2011-12 Regular Season
With the Blackhawks’ poor luck with shootouts of late (or at least, until the victory over Anaheim on Tuesday), one would think it hard to find a team doing worse than Chicago in that category. Fortunately for us, the ‘Hawks visit that team tonight. Carolina, despite having only 9 games under their belt, has 3 games in the ‘OTL’ column.
The bad stats don’t end there, with 5 of their top 6 scorers sitting south of zero in the plus-minus category, and their backup goaltender boasting a 4.46 GAA.
Let’s leave it as, things could be better in the land of NASCAR.
I did this a few times last season when I could, so I thought I’d share some facts heading into tonight’s contest at the RBC Center versus the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the Blackhawks are getting solid contributions from all four lines, the Hurricanes are scrambling after three straight losses. Here are their likely forward lines for the tilt:
Chad LaRose – NAME THAT STAAL … Eric Staal – Jiri Tlusty
SKINNERRRRR! – Jussi Jokinen – Tuomo Ruutu
Alexei Ponikarovsky – Brandon Sutter – Patrick Dwyer
Brett Sutter – Tim Brent (yes, that Tim Brent) / Derek Joslin - Zach Boychuk
Here are some stats/facts …
One of the curiosities of last season was the holy-crap performance of aging veteran Teemu Selanne. Despite having four decades in his rear view mirror, he notched 31 goals and a whopping 80 points in 73 regular-season games, adding a goal-per-game performance in the playoffs. Selanne and 4 other Ducks players were all north of 65 points on the 2010-11 season, and Selanne plus the other 4 will all be in the lineup tonight at the United Center: forwards Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan, and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
But I’m sure Anaheim Head Coach Randy Carlyle is hoping his offensive stars will start to shine soon, as the Ducks are near the bottom of the barrel in scoring, just barely nudging past 2 goals per game on average. Those five players account for fully two-thirds of the Ducks total offense to date. Pay close attention to those players, you shut down the Ducks offense — almost.
The Blackhawks’ season looked, at the outset, to be fraught with peril: shaky backup goaltending, injuries to key forwards, defensive pairing mix-and-match, questions about conditioning, and the ever-present ticking time bomb that exists in the form of newly-acquired winger Daniel Carcillo. The first six games of the season find the Blackhawks with a 4-1-1 record, and showing the potential for another Stanley Cup run. Thursday’s game was a good example of that potential.
Watching the Blackhawks take on the Avalanche it was apparent that these were two closely-matched teams: young and fast, with quick and dangerous snipers up front and scary-good goaltending on the back end. Thursday’s game saw lots of end-to-end action, goaltenders peppered with shots — and standing on their heads to keep their teams in it, and a lot of quick transitions at the blue line.
Tonight, we are going to see that same Avalanche team again; and again, the Blackhawks are going to have to play the same fast, disciplined game to get past them.
Whew, now that was fast-paced hockey.
The Blackhawks were able to calm themselves after the Avs’ initial first-period rush, get into the flow of the game and come away with a 3-1 victory in Colorado, going 2 for 2 on the brief road trip.
I’m tired, so just a few quick observations before Boxing …
♦ With the entire game going pretty much back and forth at warp speed, both Corey Crawford and Semyon Varlamov saw nearly everything thrown at them, neither giving up a bad goal on the night. The Blackhawks put two difficult shots past Varlamov, while Crawford wasn’t able to get in front of an unfortunate bounce. Varlamov should be spending the night in jail after his ridiculous save on Marcus Kruger.
♦ “Bick-Bo-Fro … douchebag”: A bit of a left turn from the “quid pro quo” comment from The Hangover, but this line has been something special thus far. Poor, poor Michael Frolik. Varlamov robbed him of his first goal on a beautiful chance right in front. Bickell has played his ass off and Bolland, well, …. please for the love of holy Christ stay healthy.
♦ Dan Carcillo’s fantastic pass set up Jonathan Toews’ goal, marking yet another solid feed from Carcillo. He got rewarded with his 2nd point as a ‘Hawk, though it’s not for the shortage of some great opportunities he’s set up which simply haven’t gone in the net.
♦ Duncan Keith disrupted a play in the neutral zone, which ended up leading to Patrick Sharp’s handsome goal. After Keith forced the turnover, the ‘Hawks were able to get into transition, pepper Varlamov with a couple of in-tight chances before Sharp sniped the short side to beat him. It was the second straight solid game for Keith, who has been taking plenty of heat lately.
OK, time for Boxing. Two images, click to enlarge …
As the Winnipeg Jets celebrate their reincarnation north of the border, the team that represents the ashes of the old incarnation of that squad still sits, parched, in the dusty climes of Phoenix, awaiting whatever fate Fuhrer Bettman decides they should have. Stuck in the mobius loop of lousy-team-low-revenue-no-buyers-can’t-attract-good-players-so-lousy-team, Bettman faces mountains of humiliation should the team be forced to move from a location he personally hand-picked for NHL expansion. So, he isn’t approving any deals that involve moving the team to places where snowmobiles are used as transportation for part of the year.
The proud, arrogant little bastard should be beaten to death at center ice before puck drop at the All-Star Game. Fans of hockey all over the world would pay $5000 a ticket to watch that.
But I digress…
It’s not like me to be so happy about a victory over a team that would probably finish second in a suburban men’s league, but there was a lot of good going on tonight. The fact I’m building up this solid effort (from the eight-minute mark on, anyway) is because it’s the third game of the season, and things seem to be clicking in places we may not have expected.
Thursday night’s 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets wasn’t perfect by any means, though what transpired for the better part of the contest was the Blackhawks simply flattening an outmatched team and ruining the return of Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.
Ray Emery wasn’t fantastic, and he looked, well, like a guy who is just getting over the flu at times. Both first-period goals were re-directed by Jim Slater, and they likely would’ve gotten past most goaltenders. The third? Well, that’s where he slipped up a bit, but as I’ve stated before, there’s a reason a backup is a backup.
The one time he came out of the net and tried to pass the puck up ice to get he play started, he gave Byfuglien a gift which he nearly buried. This prompted my fellow season-ticket holder Neil to say of Emery, “He was just tryin’ to help a brotha out.” Wait, help a brotha … Ohhhh, I get it. They’re both African-Americans. I understand now. I’ll laugh.
Jonathan Toews committed a hometown turnover which led the first goal, and the amount of in-zone turnovers where beyond counting, though Winnipeg luckily had its share of those issues as well.
I’ll get more into what I felt was impressive in Boxing, but I have to say I came away very happy with the play of Dan Carcillo. CarBomb was all over the ice tonight, and in no way did I feel he was out of control. He made solid passes which nearly led to goals, and I think his all-out play and style fit well with the finesse of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa on that line.
Carcillo’s assist game came on a play where he won the puck off the board and fed it to Hossa, who bulldozed through a check to find an open Kaner, who fired it in on a one-timer. If that line continues scoring goals in that style, Carcillo is going to end up being a great pick up and a great match with those two.
Onto Boxing we go. Click the separate images to enlarge…
When the backup goaltender debate was raging, the issue I raised (that everyone, and I mean *everyone* called me nuts for raising) was the prospect of injuries. What do you do if one of our top-two goaltenders gets hurt?
While it’s not looking like Corey Crawford isn’t healthy enough to go and more simply getting a night off, Ray Emery will start in net for the Blackhawks after battling the flu much of this week.
Hopefully all of this injury shit is confined to the start of the season, when the ‘Hawks had five days to heel up and get back in gear.
♦ Corey Crawford practiced today with a sore groin, and he’s not certain if he can go against Winnipeg tomorrow night. Crawford downplayed it and said he’ll decide at the morning skate how healthy he is, but there’s no reason to rush back for the third game of the season. In fact, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to sit Crawford either Thursday or Saturday against Boston anyway even if he was healthy.
The humorous part, though, is that Ray Emery also missed Wednesday’s practice with the flu. To counter that, the Blackhawks recalled Alexander Salak to either start or be the backup against the Jets. With all the hullabaloo over the backup goaltender, we all may get a chance to see what Salak is all about. Then if he posts a shutout, we can read 19 more blogs about whether or not Salak will replace Emery even after Emery is done vomiting. Yippy.
After Friday’s poop fest, it was more than nice to see the ‘Hawks score first and shut down the Stars out of the gate in a 5-2 win Saturday night at the United Center.
It also helped that Andrew Raycroft was getting beat like a group of Mormons in a keg race to his glove side all night. A couple of inches on numerous shots and this game could’ve ended 9-2.
Jonathan Toews scored out of the penalty box after Andrew Brunette got his first goal as a Blackhawk. Dave Bolland had a pair, including one that made Raycroft look like, well, Raycroft. Goals came much easier than they did Friday against Kari Lehtonen.
The Blackhawks seemed to be determined well before puck drop, as the ‘Hawks limited shots to Corey Crawford as he was playing a back-to-back for the first time since late last season. No real threats were posed other than a Vernon Fiddler goal which was set up by a nice give-and-go with former friend Adam Burish. Still, it took a great shot from Fiddler to beat Crawford to the far top shelf when Crawford had the near post covered.
Jamal Mayers helped welcome back Jake Dowell to the UC with a couple of haymakers, while John Scott was up to his same old shit – wasting a perfectly good uniform while dressing his large, worthless body for a whole three minutes.
Bolland, on the other hand, proved just how useful he can be when he can stay healthy. Friday and Saturday were night and day, and don’t think Bolland wasn’t a major cause of it. The Stars looked completely out of sorts, and Bolland provided plenty of offense as well. It’s probably both good and bad, but the ‘Hawks seem to be a different team when he’s out on the ice (See: Vancouver series, Games 4-7).
Onto Boxing to celebrate the first of (hopefully) many more victories. As always, separate images for the summary and box score, click each to enlarge: