Boxing 2011-12

Back in the Swing of Things: Boxing with Blackhawks and Red Wings

I laughed. (Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

No Jonathan Toews. No Pavel Datsyuk. Still, the same ol’ gritty rivalry.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings gave us another entertaining battle on both ends of the ice, and Corey Crawford beat Jimmy Howard in a fantastic goaltending dual as the ‘Hawks held on for a 2-1 victory Tuesday night at the United Center.

Jimmy Hayes was rewarded with a goal after working in front of the net, then assisted on Marcus Kruger’s tally with some nice board work and a charge to the back of the net, as Kruger tipped in an Andrew Brunette shot that bounced off Howard.

You know the basics, so let’s get to some other stuff…

♦   It obviously wasn’t ideal to have Toews out of the lineup with the always-vague upper-body injury, though there weren’t many points in the contest I was screaming for Toews to be there. The final minute sticks out, when The Captain would’ve been on the ice for in-zone draws as the Wings had the extra skater, and Dave Bolland lost two to give Detroit a couple more shots at Crawford as the clock ticked away. Other than that, the ‘Hawks keep the Red Wings at bay and Henrik Zetterberg damn near invisible.

♦   Patrick Kane was solid tonight, and it was only for a spectacular Howard save on Patrick Sharp that Kaner didn’t register a point. Kane took the puck on the far side and circled toward the center of the ice while the ‘Hawks were on the power play. He skated the puck to the near side and went right at Justin Abdelkader, who had lost his stick. Kane was able to move in and create a passing lane to get the puck to Sharp camping in front of the net. Howard went post-to-post and stuck out his left pad, snuffing out the chance. Nonetheless, a smart, heads-up play by Kaner. He was all over the place and seemed to step up his game with Toews out.

♦   Speaking of the power play: 0 for 30 over the last 11 games, with the last PP goal coming when Bolland beat Pekka Rinne in a 3-1 home loss to Nashville on Jan. 24 – the last game before the All-Star break.

♦   Crawford’s play wasn’t stellar, but his saves were not exactly routine. I saw far less rebounds than in the previous games during his current stretch of four straight games with one GA. Him staying in the blue paint more often than not has seemed to pay off, and his run has quelled the talk of trading for a goaltender – for now.

♦   When a goaltender is on like Howard was tonight, garbage goals are necessary to grind out a win like this. The ‘Hawks got them with the help of some aggressive play in front of Howard, taking advantage of a couple loose pucks and pounding them home. This seems to have been lacking recently.

♦  Going 28 for 54 at the dot without Toews is definitely a victory on that end. With that being said, here’s to hoping Toews doesn’t have to sit out Thursday against Dallas.

Here’s Boxing…

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More Ammo for the Meatballs: Boxing with Blackhawks and Oilers

(Greg Southam/MCT photo)

First, I’ll go ahead and preface everything with that I more than agree the Blackhawks need to add depth on defense. Moreover, I believe the ‘Hawks need to simply focus more in their own zone, which goes for everyone wearing the Indian head. I don’t think any of this can be disputed one bit.

But against my own good judgement, I took to Twitter after the game and saw more trading of Patrick Kane. More trading for Tim Thomas. People talking about trading the entire team, with the only untouchable being Jonathan Toews. People ready to fire Joel Quenneville.

I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by this. One game – granted, an extremely bad one that pissed me off royally – and all of the sudden the Blackhawks’ proverbial ship is sinking with 30 games to play while being six points back of the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings. To break it into simpler terms for those who have been following hockey since 2009, that would translate to three games.

If the Cubs or White Sox were three games out of first with 30 to play, would you be calling to trade the entire damn team? Didn’t think so.

There are plenty of things I didn’t like about The Disaster at Rexall Place – Part Duex, but sometimes assholes like Sam Gagner have 8-point nights when a team plays like dog shit on both ends of the ice. Luckily, the Blackhawks don’t lose 20 points for the lopsided 8-4 loss. This isn’t Final Jeopardy, and the ‘Hawks didn’t bet it all and get the question wrong. It simply adds another number under the ‘L’ column, just like the last four.

Am I sugarcoating this defeat? A little. The Blackhawks’ six-game road losing streak is their longest since their franchise-record 19-game skid in 2003-04.

But there are so many meatballs out there forcing me to do it. I don’t want to be the calming voice. I’d much rather rant logically and swear up and down while throwing things at my cat, but as I wrote on Twitter, the Blackhawks have possibly the most bi-polar fan base in all of sports. If the ‘Hawks win their next two games, some of these same people clamoring for wholesale changes will be talking Stanley Cup again. I refuse to pour petrol on that fire.

With all that said, I’m angry about the loss, as I’ll show in Boxing…

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Punched Out: Boxing, Once Again, with Blackhawks and Predators

JIM YOUNG, REUTERS

There may not be a team in the league looking more forward to the All-Star break than the Blackhawks.

Playing without Jonathan Toews and of course Patrick Sharp, the ‘Hawks looked fell short on the defensive end a dropped the final game before the break, 3-1 to the Predators.

Despite the offense lacking, I didn’t feel the offense necessarily was the issue. Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson are becoming painful to watch. Absolutely and completely painful. It actually hurts from getting so damn angry at their problems – and they’re many.

No more crap about Leddy being young and learning and being thrust into a position to learn on the job. He’s playing for a Stanley Cup contender, and that label for the ‘Hawks comes in spite of him, not because of him. The second goal was a direct result of his inability to play defense with enough muscle nor brains. The blind ring around the boards didn’t work simply because he thrre it into a forechecker’s legs, leading to a nice kick pass for Mike Fisher’s goal.

Hjalmarsson gets plenty of blame as well, as Fisher had all day to prepare himself for that pass. At this point, I’d like to see Sami Lepisto get a night with one of these two in the press box. Something needs to be done.

(UPDATE: It’s since been confirmed it was Sean O’Donnell on the ice with Leddy, and not Hammer. My eyes weren’t working right from the opposite end of the stadium, which is my bad. However, it doesn’t change my stance that one of these guys needs a seat up high for at least a game.)

♦   Corey Crawford is giving up far too many rebounds, but this game could’ve gotten out of hand tonight if it weren’t for him. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith allowed a breakaway chance, as did Hjalmarsson’s flat feet. Crawford stopped them both, then made some saves in the third that could’ve doomed the ‘Hawks had they gotten past him. No real praise, but no real thoughts of this being his fault by any means.

♦   Dave Bolland won 17 of 20 faceoffs tonight. Dave. Bolland. Won. 17. Of. 20. Faceoffs. I slowed it down for you to make you read it slower. Between that and his goal, I think he embraced taking Toews’ spot on the top line.

♦   Marian Hossa is an under-appreciated part of this team. He never gets enough credit, in my book. The reason he’s not talked about much is because he doesn’t do much wrong. I guess it gets hard to constantly praise someone.

♦   Patrick Kane stopping to twirl mid-breakaway is a prime example of him thinking too much about his slump. No, I really don’t have any idea what’s running through his head. It could be hookers or pretty pink bows. However, it’s hard not to speculate when a true, killer goal scorer refuses to simply take his space and go hard to the net to try and beat the goaltender like he’s always capable of doing.

♦   Andrew Shaw has officially become Q’s new Kris Versteeg. Shaw led all ‘Hawks forwards in ice time tonight, and while he’s playing hard, I don’t necessarily believe he deserved all that time. Q is trying to ride the hot hand, but Shaw hasn’t exactly done anything stellar over the past few games to have me going nuts over him. As I’ve said before, everyone needs to stay grounded on this guy – including Q.

♦   Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch in favor of Bryan Bickell. And no one cared or noticed one way or the other. The drop off of these guys is epic.

Here’s Boxing…

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Captain, is it Serious?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Predators

(John Russell, NHLI via Getty Images)

The amount of pain resulting from Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Nashville is to be determined.

Jonathan Toews played less than 10 minutes before leaving, and the ‘Hawks played careless defense and got sub-par goaltending from Corey Crawford, helping extend their road losing streak to four games.

There’s little question the “upper-body” injury that kept Toews from finishing is the same that sent him to the bench against Florida. The slash to the hand/wrist area is the likeliest of anything anyone can think it to be. How it got aggravated, though, is anyone’s guess.

I know this may be tough to hear without a diagnosis and it coming after a humiliating defeat to a division rival, but as long as Toews’ injury isn’t a clean break, it came at the best possible time. If it’s necessary, Toews can sit Tuesday and then relax for a week after skipping the All-Star game next Saturday, and we can see where we’re at then. If this happened in the middle of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, then I may be a bit more concerned.

That doesn’t mean I’m not now, especially since the vagueness of the NHL injury front keeps us from knowing much. However, though briefly, I’m remaining optimistic.

♦   Allowing a 100-foot goal became Crawford’s biggest of his many blemishes this season – and maybe his career. We can talk about funny bounces all we want, but that floater has to be stopped. The momentum completely shifted after the ‘Hawks controlled most of the game to that point. He’d later go down like he took a shotgun to the chest on a move by Kostitsyn, leading to the hook in favor of Ray Emery, who was promptly greeted with a breakaway he stopped.

♦   Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson - I’m begging them to prove their worth soon. Leddy’s offensive talent doesn’t help with what the Blackhawks need. They have plenty of scoring. What the ‘Hawks need is defensive reliability, which he’s not giving at the moment. The failed clear led to Hammer staring at Legwand, as Wilson slid right behind him for an easy goal. That’s not on Crow, that’s the defense. And Duncan Keith didn’t do Crow any favors by coming up way too high on the kill, leaving Smith two clear cracks at putting it into the net.

♦   Marian Hossa played an outstanding game at both ends, and potted the only Blackhawks’ goals while making the red-hot Pekka Rinne look pretty damn bad.

Here’s Boxing…

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First Thing’s First: Boxing with Blackhawks and Sharks

"Oh, excuse me Antti." (Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

That’s your top line, ladies and gentlemen.

The Blackhawks came away with five of six points in their three-games-in-four-nights stretch, dominating San Jose 4-3 – save for a few moments.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg combined for two goals and three assists in the victory, coming up with big goals – and two more near-goals – to help improve the ‘Hawks to 3-0-2 in their last five games.

♦   It’s tough to ignore the play of Stalberg, despite the fact half of his 14 goals have come against Columbus. Nonetheless, when you’re hot, you’re hot. His goal was nothing short of perfection on all accounts, charging hard toward the net after recognizing the open space. With his speed and first step, these goals can continue happening, especially playing on a line with two of the league’s best passers.

♦   Kaner is in a big scoring slump, and if it wasn’t obvious enough, Antti Niemi absolutely robbed the living hell out of him in the first period. Toews and Kane executed a perfect 2-on-1, and Niemi seemed down and out. As we’re all privy to when Niemi was wearing the Indian head, he suck out the glove across the open net and snagged a sure-goal out of the air. Kane couldn’t believe it, and Toews had to go console him. It’s a shame, but it seems as if he’s getting closer to ending that slump.

♦  Toews’ goal was the work of the entire line. Stalberg hustled to bother Niemi, and the puck shot out to Kane on the left board. Without a hesitation, he fired it to the front with Toews waiting, and all three got on the score sheet. I’ll mention this again later, but Toews described the goal during the intermission interview and referred to Niemi as “their goaltender.” Fuck the friendship when it comes to getting a win, eh?

♦   Another goal from Andrew Shaw, who may get a statue outside the UC soon if it were up to a good chunk of the fan base. I like the guy. I think he brings plenty of things to the table and it’s hard to ignore his scoring numbers. He went 6 for 6 at the dot tonight and has an awesome Napoleon complex.

However, quoting the Gin Blossoms, Shaw may want to start singing: “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” Thinking this guy is the second coming of Denis Savard will only make for a long fall from the top of the What-You-Talkin’-About Willis Tower. If this keeps up, awesome. Build his statue. But when he starts to screw up – and he will – remember to be objective toward your newly found hero.

♦   I’d like to thank the ‘Hawks for taking my mind off what I witness first-hand at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. That first period was complete shit show. Following that with five solid periods helps.

Onto Boxing…

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Hats Off: Boxing with Blackhawks and BJs

(Credit: US Presswire)

I got home very late tonight, so this will be short before I get to Boxing.

♦   Viktor Stalberg – Good for you, kid.

♦   Jared Boll/Referees – You’re assholes

♦   Marian Hossa – Badass

♦   Corey Crawford – Just gave up another rebound.

That’s it. I’m tired. Here’s Boxing…

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When Does it Get Better?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Red Wings

"A little help?" (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

It’s not going to get any easier for us. — Jonathan Toews

Somewhere in the depths of hell, a Red Wings fan just hit a slick patch of ice.

Halfway through the season, the St. Louis Blues are tied for first place in the Central Division, while the Blackhawks are mired in a four-game losing streak.

Not exactly what anyone expected, especially since the ‘Hawks scored the first goal in three of those loses. Adding shit luck on top of another loss when the ‘Hawks were in position win, Patrick Sharp has an always vague upper-body injury, suffered during or shortly after his goal put the ‘Hawks up 2-0.

Some quick things before Boxing does the rest…

♦  As Toews said, nothing is going to get easier any time soon. After Columbus and Minnesota this week, here’s how it looks, in order:

at Detroit, vs San Jose, vs Buffalo, vs Florida, at Nashville, vs Nashville, at Vancouver.

Oh, and jaunt to Vancouver is the beginning of a nine-game road trip from Jan. 31-Feb. 18.

♦   There’s evidence of panic among the feather-headed faithful. While most of it is unwarranted and illogical, it’s hard not to blame the overreactions as this losing streak continues. It’s now a matter if Stan Bowman feels the same panic, sees the issues and makes a move quicker than we thought he would as the ‘Hawks seemed to be rolling just a couple weeks ago.

What’s the right move? Make a deal and bring more uncertainty to a locker room already on edge? Or do you ride out the skid and figure it out in a couple week? There might not be a “right time” anymore. And if Sharp is going to miss games, Stan may get edgy himself and spring some people. Time will tell.

♦   Speaking of Sharp, the injury seems to be a bit of a mystery. Before I weigh in, let’s see what the diagnosis is Monday and react from there.

♦   We can bitch about the officiating through our sleep tonight, but the fact remains the Blackhawks didn’t take advantage when they got the calls, and the Red Wings did just that. The ‘Hawks converted their first power play attempt, then shit themselves on the next five. And if that wasn’t enough, Jimmy Hayes couldn’t convert a penalty shot that would’ve put the ‘Hawks up 3-1 and made Detroit’s climb more uphill.

I won’t deny the non-calls on Tomas Holmstrom for tripping Brent Seabrook and the bench for two many men didn’t hurt the Blackhawks’ chances, but there were plenty more opportunities, and that’s where you should direct your anger – especially since the ‘Hawks power play this season largely has resembled an orgy breaking out at the National Federation of the Blind.

♦   Not even Dennis Rodman would know what to do with all the rebounds Corey Crawford is giving up right now. He made some big plays tonight and likely will be back in net Tuesday, but I think it’s safe to say the jury is still out on how much he can be trusted down the stretch.

♦   Of the Blackhawks’ 17 total losses, Marian Hossa has gone scoreless in 14 of them.

♦   Patrick Kane: 2 goals, 4 assists, minus-4 since Dec. 11 (13 games).

Boxing…

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The Young and the Defenseless: Boxing with Blackhawks and Flyers

"Yep. That's my rebound." (Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

Not many teams win games when allowing 46 shots on goal. In fact, teams giving up at least that many shots have gone 4-8 this season.

The Blackhawks allowed 21 shots in Philadelphia’s three-goal second period alone, then were done in by Patrick Kane’s late high-sticking penalty as JVR netted the game-winner with 33 seconds left in regulation to beat the ‘Hawks 5-4 on Thursday night.

The 46 shots on goal were the most the Blackhawks have given up since allowing 51 to Columbus on Nov. 1, 2008.

The third-period rally was a hell of a lot of fun though, wasn’t it? Brent Seabrook scored just as the ‘Hawks came back to full strength, then Kaner potted one 25 seconds later to tie it up.

For all the bullshit that went on in the second period, the Blackhawks were on the verge of earning at least a point against a top team on the road without playing their best hockey – and with a couple regulars missing. While I know I’m trying to find a silver lining – despite knowing the ‘Hawks need to play a full 60 and could use some blue-line help – I’d rather look at it this way rather than posting on Twitter how the Blackhawks need to trade Kane for taking that penalty. And yes, there were many tweets like that after the game.

Speaking of the regulars being out, Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw played some solid hockey. Again, I’m not going to pay for hookers for them quite yet, but the early results are nice so far.

Hayes played on the most solid line of the night with Jamal Mayers and Michael Frolik, scoring on a great hustle play after taking a beautiful pass from Mayers.

Shaw’s NHL debut was nothing if not exciting. Great chance on his first shift, dropped the gloves early, got bloodied to all hell and had his sweater torn, then came back with a ton of stitches to score his first goal. Gotta give it to the kid for a solid night. No fear.

Boxing is a bit more wordy tonight, so I’m going to go to bed and let that take over….

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CarBombed: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Oilers

Nice job, moron. (Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

It’s a team we should beat. Giving up two on the 5-minute penalty kill changed the momentum of the game. But we still shouldn’t (have) lost to a team like that.

– Patrick Kane

It’s hard to pin a loss on one player, but Monday’s 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers is the closest I can come.

Dan Carcillo not only set himself up for a suspension with his crushing and unnecessary hit on Tom Gilbert, he may have seriously injured his knee in the process.

The ensuing 5-minute major penalty led to two Edmonton goals that ended up being the difference, as the Blackhawks fell once again to the Oilers only two three days after a big home win over rival Detroit.

For one, I’m going to go into full honesty mode here and say that I told the vast majority of people to calm down when the ‘Hawks signed Carcillo. I then continued to defend that signing when he showed some slick offensive skills we never thought we’d see. I don’t necessarily believe I was wrong, either.

Then Monday happened.

At least his suspension/potential injury will give another prospect a chance to play some minutes.

Quick thoughts ….

♦   It didn’t help Niklas Hjalmarsson got clipped with a high stick prior to Taylor Hall’s goal – the second on Carcillo’s major. It sucked, but it happens.

♦   After all the Carcillo shit and the two goals allowed, the Blackhawks still had a chance to win this thing. Then, they went 0 for 5 on the power play, including a four-minute double-minor on a high stick to Jonathan Toews, who was an absolute beast and didn’t miss a shift after getting fixed up.

Ryan Jones got called for a goaltender interference penalty, and the ‘Hawks looked like dog shit on that power play, too. The Blackhawks played with a man advantage for six of the final 8:46, and they came away with absolutely nothing.

Before ALL the blame lands on Carcillo, let’s realize the ‘Hawks had chances to win this game despite that. The awful PP unit and a weak goal from the well-known Ben Eager ended up doing the Blackhawks in.

♦   Speaking of that weak goal, Corey Crawford could’ve played better. Thinking about it a little bit more, Crow will probably be back in net Thursday in Philadelphia before Ray Emery gets the nod Friday at home against Colorado. Sunday against Detroit will likely depend on how each plays in these games. We’ll see.

♦   For the second straight game, Patrick Kane left the center of the ice open as he trailed the play, allowing the opposition an easy goal. Tonight’s came from Andy Sutton. With Carcillo out, it may be best to get Kaner back to the wing and bring up Brandon Pirri, unless Marcus Kruger is ready to play. Either way, I think Q needs to get Kane away from the center spot. He’s clearly not playing the same as he did when he started the season there.

I’ll do the rest of my talking in Boxing…

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Sign of What’s to Come?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Red Wings

(Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

After watching such a well-played game between two world-class teams like the one that went on at the United Center on Friday night, I’m all out of jokes for the hated Red Wings.

I have to show some respect, however much I can muster begrudgingly.

The season isn’t even halfway completed yet, but I can’t help but think of the torture – yet unbelievable excitement – a Western Conference final matchup between the Blackhawks and Red Wings would bring.

The first 40 minutes were some of the best hockey I watched in a long time when factoring in the play of both teams. Fittingly, it took a third-period tie-breaking goal and some big defensive stops at the end, and it was the Blackhawks who came out on top 3-2.

Detroit may be the oldest team in the league, but it is still filled with tons of talent. The Red Wings are going to need to get better on the road (now 9-11-0) if they’re to make serious noise come mid-April, but any team likely would struggle a bit during a stretch playing 11 of 14 away from home.

Before we get to the final Boxing of 2011, here are some thoughts…

♦  OK, so I am going to rag a bit on an old fogy. Nicklas Lidstrom still is a good defender, even at his ripe old age. He was in perfect position to save a Marian Hossa goal while Jimmy Howard was down and out. However, he is not a GREAT defenseman anymore. Lidstrom’s Norris Trophy last season was no more than a parting gift for years of service in the league, then the fucker decided to come back. He’s been overrated for roughly four years, and it’s starting to piss me off.

Thankfully, Jonathan Toews exposed him like Mel Gibson at a Hanukkah party. Toews skated right past him to the center off the ice to accept a feed that led to a breakaway, and Lidstrom could do nothing but hook him, forcing a penalty shot. Toews proceeded to abuse Howard through the five-hole – shocking huh? – to tie the game.

At the end of the first period, Toews played the puck beautifully off the boards, lifted Lidstrom’s stick, corralled the puck and skated in. Again, Lidstrom hooked Toews to slow him down, because that’s all he could do after being left in the dust yet again.

♦  Patrick Kane at center wasn’t so bad, though he was late on the backcheck, allowing former Michigan State hero (sorry) Justin Abdelkader to come right up the gut and score past a diving Corey Crawford.

♦  Marian Hossa – my God. Could’ve easily had a trick tonight. His goal showed every aspect of his game we’ve all come to love. He was in the right spot to get the puck just below the red line, strong enough to fight through stick checks and talented enough to fire the puck past Howard on his around-the-world play.

Hossa’s career high is 100 points with Atlanta in 2006-07, when he scored 43 goals and added 57 assists. He’s currently at 41 points (17G, 24A), and if this fucking beast stays healthy, he may set a new high this season.

♦   Crawford was… meh. Nothing too good, nothing too bad. Even if those couple that hit the post got by him, there wasn’t much he could do anyway. Bertuzzi’s goal went in off the felon’s ass. He’ll be in net on Monday, in my opinion.

♦   I agree Jimmy Hayes looked good and played physically. However, his interference penalty was just dumb, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take less than nine minutes of playing and start talking about staying power. Nice debut, now show me more.

And here’s your last Boxing of 2011. Happy New Year to everyone, and thank you so much for stopping by to read our rants…

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