The Chicago Blackhawks are about to embark on a difficult stretch during the month of January, facing tough Western Conference rivals and some pesky Eastern Conference teams as well. Some players on the team are doing fantastic, some others need work, and we have a pair of excellent goaltenders manning the nets. The Cheer The Anthem staff put their heads together and addressed these and other questions in the latest edition of our Round Table…
Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are surging lately and headed for strong end-of-season point totals. What do you see as the cause for this, and what can the Blackhawks do to keep these guys on a roll?
JEFF BARTL, Founder & Lead Writer: Remember all the concerns over Hossa’s contract, cap hit, injuries, etc.? It’s amazing how quickly a solid couple of months can rid us of all that. When the Blackhawks signed Hossa, I tried to break it down to non-hockey enthusiasts as being comparable to the Bears trading for Jay Cutler.
If you’ve even barely been paying attention to the Hawks lately, then you have undoubtedly heard of the emergence of Viktor Stalberg.
We are all surely familiar with his skating abilities and blazing speed. Sadly, we are also familiar with his knack for poor finishing and lack of patience when shooting. Had you mentioned Stalberg to me earlier in the season, even I would have rolled my eyes in frustration.
That all changed with his recent point streak (seven points over four games). It seems his shooting patience and accuracy are finally catching up to his speed. Stalberg producing, you say? Go ahead, I’m listening.
The fairy tale, surge, or whatever you want to call it that began on December 18 with an assist against the Calgary Flames and ended last night against the Los Angeles Kings has gathered the attention of everyone from Joel Quenneville to ESPN fantasy hockey owners (myself included).
The big news out of the Los Angeles Kings’ camp in the last month is the dismissal of veteran no-nonsense coach Terry Murray and the hiring of veteran no-nonsense coach Darryl Sutter. The general consensus among the pundits based outside of California was, “There’s a difference?” Murray was implementing a defense-based system, and getting buy-in from the superstar offensive weapons like Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards was difficult. Sutter will implement the same system, so how is that going to improve things?
The jury is still out, as Sutter has only 3 games under his belt as coach, notching 2 wins and a loss — about on par with what the team has been doing the rest of December. But as there is a history between Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi (former GM at San Jose who hired Sutter to coach the Sharks during his tenure there), expect Sutter to get several years to get the team to follow his lead.
The key problem for Los Angeles is offense. In 12 games thus far in December, they have scored more than 2 goals in regulation exactly once. And folks, that includes the games they WON. Granted, they have allowed the seventh-fewest goals against in the league, an impressive stat. But when you are also scoring the second-fewest, that’s bad. If Sutter can get the second stat up while keeping the first one down, he’s got a chance at making the playoffs.
It’s getting boring to list the woeful details of the pathetic state of affairs surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the third meeting of these two teams, and each time the story gets more unpleasant.
It’s akin to King Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight: they talk big and look imposing at the outset, and they put up a good fight. But in the end they come away well beaten and embarrassed.
The Blue Jackets have re-claimed the basement in the NHL thanks to a four-game losing streak, which caps off a post-Thanksgiving run that saw them lose 9 of their last 12. Just four (count them, 4) of their players have a plus-minus rating that is not negative, and only one of those is above zero; James Wisniewski,, the off-season mega-contract recipient and purported defensive savior, leads the race to the bottom with a minus-19 on the season. Their “best” goaltender boasts only a 2.66 GAA and still has a losing record, while “starter” Steve Mason is 4-14-1 on the year. And with nearly all of their star players back in the lineup after an injury-riddled start, the BJ’s still couldn’t ride a first period hat-trick by star center Jeff Carter to victory, losing to Nashville in their last pre-holiday outing by a final of 6-5.
“You stupid bastard! You’ve got no arms left!”
It’s no fun beating up on a team that can’t defend themselves. It’s almost as if they should just jump behind the turnbuckle and yell, “No mas! No mas!” Pity them and their fans, for they still have 48 games left to play.
Probably for the better anyhow, there’s plenty to talk about with the Blackhawks.
And there it was, a bright flash of brilliance against the winter sky… The rarest of sights… Coming hence only one in 82…
It’s Crosby’s Comet!
And now, just as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone. Maybe it will show up again next year…
I’m sure that’s how Pittsburgh fans felt when their Sainted Wunderkind took the ice for those 8 games earlier this month, netting 2 goals and adding 10 assists to put him ahead of all but 9 of his teammates on the scoring chart. Which, when you think about it, either says a lot about Sidney Crosby, or a HELL of a lot about the rest of the Penguins.
But one thing to note about the Pens’ stats sheet is its sheer length: 29 skaters have put on the black and gold so far this season, due in no small part to the list of players with injuries stretching nearly as long as the stat sheet. At present, the following players who are NOT named “Crosby” are out of the lineup for Pittsburgh: Robert Bortuzzo, Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek (bless you…), Richard Park, and Jordan Staal. Saying that we’re playing the farm team tonight is not that far off the mark.
He’s back. Who, you ask? Lubomir Visnovsky. I’ve got bad news too. He looks really good.
After a fairly disappointing start, posting 1 goal and 3 assists in 16 games, Visnovsky broke his finger and sat out a month.
Visnovsky returned to his team and made a statement last night against the Phoenix Coyotes. He had an assist, was a +2, and recorded 7 shots, while posting an impressive post-injury 24:23 of ice time. I watched the game for this very reason. I was interested in seeing how Visnovsky would bounce back from his injury and if he was capable of returning to the form he was in last season. He scored 18 goals and recorded 50 assists last year for the Ducks.
Quickly, Tim has some quick thoughts on the realignment – which I won’t cover here – and Jim will be posting this afternoon with some more analysis about radical changes.
Is there anyone playing as well as Jonathan Toews right now?
If there is, it sure isn’t anyone currently suiting up for the Blackhawks.
Toews owned the second period, bringing the ‘Hawks back from a 3-0 deficit to salvage a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to Phoenix at the United Center on Monday.
Corey Crawford allowed three goals on 16 shots before being pulled in favor of Ray Emery, though the move was more of Q trying to spark the team rather than for the poor play of Crow.
Granted, the third goal was all Crawford’s fault, though the first two were tough. Steve Montador got caught between his skates and his brain, trying to stop hard to chase a loose puck jetting toward center ice. He lost an edge, then couldn’t recover, leading to a 2-on-1 break which Crow had no chance to stop.
The second … my God. Duncan Keith, please tell me what in the living funky hell you were doing? Keith blindly dropped a “pass” into an empty corner behind him. By the time Brent Seabrook had realized his defensive partner had a gigantic brain fart, the Coyotes were taking a two-goal lead.
Marian Hossa missed his 400th goal by shooting it into the foot of Yandle as the immortal Mike Smith was sprawled out somewhere in Schaumburg trying to find his way back to the net. Also cost the ‘Hawks the potential game-winner.
Back to Toews. Can we give this guy some help, please? His 17 goals lead the NHL. He’s scored in five of the last six games, giving him 13 points during that span (7G, 6A). His career high of 34 goals set in 2008-09 is sure to be broken this season. I know it’s too early to start the Hart Trophy talk, but Toews is the only reason the ‘Hawks even got a point out of tonight – the definition of MVP.
My roommate, who watched the Versus broadcast tonight, pointed out Doc called Toews “a great leader.” Yeah, no shit. Isn’t it about time everyone starts recognizing Toews as one of the best players in the world? Here we are talking about a guy who was the MVP of the Olympics playing for Canada. He’s won every single major championship everyone dreams of winning growing up.
Toews is making his case – if he hadn’t already – as an all-everything player who deserves even more recognition than he already gets.
And with that, here’s Boxing …Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
The much-debated and wildly prognosticated NHL divisional re-alignment plan threw everyone completely for a loop in the final throes of the matter, as a new plan was approved late Monday night that will re-align the league into 4 Conferences — 2 with 7 teams, 2 with 8. Names don’t appear to have been part of the plan that was approved, so they are merely being referred to as A, B, C, and D.
Here’s what the new NHL will look like:
It doesn’t get much sweeter than beating the St. Louis Blues on their home ice in front of the biggest contingent of degenerates known to man.
Cheer louder for a hit than a goal? Check.
Looking like dip shits during your power play “dance?” Check.
Getting behind a team that quite obviously can’t compete talent-wise so it has to resort to playing like cheap hooligans? Double check.
Saturday’s 5-2 win at the Whatever the Hell They’re Calling it Now Stadium Arena Place was a nice kick in the ass to a team which, admittedly had been playing well – especially there. If the ‘Hawks had to play the Blues for 82 games, no one would have to worry about the “coming out flat” talk or wondering where their energy is hiding.
It’s a Sunday, so no random thoughts or anything. Here’s your Boxing…
Note from Bartl: I am very proud to welcome the newest addition to Cheer the Anthem: Chris Deme, who is the creator of the famous Facebook page Joel Quenneville’s Mustache. Chris is finishing up this year of law school at the moment, but he will be adding his thoughts on a regular basis. Please give him a warm welcome, as we are all very excited to have him on here at CtA!
Mentioning the name Niklas Hjalmarsson around Hawks fans these days is sure to start a debate, not only about Hjammer’s current state, but also his future on the Hawks. It almost seems like a “Civil War” is brewing amongst Hawks fans about what to do with him, with half of Chicago wanting to give him the ax, while the other half are ready to drop to their knees and beg Bowman to stick with him. As a law student, I’ve been trained to examine both sides of every issue or argument, so I’m notorious for playing devil’s advocate in everything I do. That being said, let’s take a look at both sides of this debate.
Let’s start with Hjammer’s numbers, because as the saying goes, numbers don’t lie.
• Age: 24
• Cap Hit: $3.5 million through 2014
• Goals: 0
• Assists: 2
• +/-: 4
• Blocked Shots: 62
• Hits: 19
• Average TOI: 20:23
Hjalmarsson is 24 years old, which means he still has time to improve.
Hjalmarsson, along with teammate Sami Lepisto, lead Blackhawks defensemen with a +4.
Hjalmarsson’s blocked shots currently rank 4th in the NHL just behind Josh Gorges, Ladislav Smid, and Niklas Kronwall. He has improved his shot-blocking skills each season. In 2009-2010, Hjalmarsson posted 137 blocked shots. After the departure of shot-blocking specialist Brent Sopel the following year, Hjammer posted a team-leading 166 blocked shots (13th in the NHL). This season, Hjammer is on pace for just shy of 200 blocked shots. He has undoubtedly taken over as the shot-blocking specialist on the team.