2011-12 Regular Season

Done with ‘Gobble-Gobble,’ Time For ‘Quack-Quack’

Photo: Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register

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.

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On the Bright Side: What to be Thankful for on Thanksgiving Day

After dropping three straight games while being outscored 15-4, it may be hard to look at things to be thankful for at the present moment.

Even after going winless in the games since their 5-1 spanking of the Canucks, the Blackhawks still sit tied for second in the Western Conference and atop the Central Division with a 12-7-3 record and 27 points. The surprising Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks – who just showed us why they are high in the standings – are the only ones on par with the ‘Hawks.

Last year the Blackhawks were still running on a Stanley Cup hangover with a record of 10-10-2 after playing 22 games, which was only good for fourth in the division and 11th in the Western Conference. They were not getting consistent play from their No. 1 goaltender – at that time was Marty Turco – and Nick Boynton (yuck) was still in the lineup. The new additions to the team had a hard time adjusting to the new scenery, and chemistry wasn’t there after the salary cap purge during the previous offseason.

The Blackhawks may have lost their last three games, but there have been several things that fans should be thankful for so far this season. They have seen great play from their goaltender, from their veterans and young guns, and even some new pieces which were added in the off-season.

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Back From The Brink, And Into The Shark Tank

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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.

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Fell on Black Days : Blackhawks Blue-Line Struggles

(Lou Capozzola/SI)

WORST. WEEKEND. EVER.

After some R&R in Vegas the last few days, the Blackhawks will continue the circus trip against Antii Niemi, Martin Havlat and the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night. As I’m sure you all know by now, the Hawks’ are coming off two of their worst games of the season – one of them being a 9-2 horror show in Edmonton. Predictably, people are losing their minds. The calls to bench Duncan Keith are starting on Twitter and elsewhere.

This is just about the most batshit thing I’ve ever heard and makes no sense whatsoever. In his last two games, Keith has been a -8 combined and certainly hasn’t been on top of his game. However, Fifth Feather points out some problems with putting the Edmonton debacle all on him and its not like #2 was the only Hawk who had a dreadful +/- that night. Aside from it being literally impossible to bench him (not enough d-men with Seabs hurt), have these people forgotten how good Keith looked in the Vancouver game and the games preceding it? Why would you rush to the whip when it appeared your best defenseman was finally returning to form before the whole team collectively turned to shit over the weekend?

The Blackhawks have problems on the back end, but it’s not all on Keith. The absence of Brent Seabrook is killing this team in the physical department and the continued presence of John Scott in the lineup every night necessitates more tough minutes be logged by Keith, Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarrson.

Another issue is the surprising lack of depth on the defense. Most figured the Hawks had left the dark days of Scott, Nick Boynton and Jassen Cullimore behind when Stan Bowman went out and picked up Steve Montador, Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell up in the offseason. Tragically, this has not been the case. O’Donnell and Lepisto don’t even play over the incompetent and useless Scott lately.

This is unacceptable and the way things are shaping up, Bowman might have to go out and acquire another defenseman with some of those millions he has saved. While most people are looking for the Hawks’ to acquire a Top 6 forward, the situation on the blue line might actually be more pressing, especially if Viktor Stalberg continues to play well with Jonathan Toews (not something I ever thought I’d be saying).

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Smoked : Calgary wins 5-2

It was that kind of night ( STRINGER/CANADA, REUTERS / November 19, 2011 )

There would be no epic comeback this time. The intensity the Blackhawks had a couple nights ago in Vancouver was simply not there tonight. The offensively challanged Flames put 5 goals past Corey Crawford and controlled the tempo most of the night. The defense in particular was atrocious and the forwards shouldn’t get off much easier. Give the Flames a little credit - Mikka Kiprusoff was outstanding and Curtis Glenncross had 2 goals in the winning effort. The Hawks’ were short Michael Frolik and Brent Seabrook, but Ben Smith made his season debut and to many’s surprise did not single handedly carry the Hawks’ to victory.

Just a few quick thoughts because its Friday, ya know?

♦ The Hawks’ nearly had a too many men penalty in the opening minutes and Calgary had a goal off a terrible change. Joel Queneville is a good coach, but Hawks’ teams have been consistently horrible at executing basic line changes during his tenure here. I don’t know if it’s a result of Q’s penchant for matching up with the other teams or not but it is super fucking annoying.

♦ I would LOVE to know what was said between Jarome Iginla and Patrick Kane that got Iggy so pissed off.

♦ The first Flames goal was a result of Duncan Keith guessing incorrectly and Lee Stempniak taking advantage. He had an assist, but #2 was in 2010-2011 mode for most of the night and was a -4.

Edzo compared Viktor Stalberg to Ken Yaremchuk after Stalberg took a lap around the Calgary zone with the puck. This is probably not the first time many have heard the comparison, albeit for different reasons.

♦ The opening minute of 2nd was a disaster. Rene Bourque scored 40 seconds in and 17 seconds later Paul Byron was  gifted in the slot after Nick Leddy tried to get a little too cute while attempting a tight pass to Dave Bolland. The Hawks’ would cut the lead 5 minutes later when Marian Hossa blasted a one-timer past Kiprusoff on a 4 on 3 power play, but the Hawks’ never really recovered from the Byron goal.

♦ Halfway through the 2nd, Ben Smith carried the puck into the zone in a 1-1 situation and briefly leaned to his left like he was going to try and cut the slot, but changed his mind and went outside instead. One has to wonder if he had a flashback to the Brandon Smith hit there that concussed him.

John Scott is lucky his blatant hit from behind on Tim Jackman wasn’t just a few feet closer to the Calgary bench or we would have had Lemieux/Draper all over again. Calgary was pissed and frankly they were probably justified.

♦ This game sucked. Luckily, the Hawks’ will have a chance to rebound tomorrow night in Edmonton. One suspects Ray Emery will get the start as the Hawks’ will face San Jose, Los Angles and Anaheim starting Wednesday. 2 points are a must tomorrow if the Hawks’ want to capture 6 or 7 points on this road trip considering the opponents the rest of the way.

Fuel To The Fire: Blackhawks Try To Set Calgary Ablaze

Photo: AP

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.

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Now It’s Our Turn: Blackhawks Visit Canucks

Photo: headtothe.net

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.

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Circus Trip Roundtable

Clowns suck.

Myself, Jim and Tim decided to touch on a few issues heading into the annual Circus Trip. Three idiots, three questions. Get some.

1) Just when Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith seemed to be regaining their form together, Seabrook goes down with an injury which may keep him out as the ‘Hawks embark on the annual Circus Trip. How will Seabrook’s absence affect the defensive corps, and who will you be looking for to step up?

Jim: Ugh. Seabrook going down sure took a bit of the fun out of an otherwise fantastic Sunday for Chicago sports fans. The timing of this is fucking horrible and certainly dampens the outlook as the Hawks head out on the Oregon Trail. Seabrook brings the mean back on the Hawks blue line and he certainly would have been nice to have in the Vancouver and Anaheim games – two teams which bring it physically. God only knows what this does to the pairings. Does Q revert back to Keith and Leddy, or does he let Monty step up into the first pair and keep Hjammer and Leddy together? Hjammer is going to have to be the physical force back there and Nick Leddy is going to have to continue to eat up important minutes (27 against Edmonton). The biggest impact will be on Duncan Keith. #2 will be asked to pick up the load (especially on the PK), much as Seabrook did when he went down. I think Duncs will be equal to the task. The absolute worst part of all of this? You guess it.….more John Scott. Shoot me now.

Tim: I think we saw a decent picture of how this group will adjust to the absence of one of its leaders with the Keith hand injury. That’s a very positive sign. And just like in those games, I hope Coach Q has the sense to dress 6 qualified defensemen, instead of John Scott.

As for who needs to step up, the name we have heard precious little of so far this season is Niklas Hjalmarsson. Granted, at least he isn’t getting nightly delay-of-game penalties anymore. But he needs to make more of an impact out there on a nightly basis. So far he’s been largely invisible.

Bartl: Seabrook stepped up when Keith was out, now Keith is going to have to do the same with his rekindled partner sidelined. While Hammer quite obviously will need to step up his game, that’s something we’ve known for quite some time now. The defensive deficiencies lie with Scott, Lepisto and/or O’Donnell to play smart, sound hockey. While that those qualities waived bye-bye to Scott a long time ago, it’s the other two I’m concerned about. Neither have been able to crack the lineup ahead of that elephant on skates, and having to rely in decent minutes from either of them racks my brain. Aside from that Montador likely won’t be seeing as much time at forward given he’ll need to play more minutes on D, and taking away a hot stick from a clicking offense is rarely good.

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NHL News & Notes : EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!

Jon Hayt/Getty Images

♦ First things first – Brad Richards is apparently dating Olivia Munn. And here you thought he should have stayed in Dallas…

♦ A big congratulations to Eddie Belfour. The Eagle was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday along with Joe Nieuwendyk, Mark Howe and Doug Gilmore. Belfour amassed 484 carrer wins (201 in Chicago) with the Blackhawks, Sharks, Stars, Maple Leafs and Panthers and ranks #10 all time in career shutouts with 76. He won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and a NCAA Championship in 1987 with North Dakota. Belfour was last Blackhawk to win the Calder Trophy (1991) before Patrick Kane (2007). He remains the most recent Blackhawk to win a Vezina, which he took home in both 1991 and 1993. Losing Eddie was tough, but at least the Blackhawks got Ulf Dahlen in return.

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Not Crude Anymore: Oilers Visit Chicago

Photo: Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press

There are only two names you need to know to understand the meteoric performance of the Edmonton Oilers this young season. Both of these names have taken the team, and the league, by near-complete surprise; and in one case, has most people scratching their heads.

The names are: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nikolai Khabibulin. The 18-year-old rookie and the inconsistent netminder 20 years his senior have been the catalysts for Edmonton rising near the top of the Western Conference standings.

The Edmonton Oilers’ patience has paid off. They come into the United Center tonight sitting atop the Northwest Division, and eager for some payback against a Chicago team that has manhandled them over the past several years.

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