2011-12 Game Previews
And so, it begins: the home stretch of the regular season, kicked off by a 9-game road trip over the next 20 days, during which we take on 8 different Western Conference opponents starting tonight with our old friends the Vancouver Canucks.
So how have LuLu Belle and the Tampon Twins been lately, anyhow?
Well, LuLu is playing so well that his coach doesn’t trust him to play the Big Bad Blackhawks who made him cry; and just before the All-Star break the Tampons were held to a single point, going minus-4 between them against the one-point-out-of-last-place Lightning. Not exactly what you call inspiring performances.
I’m sure there are those who wouldn’t mind re-living last Saturday’s embarrassment down in Nashville, but I’m not among them. As far as I’m concerned we should have pulled the team off the ice and forfeited when the bloop grounder to short hopped past Corey Crawford. That was the sign that it was not our night, and no measure of effort nor change in strategy would change that.
The Hockey Gods played a joke at our expense, and we walked away with a 5-2 loss. Thanks very much, assholes.
How did Nashville do it? The same way they always do. They played their usual more-boring-than-Latin-mass style of defensive hockey, and took advantage of the many, many scoring opportunities we gave them. Were it not for some heroics by Marian Hossa the Blackhawks would easily have been shut out.
Tonight, let’s not be such easy prey, shall we fellas?
Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.
Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.
Is it paying off?
From December 17th through the 31st the Buffalo Sabres were 1-5-1. During the month of January so far they are 2-4-1.
So, they’re improving! Right?
The latest loss comes at the hands of Detroit (*spitting noise*), a 5-0 shutout that has the team, the media, and the fans shaking their heads. This is no longer just a slump, this is a tailspin. Something needs to be done.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. After a humiliating loss to the Red Wings on Saturday, the Blackhawks get to suit up against yet another Western Conference rival on a hot streak in the form of San Jose. The new year has been good to the Sharks, with 6 wins and a shootout loss to their credit thus far.
In those six victories, they never allowed their opponents to tally more than twice. Defense is a big key to the Sharks’ game — they are 5th-best in the league in goals against. There is just one regular member of the Sharks roster who has a negative plus/minus. One. It’s Jason Demers, in case you’re interested.
But that’s not to say the Sharks have lost their once-potent offense. The usual one-two punch of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is still as effective as ever, with the three-four punch combination of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture close behind. Those four account for over 130 points of the Sharks’ offense. This is not a team that is prone to sitting back and protecting a lead.
The biggest challenge about this game isn’t the Red Wings’ roster, or its goaltender, or Coach Cranky Pants, or the brain-dead knuckle-draggers throwing seafood on the ice.
Detroit (*spitting noise*) is nearly unbeatable on home ice.
But notice I said “nearly.”
Remember earlier this season, not long ago in fact, when everyone soiled their unmentionables over the headline, “Minnesota Wild First in Western Conference?” Oh, how things change.
For those of us feeling bummed or pissed or confused about the Blackhawks’ latest string of losses, we should thank our snowblowers that we’re not Minnesota Wild fans.
The Wild have two wins — that’s TWO WINS — in their last 13 games. The second one came against San Jose just this past Tuesday, when they blew a 2-goal lead and needed a shootout to finally get the W. They now sit clinging desperately to 7th place in the Western Conference, having dropped from 1st in just over a month. Unbelievable.
Guess they should have held on to Cam Barker, huh?
News Flash: the Columbus Blue Jackets fired their coach.
Everything else about the team is still the same as the last time we discussed them. Key players are injured; marquee names are trying their damnedest but can’t produce; offense sucks; defense is worse; goaltending is pathetic.
I really wish there was more to go into here, but there really isn’t. I feel like I’m giving Columbus the short end of the stick compared to the other previews I do, but how many different ways can you say, “Columbus sucks?” I ran out months ago.
My fear as we entered January was that the Blackhawks would bring it during the big games and slack off with the so-called “lesser” opponents. I mentioned Colorado as one of the teams we should not look past. I also mentioned Edmonton. Mmm-hmm. Well, it’s time for the Colorado game. And guess what? The Avalanche are on a friggin’ tear.
3 wins in a row, 8 wins in their last 9 games, 3 straight wins on the road, and victories over Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Jose and Tampa Bay — all in the month of December. Colorado is getting solid and occasionally sensational goaltending from what has become its tandem of J.S. Giguere and Semyon Varlamov, and putting up the necessary goals on a night-in, night-out basis to bring home the wins.
This is not the Colorado team that we beat 3-1 out in Denver on October 20. If the Blackhawks treat it that way, this is another Edmonton loss waiting to happen.
Without a trace. The NHL tried and failed, the Hockey Hall of Fame guys scoured the arena until the wee hours of the morning and came up empty, even the FBI were finally called in months after the confetti was cleaned up from Michigan Avenue. No dice.
The whereabouts of the puck that Patrick Kane put between the legs of Michael Leighton in overtime of Game 6 of to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Chicago may never be officially known. But I think we all suspect it’s in Chris Pronger’s rec room. And now that hamster-fucking rectal wart is out for the season with a concussion.
Karma is a bitch, isn’t it, Chrissy?
The last time we were talking about the Oilers we were licking our wounds and wondering how the hell a mediocre team like Edmonton had managed to put 9 (yes, NINE) goals behind our goalies inside the span of just 60 minutes. We were wondering how we could possibly give up 3 power play goals against in a single period, 4 total on the night. We marveled at the fact that our heretofore adequate backup goaltender had allowed 7 goals on just 27 shots, and also that statistically he was the better of our two netminders that night. And we wondered if the confidence we had allowed ourselves to feel after manhandling hated Vancouver 5-1 in their own rink just 3 nights prior was merely wishful thinking.
Had the Blackhawks’ success to date been just an illusion? Had they simply been playing teams that hadn’t gotten in the groove, but that were about to start making them look like the third-place finishers in the Glen Ellyn Bantam A house league? Were we about to see the Blackhawks’ season self-destruct in a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Conference opponents, putting us out of playoff contention by January 1st?
As it turns out, not so much. And as the Blackhawks’ fortunes have turned for the better in the last 45 days since that game, the Oilers’ fortunes have gotten exponentially worse…
Alas, gone are the days when we can joke about Detroit (*spitting noise*) being better suited for catheters than jock straps. No doubt embarrassed by the constant jokes about Depends undergarments and tapioca pudding, tonight the Red Wings will dress only three players age 35 or older: felon Todd Bertuzzi, AARP spokesperson Nicklas Lidstrom, and backup bingo-caller Ty Conklin.
That’s probably for the better: I was running out of senior citizen jokes. And yes, Tomas Holmstrom falls into that category as well, but he fell and broke his hip while going to get his dentures re-fitted. Or something. Anyhow, he isn’t playing tonight.
The big news out of the Los Angeles Kings’ camp in the last month is the dismissal of veteran no-nonsense coach Terry Murray and the hiring of veteran no-nonsense coach Darryl Sutter. The general consensus among the pundits based outside of California was, “There’s a difference?” Murray was implementing a defense-based system, and getting buy-in from the superstar offensive weapons like Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards was difficult. Sutter will implement the same system, so how is that going to improve things?
The jury is still out, as Sutter has only 3 games under his belt as coach, notching 2 wins and a loss — about on par with what the team has been doing the rest of December. But as there is a history between Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi (former GM at San Jose who hired Sutter to coach the Sharks during his tenure there), expect Sutter to get several years to get the team to follow his lead.
The key problem for Los Angeles is offense. In 12 games thus far in December, they have scored more than 2 goals in regulation exactly once. And folks, that includes the games they WON. Granted, they have allowed the seventh-fewest goals against in the league, an impressive stat. But when you are also scoring the second-fewest, that’s bad. If Sutter can get the second stat up while keeping the first one down, he’s got a chance at making the playoffs.
It’s getting boring to list the woeful details of the pathetic state of affairs surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the third meeting of these two teams, and each time the story gets more unpleasant.
It’s akin to King Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight: they talk big and look imposing at the outset, and they put up a good fight. But in the end they come away well beaten and embarrassed.
The Blue Jackets have re-claimed the basement in the NHL thanks to a four-game losing streak, which caps off a post-Thanksgiving run that saw them lose 9 of their last 12. Just four (count them, 4) of their players have a plus-minus rating that is not negative, and only one of those is above zero; James Wisniewski,, the off-season mega-contract recipient and purported defensive savior, leads the race to the bottom with a minus-19 on the season. Their “best” goaltender boasts only a 2.66 GAA and still has a losing record, while “starter” Steve Mason is 4-14-1 on the year. And with nearly all of their star players back in the lineup after an injury-riddled start, the BJ’s still couldn’t ride a first period hat-trick by star center Jeff Carter to victory, losing to Nashville in their last pre-holiday outing by a final of 6-5.
“You stupid bastard! You’ve got no arms left!”
It’s no fun beating up on a team that can’t defend themselves. It’s almost as if they should just jump behind the turnbuckle and yell, “No mas! No mas!” Pity them and their fans, for they still have 48 games left to play.
Probably for the better anyhow, there’s plenty to talk about with the Blackhawks.
And there it was, a bright flash of brilliance against the winter sky… The rarest of sights… Coming hence only one in 82…
It’s Crosby’s Comet!
And now, just as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone. Maybe it will show up again next year…
I’m sure that’s how Pittsburgh fans felt when their Sainted Wunderkind took the ice for those 8 games earlier this month, netting 2 goals and adding 10 assists to put him ahead of all but 9 of his teammates on the scoring chart. Which, when you think about it, either says a lot about Sidney Crosby, or a HELL of a lot about the rest of the Penguins.
But one thing to note about the Pens’ stats sheet is its sheer length: 29 skaters have put on the black and gold so far this season, due in no small part to the list of players with injuries stretching nearly as long as the stat sheet. At present, the following players who are NOT named “Crosby” are out of the lineup for Pittsburgh: Robert Bortuzzo, Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek (bless you…), Richard Park, and Jordan Staal. Saying that we’re playing the farm team tonight is not that far off the mark.
He’s back. Who, you ask? Lubomir Visnovsky. I’ve got bad news too. He looks really good.
After a fairly disappointing start, posting 1 goal and 3 assists in 16 games, Visnovsky broke his finger and sat out a month.
Visnovsky returned to his team and made a statement last night against the Phoenix Coyotes. He had an assist, was a +2, and recorded 7 shots, while posting an impressive post-injury 24:23 of ice time. I watched the game for this very reason. I was interested in seeing how Visnovsky would bounce back from his injury and if he was capable of returning to the form he was in last season. He scored 18 goals and recorded 50 assists last year for the Ducks.
Lisa: Dad, what’s a Muppet?
Homer: Well, it’s not quite a mop, it’s not quite a puppet, but man…
Homer: So to answer your question, I don’t know.
I imagine conversations similar to this happen all the time in NHL arenas when a kid asks their parent what a Wild is when Minnesota comes into town.
Anyway, tonight’s game features the top 2 teams in the Western Conference to date. Yes folks, we live in a world where the Minnesota Wild sit atop the NHL. Nobody really knows how, but the Wild have amassed 43 points and lead the Blackhawks by 3 in the soon to be defunct Western Conference.
Indeed, the Wild have been the feel good story of the NHL this year. Tuesday night, they lost for the first time in 7 games to the Winnipeg Jets. However, the game was widely hailed as one of the funnest matches yet this season and was a great preview of what realignment will look like.
So after this can we be done with the Islanders and Coyotes?
The Blackhawks arrive on Long Island coming off a Jekyll/Hyde performance against Phoenix which saw them fall behind by 3 goals, then crawl all the way back to salvage a point. Corey Crawford was pulled in the 2nd for Ray Emery and it looked like the Hawks would put on a repeat performance of the previous Phoenix game. But Jonathan Toews decided that wasn’t going to happen and put the Hawks on his back (again), scoring 2 goals and setting up Patrick Kane beautifully for the equalizer. The Hawks ultimately lost in the shootout (which will happen when Emery is in net) but you left the game feeling good about getting a point out of a game that at one point looked like a laugher.
New York comes into the game dead last in the Atlantic Division at 9-11-5. However, they have improved over the last few weeks and pulled out their last two games since falling to the Hawks 6 days ago in a shootout. Tuesday night they torched Tampa Bay 5-1 and then defeated a surprisingly competitive Dallas team 5-4 on Saturday.
Just under a week ago, the Phoenix Coyotes walked into the United Center and kicked the shit out of the Blackhawks in every aspect of the game. It was probably one of the three worst performances the Hawks put in this year – along with the Vancouver and Edmonton debacles. The Hawks had one good shift in the opening minutes and then watched the Coyotes dominate the last 55 minutes of the hockey game. The UC was a funeral parlor and you would have had to be drunker than Matthew Barnaby to enjoy yourself. Since that horrible evening, each team has played 2 games. The Coyotes were 0-2 in that time (losing to Winnipeg and Philly), while the Hawks took care of business against the Islanders and St. Louis.
The Coyotes come into the game 13-9-3, good for 4th place in the Pacific Division and 9th in the Western Conference. In their last 10 games they are a very mediocre 5-5-0, but they play their best hockey on the road, sporting a 7-4-1 record. The Hawks dominated the first meeting between these teams and the Coyotes controlled the second.
After a pathetic showing on Tuesday night, the Hawks’ get a chance to redeem themselves against one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Islanders roll into United Center at 7-11-4 with just 18 points. They are dead last in the Eastern Conference. To put things in perspective, the Isles have exactly 1 more point than the Columbus Blue Jackets. They suck very badly.
Things were supposed to be better for the Islanders this season but it just hasn’t happened. They are dead last in the NHL with just 1.96 goals per game and have only one player, Frans Nielsen , on the right side of the plus/minus category. Everybody’s favorite former Blackhawk Marty Reasoner was picked up to provide veteran leadership and has not yet recorded a goal and is a team worst-14. That should make you feel a little better about Stan Bowman not holding onto him last season.
Former #1 overall pick John Tavares looked poised to have a breakout season, but has disappointed with just 8 goals and 8 assists in 22 games. Tavares is tied for the Islanders lead in goals with linemate Matt Moulson. These aren’t horrible numbers, but they aren’t exactly great for a #1 overall pick. Michael Grabner had a great season last year but has underperformed this campaign with just 7 goals. line with Kyle Okposo and Nielsen.
One imagines the Islanders will stick with Al Montoya in goal. They have won two games in a row with him and probably won’t want to interrupt their little streak. They are a rare team that carries 3 goaltenders and Montoya is playing ahead of 2010 Stanley Cup run victim Evgeni Nabokov and biggest waste of money ever, Rick DiPietro.
Hopefully Nino Niederreiter plays – his name is awesome.
The Blackhawks come into the game tied with Detroit at 31 points – but the Red Wings have 2 games in hand. The Hawks’ have a ton of home games coming up here in December and need to make the most of it. A Friday night home game against a team like this is a game the Hawks’ simply need to have.
The Hawks’ played like shit on Tuesday night and they know it. As you probably know by now, Joel Quenneville juggled the lines again and has moved Patrick Kane back to RW with Jonathan Toews. As Bartl pointed out yesterday, it’s a risky move breaking up Toews and Patrick Sharp right now as those are the only two Hawks’ doing anything offensively as of late. But they can’t have both Marian Hossa and Kane struggling at the same time and a shake up isn’t uncalled for. Freddy Kruger is moving up to the 2nd line to center Hossa and Patrick Sharp – all that good work lately has paid off for Kruger.
Neither Dave Bolland or Brent Seabrook practiced yesturday, but both are expected to dress tonight.
Q will go with Ben Smith tonight ahead of Bryan Bickell, who has been a goddamn ghost of late. Bickell is clearly in the doghouse, and it will be a good chance for Smith to show him being a healthy scratch since Edmonton motivated him.
Corey Crawford is expected to get the nod in goal again for the Hawks’.
Bottom line: The Hawks’ need to walk out of this game with 2 points. No excuses. Beating the shit out of them like they did last season 5-0 would do just fine. Get it done.
The Chicago Blackhawks played arguably their best period of hockey in the third period against Anaheim, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to put the game in the win column with a 6-5 victory. Jonathan Toews notched 2 goals and 3 assists to go along with Patrick Sharp’s hat-trick. Corey Crawford had a solid outing stopping 24 shots, while Jonas Hiller had his night spoiled by getting the hook when the ‘Hawks onslaught got the best of him.
Whatever happened in the locker room between the 2nd and 3rd, it needs to happen before tonight’s game. If the ‘Hawks bring that kind of energy against the Kings, they’ll be in pretty good shape.
The tryptophan coma everyone talks about following Thanksgiving dinner is actually a myth, you know. To get enough tryptophan into your system to turn you narcoleptic would require that you eat something like 1,750 pounds of turkey in one sitting. And despite some valiant attempts on my part, I was only ever able to consume about one third of that.
Let’s hope the Blackhawks aren’t sleepy after their Turkey Day festivities, as they have the fifth game of the Circus Trip facing them this afternoon when the team heads into Anaheim to face the Ducks. The lead-up to this game has been uninspiring, with the Blackhawks trying to break a 3-game losing streak — the second one this month — and struggling to deal with the absence of key members of its young core.
This visit to the Pond might be just what the doctor ordered.
Most of you noticed the cavernous silence coming from Cheer The Anthem following the pair of weekend losses that shall be known henceforth as “The Alberta Ass-Whooping of 2011.” Between the two games, we were out-scored 14 – 4. That’s a High School JV football game.
The net effect was like a nature special with hyenas tearing apart a carcass: what could we say? Edmonton in particular was like watching a game of dodgeball between a class of fourth-graders and the University of North Carolina basketball team. Lambs to the slaughter.
Weekends like those are when being a blogger sucks the worst. You can’t talk up the positives, because there weren’t any; you don’t want to jump on the bring-up-the-IceHogs-and-fire-the-coaches bandwagon, because you know in a week they’ll be lighting up goalies like artificial Christmas trees. So what do you say?
Nothing. There’s nothing to say. All you can do is look forward, and that time is here. It’s game time again, tonight at the Shark Tank. San Jose awaits.
Has Jarome Iginla been traded yet? No? Just checking…
What about now?
It seems that whenever things go south in Calgary the entire hockey media north of the border asserts, en masse, that a deal is imminent. It’s the solution for everything — like duct tape, or chicken soup, or re-booting. Or at least, that’s what the hockey elite in Canada seem to think.
You had to believe that after the 6-2 punishment the Vancouver Canucks gave the Blackhawks back on November 6th, all the sports media in B.C. probably spend the next several days pounding their chests and stomping around like the kid in the teen angst movies that ends up getting beaten like a mule, spit on and run up a flagpole for good measure.
Hope you had your fun while it lasted, fellas. Now it’s our turn. Time to go into their rink, humiliate them in front of their slack-jawed fans, then take a meatloaf-sized crap at center ice and climb into the limousine.