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.
Patrick Sharp is a very handsome man. He’s a pretty decent hockey player, too.
The man behind the looks had a pair of two-goal games in Friday’s 5-2 win against Columbus and Saturday’s 4-3 win against Buffalo. Sharp’s performances also block that big spotlight beaming on Saturday’s win that the ‘Hawks pretty much should have lost.
But as my buddy Boston Joe told me earlier today when Michigan State struggled through a win against Illinois, “Good teams win.” The ‘Hawks still play like the champions they are when needed.
That was no more evident than during Friday’s dismantling of the BJs. After the loss to Nashville and with Marty Turco sitting for two straight games, the ‘Hawks needed to take advantage of a rusty Columbus team that hadn’t played in nearly a week.
Sharp put 13 shots on net Friday. To put that into perspective, the ‘Hawks had 21 shots Saturday as a team. He’s simply playing like a man possessed. To me, it’s clear when someone is playing like they have something to prove when the kid in them comes out. After each of Sharp’s goals Saturday — which includes the game-winner late in the third period — he celebrated like he scored his first goal in pee-wee hockey. It was beautiful to watch, and he’s showing he knew he had to put his name on the scoresheet even more this season with all of the departures during offseason. He’s neat.
All right, onto the meat of this…
♦ Marian Hossa is a goddamn beast. A goal and an assist Friday, another goal Saturday. Him and Sharp have both potted five goals now and are clearly playing like men among boys. Not only is Hossa putting himself on the scoresheet, he’s doing all the things we need to appreciate more: Kill penalties, backcheck like a mother fucker, control the puck and provide scoring opportunities for his teammates. Hossa is the ultimate example of unselfishness, he’s got a six-game points streak and I have a gigantic man crush.
♦ There’s been a Dave Bolland siting! He’s been playing like Fat Albert on roller skates up until tonight, when he made a great move on Patrick Lalime to tie the game 3-3. Bolland also was 13-for-19 on faceoffs tonight after farting on the dot most of the previous five games. Hopefully we see more of Saturday’s Bolland from here on out.
♦ Both of Brent Seabrook’s assists tonight were gorgeous. He made a great pass on a 4-on-4 to spring Bolland and earlier fed a beautiful lead pass to Hossa for his goal. We haven’t seen the 2009-10 Seabs until tonight, which isn’t surprising given he’s been playing nearly a half-hour per night. But Saturday his passing skills led to two big goals.
♦ John Scott is a 6’8″, 258-pound paperweight.
♦ Anyone else surprised the Sabres didn’t at least try and stir up shit with Niklas Hjalmarsson tonight? I really felt we’d see some punches thrown or at least a monster hit from someone. Eh, whatever.
♦ O Campbell, Where Art Thou? Jassen Cullimore belongs in Rockford or on a couch somewhere. He played 18:54 in sheer terror and had me begging for Brent Sopel’s ugly ass by the 10-minute mark. Also, the ‘Hawks were out-shot 41-21 against Buffalo and let 32 go through against Columbus. PooP.
♦ What a week for Nick Boynton. He takes a dipshit delay-of-game penalty that doomed the ‘Hawks against the Preds, took another dipshit penalty at the end of the game tonight against Buffalo and played a role in the hotness that is Jen Patterson getting fired from Comcast Sportsnet. Asshole.
♦ Back to some better stuff, Marty Turco played really well in both victories this weekend. He may scare the shit out of you and may lead you to brief moments of heart failure, but Turco makes the saves when they’re need the most. The ‘Hawks have made life difficult for their goaltenders so far this year, and Turco has stepped up.
I know there’s more stuff I can add, but I don’t want to make this too long. “Boxing” upcoming… when I feel like it.
As suspected, Niklas Hjalmarsson has been suspended for two games for his bone-crushing hit on Jason Pominville, according to TSN. I thought it would only be one game, personally, but the NHL gave two games to James Wisniewski today for making a blowjob gesture on the ice. I guess nearly killing someone — intent be damned — is worth at least a blowjob.
Anyway, we’ll have more thoughts on this later.
This game, nor this season, started like we wanted it to start. Before anyone finished mixing their after-work cocktail, the ‘Hawks fell behind 2-0 and seemed headed toward their third straight loss to open their title defense.
But this is what champions do — they fight back. Monday’s win won’t go down as the prettiest — unless you’re counting Patrick Sharp being back in the lineup — but it’s a win nonetheless which gets the ‘Hawks on the board.
Also, good to hear Jason Pominville only suffered a concussion. For a minute there it looked like he would be making a tee time on Cloud 9 with Kim Johnsson.
Here’s what I’ve got…
♦ Marian Hossa is the motherfucking master. His two goals tonight made Ryan Miller look like Cristobal Huet‘s little sister, and he’s got five points in the first three games. Hossa also set up a chance for Jonathan Toews while lying on his testicles by somehow sliding the puck over with his stick to a cutting Toews. Watching this guy play is a thing of beauty, and everyone better start appreciating how lucky we are to be able to witness this until he retires before his 300-year contract is up for the next 11 seasons.
♦ Despite the two quick goals, Corey Crawford played very well tonight and made some good saves — especially on scrambles in front of the net. Sharp stood and watched Drew Stafford skate right past him up the middle of the ice and put a dart on net 14 seconds into the game. Then every ‘Hawk on the ice supervised while Derek Roy positioned himself in front of the net to put a rebound past Crawford just a couple minutes later. It could’ve shaken the kid up, but he hung tough and finished strong.
♦ Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t intend to nearly kill Pominville, but he’s going to get suspended — it’s just a matter of how many games. It was simply a timing play Hammer mistimed. But with the NHL dying to make an example of someone other than people who make blowjob gestures on the ice — Very classy, Wiz — Hammer will have some extra time to film his Ikea commercials.
♦ Another half hour-plus (31:42) of ice time for Duncan Keith, with Brent Seabrook adding close to that (28:30). Not trying to make excuses from their sometimes spotty play, but I’m wondering if these two are feeling the effects of so much time on the ice. Granted, Seabrook looked absolutely lost a few times tonight, most notably on the Sabres’ third goal which slipped right past him. But with Brian Campbell out, Hammer getting booted, John Scott being a complete boner and the inexperience of Nick Leddy, the ‘Hawks are relying heavily on Keith and Seabs and it’s tough to expect them to make every single play.
♦ Speaking of Leddy, congrats on your first goal, kid. Even if it was uglier than a Brent Sopel look-a-like contest.
♦ Patrick Kane netted a power-play goal to pull the ‘Hawks within 2-1, scoring a goal in Buffalo for the first time since 2007.
♦ The fourth line of Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and Viktor Stalberg had some great shifts tonight, which is becoming a trend. Now, if they can just put one in the net …
♦ Dave Bolland needs to get his head out of his ass. He was 3-for-9 on the faceoff dot and looked like a complete moron most of the night. I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but through three games he’s done nothing but aggravate me.
♦ Toews’ numbers: 21:09 on-ice, +3, 14-for-25 in faceoffs and one good deed, bringing Leddy the puck for his first NHL goal.
That’s it for now. The latest edition of “Boxing” will be up around noon tomorrow. You’ll read it.
Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.
Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”
The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.
If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.
However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.
Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.
Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.
Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.
Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.
On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.
After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.
I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.
The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.
Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.