This date has been looming large on the horizon ever since this road trip began. New York Rangers franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goaltender in the league since the new year, would likely be the most impenetrable netminder the Blackhawks faced on this road trip. And as the games — ok, let’s call them what they are… the losses — drew us nearer to today, Lundqvist kept getting better. In his last 8 games he has 7 wins, including 2 against Philadelphia and capped with a shutout of Boston on Tuesday. In that stretch of 8 games he has 3 shutouts and has let in a total of only 9 goals.
The way this was looking, the Blackhawks may as well have been shooting at a net protected by a force field.
But then, through some quirk of fate or coincidence, the darkness lifted, the clouds parted, and for the first time since before the All-Star break, the Hockey Gods smiled on the Chicago Blackhawks…
The Blackhawks play Nashville tonight, and it’s my job to tell you about what we can expect during the game. So here’s the obligatory paragraph about the Predators before we talk about the Blackhawks’ 8-game losing streak.
Nashville is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, most recently losing in a shootout to Boston. They’ve always been a defense-first team, but this year they are doing well in both categories — just outside the top-10 in both goals-for and goals-against. They can kill you from many, many angles: 9 players have 11+ goals, 9 players have 29+ points. Goaltender Pekka Rinne continues to shine, his .924 save percentage ranks among the league’s top-10. Neither Ryan Suter nor Shea Weber has been traded, and likely won’t be before the puck drops this evening. So that’s bad for us.
Will that work? Okay. On to business.
It’s difficult to believe that less than a month ago, Chicago took down the San Jose Sharks at the United Center; and furthermore that the game was our second straight victory over San Jose this year. The only game we lost to the Sharks was in the Tank back in November on the Circus trip, and that was a 1-0 loss.
We can skate with this team. Well… we could skate with this team. Of late we can’t skate with Edmonton, or Colorado, or any one of a host of other teams that we should skate circles around. We’re having trouble beating the bottom feeders these days.
The Sharks are in first place in the Pacific Division. Oh Nellie, here we go…
There have been far worse times to be a Blackhawks fan, that goes without saying. But for many of us this last string of losses has conjured up images of Dirk Graham behind the bench, Mike Smith making trades that only a mental patient would approve of, and Steve Passmore flopping around in the crease like a carp that got dropped on the dock. Is this how it begins? Will a six-game skid turn the season into a wash? Are we headed for another five decades of doom and despair? What can snap the Blackhawks out of the funk that they’re in? The boys got together to discuss the current situation, what might be wrong, and what could be done about it in this month’s Round Table…
* * * * *
A first period goal from Olli Jokinen was not a comforting way to start the game. It was a gorgeous slapper to the top the net that surely made some Hawks fans think, “Oh boy, here we go again.”
The Hawks responded in clutch form by knotting it up with 29 seconds left in the first period. Patrick Kane delivered a gorgeous pass Brent Seabrook who buried it in the net to tie it up.
Last second goals like Seabrooks, are huge going into the intermission to grab some momentum back and come out strong in the second, as the Hawks did for the most part.
The Hawks played a fairly solid second period until Michael Frolik took a stupid double minor penalty with 3:24 left in the period.
Jay Bouwmeester capitalized on the back end of the power play scoring with a little over a minute left in the second.
The Hawks played a much more physical second period, going after the body and at least tried finishing their checks, which is more than they do on a typical night. More >
I tell you, the last time I had that much fun, I was getting a barium enema. Last night’s game against Edmonton made my intestines seize up in exactly the same way. Hopefully tonight against Calgary we can maybe back off the severity to manual rectal exam.
The Flames team that we face tonight has a slightly different look than when we visited them back in November. Gone is former Blackhawks power winger Rene Bourque, and in comes former Canadiens’ center Mike Cammalleri. The impact has been minimal so far, with Cammalleri notching 2 goals in the 6 games he’s played with Calgary. Also gone is center Brendan Morrison who was traded to… well, to us! He’ll be taking on his former team for the first time tonight at the ScotiaBank Saddledome.
The Flames are chasing a playoff spot right now, sitting 5 points back of 8th-place Minnesota in the Western Conference. Calgary GM Jay Feaster is trying to make a few last-minute moves to shore up his roster for the push to the finish, though he has stated for the twelve-thousandth time that he is not trading Jarome Iginla. In case you were wondering…
November 19th was a low point, to say the least. Allowing 9 goals on 34 shots, the Blackhawks humiliated themselves in front of a giddy Edmonton crowd that, despite the cliche of Canadians’ courtesy and good manners, took to taunting the ‘Hawks in the 3rd period.
Apparently all bets are off when the puck drops.
So thousands of television sets all over Chicagoland were damaged by flying objects hurtled by frustrated fans, and the Blackhawks left Alberta having left their egos, their confidence, and any illusions of dominating Western Conference opponents splattered all over the Rexall Place ice. It took a crime scene remediation team four days to clean it up.
And so, it begins: the home stretch of the regular season, kicked off by a 9-game road trip over the next 20 days, during which we take on 8 different Western Conference opponents starting tonight with our old friends the Vancouver Canucks.
So how have LuLu Belle and the Tampon Twins been lately, anyhow?
Well, LuLu is playing so well that his coach doesn’t trust him to play the Big Bad Blackhawks who made him cry; and just before the All-Star break the Tampons were held to a single point, going minus-4 between them against the one-point-out-of-last-place Lightning. Not exactly what you call inspiring performances.
I’m sure there are those who wouldn’t mind re-living last Saturday’s embarrassment down in Nashville, but I’m not among them. As far as I’m concerned we should have pulled the team off the ice and forfeited when the bloop grounder to short hopped past Corey Crawford. That was the sign that it was not our night, and no measure of effort nor change in strategy would change that.
The Hockey Gods played a joke at our expense, and we walked away with a 5-2 loss. Thanks very much, assholes.
How did Nashville do it? The same way they always do. They played their usual more-boring-than-Latin-mass style of defensive hockey, and took advantage of the many, many scoring opportunities we gave them. Were it not for some heroics by Marian Hossa the Blackhawks would easily have been shut out.
Tonight, let’s not be such easy prey, shall we fellas?
One day, the Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division standings, at times boasting the most points in the NHL. The next, they wouldn’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round if the playoffs began at that moment.
It’s a difficult time to keep up with the constant shifts in the standings, but such is life in the competitive Central – which is currently on pace to make a bit of history while providing us fans with some entertaining hockey down the stretch.
This is the 13th season since the NHL went to six divisions and the current playoff format in 1998-99 (the 2004-05 season marked the lockout). In the 12 completed seasons, at least one division has sent four teams to the playoffs 10 times.
In a game Blackhawks fans likely won’t forget soon, Minnesota beat Dallas on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season to prevent the Pacific from becoming the first division to send all five teams to the postseason.
Essentially, the playoff format has three division winners and five “wild-card” teams. The only seasons one division didn’t claim three “wild-cards” were 2000-01 and 2005-06.
The 2008-09 season marked the one time two divisions accomplished the feat. The Atlantic and the Central, when Detroit (No. 1 seed), the ‘Hawks (4), St. Louis (6) and Columbus (8) qualified four of their five teams – the only time since current realignment the Central has done it.
Overall, a single division qualifying a quartet is quite common. The rarity lies in what the Central currently is on pace to accomplish – place all four teams within the top six seeds.
Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.
Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.
Is it paying off?
From December 17th through the 31st the Buffalo Sabres were 1-5-1. During the month of January so far they are 2-4-1.
So, they’re improving! Right?
The latest loss comes at the hands of Detroit (*spitting noise*), a 5-0 shutout that has the team, the media, and the fans shaking their heads. This is no longer just a slump, this is a tailspin. Something needs to be done.
With the up-and-down play of the Blackhawks in the new year, the talk about trades has ramped up considerably on the blogosphere and among the social media faithful. The Cheer The Anthem staff sat down recently to discuss who should (or could) stay, who should (or could) go, and who the Blackhawks might get in return — or are any changes needed at all? Check out what they had to say in the January edition of the Round Table…
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. After a humiliating loss to the Red Wings on Saturday, the Blackhawks get to suit up against yet another Western Conference rival on a hot streak in the form of San Jose. The new year has been good to the Sharks, with 6 wins and a shootout loss to their credit thus far.
In those six victories, they never allowed their opponents to tally more than twice. Defense is a big key to the Sharks’ game — they are 5th-best in the league in goals against. There is just one regular member of the Sharks roster who has a negative plus/minus. One. It’s Jason Demers, in case you’re interested.
But that’s not to say the Sharks have lost their once-potent offense. The usual one-two punch of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is still as effective as ever, with the three-four punch combination of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture close behind. Those four account for over 130 points of the Sharks’ offense. This is not a team that is prone to sitting back and protecting a lead.
The biggest challenge about this game isn’t the Red Wings’ roster, or its goaltender, or Coach Cranky Pants, or the brain-dead knuckle-draggers throwing seafood on the ice.
Detroit (*spitting noise*) is nearly unbeatable on home ice.
But notice I said “nearly.”
When you’re stacked with loads of talented youth in your system and under-performing or injured starters in the NHL, in comes the carousel of players going back and forth between the NHL and AHL. Case in the point, the 2011-12 Blackhawks.
With the return of Marcus Kruger from injury this morning Joel Quenneville was forced to make a decision about which of his young studs wouldn’t make the cut.
Marcus Kruger, as a center, will always find a warm welcome on the Hawks, seeing as they need as much help as possible in the middle. With rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes playing lights out and both producing huge last night against Minnesota, Q had a decision to make.
There are few teams better than the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild to use as slumpbusters in the NHL right now. That is precisely what the Blackhawks have done in their last two games. They could have stuck their tails between their legs after Patrick Sharp went down with his injury. Instead, they responded with swagger.
Viktor Stalberg has taken Sharp’s spot, playing with Toews and Kane. He’s taken full advantage of that opportunity with four goals in two games.
Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes are showing that they are here to stay. Sign them up. I have to give Shaw some credit. I was a major doubter when he got called up, not of his potential but whether he was ready for the NHL. He’s shut me up really fast. These two kids have been the spark the Hawks needed on the third and fourth lines. Shaw scored his second NHL goal in tonight’s game and continues to impress me every game with smart and energetic shifts. Both Shaw and Hayes scored goals against the Wild, showing that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Remember earlier this season, not long ago in fact, when everyone soiled their unmentionables over the headline, “Minnesota Wild First in Western Conference?” Oh, how things change.
For those of us feeling bummed or pissed or confused about the Blackhawks’ latest string of losses, we should thank our snowblowers that we’re not Minnesota Wild fans.
The Wild have two wins — that’s TWO WINS — in their last 13 games. The second one came against San Jose just this past Tuesday, when they blew a 2-goal lead and needed a shootout to finally get the W. They now sit clinging desperately to 7th place in the Western Conference, having dropped from 1st in just over a month. Unbelievable.
Guess they should have held on to Cam Barker, huh?
News Flash: the Columbus Blue Jackets fired their coach.
Everything else about the team is still the same as the last time we discussed them. Key players are injured; marquee names are trying their damnedest but can’t produce; offense sucks; defense is worse; goaltending is pathetic.
I really wish there was more to go into here, but there really isn’t. I feel like I’m giving Columbus the short end of the stick compared to the other previews I do, but how many different ways can you say, “Columbus sucks?” I ran out months ago.
Blackhawks fans are certainly feeling the frustration right now, myself included. Our team is on a roller coaster this season. It’s pretty hard to deny that we are plummeting down the hill right now. Another frustrating loss against the Avalanche tonight has led me to drink my sorrows away yet again. Yes, the Avs are on fire. Let’s give them some credit. However, it’s time to throw the excuses out the window. What the hell is wrong with the Hawks’ ability to play consistent hockey?
Tonight was another prime example of what happens when the superstars can’t score. No one picks up the slack for them and it’s deeply troubling. The Hawks have thrived off their top scoring lines all season, with very little support from those lower on the depth chart. This hurts in nights like tonight when they can’t get it going.
Semyon Varlamov earned a rare shutout in the United Center. Unfortunately, this is the second time the Hawks have been shutout at home in 5 game stretch. This is inexcusable. Erik Johnson dominated the blueline for the Avs, logging two assists and a +3.
My fear as we entered January was that the Blackhawks would bring it during the big games and slack off with the so-called “lesser” opponents. I mentioned Colorado as one of the teams we should not look past. I also mentioned Edmonton. Mmm-hmm. Well, it’s time for the Colorado game. And guess what? The Avalanche are on a friggin’ tear.
3 wins in a row, 8 wins in their last 9 games, 3 straight wins on the road, and victories over Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Jose and Tampa Bay — all in the month of December. Colorado is getting solid and occasionally sensational goaltending from what has become its tandem of J.S. Giguere and Semyon Varlamov, and putting up the necessary goals on a night-in, night-out basis to bring home the wins.
This is not the Colorado team that we beat 3-1 out in Denver on October 20. If the Blackhawks treat it that way, this is another Edmonton loss waiting to happen.
Without a trace. The NHL tried and failed, the Hockey Hall of Fame guys scoured the arena until the wee hours of the morning and came up empty, even the FBI were finally called in months after the confetti was cleaned up from Michigan Avenue. No dice.
The whereabouts of the puck that Patrick Kane put between the legs of Michael Leighton in overtime of Game 6 of to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Chicago may never be officially known. But I think we all suspect it’s in Chris Pronger’s rec room. And now that hamster-fucking rectal wart is out for the season with a concussion.
Karma is a bitch, isn’t it, Chrissy?
The last time we were talking about the Oilers we were licking our wounds and wondering how the hell a mediocre team like Edmonton had managed to put 9 (yes, NINE) goals behind our goalies inside the span of just 60 minutes. We were wondering how we could possibly give up 3 power play goals against in a single period, 4 total on the night. We marveled at the fact that our heretofore adequate backup goaltender had allowed 7 goals on just 27 shots, and also that statistically he was the better of our two netminders that night. And we wondered if the confidence we had allowed ourselves to feel after manhandling hated Vancouver 5-1 in their own rink just 3 nights prior was merely wishful thinking.
Had the Blackhawks’ success to date been just an illusion? Had they simply been playing teams that hadn’t gotten in the groove, but that were about to start making them look like the third-place finishers in the Glen Ellyn Bantam A house league? Were we about to see the Blackhawks’ season self-destruct in a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Conference opponents, putting us out of playoff contention by January 1st?
As it turns out, not so much. And as the Blackhawks’ fortunes have turned for the better in the last 45 days since that game, the Oilers’ fortunes have gotten exponentially worse…
The Chicago Blackhawks currently sit atop the NHL with 52 points. In their last 10 games the hawks have an 8-2-0 record with the one loss coming on the road to the Pittsburgh Penguins the other against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. After Friday’s win over the hated Red Wings, there is plenty to be happy about as a Hawks fan right now.
However, we don’t settle for good enough, we want our boys to be the best in the league, superior in all ways. With 2012 upon us, I’ve decided to take a look at some New Year’s Solutions and Resolutions.
Alas, gone are the days when we can joke about Detroit (*spitting noise*) being better suited for catheters than jock straps. No doubt embarrassed by the constant jokes about Depends undergarments and tapioca pudding, tonight the Red Wings will dress only three players age 35 or older: felon Todd Bertuzzi, AARP spokesperson Nicklas Lidstrom, and backup bingo-caller Ty Conklin.
That’s probably for the better: I was running out of senior citizen jokes. And yes, Tomas Holmstrom falls into that category as well, but he fell and broke his hip while going to get his dentures re-fitted. Or something. Anyhow, he isn’t playing tonight.