Blackhawks

Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil: New Jersey visits the UC

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 15: Ilya Kovalchuk  of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center on October 15, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So this is what $100 million looks like.

In case your attention was focused too acutely on getting tickets for the Lady GaGa “Monster” tour, there was an auction of sorts happening in the NHL this summer. Mega-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who came over to the Devils in a blockbuster trade with Atlanta at the end of last season, became a free agent. And about five team’s general managers were clamoring over each other to be the first in line to hand over the cash.

So once the deal was done, it turned out the deal really wasn’t done, because Gary Bettman — Supreme Emperor of the NHL — decided he didn’t like it. So it was back to the auction block! When the dust finally settled, Kovalchuk wound up with a deal that will put $100 million in his pocket.

Not bad money, considering he boasts only 6 points and a pathetic -5 rating through 12 games.

Big contracts are par for the course in New Jersey, as the Devils have six players making $4 million per year or more, including names like Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, and Jason Arnott. In that way, their salary structure is a lot like the Blackhawks: a handful of superstars making mega-bucks, and then the rest of the team earning at or near the league minimum. Not surprisingly, both teams are off to a mediocre start.

The salary cap hit got a little lighter on Tuesday, however: doctors performing exploratory surgery on Devils’ forward Zach Parise found a torn meniscus and repaired it during the same session. Parise is expected to miss three months, and will be one less gun in New Jersey’s arsenal when they arrive at the United Center.

But the biggest surprise for the Devils this year has been the so-so goaltending of Martin Brodeur. One hopes in such situations that your backup can carry the load. But Johan Hedberg has had two starts so far this season, and has had to be relieved in both of them. Quite the pickle to be in: your starter slumping, and your backup about as effective as a sixth-grade girl. Needless to say that, despite the coach and GM repeatedly praising the Hall of Fame goalie, the winds of change may be blowing if Brodeur can’t start delivering.

Thankfully, goaltending has yet to be a serious issue with the Blackhawks. But the rest of the team continues to be riddled with injuries, and their replacements have performed (*ahem*) underwhelmingly, to be charitable. The good news is, Brian Campbell made his season debut against the Rangers on Monday, and despite being a little rusty and a step slow, looks to be well on his way to regaining his form. The bad news is, Marian Hossa is still out, and is talking about a return to the lineup next week. Currently he is participating in practice with a “no-contact” designation.

Similarly Dave Bolland has been placed on injured reserve, though his performance so far this season has been so pathetic I doubt anyone would care, or for that matter, notice.

On Tuesday the Blackhawks made the unusual move of sending both Ben Smith and Ryan Potulny back to the AHL affiliate IceHogs. This may simply be a pre-cursor to recalling a different forward for Wednesday’s game, since even with John Scott skating at a wing position, it leaves the team short by one forward. We’ll see what today brings.

The Hawks’ defense looked far more stable against New York than any game to date. Campbell’s return eased the burden on stalwart blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, though Keith still found himself on the ice for over 27 minutes. The biggest bonus, however, was minimizing the ice time for the third defensive pairing, which has been pathetic for the Blackhawks thus far, no matter who it was comprised of.

Look for announcements about call-ups and the starting goaltender following today’s morning skate. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest as it happens.

Game time is 7:30: TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM satellite radio subscribers should turn to channel 208.

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Boxing with Hawks/Rangers, 11/1/10

Well, that was just frustrating. There’s really no better way to describe it.

If you’re going to give up a goal in the last 20 seconds of a period, take a penalty at the end of a period and then give up a game-winner after tying the game 28 seconds earlier, how the living fuck are you going to expect to win a game?

Adding to that, the Rangers played without Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal and  Marian Gaborik.

The Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss Monday to the New York Rangers spoiled the return of  Brian Campbell, who looked like, well, like he’s been out for a long time. However, he did play well, and you can’t expect much out of a guy who hasn’t dressed yet this season.

Unfortunately,  Sean Avery was not taken out by a sniper during the game, which was something I actually bowed my head and prayed would happen before the game started.

Without further ado, here’s your latest edition of “Boxing.”

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Home On The Range(rs): Blackhawks Take Manhattan

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: Henrik Lundqvist  of the New York Rangers sits on the ice after allowing Erik Cole, of the Carolina Hurricanes, to score the game-winning goal in the third period on October 29, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. The Hurricanes defeated the Rangers 4- 3. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have been the blogosphere’s punching bag for more than a decade now, particularly as the retirement home for over-the-hill veterans to be paid ludicrous sums of money. That strategy resulted in a lengthy streak of teams that missed the playoffs, despite having boasted such luminaries as Leech, Lafontaine, Kovalev, Nedved, Lindros, Barnaby, Bure, Holik, Gretzky, and Messier.

The Hall Of Fame names aren’t as prevalent anymore, though the name Jagr graced the roster as recently as two seasons ago. But that year, the Rangers did make the playoffs. Though the same could not be said for last year. The Rangers have nearly half of their salary cap dollars tied up in just four players, and they missed the playoffs in 2009-10. Despite the reduction in marquee names, the results are the same.

Backstopping the effort is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist boasting an impressive .921 save percentage, though that comes with a 2.76 GAA because of an average of 34 shots against per game. In front of him is a defensive corps comprised of largely competent yet wholly unimpressive individuals, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi anchoring the platoon.

Offense is spread surprisingly evenly, with 11 players above the 4-point mark after 10 games, and only four players off the scoresheets entirely (and three of those having played in only one or two games). Tough guys Brandon Prust and Sean Avery provide the muscle: and as luck would have it, Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal are all out of the Rangers lineup with injuries.

The Rangers bring a 5-4-1 record back into Madison Square Garden for this tilt against the Blackhawks. They are brimming with confidence after a shutout against the Maple Leafs two nights ago, so we can expect them to put up quite a struggle. A win tonight moves them up to 6th place in the Eastern Conference — good enough to make the playoffs.

For the Blackhawks’ part, it’s another patchwork lineup again tonight, though one of the pieces we’ve been missing is reportedly back where it belongs.

Blackhawks’ announcer Ed Olczyk went on NHL Live on the NHL Network today, and confirmed that Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell will make his season debut tonight. Campbell’s return will take a huge load off of overworked blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and should help the +/- stats of Niklas Hjalmarsson — not to mention reduce the amount of playing time for pitiful fill-in Jassen Cullimore. Soupy suffered a sprained MCL in a pre-season game October 1, and his absence has been the hole most desperately in need of filling.

But not the only hole. Winger Marian Hossa is still out, as is underperforming center Dave Bolland. Off-season league-minimum acquisition Ryan Potulny and what-the-@$%$#-is-this-guy-doing-here forward Ben Smith were recently called up from Rockford to provide warm bodies to pretend to fill those voids. The Hawks’ win over Minnesota on Saturday began the process of healing from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the dead-last Edmonton Oilers the previous night. With luck that trend will continue this evening.

Administratively speaking, Bryan Bickell and Nick Boynton are the healthy scratches, no official word on who is starting in net, but there is little reason not to suspect Marty Turco will be in goal.

Game starts at 6:00pm. The NHL Network has national coverage for tonight’s game, though Chicago locals can get coverage on Comcast SportsNet. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will find the game on channel 204.

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Eddie O: Campbell playing tonight

Eddie Olczyk stopped by the NHL Live studios in New York, and said on the show that  Brian Campbell will be playing tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.

It’ll be interesting to see how many minutes QStache gives him and/or how many the doctors have cleared him to play. Either way, having watched  Nick Boynton and  John Scott fart all over the ice this season, even just a few minutes of Soupy would be a welcome site.

Tim should have your full preview later today.

Welcome back, Soupy.

UPDATE: A guy with actual big-boy credentials, Tim Sassone, puts up a blog stating Campbell’s return benefits  Niklas Hjalmarsson the most, seeing has he’s currently a minus-8.

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Boxing with ‘Hawks/Wild, 10/30/10

This edition of “Boxing” is a bit more wordy in order to make it more recap-like. There’s just not a ton to write about the Blackhawks’ 3-1 win Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. The game was so boring, it’s hard to even try and make shit up that’s funny.

Either way, here’s it goes. As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Boxing with Hawks/Oilers, 10/29/10

Here’s your “Boxing” from the Blackhawks diarrhea-inducing 7-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

Please note there will be no preview for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild.  Tim is out of town and I’m watching the Michigan State vs. Iowa game. You’ll live.

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Edmonton Remodeled the Basement, But It Still Stinks

Photo: thestar.com

Following the dead-last finish by the Edmonton Oilers last season, the first thing to do was boot Pat Quinn out of his day-to-day role, and up to middle management where he could do less damage. Tom Renney was brought in to steer the team to a better finish than last year. That hurdle could be cleared by a paraplegic tortoise.

Then the team was re-made via the draft, some trades, and the promotion of some youngsters from the minor leagues, Juniors, and the European ranks. Veterans Ethan Moreau, Mike Comrie, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ryan Stone, Chris Minard, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot and Riley Nash were all given early release for good behavior, so as to clear space for the newest victims.

The Oilers brought in some experience in the form of former Blackhawks Colin Fraser and Jim Vandermeer, but mostly young talent — first among them (quite literally) being Taylor Hall, highly-coveted superstar forward and number one overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Edmontonians hailed the super-scoring wunderkind as the next coming of Wayne Gretzky. They would soon be disappointed. Through 8 games, Hall is a minus-4 with only 3 points.

Joining Hall in the category of those most likely to have their skates filled with shaving cream were Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, both of whom had the benefit of lower expectations given the blazing hot spotlight being shined on their teammate. So far they have both performed better than Taylor Hall, but it’s still early.

Goaltending questions also plagued the Oilers in the off-season, as former-Blackhawk netminder and now Edmonton mainstay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin came dangerously close to starting the 2010-11 season in, umm… jail! Found guilty on DUI charges (twice the legal blood-alcohol limit while driving at nearly twice the speed limit) in Arizona, Khabibulin received a fine and a 30-day jail sentence. However, his legal team is appealing, and they managed to convince the judge to let him stay free on bail while the appeal is in progress.

This debacle coming so close to training camp, the Oilers were forced to sign veteran netminder Martin Gerber, who was promptly placed on waivers once Khabibulin weaseled his way out of a stint in the pokey. Khabby is backed up by Jeff Delauriers who has not seen any action to date.

So have the improvements helped? Will Edmonton be able to climb out of the basement? Not so far. Edmonton is (you guessed it) dead last in the Western Conference with a 2-4-2 record, giving up an average of 3.5 goals on 33 shots against per game. The much-hoped-for offense hasn’t materialized as yet either: Defenseman Ryan Whitney is the only player with more than 5 points.

So the Blackhawks face a team with little offense, shoddy defense and porous goaltending, that is also playing the second half of back-to-back games after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout last night. Looks like we have a recipe for an overwhelming Blackhawks victory this evening.

This is all good news, because if ever you wanted to play the worst team in the league, it is when you just lost one of your leading scorers to injury. Already suffering through the lengthy absence of defenseman Brian Campbell, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday that Marian Hossa will be out for the next two weeks with an upper-body injury. Right wing Ben Smith has been recalled from Rockford, and will be in the lineup tonight against the Oilers.

Wait a second. Ben Smith? BEN SMITH? Now we know that Jeremy Morin is not ready to return from his injury yet, so he’s out. But you still have Igor Makarov, Brandon Pirri, and Kyle Beach to choose from. Rob Klinkhammer, as un-exciting as he may be, is also an option. Yet they recall Ben Friggin’ Smith?

I swear, this guy has pictures of Stan Bowman doing the watusi with somebody’s niece. That’s the only way Ben Smith gets the call over these other forwards.

At any rate, the jumbled lines from Wednesday night’s victory over Los Angeles will be jumbled again, which won’t hurt much, since scoring output was no better than when the usual suspects were in their usual places. So expect Coach Joel Quenneville to be playing his 60-minute game of musical wingers.

Defense should be unchanged, though it’s a toss-up as to whom between John Scott and Jordan Hendry will be enjoying press box popcorn for the tilt. Since this is the first game of a Blackhawks’ back-to-back, I expect Corey Crawford to start against Edmonton. Give him the weaker of the two starts to pad his stats a bit.

Game time is 7:30: TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM channel 208.

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Boxing with Hawks/Kings, 10/27/10

Sorry, sorry, sorry for getting this up so late. Tim put together a good recap and I’m having so much sympathy for  Marian Hossa getting hurt that I’m starting to get sick. Without further ado, here’s your “Boxing” from Wednesday night’s Blackhawks 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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UPDATE: Marian Hossa Out “a couple of weeks”

Photo: AP/Yahoo Sports

Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville announced following practice today that winger Marian Hossa would miss “a couple of weeks” with an upper-body injury.

He said that the injury “was not serious in nature” and “would not require surgery.”

Hmmm…

Speculation continues to float that Hossa has sustained a concussion, which the evidence would support. Also possible is a re-injury of the shoulder that required surgery last summer — causing Hossa to miss more than one-quarter of the season.

Hossa has 7 goals and 11 points, second on the Blackhawks in both categories. The Hawks are averaging less than 3 goals scored per game. Losing his output will likely have a negative effect on the team’s standings in the Conference.

Unless some our other million-dollar men can start earning their kibble. Time will tell…

Hawks Beat Kings: Antti Who?

Photo: AP/Yahoo Sports

Blackhawks fans got to see the team put one in the win column at the United Center last night, and against one of the better teams in the league at that. But looking beyond the net result, that’s where the good news ends.

Well, almost. The undisputed star of the game was Blackhawks goaltender Marty Turco, who turned away 33 shots for his fifth win in his last six starts. Turco’s rebound control was nearly flawless, he was mindful of his now-legendary five-hole weakness, and with a little help from his three red, iron friends behind him he put on a Dominic Hasek-like display of acrobatics and aeronautics throughout the game. Turco now boasts a .927 save percentage, good for 3rd in the league among goalies with more than five starts.

Antti… Antti who?

Outside of the crease, however, the news ranged from bad to worse. The bad news was, apart from seeing score sheet contributions from unusual sources, Coach Joel Quenneville’s line shake-up could hardly be called a success. Managing only 28 shots on goal — including a mere two from defensemen whose mothers call them something other than Duncan — the Hawks goal production continues to be a disappointment. The Hawks average under 3 goals scored per game, and they did nothing to boost that statistic last night. Were Kings starter Jonathan Quick in goal instead of backup Jonathan Bernier, the outcome could have been much different. And once again conditioning showed itself to be a weak spot, as was evident at the beginning of the third period.

Then, there’s worse. Blackhawks powerhouse winger Marian Hossa left the game early in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury and did not return. No information was available after the final buzzer, and we will have to wait until a formal evaluation takes place today before we know the extent of his injury — and how much time he is expected to miss.

In case you have been paying too much attention to which porn star is in Charlie Sheen’s closet this week, Hossa missed the first 20-odd games of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery to repair. If that shoulder has been re-injured, we may be looking at weeks, or even months before his return.

Discount Hossa’s contribution to the score sheet, and the Hawks are averaging just barely over 2 goals per game. That’s not enough to keep a .500 record, let alone make the playoffs. Right now we are getting meager (that’s putting it lightly) contributions from the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland and the youngsters in the forward ranks. If Hossa goes under the knife again, and these guys don’t start to crank it up, it is going to be a season we will all want to forget.

Stay tuned here, and join us on Twitter if you haven’t already for the latest news. We’ll be watching the Marian Hossa injury reports come in as they happen, and we’ll pass it along. Say a prayer, rub that rabbit’s foot, or whatever it is you do. This could be big, for all the wrong reasons.

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