It’s easy to forget about Dallas, mainly since the Blackhawks haven’t seen them since splitting a home-and-home with them to open the season in October. But also because in terms of the standings, the Stars haven’t been a factor. They’ve been cruising around in bubble-team land for most of the year, currently hovering a game back of the 8th spot in the Western Conference.
Then one remembers who tends goal for them, and you get that knot in your stomach. Kari Lehtonen, who fought off 37 shots in his team’s winning effort against Chicago to start the year, has always been a serious pain in the ass to get a puck behind. Going back to last season, when Chicago managed to drop 3 games to Dallas, the Blackhawks did a fine job of humiliating themselves twice on the visitor’s ice — the first by blowing a 3-0 lead and managing to lose 4-3 in a shootout, the second by getting shut out 5-0 while Lehtonen barely broke a sweat at the other end of the rink.
No matter where they sit in the standings, the Stars always give the ‘Hawks trouble. Tonight should be no different.
Yes, Detroit (*spitting noise*) has won 23 straight at home; and yes, that is an all-time NHL record — which will continue to grow until they lose. But they have a problem.
They’re in OUR house today, and the Blackhawks are on a winning streak of their own. So if they think they’re going to have an easy time of it this evening, they came to the wrong place. December 30th ring a bell, bitches?
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…
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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.