the Rangers after a horribly dispiriting 5-1 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday. In that game, the Blackhawks went 0-5 on the PP and couldn’t even manage a single shot on 3 of them. It was awful and you are a true fan if you managed to stay with that game through the end. But not everything is fucked right now. The ‘Hawks have won 3 out of their last 4 including impressive road wins in Ottawa and Detroit.

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The “St.” Is For Stingy: Blackhawks Visit Blues

Photo: Associated Press

Back on December 3rd, the Blackhawks got 4 goals past St. Louis netminder Brian Elliot. The next time he let 4 goals get past him in one game was February 22nd.

Now: want to know the bad news? He’s not the best goaltender playing for the Blues right now. Jaroslav Halak hasn’t let more than 2 goals get past him since February 9th. He’s 6-1-0 in his last 7 starts, with a 1.40 GAA and .949 save percentage in that stretch.

Awww, damnit. The Blackhawks get a win streak going, and what do you know? Another hot goaltender. Must we go through this EVERY BLOODY TIME?!?

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Capitol Punishment: Blackhawks Visit Streaking Senators

Photo: Associated Press

Like the Blackhawks, the Ottawa Senators sit in sixth place in their conference. The difference is, Ottawa has won 6 of their last 7; Chicago… hasn’t. The Senators are on a tear, and they’re looking to repeat their filibuster of Boston when the Blackhawks take the ice tonight.

What has caused this surge? The main reason for it is a name you likely have never heard before: Erik Karlsson.

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Sinking Fast: Slumping Blackhawks Host Nose-Diving Maple Leafs

Photo: Associated Press

In a perfect world, Mikhail Grabovski would be skating out on to the ice at the United Center on Wednesday night wearing the Indian Head sweater. Such is not the case, as Chicago failed to acquire the playmaking forward that it needs at the trade deadline. Chicago fans will get a chance to see Grabs, however: he and the Leafs will be making a rare appearance at the UC, their first since November of 2009.

The bad news is that Toronto has been a team that, like the ‘Hawks, has had streaks of unstoppability during the season. The good news is, now is not one of those times. The Leafs have notched a win only once in the last 10 games, a losing streak severe enough to drop them to 10th place in the East and out of playoff contention.

Those familiar with the Maple Leafs are aware that February is usually when any successful Leafs squad starts to implode, and this year is no exception. They have wheeled the defibrillator and the oxygen cart into Damien Cox’s cube at the Star.

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No Joy In Mudville: Another Game Without Toews In Anaheim

Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Having endured one and a half periods of the festering colostomy bag that was last night’s game against Los Angeles, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about being in a bitter and sardonic mood as we approach the puck drop for the Blackhawks’ tilt against the Anaheim Ducks. Gordon Bombay’s squad is 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, pushing 5 of those tilts to overtime (and prevailing in 3 of them). Anaheim has climbed out of the laughing-stock category with Columbus and Edmonton, and is just 6 points out of a playoff spot as today’s action begins.

All things considered, I think I’d rather have the ‘Hawks playing the Sharks.

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Proverbial Cheese Sandwich: Dallas Visits The UC

Photo: The Associated Press

It’s easy to forget about Dallas, mainly since the Blackhawks haven’t seen them since splitting a home-and-home with them to open the season in October. But also because in terms of the standings, the Stars haven’t been a factor. They’ve been cruising around in bubble-team land for most of the year, currently hovering a game back of the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

Then one remembers who tends goal for them, and you get that knot in your stomach. Kari Lehtonen, who fought off 37 shots in his team’s winning effort against Chicago to start the year, has always been a serious pain in the ass to get a puck behind. Going back to last season, when Chicago managed to drop 3 games to Dallas, the Blackhawks did a fine job of humiliating themselves twice on the visitor’s ice — the first by blowing a 3-0 lead and managing to lose 4-3 in a shootout, the second by getting shut out 5-0 while Lehtonen barely broke a sweat at the other end of the rink.

No matter where they sit in the standings, the Stars always give the ‘Hawks trouble. Tonight should be no different.

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This Is OUR House, Bitches: Blackhawks Host Red Wings

Photo: Associated Press

Yes, Detroit (*spitting noise*) has won 23 straight at home; and yes, that is an all-time NHL record — which will continue to grow until they lose. But they have a problem.

They’re in OUR house today, and the Blackhawks are on a winning streak of their own. So if they think they’re going to have an easy time of it this evening, they came to the wrong place. December 30th ring a bell, bitches?

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The Glitter Rubs Right Off: Blackhawks Look For A Win On Broadway

Photo: AP

This date has been looming large on the horizon ever since this road trip began. New York Rangers franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goaltender in the league since the new year, would likely be the most impenetrable netminder the Blackhawks faced on this road trip. And as the games — ok, let’s call them what they are… the losses — drew us nearer to today, Lundqvist kept getting better. In his last 8 games he has 7 wins, including 2 against Philadelphia and capped with a shutout of Boston on Tuesday. In that stretch of 8 games he has 3 shutouts and has let in a total of only 9 goals.

The way this was looking, the Blackhawks may as well have been shooting at a net protected by a force field.

But then, through some quirk of fate or coincidence, the darkness lifted, the clouds parted, and for the first time since before the All-Star break, the Hockey Gods smiled on the Chicago Blackhawks…

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Talk Is Cheap: Blackhawks Look To End Losing Streak In Nashville

Photo: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

The Blackhawks play Nashville tonight, and it’s my job to tell you about what we can expect during the game. So here’s the obligatory paragraph about the Predators before we talk about the Blackhawks’ 8-game losing streak.

Nashville is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, most recently losing in a shootout to Boston. They’ve always been a defense-first team, but this year they are doing well in both categories — just outside the top-10 in both goals-for and goals-against. They can kill you from many, many angles: 9 players have 11+ goals, 9 players have 29+ points. Goaltender Pekka Rinne continues to shine, his .924 save percentage ranks among the league’s top-10. Neither Ryan Suter nor Shea Weber has been traded, and likely won’t be before the puck drops this evening. So that’s bad for us.

Will that work? Okay. On to business.

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No Rest For The Weary: Coyotes Host Blackhawks

Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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

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

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Fresh Chum For The Sharks: Chicago Visits San Jose

Photo: AP

It’s difficult to believe that less than a month ago, Chicago took down the San Jose Sharks at the United Center; and furthermore that the game was our second straight victory over San Jose this year. The only game we lost to the Sharks was in the Tank back in November on the Circus trip, and that was a 1-0 loss.

We can skate with this team. Well… we could skate with this team. Of late we can’t skate with Edmonton, or Colorado, or any one of a host of other teams that we should skate circles around. We’re having trouble beating the bottom feeders these days.

The Sharks are in first place in the Pacific Division. Oh Nellie, here we go…

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Stoppable Force vs. Movable Object: Blackhawks Visit Colorado

Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The phrase on Blackhawks fans’ lips these days is, “What the HELL is wrong?!?” I’ll tell you what’s wrong in a minute, and you’re going to be more than a little surprised. But the matter at hand is tonight’s game against the Avalanche.

Looking at this Avalanche team reveals one very salient point: this will NOT be the Colorado Avalanche we see next year. 8 players on their current roster are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and another 7 are restricted free agents. Most of the guys we face off against tonight are up for grabs when the season ends.

Hope Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has some of our scouts with us on this trip.

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Brace Yourselves, There’s A Game Tonight: Blackhawks Take On Calgary

Photo: AP

I tell you, the last time I had that much fun, I was getting a barium enema. Last night’s game against Edmonton made my intestines seize up in exactly the same way. Hopefully tonight against Calgary we can maybe back off the severity to manual rectal exam.

The Flames team that we face tonight has a slightly different look than when we visited them back in November. Gone is former Blackhawks power winger Rene Bourque, and in comes former Canadiens’ center Mike Cammalleri. The impact has been minimal so far, with Cammalleri notching 2 goals in the 6 games he’s played with Calgary. Also gone is center Brendan Morrison who was traded to… well, to us! He’ll be taking on his former team for the first time tonight at the ScotiaBank Saddledome.

The Flames are chasing a playoff spot right now, sitting 5 points back of 8th-place Minnesota in the Western Conference. Calgary GM Jay Feaster is trying to make a few last-minute moves to shore up his roster for the push to the finish, though he has stated for the twelve-thousandth time that he is not trading Jarome Iginla. In case you were wondering…

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Crime Scene Remediation: Blackhawks Return To Edmonton

Photo: AP

November 19th was a low point, to say the least. Allowing 9 goals on 34 shots, the Blackhawks humiliated themselves in front of a giddy Edmonton crowd that, despite the cliche of Canadians’ courtesy and good manners, took to taunting the ‘Hawks in the 3rd period.

Apparently all bets are off when the puck drops.

So thousands of television sets all over Chicagoland were damaged by flying objects hurtled by frustrated fans, and the Blackhawks left Alberta having left their egos, their confidence, and any illusions of dominating Western Conference opponents splattered all over the Rexall Place ice. It took a crime scene remediation team four days to clean it up.

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