Blackhawks

Monday Evening Blues: St. Louis Visits Sweet Home Chicago

Photo: Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT

The Blackhawks bookend this week with a home-and-home series starting tonight at the United Center against the St. Louis Blues, who aren’t looking too bad so far this young season. Boasting a 2-1-1 record with wins over Philly and Anaheim, the Blues’ new goaltender Jaroslav Halak has backstopped them solidly with a 2.00 GAA and .909 save percentage. The Blues were counting on that, and so far Halak has delivered.

So far offense has been sparse, with the Blues scoring more than 3 goals only once so far this season. All but one game has been a one-goal margin, and two of their tilts have gone to OT. So the Blues aren’t blowing anybody out of the water so far, and since their marquee player had only 24 goals last season and boasts a NHL-career minus-14 rating, you can bet they’re not going to.

It appears from the box scores on their early outings, the Blues are trying to come out at break-neck speed, score quickly, and ride their early lead to a win. This didn’t work on Saturday against Dallas, and now that the Hawks are once again showing the kind of persistence that won them Lord Stanley’s Cup, it shouldn’t work in Chicago either. Blues dirtbag Cam Janssen is still out with a concussion, apart from that the Blues are healthy and ready to be beaten like the dogs that they are.

On the Blackhawks’ end, fans were puzzled and disappointed to hear the club announce that rookie defenseman Nick Leddy was sent down to the AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs. The kid looked dazed and confused his first two regular-season NHL games, but had steadily improved since then and was showing promise. However this is likely a move designed to get him 20-25 minutes of ice time per game, and groom him for the future. I would not be surprised to see him called up — permanently — after the trade deadline to stick with the Blackhawks through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. We’ll keep the name on your locker, Nick.

With Niklas Hjalmarsson returning from suspension this past Saturday, that leaves him, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook, as our top-three on the blueline. The bottom-four are now (everybody take a deep breath, this is going to hurt a bit) Nick Boynton, John Scott, Jordan Hendry, and Jassen Cullimore. It appears, with Leddy’s re-assignment, that we are going to have to endure this combination until Brian Campbell returns from his injury. Maalox Extra Strength can be found in the handy 16-oz. size at your local Walgreen’s store.

The good news is that the Blackhawks’ offense is kicking it into gear. The plus/minus numbers are still a little dodgy, but we’re starting to see the kinds of things that made Blackhawks hockey exciting last year. Tic-tac-toe passing. Power-play conversions. Short-handed goals. Patrick Sharp snapping in rebounds. Marian Hossa toying with goaltenders and making them cry. And most importantly, sticking with games until the final horn sounds. Our two wins over Buffalo were come-from-behind victories, and that’s the best news of all.

Marty Turco gets the start, and during his last two outings he has stopped all but 5 of 73 shots against. That’s a .931 save percentage. Let’s hope that keeps up. Coach Q was tight-lipped after practice today about lineup specifics, but spies peering over the dasher boards suggest that Jack Skille will be back in the lineup, John Scott will stay up on the wing, and Viktor Stalberg will get a rest.

Puck drops at 7:30, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio AM-720 WGN. XM subscribers can find the game on channel 208. Sirius, aaaah find it yourself.

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Looking Sharp: ‘Hawks take two with help from a very handsome man

Hug me, cuz I'm beautiful. (Getty Images)

Patrick Sharp is a very handsome man. He’s a pretty decent hockey player, too.

The man behind the looks had a pair of two-goal games in Friday’s 5-2 win against Columbus and Saturday’s 4-3 win against Buffalo. Sharp’s performances also block that big spotlight beaming on Saturday’s win that the ‘Hawks pretty much should have lost.

But as my buddy Boston Joe told me earlier today when Michigan State struggled through a win against Illinois, “Good teams win.” The ‘Hawks still play like the champions they are when needed.

That was no more evident than during Friday’s dismantling of the BJs. After the loss to Nashville and with  Marty Turco sitting for two straight games, the ‘Hawks needed to take advantage of a rusty Columbus team that hadn’t played in nearly a week.

Sharp put 13 shots on net Friday. To put that into perspective, the ‘Hawks had 21 shots Saturday as a team. He’s simply playing like a man possessed. To me, it’s clear when someone is playing like they have something to prove when the kid in them comes out. After each of Sharp’s goals Saturday — which includes the game-winner late in the third period — he celebrated like he scored his first goal in pee-wee hockey. It was beautiful to watch, and he’s showing he knew he had to put his name on the scoresheet even more this season with all of the departures during offseason. He’s neat.

All right, onto the meat of this…

♦  Marian Hossa is a goddamn beast. A goal and an assist Friday, another goal Saturday. Him and Sharp have both potted five goals now and are clearly playing like men among boys. Not only is Hossa putting himself on the scoresheet, he’s doing all the things we need to appreciate more: Kill penalties, backcheck like a mother fucker, control the puck and provide scoring opportunities for his teammates. Hossa is the ultimate example of unselfishness, he’s got a six-game points streak and I have a gigantic man crush.

♦  There’s been a  Dave Bolland siting! He’s been playing like  Fat Albert on roller skates up until tonight, when he made a great move on  Patrick Lalime to tie the game 3-3. Bolland also was 13-for-19 on faceoffs tonight after farting on the dot most of the previous five games. Hopefully we see more of Saturday’s Bolland from here on out.

♦  Both of  Brent Seabrook’s assists tonight were gorgeous. He made a great pass on a 4-on-4 to spring Bolland and earlier fed a beautiful lead pass to Hossa for his goal. We haven’t seen the 2009-10 Seabs until tonight, which isn’t surprising given he’s been playing nearly a half-hour per night. But Saturday his passing skills led to two big goals.

♦  John Scott is a 6’8″, 258-pound paperweight.

♦  Anyone else surprised the Sabres didn’t at least try and stir up shit with  Niklas Hjalmarsson tonight? I really felt we’d see some punches thrown or at least a monster hit from someone. Eh, whatever.

♦  O Campbell, Where Art Thou?  Jassen Cullimore belongs in Rockford or on a couch somewhere. He played 18:54 in sheer terror and had me begging for  Brent Sopel’s ugly ass by the 10-minute mark. Also, the ‘Hawks were out-shot 41-21 against Buffalo and let 32 go through against Columbus. PooP.

♦  What a week for  Nick Boynton. He takes a dipshit delay-of-game penalty that doomed the ‘Hawks against the Preds, took another dipshit penalty at the end of the game tonight against Buffalo and played a role in the hotness that is  Jen Patterson getting fired from Comcast Sportsnet. Asshole.

♦  Back to some better stuff,  Marty Turco played really well in both victories this weekend. He may scare the shit out of you and may lead you to brief moments of heart failure, but Turco makes the saves when they’re need the most. The ‘Hawks have made life difficult for their goaltenders so far this year, and Turco has stepped up.

I know there’s more stuff I can add, but I don’t want to make this too long. “Boxing” upcoming… when I feel like it.

‘Til then…

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No Excuses: Blackhawks vs. Not-The-Buckeyes

Photo: ESPN.com

Columbus, Ohio residents were shocked to learn in early October that they still had an NHL hockey team! Paying so much attention to the still-undefeated and #1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes football team, residents began calling the newspapers and TV outlets wondering who the funny-looking guys were wearing the skates and red-white-and-blue uniforms.

It didn’t help matters that the BJ’s spent late September and early October eating Lutfisk, cabbage, and pickled lingenberries while playing two regular-season games against the Sharks in Stockholm, Sweden. How could anybody pay attention to them, the team wasn’t even in town!

Alas, with so much hullaballoo over OSU and their pigskin performance, not to mention the disappointing season the Blue Jackets had in 2009-10, both media coverage and ticket sales are down noticeably for the Columbus franchise. Add to that a goalie coming off a sophomore slump and a leading-scorer whose effectiveness is waning, and you have the recipe for a, “Who Jackets?” reaction from central Ohio residents.

The just-completed off-season brought one substantial change, and little else. Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel was brought in as a permanent replacement for long-departed Ken Hitchcock, bringing with him a puck-possession style system that the team is having difficulty adapting to.

Apart from that the only brand-name addition to the roster is former Blackhawk and departed Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau who they snatched up on waivers. He is expected to bring some energy back to the team and provide leadership and confidence in what is reported to be a dour locker room scene.

KHL-banished prospect Nikita Filatov has returned to the team after personality clashes last season with Hitchcock and some teammates — many of whom are still on the squad. So while the young sniper has the potential to provide steady and crowd-pleasing offense, there is also the possibility that his attitude presents problems for the team. Only time will tell.

The Jackets have young Steve Mason between the pipes, who followed up a Calder-trophy-winning 33-win/10-shutout season in 2008-09 with a middling performance last year. Flimsy defense in front of him didn’t help the situation, and Mason will have to show his coach that he’s capable of handling the load. The other thing is, even the faithful fans are souring on Mason. If he can’t repeat his spectacular rookie season, or at least show that it’s possible, the coaching staff may lose patience as well and give him the hook.

Though it’s hard to blame Mason exclusively. Word from Columbus is that the Jackets’ defensive corps is big but slow, and they are having trouble adapting to the puck-possession system implemented by Arniel. If the blueliners can’t get with the program, Mason will have his hands full. If he lets in 3 goals on 60 shots, that’s a .950 save percentage. Not Mason’s fault if they lose that one 3-2.

The other factor that that has plagued Columbus is penalties. Their slow defensemen have been compensating with a lot of clutch-and-grab, and the Jackets have already racked up an above-average number of penalties in the early part of this year. Their penalty killing has gotten a workout, and this will likely prove to be a factor as games wear on and benches get shortened.

Let’s hope the speedy Blackhawks forwards take advantage of that, and we should expect to see all guns blazing as the Hawks come into the attacking zone. All guns except one, that is: Patrick Kane didn’t make the trip to Columbus, having sat out practice on Thursday with an illness.

In an unusual move, defenseman Jassen Cullimore got on the plane out of Rockford this morning and will be on the bench tonight. The groans from Blackhawks fans who know of Cullimore’s barely-AHL-caliber play could be heard all the way in Columbus. Goodness knows how Coach Q is going to shuffle the cards tonight — perhaps moving blueliners Jordan Hendry or John Scott up to a wing? — but this twist will make for an interesting game.

Kane’s absence is icing on the cake to a couple of weeks chock full of roster challenges. The Hawks are still without Niklas Hjalmarsson (suspension) and Brian Campbell (injury) on the back end. Expect Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to test the limits of their endurance once more, as the supporting cast behind them is still struggling to, you know, play defense. Marty Turco gets the start tonight amid unconfirmed reports that Coach QStache is growing weary of Turco’s bone-headed out-of-the-crease activities.

But regardless of who is in, who is out, who’s in net, who’s on D, and who’s playing 59 minutes per game, there are no excuses tonight. There are few scenarios where the Blackhawks can’t kick the holy living crap out of Columbus. Most pundits are putting the Blow Jerkers either last or next-to-last in the Conference this year. We should take every game from them, including this one. So I want to see nothing but elbows and assholes tonight, fellas: we need one in the ‘Wins’ column, and I’m not taking no for an answer.

Puck drops at 6pm Chicago time, TV is Comcast SportsNet, WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio, XM channel 204, and you Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers look for channel 208.

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The Evil Troll & Company Steal One In The UC

Photo: The Tennessean

By now you’ve either seen, heard, or read about the Blackhawks’ snooze-inducing loss to the Nashville Predators, Barry “The Evil Troll” Trotz leading his crew of injury replacements to a late-3rd-period game winner that sealed the deal against Chicago.

I’m not going to give you the blow-by-blow, as it will likely put you to sleep — just like the second period of last night’s game did. Typical Nashville, but just like last year’s playoff series, whatever it is they do, they seem to throw the Hawks off their game every time. Last night was no exception: the forwards could barely get anything going, and the defense looked like they all had their skates on the wrong feet.

Some quick thoughts about the ups and downs:

– Rookie Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his first NHL start. So he’s probably sitting at home milking the moose right now, thinking about last night’s win and dreaming of his Ryan Miller-esque contract demands. Well, don’t rub it raw there, Andy. Next time we see you it may be 50 shots coming at you instead of 25. Even blind mice find cheese every once in a while. This ain’t over.

Dave Bolland was easily one of the most consistent, over-performing players throughout the playoffs last year. Now he looks like he’s playing over-40 Men’s League. Is he injured? Sick, maybe? Did his hamster die? Something has to change there. He’s a liability right now.

– Viktor Stalberg hasn’t impressed me with any exceptional bursts of speed quite yet. What impressed me last night was his shot. The kid can unload, both slap shot and wrist shot. More accuracy, and he’s going to have goalies wondering how it got behind them so fast.

– If Patrick Sharp hasn’t fully recovered from whatever “undisclosed injury” he suffered last week, get him off the ice. Right now he’s playing like old people have sex: slow and sloppy. We need him at full capacity, and if that means letting him have two weeks off, so be it.

– If there is one thing I would work on with this team right now, it’s conditioning. The Hawks used to out-skate teams by 10 minutes into the second, and dominate by halfway through the third. That needs to happen again if we are going to put up good numbers this season.

Corey Crawford played even better against Nashville than he did against Buffalo. He was screened on the first goal, the second was a deflection, and the third was a PK defensive lapse that left Joel Ward standing by the far post with enough time and space to smoke a cigarette and chat up the girls in the front row before snapping in the game-winner. Crawford has great reaction time, he’s squaring to the shooter well, he’s seeing the ice much better, and his rebound control is improving. Suffice to say I have a good deal of confidence in our backup goaltender.

– When Niklas Hjalmarsson comes back on Saturday, give Duncan Keith the night off. The guy is killing himself out there, and it doesn’t help his game, and it doesn’t help the team. He can’t be two defensemen, he can only be Dunc. Right now he’s being whipped like a rented mule, and it’s going to take a toll.

– Speaking of which, I would like to see a return to the Niklas Hjalmarsson we saw during the last regular season. He’s been trying to be a cross between Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell, and in the process he’s turned into Alain Nasreddine. Stop it, Nik. You’re no good to us this way.

– The Blackhawks had four — that’s FOUR — shots on goal in the third. That means I had only four shots fewer than the entire team while sitting on my living room couch and arguing with my cat about whose roast beef sandwich that really was.

– It’s my belief that this line juggling and musical defensemen is contributing to this crappy start. I know it’s Coach Q‘s way of doing things, but you can’t develop chemistry with guys who you only play with for three shifts a game. Look at it this way: it can’t get much worse if we stick to set lines for an entire game. Why not try it once, see what happens.

The Hawks are at Columbus on Friday, and you can bet Buffalo will be puttin’ on the foil to get a crack at Hammer when they visit the UC on Saturday. Check back here for previews before and wrap-ups after each game, and we’re always good for some laughs at others’ expense. Hey, they say stick to what you’re good at.

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Boxing with Blackhawks and Monsters in the Forest in Arnold movies, 10/13/10

Here’s Wednesday’s twisted box score from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. Enjoy.

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Cats Without Fangs: Injury-Riddled Predators Visit Chicago

Photo: The Tennessean

Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich. Ever heard of them? Me neither. But one of them will be between the pipes for their first NHL start when the injury-depleted Nashville Predators arrive at the United Center for the game against the Blackhawks.

During Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, usually-impenetrable starting goaltender Pekka Rinne suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury and is out for, well, they’re not saying.

And seriously, is this “undisclosed injury” crap ever going to end? Tell the truth: the guy took a puck in the man-jigglies.

Lindback, a gangly 22-year-old Swede at 6’ 6” tall, is the likely choice to get the start — his first in North America — after coming in to relieve Rinne on Saturday night. He stopped all seven shots in 17 minutes of play during that game. But that’s 17 minutes more than Dekanich has ever played in the bigs, so the Predators had better hope Lindback is up to the task. Not an enviable position to be in when your star goalie is out.

In fact, the Preds will be without many of their effective weapons for this tilt with their Central Division rivals, as Martin Erat, Jamie Lundmark and Sergei Kostitsyn are all out of the lineup with various (wait for it…) undisclosed injuries. In fact, the entire thing is so secretive, I’ve heard that all of the players will wear number double-zero with no names on their jerseys so that the Hawks don’t even know who is on the ice!

Incognito or not, we can expect to see former Blackhawks J.P. DuMont and Speedy Stevie Sullivan, and we can also expect Barry Trotz’s minions to play a style of hockey that could put a crack-addicted gerbil to sleep. Pinch and press, dump and loiter, four-men across at their own blue line. It’s like a concert where the band just plays “Wooly Bully” over and over endlessly.

This will be just the second game of the year for Nashville, so we have little to go on past their 4-1 win over league-scourge Anaheim on Saturday. With so many guns absent from the arsenal, it’s anybody’s guess how the Preds will respond. Look for newly-minted captain Shea Weber to try to rally the troops against the defending champs.

And speaking of the Blackhawks, getting a win under their belt was no-doubt a confidence builder. And in a move that came as a surprise to everyone, late Wednesday afternoon Coach Q named Monday’s winning goaltender Corey Crawford for tonight’s start. No suggestion that Marty Turco was either injured or falling out of favor: the Hawks schedule has them in 4 games over the next 6 days, and the Coach is merely putting his ducks in a row to get the right ‘tender up against the right opponent.

The forward corps are looking reasonably good. Patrick Sharp returned on Monday after missing the Detroit (*spitting noise*) game with — you guessed it — an undisclosed injury, and he was a factor in the win over the Sabres. Newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille are working their butts off; Patrick Kane is starting to catch fire; and Marian Hossa is already as hot as a two-dollar pistol with five points in three games.

Some of our expectations of our veterans haven’t been met, in particular Dave Bolland whose face-off percentage looks like he’s using a badminton racquet instead of a hockey stick. Here’s hoping that turns around quickly.

News on defense is not so good. Already reeling from the absence of the injured Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson has earned a two-game suspension from the league for his hit on Jason Pominville during Monday’s game. That leaves Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both already logging 28+ minutes per game, to hold down the fort with an unstable compliment of rookies and lesser-talented veterans behind them.

Never mind the fact that both Dunc and Seabs have made an uncharacteristically large number of bone-head plays themselves so far this young season. All it took was one injury and one ill-conceived hit, and suddenly our best-in-the-league defense looks barely capable of stopping a beach ball. Tonight will be a big test of who can (and does) step up.

Rallying from two goals down in the Sabres victory says a lot about this team. One of the best traits of the Stanley Cup Championship lineup was that they *never* gave up on a game. I’m hopeful that what we saw on Monday was the beginning of that attitude returning to the Hawks’ locker room.

Puck drops at 7:30 at the United Center, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, XM channel 208, Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers can find the game on channel 217.

Check back here for the wrap-up and commentary Thursday morning.

That’s Gonna Leave A Mark

Photo: Buffalo News

When you play baseball, you can tell when a hit is going for the wall. There’s a certain feeling in the bat, that perfect connection between two objects in motion, and the feel of it says, “Bye-bye.”

Slap shots in hockey have the same feel to them when you “get all of it.” Pros have that feeling pretty much every shot. My slap shot sucks, so I felt it maybe twice in my years of amateur hockey.

But hits can have that same eerie resonance to them as well. Those I was good at. My favorite setup was catching a forward skating towards me, looking back over his shoulder to catch a pass. Happened maybe once per season. Time it just right, and you drop a shoulder into his sternum at the exact instant the puck hits his stick — BOOM. He goes down like he’s been hit in the chest by a wrecking ball.

That was the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. You could see it on the replays: he dropped like a stone. After his head ricocheted off the boards a couple of times, I mean.

Late Tuesday Niklas Hjalmarsson received a two-game suspension for the hit on Pominville. I had guessed three. During the preceding 12 hours I had heard the Old-Time-Hockey chorus around Chicago chiming in that they didn’t think it even deserved a penalty, let alone a suspension. Similarly, the Buffalo faithful were advocating that the league throw the book at him. That’s to be expected.

I actually read some barely-literate chucklehead comment on TSN.ca and suggest a suspension of 40 games. Holy bird turds, it’s pro hockey, not powderpuff soccer. Get a grip.

Let’s deal with the not-even-a-penalty suggestion first. From the NHL rule book, “Rule 41″ and “Rule 42″ respectively:

Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

“Charging: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”

The ref had both of these as options for the Hjalmarsson hit, as the play very easily met both of these descriptions. It was called on the ice as a boarding major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. So it’s quite plain to all but the most biased observer that *some* penalty should have been called — and it was.

There is also the new “Rule 48″ which addresses blind-side and/or head-targeted hits, which is new this year:

Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.

The league would have announced this as the cause for the suspension if that were the case, since it would have been the first one they ruled on. They made no such announcement, so I have to believe they did not feel the hit fell into the description as noted above. I think most casual observers would agree with that assessment.

So: not a blind-side hit, no intent to injure, not targeting the head, then why the suspension? In my opinion, it’s a question of PR.

This hit made the news. It was likely shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, because they love good video that they can slow down and make viewers watch as bodily parts do things they were never intended to do in the interest of sport, while commentators who know precious little about hockey at all say, “Yeah Dave, that’s gonna leave a mark.”

It would have made the Buffalo newscasts, and other hockey markets as well. The follow up stories (when they show the hit and Pominville’s stretcher-bound exit yet again) will tell everyone that Pominville suffered a concussion, needed 8 stitches, and will be out a minimum of a week. This presents a PR problem for the league. There’s really no provision in the rule book that justifies a suspension per se, but they can’t do nothing.

If the league lets Hjalmarsson off with no suspension, then sports columnists and commentators get on their high horse about the league turning a blind eye to the needless violence that is now making a comeback. Next thing you know there’s some fool-idiot petition circulating about stopping innocent children from playing or watching hockey. And Lord love a duck, if Don Cherry says something about it on Hockey Night in Canada, then just look out. Every time that old bastard opens his mouth it’s as if somebody had skated to center ice and set a basket of kittens on fire.

Understand that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff. If you’re reading this, you can likely quote the number of games Alexander Ovechkin got for the hit that sidelined Brian Campbell last year. But 99% of the people who only see the news reports about this incident and don’t follow hockey at all. So because these people have the attention span of a gnat, the league only has one shot at controlling the message.

The only way to do that is to move quickly and give the appearance of firm and definitive action. Get the suspension, whatever it is, done quickly — and make sure it’s made public before the 6pm news sportscast goes on the air. You’ll notice that was the precise timing for this announcement.

The league brings this on itself. The rules of the game don’t — and can’t — accommodate for every single circumstance. So when something new or unique comes up, they have to wing it. This opens up debates precisely like this one, and because of the completely secretive and often-times incomprehensible means by which they choose whom and what to punish, they look like idiots, and the sport looks like a joke.

But in the absence of a set of rules that turns hockey into basketball (MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!) we’re going to have to put up with this.

So, Niklas, enjoy your two games off, have some press box popcorn, and we’ll see you next week.

*     *     *     *     *

In other news, the league also handed out a two-game suspension to Islanders’ defenseman James Wisniewski, for being a dick-head.

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NHL lays the Hammer: Hjalmarsson suspended 2 games for hit

You got knocked the fug out! (Getty Images)

As suspected,  Niklas Hjalmarsson  has been suspended for two games for his bone-crushing hit on  Jason Pominville, according to TSNI thought it would only be one game, personally, but the NHL gave two games to  James Wisniewski  today for making a blowjob gesture on the ice. I guess nearly killing someone — intent be damned — is worth at least a blowjob.

Wait…

Anyway, we’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Boxing with the Blackhawks and Giant Swords, 10/11/10

Monday night’s box score of the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres — with a twist.

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Blackhawks vs. Ryan Mill— umm, Buffalo

Photo: viewfrommyseats.com

Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.

Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”

The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.

If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.

However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.

Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.

Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.

Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.

Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.

On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.

After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.

I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.

The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.

Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.

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Boxing with the Blackhawks and Communists, 10/9/10

Here’s Saturday night’s Blackhawks vs. Red Wings box score with a twist:

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Detroit (*spitting noise*) vs. Chicago: Invasion Of The Colostomy Bags

Photo: AP

Seems the Red Wings organ-eye-zation didn’t care too much about my vicious evisceration of their geriatric lineup, as the only assisted-living candidate that was cut from the team late in the pre-season was Kirk Maltby.

Don’t let the oxygen tank hit you in the derriere on the way out the door, gramps.

But you can be sure to see five more of the skating senile on Saturday night, all north of 37 years of age: Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood.

As predicted, barely any of the young mustangs in the Detroit stables made the team: Justin Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz will bring his -11 rating from last season to the forward ranks; and Jakub Kindl, still fuming from his not-unexpected defeat during the copyright infringement lawsuit with Amazon.com, will be on the blue line.

Detroit brings with them the usual cast of characters: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen, and prodigal Euro-trash Jiri Hudler fresh off an I’m-taking-my-football-and-going-home contract dispute that landed him teaching pre-schoolers how to tie their skates in Russia for a year. Or something.

Our pre-season win against the Motor City’s limp and incontinent came with leaky sieve Osgood in net, and however I’d be surprised if we were so lucky this outing. You can bet Jimmy Howard will be between the pipes, and he’s a more formidable backstop, if only due to the fact that he doesn’t soak his teeth between periods. We’ll see what Coach Cranky Pants decides to do.

All kidding aside, whatever the Scum are doing, it appears that they are firing on all cylinders to start the year: last night they blanked Anaheim 4-0. Let’s hope the back-to-back games gives us the advantage.

For the Blackhawks, it’s likely the same lineup we saw against Colorado, with the likely exception of defenseman Nick Boynton replacing either Jordan Hendry or John Scott. You will continue to see the same 12 forwards in the lineup for the foreseeable future, as injuries and salary cap restrictions mean we can only carry 12 on the roster right now. So everybody plays. Yee-ha…

The fun begins at 7:30pm, and what fun it will be. Expect Lord Stanley’s Cup to make an appearance at center ice, as the Blackhawks raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center prior to dropping the puck.

And won’t that be a treat for the Detroit (*spitting noise*) players to watch. Chicago is “Hockey Town” now, bitches.

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Boxing with Blackhawks and Big Falling Snow Pile, 10/7/10

My nice new job allows me access to screenshots of the box scores, so I thought I’d take advantage and try to put something together for last night’s Blackhawks opener vs. the Colorado Avalanche.

I’m going to try and do this as much as I can this season. Can’t guarantee I’ll get to it every single game. Sorry if the font is a bit small, but it’s definitely readable. Let me know what everyone thinks.

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If Not For Some Rookie Mistakes

Photo: Marc Piscotty - Getty Images

When Jeff brought me on board, one of the things he told me was that if I disagreed with something he was advocating in one of his posts, feel free to say so.

Didn’t take long. Heh heh…

But we’ll get to that in a minute. I just have some quick thoughts about two rookie mistakes from the same play during last night’s game — Colorado’s first goal. The first mistake was from Nick Leddy, who was the victim of a bouncing puck, and incredibly speedy pair of forwards, and getting caught flat-footed in the attacking zone.

Sitting on the right point and fielding a pass from his mate Niklas Hjalmarsson, the puck bounces over Leddy’s stick, takes a Colorado carom off the boards, and it’s off to the races. What could he have done differently? The only thing that comes to mind is sacrificing the attacking zone: going to one knee to field the pass coming across from Hammer, using his hands to settle the puck down (keeping it in front of him and pushing it into the neutral zone, away from the Avalanche forwards), and having the team re-group. Other that that, the kid lost a foot race against one of the speediest guys in the league, pure and simple.

Credit to Coach Joel Quenneville, however: he still kept the kid out there, and Leddy put in a solid effort in 19+ minutes in place of the injured Brian Campbell. As he matures he is going to be a valuable asset to the team. However, it appears at this point that he’s not over the holy-shit-I’m-in-the-NHL jitters. This time last year, Leddy was trying to persuade a lovely young Scandahoovian girl to write his English paper for him. Now he’s skating alongside Olympic gold medalists. That would screw with anybody’s perspective.

The other rookie mistake was from 10-year NHL veteran Marty Turco. And this is where Jeff and I disagree. Turco was not the reason the game went into overtime; he’s the reason the Blackhawks didn’t win it in regulation.

Defensemen are taught from an early age: in a 2-on-1, play the pass. Play the PASS, play the PASS, PLAY THE PASS. This means that you never, EVER, stop covering the guy *without* the puck. Why?

First of all, it eliminates confusion between you and your goaltender as to who is covering whom. Secondly, it leaves the situation as a 1-on-0, and usually from a bad angle.

The path from the blue line to the net is a funnel. The further you can push the attacking forwards towards the goal, the less lateral room they have to maneuver, and the fewer shot options they have available. You keep them thinking about the pass/shoot decision until they’re so far down they’ve (still) got nobody to pass to very little open net to shoot at. That gives the advantage to the goaltender, and all of a sudden your 2-on-1 isn’t so scary anymore.

For this reason, they tell goaltenders from an early age, play the shooter. That’s where Mr. Turco fucked up.

As Nick Leddy was out of sight behind the play, it became a 2-on-1 towards our goal with Niklas Hjalmarsson busting his meatballs to cover the guy in the slot. This put Avs forward Chris Stewart carrying the puck off on the left circle with nobody to get a (decent) pass to. Perfect, right? Turco can stop that, right?

No. Turco was playing the pass, standing so far out of his crease I could have parked the U.S.S. Constellation, two of it’s tender ships and a life raft between him and the goal post, leaving Stewart to flick a wrist shot past Turco. An 8-year-old could have buried that shot with his skates untied. Fool-idiot rookie mistake.

I’m not saying we should have kept Antti Niemi, that ship has sailed. I disagree with the selection of Turco for just this reason. His performance is a balancing act, alternating between bailing the team out of deep doo-doo with Rogie Vachon acrobatics, and letting in crap goals like this one. If Turco hugs the post on this play like he’s supposed to, then the game is tied 2-2 going into the 3rd, and the Hawks win in regulation.

But as Jeff says, we’ve got 81 more of these to go. Nobody wins 82 games a season, this is just the start. We’re going to give ourselves ulcers if we judge each game strictly by the scoreboard. There was a lot to like about last night’s game. As the jitters subside, the team gets into proper condition, and the kids stop running into their teammates (not mentioning any names, Viktor Stalberg), we’re going to have a lot better outings than the one last night in Denver.

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It’s a league game, Smokey: Falling Snow Pile 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

Well, that's PooP (Getty Images)

It’s pretty amazing how emotions shift so quickly. Until yesterday, I was still enjoying the Stanley Cup victory. Hell, I haven’t even gotten my season-ticket holder time to grope the thing. That happens Oct. 14.

But as soon as the VERSUS coverage shifted to Denver, I forgot everything that happened in June and during the Summer-long celebration. We’re back to reality, and the Colorado Avalanche made sure the Blackhawks know that, too.

The ‘Hawks showed flashes of their potential to repeat as champs, but also played like they were wearing slippers at times. It’s what comes with defending a title and having a target on your back. And there’s 81 more of these to go.

Though I would have loved to get started with a victory, the Blackhawks came out with a standings point from a game in which they trailed 3-1 and looked left for dead. So, there’s that.

Here’s the rest of what I’ve got for tonight…

♦   Before everyone starts leaving skid marks in their undies, Marty Turco is the reason that game even went to overtime. I wanted to get that out of the way just in case there’s a meathead reading this saying, “We should’ve never let Niemi walk.” Turco made some great saves tonight on good chances for the Avs — and more importantly, on good shots as well. There’s not much to complain about on any of those four goals.

♦  Turco’s athleticism is something we’re not used to, and it may cause heart failure for one or two people this season watching him chase the puck all over the place. Yes, he almost got burned getting caught in Bumblefuck deciding whether or not to chase down a loose puck entering the zone. But I’m convinced Turco’s ability to play the puck will be an asset for the ‘Hawks rather than a detriment. Minus the Chris Stewart goal, Turco snuffed the Avs on a couple more odd-man rushes because…

♦  … the ‘Hawks were noticeably different without  Brian Campbell. The Avs had enough short-handed chances tonight to make me want to strangle a small child. Part of the reason for that is Campbell’s speed wasn’t around to make up for the blue-line shortcomings of the forwards at the point. Aside from that,  Nick Leddy’s blunder which led to the Stewart goal may not have happened, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Oh, and the Blackhawks gave up 41 shots. This can’t keep happening. And if it does, it’ll be a long season.

♦  Marian Hossa is a fucking animal. He just does everything right. Even forgetting his deflection goal and beautiful assist on  Bryan Bickell’s tally, Hossa makes such good decisions and plays an outstanding defense for a forward. If he wasn’t known so much as a scorer and playmaker, I have no doubt he’d be getting more consideration for the Selke Trophy.

♦  Patrick Sharp is not only a very handsome man, he also played fantastic tonight. Even during the preseason, Sharp looked like a man just dying to get back on the ice and get the season started. Not a bad way to get going: Goal, assist and seven shots on goal.

♦  Getting back to Leddy’s miscue in the offensive zone that lead to Stewart’s goal: It was a 19-year-old play made by a kid seeing his first NHL action. Leddy turned a routine cross-ice pass into hacky sack.  Niklas Hjalmarsson was forced to saucer it to Leddy, who had time to either settle the puck down with his hand — a la  Duncan Keith – or simply let the puck slip past him and let the boards settle it down for him. Overall, Leddy didn’t play all that bad for a guy no one really figures is ready to play at this level. He made a rookie mistake.

Let’s just hope there’s not many more of them.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

A couple non-‘Hawks-related things…

For those who may not have noticed the names on certain posts,  Tim Currell has jumped aboard to help me out with some thoughts and keep this site updated with insightful words. My fault, Tim, for not announcing this earlier. But be sure to check the names on the posts to know who’s writing and who to direct your feedback to. You can find each of our email addresses on the “About” page.

Holy. Fucking. Shitballs. Look at this fucking goal by  Jordan Eberle, the Edmonton Oilers rookie making his NHL debut. I couldn’t go without posting this:

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Defending the crown: ‘Hawks open season vs. Big Falling Snow Pile

Photo: nhlsnipers.com

The Colorado Avalanche come into the 2010-11 season confounding even the most dedicated fans and the most astute prognosticators. Where will they finish this year? Well, anywhere from last to first. That’s all anyone is willing to commit to.

Well, maybe not first.

So what gives? Last year at this time the Avs were considered to stink like a month-old urinal cake. But then they rode the borderline spectacular play of goaltender and former Blackhawks draft pick Craig Anders(s)on — inside joke, for those of you who remember that far back — into the eighth place spot in the Western Conference and earned a trip to the playoffs. They were dispatched handily by San Jose, but nobody expected to see them anywhere but the golf course and self-help seminars beyond April 4th.

Last year’s miracle performance is exactly why nobody is willing to commit to any firm predictions about this year’s team.

From front to back: the forwards are a huge question mark, as a team just as young as the Blackhawks has the potential to deliver either the season of their lives, or fall victim to the sophomore slump. Paul Statsny leads the team up the middle, with two 19-year-old centers behind him in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Can they follow up last year’s performance? Pre-season would suggest otherwise, as the club managed to score more than two goals in only one of seven outings. So right away the offensive situation gets called into question.

Defense is even less inspiring, as 39-year-old Adam Foote is the only marquee name on the blueliner corps. The group will have to cut down the 31 shots against that they *averaged* last season if they want to have any hope of succeeding this year.

Which brings us to goaltending, and the out-of-nowhere performance of the afore-mentioned Mr. Anders(s)on, played this Thursday by Hugo Weaving.

After several failed attempts to ascend to something more than a backup-to-the-backup with both the Hawks and the Florida Panthers, he was acquired to play a similar role with the Avalanche. But fate stepped in, and before long he found himself in the starter’s role and rescuing a team of rookies and misfits night after night.

So was this a fluke? Can Anders(s)on keep it up? Again, pre-season suggests otherwise, as Peter Budaj was the one in net for the only two wins of pre-season, with Anders(s)on between the pipes for three losses.

So as you see, no easy answers. What team will show up on any given night, including this one, is anybody’s guess.

And just for your amusement, attendance is not quite what the Avalanche were experiencing in the Patrick Roy/Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg days. To entice more Denvernians to the Pepsi Center, the team is offering a free day lift ticket to the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort for every seat purchased. Remember folks, this is for the HOME OPENER.

On the Blackhawks’ side however, more is known about the team we will see when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season. Underachiever Ryan Potulny and career minor-leaguer Jassen Cullimore lived down to everybody’s expectations during camp, and were placed on waivers Tuesday. They cleared on Wednesday, and with luck that’s the last we’ll see of either of them.

Nick Leddy was at practice wearing a number 8 jersey, a move that we can assume is permanent for him. There does not appear to be any historical significance to the move; he wore number 5 at the University of Minnesota.

Coach Joel Quenneville was tinkering with lineups at practice the last two days, and for the first ten minutes of the game at least (until he gets impatient and plays musical wingers like he usually does) we could see Fernando Pisani alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. The only other move that could surprise fans is seeing Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line with Jake Dowell and Jack Skille. But don’t expect that to last either, this may be a what-do-we-do-with-Stalberg experiment that will last maybe one period.

Nick Boynton was suspended for one regular season game by Colin Campbell and the NHL Thought Police for what was very obviously a semaphore signal meaning “I enjoyed the cannoli very much, please thank your wife for me.” He can return Saturday against Detroit (*spitting noise*).

Late start for this one, puck drops at 9pm Chicago time. Carried on TV nationally by Versus and VersusHD, radio is WGN. No Comcast pre-game, since they are carrying the Bulls(hit) vs. Mavericks exhibition game.

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Time To Move On

Photo: AP

You haven’t really looked at it since June. It’s got a special hanger, and a special place in the closet. Nobody touches it but you. It is not to be washed. But it’s finally time.

You pull it close to your face, and inhale. The faint smell of sweat, beer, and United Center nachos.

The Jersey.

The last time you had it on, you were standing with 2 million of your closest friends, crammed on to Michigan Avenue, brushing the confetti out of your hair and straining to get a better look as Jonathan Toews hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head at the Wacker Drive intersection.

It was the first time that magnificent silver chalice has seen The Windy City in nearly a half-century. All the eyes in the hockey world were focused on Chicago, and the city turned out for a party the likes of which have not been seen in decades. And you were there.

That day, you wanted the hockey world to stop time. We could just have the Blackhawks be Stanley Cup Champions forever. We could keep the team intact, watch the news reports as the players made the rounds to the local watering holes bringing the Cup with them, and celebrate like this once a week just to keep the magic alive — and remind the world that the Chicago Blackhawks were the best hockey team in the world.

But it doesn’t work that way. Time marches on, like ants to the drop of barbecue sauce you spilled on the deck while basting the ribs.  The summer comes and goes, the salary cap forces ugly and unpopular decisions, and eventually a new season is upon us.

And so it is.

The celebrations are almost over. We’ll parade the cup around a little more, and we’ll raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center on opening night. But really, it’s time to get serious. Training camp is over, decisions have been made. Pundits are lobbing speculations and predictions. The players are getting into shape, the coaches are watching film and juggling wingers, management is fielding offers and weighing possibilities, and the fans are gearing up.

That’s your job. It’s time.

So you pull The Jersey off its hanger, admire it for a second or two, then flip it over and put it on. It’s a little more snug than you remember (gotta lay off the bratwurst, amigo), but it’ll do.

It was a summer unlike any other, ever. There was a certain spring in our steps, a certain pride in our voices, a certain confidence in our posture. There was more Chicago Blackhawks merchandise worn on the streets than ever before. This city was more than proud, it was swaggering. It will never be equaled, and we wouldn’t want to try. It’s time to move on. It’s time to take on a new challenge. It’s time to go to work.

It’s hockey season again. The Chicago Blackhawks are defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Game.

On.

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There’s Good News, And…

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For those of you who haven’t been playing close attention to the Blackhawks in the last week, there’s good news, and there’s bad news.

The kids’ effort against the Penguins and then against the Blues looked like a 5-year-olds’ soccer game, with all five guys chasing the puck around the ice in a pack, running into each other, missing passes, dropping the puck to… nobody, and generally playing like a bunch of individuals instead of a team. Jack Skille sustained a minor injury to his arm, left the game in the second period and didn’t return, but was considered “day-to-day” by the post-game press conference.

Then cuts were made, and with a couple of exceptions, everyone who you’d expect was sent to Rockford to learn how to play hockey. The exceptions were Nick Leddy, the former University of Minnesota defenseman picked up in the Cam Barker trade; and Jeremy Morin, who has been impressing both the players and the coaches with his steady and impressive play.

Friday night brought a full-squad effort against the Penguins again, with all of the regulars plus Morin, who had earned himself a spot on the left side of Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. I’m surprised he could fit his erection inside of his cup.

The Blackhawks took the first period to get warmed up, getting some solid chances against Marc-Andre Fleury, then commenced the onslaught in the second and never looked back. Goals by Fernando Pisani, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Kane, and a pair from Marian Hossa while Corey Crawford showed his competence as the Blackhawks backup goaltender. The final score was 5 – 2. It should be noted that Penguins phenom Sidney Crosby sat out the game after an abbreviated morning skate. Apparently it was his heavy flow day.

The bad news from that tilt was the loss of Brian Campbell, who sustained a knee sprain and will be gone for a minimum of four weeks. This is troubling on a number of levels, but the one that people ignore is the period of time when Campbell was injured late last season after the Alexander Ovechkin hit. The Blackhawks had 9 wins and 8 losses in those five weeks, and their power play conversion during that period dropped to one of the worst in the league.

Love or hate his $7M+/year contract, Campbell makes a solid contribution to the overall success of the team. Statistically speaking, this is a fact.

The upside to this is, rookie Nick Leddy may just find himself in the opening night lineup for the Blackhawks, and if he can consistently demonstrate the kind of patience and puck-moving instincts that were evident at Minnesota and Prospect Camp, he might be logging top-four minutes before Campbell is back on the bench.

Tonight: another full-roster game against the Blues at the United Center. TV is the NHL Network, radio on WGN. Puck drops at 5pm.

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Will I stay or will I go…

Photo: chicagonow.com

The kids have been sent back to Juniors, the never-had-a-prayer’s have been released, and the not-ready-yet’s and may-never-be’s are (with a couple of notable exceptions) out in Rockford. So in the next ten days Blackhawks’ Coach Joel Quenneville has to pare down a roster of 31 players to 23. Eight guys gotta go. And with the exception of goaltending, the decisions about who goes and who stays are anything but cut-and-dried.

Starting with the netminders, I don’t think anyone will lose a minute’s sleep about sending Hannu Toivonen and Alec Richards down to the Ice Hogs. Richards is a throw-away, and Toivonen may blossom into a decent netminder at some point. But his play still needs work if he’s going to survive at the NHL level. So that leaves Marty Turco and Corey Crawford as No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, which is what everyone predicted and the way it should be.

On defense, the top four guys haven’t done anything to lose their roster spots, so Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson will remain. It was hoped that Jordan Hendry would step it up and show that he’s ready to be an 82-game player, and so far this pre-season he has done exactly that. But for that #6 spot, the peanut gallery all assumed that we would be swapping out John Scott and Nick Boynton, giving us a veteran presence as well as some grit and gristle in front of the net.

But then Nick Leddy showed up in camp, and brought his ‘A’ game. He’s a puck-moving defenseman, in the same mold as Duncan Keith, but he’s not the crease-clearing bulldozer we could have in Boynton or Scott. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to have Leddy spend a year in Rockford, as kids straight from the college ranks usually take at least one season to get used to the grueling NHL schedule. But I’m sure Coach Q has a barrage of “what-if” scenarios going through his head with regards to this kid. He’s great insurance against an injury in the top-four ranks, that’s a given. But what if we kept Boynton, sent Scott down to Rockford, and swapped out Hendry and Leddy instead?

Either way, that means Jassen Cullimore and Brian Connelly, say good-bye to the Windy City. Four down, four to go. Which brings us to the forward ranks.

Oy-yoy YOY!

The Blackhawks have been configuring the forwards with two scoring lines, a defensive line, and a murder and mayhem line. Lines 1a and 1b are reasonably certain to be staffed with veterans: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, and Tomas Kopecky are the safest bets, with Dave Bolland as the next-in-line center if Coach Q decides to move Sharp back out to the wing and push either Brouwer or Kopecky down to a third-line role. But what about that third line?

We had incredible success down the stretch last year with Dave Bolland centering the “shut-down” third line that played against opponents’ top forwards. Some of the top snipers in the league were kept off the scoresheet entirely using this strategy. But while Bolland has proven his worth in this role, who from the ranks of the newcomers could we give him on the wings that would fit the bill?

The obvious choice from the evidence so far in camp is Fernando Pisani, who has been a solid performer with a work ethic that is earning him the notice and praise from the coaching staff. So he’s pretty much a lock for the right wing on that line, but who else?

Troy Brouwer has filled that role before, and he adds size to a line with not-so-big guys to his right. So that would work. But that means moving him off the first or second lines, which means somebody with far less experience is going to be up with the big boys. I’m not sure Coach Q will be willing to take such a big risk.

In order to engage in a thoroughly masturbatory dissolution of Coach Q’s options, here are the remnants of the training camp detritus:

Viktor Stalberg: Most pundits had Stalberg slotted into a top-six spot from the git-go: I continue to say that he has done *nothing* to warrant that kind of position, and it would seem Coach Q agrees with me. The QStache made his displeasure known about that Monday afternoon: He wants to see production from Stalberg, or it’s a one-way ticket to Rockford. Stay tuned.

Igor Makarov: He seems to be a quick and solid two-way player, but hasn’t shown the consistency that’s needed, plus he’s a natural center. That makes him a better fit for a top-six role, but those jobs are filled — or are they? What about moving Sharp to the second line wing where he has had his biggest success, and have Makarov start the year feeding two of the top wingers in hockey? As appetizing as that may sound, Makarov is most likely going to see top-six minutes in Rockford to get some shifts under his belt against North American pros before anything like that happens.

Jeremy Morin: This kid’s a sniper with great hands and a stellar view of the ice, so he’d fit well on the top two lines — when he gets some hair on his balls. He’s being given a serious look, but he carries a hefty price tag, something the salary cap situation may not allow. It’s more likely that he and Makarov provide a one-two punch and rack up 100 goals between them in the AHL. But every time one of the veteran players is asked who is bringing it in camp, Morin is the first guy they mention. Hmm…

Jack Skille: What do you do with this guy? It’s borderline torture to send him down again, but where does he fit with this club? He’s not as fast as Makarov or Morin, he’s not a defensive specialist, and he’s not as big or tough as other players we could have on the fourth line. Unfortunately Mr. Skille hasn’t found his niche, and despite his effort during camp I’m afraid it may be curtains for him, for good.

Jake Dowell: The poor lad can’t close the deal. He gets the puck on his stick, and he either can’t make the pass or score the goal. The effort is there, but the skills just aren’t. It’s Rockford for him.

Kyle Beach: The thoroughbred Stan Bowman was so hot on at Prospect Camp is now being seen as a common draft horse. Recent comments from within the Blackhawks organ-eye-zation suggest he is now the Hawks’ goon-in-waiting. Pathetic role for a first-round pick that was supposed to be the next Brendan Shanahan. So he’s a fourth-liner.

Bryan Bickell: Size, speed, and grit: fourth line.

Ryan Potulny: He has been spectacularly mediocre, and barely showing any desire to win a roster spot. I am surprised he wasn’t waived. But with his veteran experience as the fourth-line pivot, he could give Beach and Bickell some feeds as they come off the boards towards the net.

Ben Smith: Okay, I’m going to ask this question, and it’s not supposed to be a joke, I’m actually serious. What the BLOODY HELL is this guy still doing here?!? Is he boinking somebody’s daughter? Does he have pictures of Stan Bowman doing a victory lap with some front-office intern? Is he the guy who picks up the pucks at the end of practice? Je ne comprends pas.

So with that in mind, and barring any injuries prior to the start of camp, here’s how I see it all shaking out. Coach Q has been showing the Kopecky/Toews/Hossa line some time both in games and practices, so I think we can bank on that being the top line to begin the year. He seems to like the Kane/Sharp combination, and I believe that Sharp will stay at center for the immediate future. So the only question becomes whether he keeps veteran Troy Brouwer up with them, or moves one of the kids into a top-six role.

Quenneville is asking himself, is anybody in the freshman ranks capable of the kind of solid, two-way play that is required of a third-line player? My answer to that is a resounding “no”. So if I were making the calls, Brouwer moves to the third line. Who goes up? Well, the way this kid Morin has been on the tips of both players’ and coaches’ tongues these days, I have a strong feeling that — to begin the year, at least — he wins himself a spot playing with two of the hottest forwards in hockey. If that happens, be on the lookout for a 19-year-old pimply-faced kid walking around town with a woody the size of Bolingbrook.

Bolland stays put as the third-line center, with Pisani and Brouwer on his flanks; and we round out the forward ranks with Potulny centering Beach and Bickell. Smith, Stalberg, Makarov, and Dowell get on the Greyhound. Skille will stay with the club as the “thirteenth forward,” but don’t expect that to last. Stalberg will be busting his butt to get back to the bigs, and of course there’s always the injury bug to throw a wrench in the works.

This is a good problem to have: too many guns, very few goons. That’s the way NHL hockey is going, and the Blackhawks are well stocked. As the superstar contracts expire, a new crop of talent will be eager to leave the sludge and boredom of Rockford in their wake and start lighting it up on Madison Street.

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No TV, No Crosby…

Jack Skille (20) is playing like he's on a mission to make the big club (Chicago Tribune)

For the first time this pre-season, we’ll all be relegated to our smart phones (or in my dad’s case, his U.S. Cellular handout flip phone) checking on updates. The Blackhawks will get their first glimpse of the new Console Energy Center in Pittsburgh when they take the ice against the Penguins at 6 p.m. CST. Judging by the look of the lineups, we shouldn’t be missing too much with this game not being televised.

Sidney Crosby will once again dodge the Blackhawks as he ices down his vagina this evening, but  Evgeni Malkin will man up and play (though probably pretty sparingly). The ‘Hawks are also going pretty thin, with  Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and both  Marty Turco and  Corey Crawford taking a night off.

The best news of the day came when  Jeff Taffe was sent down to Rockford so I don’t have to watch that shithead stumble all over the ice for the time being. With 19-year-old  Jeremy Morin looking pretty damn good for a roster spot and  Jack Skille playing exactly like he needed to in order to stick with the big club,  Taffe and Evan Brophey are easy-to-live-with casualties.

As McClure of SCH pointed out, it would be nice to see more out of  Makarov Cocktail and  Viktor Stalberg in this one, especially since the coaching staff is giving them every opportunity to show what they can do with the studs on this team.

Short and sweet for tonight. I’ll be keeping up on my Droid. GO ICEHOGS ‘HAWKS!!

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Detroit (*spitting noise*) Preview

Photo: http://www.bittenandbound.com

When the Detroit Red Wings open the regular season for 2010-11, it is likely that nine of the twenty players on the bench that night will be 35 years of age or older.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the team has entered into a sponsorship deal with Depends(tm) Undergarments.

The usual suspects are back — Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary, Nick Lidstrom, yadda-yadda-yadda — leaving very few openings for youngsters. So I’m not going to bother reviewing them, they won’t be in a Wings uniform this year.

Red Wings management lobbied hard in the off-season to get permission for Tomas Holmstrom to bring his walker on to the ice, but were ultimately denied.

Coach Scowl is back, trying to continue his quest for the Guinness Book of World Records for the most time without smiling.

Veterans not in the lineup tonight: Todd Bertuzzi (gout), Kris Draper (rheumatism), Brian Rafalski (attending the wedding of his granddaughter), and Chris Osgood (“Oy, my back!”).

The league has granted an additional :30 during each TV time-out, to allow trainers to empty Ruslan Salei‘s colostomy bag.

The only roster moves of any significance are bringing in Mike Modano for reasons nobody can figure out, and the return of prodigal son Jiri Hudler from the KHL.

And there you have it: the 2010-11 Detroit Red Wings. Brought to you by the AARP, AmeriGlide Mobility Aide Power Scooters, and Island Pines Residential Assisted Living Center of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

Corey Crawford starts in net for the Blackhawks; Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, and Kyle Beach are all expected to be in the lineup. Puck drops at 6:00pm Chicago time, TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet.

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‘Hawks vs. Lightning Live Chat

Lightning To Strike in Winnipeg

Photo: Nick Moir

Much was made of the off-season moves by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they first brought in Steve Yzerman as GM, who then brought in AHL and Major Junior coaching enigma Guy Boucher as Head Coach. Many trades ensued and free agents were signed, and the result is that the Lightning team that will take the ice against the Blackhawks in Winnipeg may be a little (*ahem*) shocking.

First, to the personnel. Consistent, if past-their-prime forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis return to join young powerhouse Steven Stamkos. Those three players accounted for just over half of the goals scored by the Lightning last year, so more scoring punch was definitely needed. So Simon Gagne was acquired from the Flyers, and Coach Boucher must now fill out the ranks with the least of many evils from the youth and middling veteran talent that remains in camp. Two long-time veterans from the KHL were acquired in the form of Johan Harju and Niklas Persson, but only time will tell if that experiment delivers the jolt it was intended to.

On defense, youngster Victor Hedman is now joined by four relatively steady, but by no means spectacular veterans: Pavel Kubina, Matthieu Roy, Brett Clark, and Randy Jones. Defense was Tampa Bay’s biggest problem last year, allowing 260 goals against, fourth-worst in the league. However it is puzzling to try to figure out what Yzerman’s strategy is, not bringing in a marquee defensive pair to anchor the team. One problem at a time, I guess.

Which brings us to goaltending. To replace the departed Antero Nittymaki, Yzerman has acquired yawn-inducing Dan Ellis, who spent last year with Nashville amassing a barely-winning record and a .909 save percentage over 31 games. Not exactly the kind of guy who can energize a team or its fans. In fact, the biggest headline Ellis has made in his NHL career actually came about because of a comment he made on his Twitter account.

But there appears to me some method to Yzerman’s madness. Believe it or not, it appears that what the first-year GM is hoping to do this season is win using the member of the organ-eye-zation least likely to score a goal, block a shot, or make a save: his coach.

Guy Boucher holds a post-graduate degree in Sports Psychology, and has implemented a radical offensive system not seen before in the NHL with any consistency, called a 1-3-1 forecheck. The first man into the zone pushes the puck to the outside, while the strong-side defenseman and remaining two forwards press to that side three-across, leaving one defenseman to cover counter-attacks.

Boucher has run the system with significant success. In his first year behind the bench with the Hamilton Bulldogs he racked up 52 wins, good for the second-best record in the AHL. The 1-3-1 has been the exclusive focus of the Bolts’ training camp efforts. The specific details are either a big secret, or so complicated that nobody is willing to talk about them and risk looking like an idiot. Even the Tampa Bay press is mostly cloudy on the subject.

Boucher and the Bolts will premiere this new strategy Tuesday night against Dallas. What success they have with it remains to be seen, and it should be noted that the three big offensive threats mentioned earlier will be resting against the Stars to be fresh for when they meet the Hawks in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

So they’re throwing the big guns at us right out of the gate, and word late Tuesday is that Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith, will all be in the lineup for the Blackhawks. Add to that some fully-loaded up-and-comers in Igor Makarov, Viktor Stalberg, and Jeremy Morin, plus Nick Leddy on defense. And Coach Q, not being one to keep the public waiting, is giving us a taste of Marty Turco in his first outing as a Blackhawk. He will split the game with moderately talented and definitely unpronounceable Hannu Toivonen.

So the fans in Winnipeg should be in for a doozy. Or, depending on whether Boucher’s 1-3-1 can work at the NHL level (and if the Lightning players have had enough practice to execute it properly), we may see a game of shinny erupt and a 15-2 Blackhawks victory.

Either way, it will be one Blackhawks fans won’t want to miss. And thankfully, with Comcast Sports Net covering this and two other home games, they don’t have to!

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End Of A Short Summer

Photo: Mike Vallely

UNITED CENTER MAIN LOCKER ROOM
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 9:43AM.

Jonathan Toews: Uhh, guys? Over here, guys? Please give me your attention for a second…

(*mumbling and murmuring gradually subsides*)

Toews: For those of you who were part of the team last year, welcome back; those of you new to the organ-eye-zation, good to see you. I’m Jonathan Toews, I’m the captain of the Blackhawks, and I’m going to get training camp officially underway. You’ve all passed your medicals, so we can—

Patrick Sharp: Actually, sorry to interrupt Johnny, but they just sent this down. Where’s Phillipe Paradis?

Phillipe Paradis: Here!

Sharp: Hey, I have a note from the team doctor here saying there were some irregularities with one of the tests they did yesterday, and they need you down the hall right away.

Paradis: Oh, wow. Okay. Is everything all right?

Sharp: I think so, yeah, it’s probably nothing. But anyhow, we’re in a rush, so they’re coming up to meet you.

Paradis: What, here?

Sharp: No, it’s kinda personal, I guess. There’s no place to change, so just strip down here and dash down the hall to your right two doors, then across the hall and open the red door on your left.

Paradis: Oh, crap. Now?

Sharp: Yeah, c’mon, go! We’ll wait for you, just get on down there. Hurry up!

(*Paradis strips down to his jock strap, dashes out of the room*)

Sharp: Okay, everybody sit tight.

Dave Bolland: We have to wait?

Sharp: Yeah.

Toews: Why?

Sharp: Because the doctor didn’t send me anything. I just sent him buck naked into a room where McDonough is giving a press conference.

(*Door blasts open, Paradis scrambles through and slams it shut behind him, holding it closed*)

Paradis: You SUCK!!!

(*Room explodes with laughter*)

Toews: All right, all right, settle down. Now aside from Sharpie having some fun with the new guys, we all know why we’re here. The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and everyone is trying to make the team. You’ll each have your chance to show the coaches what you can do, and despite what everybody says about the salary cap and all that stuff, EVERY position on this team is up for grabs.

(*Strange slurping, growling and gurgling noises comes from around the corner in the trainer’s supply room*)

Toews: Anybody know what that is?

Tomas Kopecky: Yeah, that’s Kyle Beach. He was trying to eat one of the younger guys, so the trainers had to pry him off and let the kid go.

Toews: Again? What is this, four times now?

Jordan Hendry: Five, if you count the taxi driver he tried to make a snack out of two days ago.

Toews: So why is he making that racket?

Hendry: He’s okay, they let him gnaw on a side of beef.

Toews: Hope this doesn’t get worse when we get out on the ice.

Jack Skille: At least he didn’t try to chew his own arm off again.

Toews: Yeah, can’t have that. Club’s got a lot of money invested in him. Okay, well just ignore him, we’ll talk over it. So I see the usual suspects are back, you guys have fun playing with the Cup? Eh? I know Kaner was — Hey, where’s Kaner?

Marian Hossa: I think I saw him in the hall by the sky box elevator.

Jake Dowell: Oh, no way! That guy wearing nothing but fuzzy girl’s slippers and a raccoon-skinned cap lying face-down in a pile of beer cans, handcuffed to a blow-up doll? I told security to toss the guy out!

Toews: Ah, they’ll probably recognize him… But on second thought…

Brian Campbell: I’ll go get ‘im…

Toews: Hey, thanks Soupy. All right. Who else is here? Where’s Dunc?

Duncan Keith: Yo!

Toews: How are the new chicklets?

Keith: Eh, not bad. I fink they ordered the wong five. My fianfe fev I look like Gawy Bufey.

Toews: Let’s see.

(*Keith smiles, everyone shifts nervously in their seats*)

Toews: I think she may be right about that. Hope they can fix them, otherwise we’ll have to start calling you Bugs.

(*Viktor Stalberg pops his head around the corner of the bathroom entrance, catches Niklas Hjalmarsson’s eye*)

Stalberg: Hey, Hammer — this good? Hmm?

(*Shows Niklas Hjalmarsson how his hair looks from different angles*)

Stalberg: What do you think? Sexy enough? Lots of hot chicks out in the stands today, gotta get the ‘Swedish Wave’ looking its best!

(*Stalberg disappears back around the corner*)

Hjalmarsson: He’s been doing that for the last three hours…

Toews: So okay, enough of that. For the new guys here, does anybody have any questions about the team or what’s expected of them during camp?

Fernando Pisani: Hey, yeah, I do. I noticed when you guys played us last year that when we started up the ice heading towards your goal there were these two guys there trying to stop us. What’s the story there?

Ryan Potulny: Yeah, I saw that too! Is that some special strategy or something?

Toews: Yeah, I thought that might be confusing for you two guys. Those are called ‘defensemen’, and we have six of them on the bench every night.

Marty Turco: Seriously?!? YESSSSSSSSSSSS!!! I KNEW something was missing in Dallas! Damn, I’m gonna LOVE it here…

Toews: Yeah, their job is to stop the other team’s forwards from scoring.

Pisani: Okay, yeah, sorry. They didn’t have those in Edmonton.

Toews: No problem. Anybody else? No? Then okay, let’s get the ball rolling here. Just remember guys, we’re all on the same team out there, so don’t be trying to take anybody’s head off. Everybody give it your best shot, and we look forward to fielding another Stanley Cup-winning team again this season.

Brent Seabrook: Hey, Johnny?

Toews: Yeah, Seabs, what’s up?

Seabrook: Uhh… I think you better come see this…

(*Toews walks over to the end of the locker room, where a large figure is huddled on the floor in the corner, sobbing*)

Toews: Hey man, you okay?

Adam Burish: Hey… (*sniff*) Yeah, I guess…

Toews: Dude, what are you doing here?

Burish: (*sniff*) Well… (*sniff*) I missed you guys…

Short Notes From Training Camp Festival



I managed to score some 100-level tickets to the Blackhawks Training Camp Festival on eBay, so the little missus and I moseyed on down to take our place among the 15,000 or so at the UC (the crowd was announced at 18,000 but I’m confident not everybody showed up) to see Lord Stanley’s Cup glisten in the spotlights and watch the season officially get underway.

I didn’t take notes, I didn’t take (many) pictures, but I wanted to pass along some observations on a few players from watching the first practice, all of the first scrimmage, and half of the second scrimmage. There is good, there is bad, but there is very little ugly. Unless you count Jeff Taffe. Yeeesshh…


Forwards:

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews: Both have come to camp in shape, and on their game. This is unsurprising for Captain Serious, but Kane has reportedly spent his summer waist deep in blondes and Bacardi. You’d never know: he looked as fresh as he did last October. Had a back-and-forth break-away battle with Turco and deked him out of his dental work at one point.

Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa: Still getting their legs under them. They didn’t look bad, but they didn’t stand out either.

Jack Skille, Bryan Bickell: These are two of the wingers to slot into the open slots on the third and fourth lines. It’s obvious that they are a step ahead of their fellow minor-league compatriots.

Viktor Stalberg: Good looking kid. That’s all I can contribute. No evidence of the reported “Swedish Rocket” speed. My wife thought he skated a lot like me. Can’t say I disagree…

Igor Makarov: If this kid continues to deliver like he did in Prospect Camp, the Rookie Tournament and the day I saw, it will be difficult to deny him a roster spot. He doesn’t stand out on the ice like a Patrick Kane, he just comes out of nowhere and delivers the goods.

Kyle Beach: I still don’t see what the fuss is about. At Prospect Camp he stood out like Pam Anderson at a PTA meeting. With the big boys, he’s nothing special.

Jeremy Morin: Not this year, sorry. Needs to grow up.

Ludvig Rensfeldt: Plays even bigger than 6’ 3”, and already has a handle on the North American game. Not this year, but soon.

David Gilbert: Feisty little fucker, and quick feet. Needs work on stick handling and puck control, but not a throw-away.


Defense:

Duncan Keith: New teeth, no beard, shorter hair, in shape, and on his game.

Brent Seabrook: Does not appear to be in shape yet.

Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton: About what you’d expect.

John Scott: Jesus H. Christ on a cracker, this guy’s a friggin’ MONSTER!

Simon Danis-Pepin: Seriously, why is this guy here, and what could the Hawks possibly see in him?


Goaltending:

Joe Palmer, Alec Richards: Toledo fodder.

Hannu Toivonen: Not, I repeat, NOT going to challenge for the backup spot. And if Crawford goes down with an injury, we need to trade for a solid back-up. This kid isn’t anywhere NEAR ready.

Marty Turco: Okay, yeah, it was the first day. But if what I saw was what we can expect all year, we’ll struggle to make the playoffs. I want to like this guy. We’re stuck with him, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now. But he did precisely *nothing* to instill confidence in Blackhawks fans on Saturday.

Corey Crawford: This is the bright light on the horizon. He was head and shoulders above *any* goaltender on the ice, period. The kid sees the ice well, predicts how a play will develop, has good rebound control, doesn’t get jumpy under pressure, fights for every single save, and is a formidable target in net. If Turco can’t handle the load, I can see Crawford handling it just fine.

We’ll see how much of this plays out during the pre-season, and if we see any trades materialize before opening day this all takes on a whole new flavor. The roster I’m not worried about, there should be only a handful of actual “kids” suiting up for the game against Colorado. The rest falls on Coach Q, whose mustache looked ready for another championship season!


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