Chicago Blackhawks

Talk Is Cheap: Blackhawks Look To End Losing Streak In Nashville

Photo: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

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.

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Fresh Chum For The Sharks: Chicago Visits San Jose

Photo: AP

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…

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Plenty Of Blame To Go A – Round Table for February

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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Stoppable Force vs. Movable Object: Blackhawks Visit Colorado

Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The phrase on Blackhawks fans’ lips these days is, “What the HELL is wrong?!?” I’ll tell you what’s wrong in a minute, and you’re going to be more than a little surprised. But the matter at hand is tonight’s game against the Avalanche.

Looking at this Avalanche team reveals one very salient point: this will NOT be the Colorado Avalanche we see next year. 8 players on their current roster are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and another 7 are restricted free agents. Most of the guys we face off against tonight are up for grabs when the season ends.

Hope Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has some of our scouts with us on this trip.

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Recap: This Fire is Out of Control

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh

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 >

Brace Yourselves, There’s A Game Tonight: Blackhawks Take On Calgary

Photo: AP

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…

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Crime Scene Remediation: Blackhawks Return To Edmonton

Photo: AP

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.

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With A Single Step: Blackhawks’ Journey Starts In Vancouver

Photo: John Gress, Reuters

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.

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This Time, Let’s Not Be Such Easy Prey

I’m sure there are those who wouldn’t mind re-living last Saturday’s embarrassment down in Nashville, but I’m not among them. As far as I’m concerned we should have pulled the team off the ice and forfeited when the bloop grounder to short hopped past Corey Crawford. That was the sign that it was not our night, and no measure of effort nor change in strategy would change that.

The Hockey Gods played a joke at our expense, and we walked away with a 5-2 loss. Thanks very much, assholes.

How did Nashville do it? The same way they always do. They played their usual more-boring-than-Latin-mass style of defensive hockey, and took advantage of the many, many scoring opportunities we gave them. Were it not for some heroics by Marian Hossa the Blackhawks would easily have been shut out.

Tonight, let’s not be such easy prey, shall we fellas?

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Logjamin': Competitive Central Division on Pace to Make History

Zetterberg, Toews, Weber, Oshie

One day, the Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division standings, at times boasting the most points in the NHL. The next, they wouldn’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round if the playoffs began at that moment.

It’s a difficult time to keep up with the constant shifts in the standings, but such is life in the competitive Central – which is currently on pace to make a bit of history while providing us fans with some entertaining hockey down the stretch.

This is the 13th season since the NHL went to six divisions and the current playoff format in 1998-99 (the 2004-05 season marked the lockout). In the 12 completed seasons, at least one division has sent four teams to the playoffs 10 times.

In a game Blackhawks fans likely won’t forget soon, Minnesota beat Dallas on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season to prevent the Pacific from becoming the first division to send all five teams to the postseason.

Essentially, the playoff format has three division winners and five “wild-card” teams. The only seasons one division didn’t claim three “wild-cards” were 2000-01 and 2005-06.

The 2008-09 season marked the one time two divisions accomplished the feat. The Atlantic and the Central, when Detroit (No. 1 seed), the ‘Hawks (4), St. Louis (6) and Columbus (8) qualified four of their five teams – the only time since current realignment the Central has done it.

Overall, a single division qualifying a quartet is quite common. The rarity lies in what the Central currently is on pace to accomplish – place all four teams within the top six seeds.

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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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Don’t Anther: Blackhawks Welcome Florida

Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.

Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.

Is it paying off?

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Won’t You Come Out Tonight: Blackhawks Try To Rattle Sabres

Photo: AP

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.

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Talking Trades: Cheer The Anthem Round Table for January 2012

Photo: Universal Pictures

With the up-and-down play of the Blackhawks in the new year, the talk about trades has ramped up considerably on the blogosphere and among the social media faithful. The Cheer The Anthem staff sat down recently to discuss who should (or could) stay, who should (or could) go, and who the Blackhawks might get in return — or are any changes needed at all? Check out what they had to say in the January edition of the Round Table…

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Get It Together: Blackhawks Try To Bounce Back Against San Jose

Photo: AP

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. After a humiliating loss to the Red Wings on Saturday, the Blackhawks get to suit up against yet another Western Conference rival on a hot streak in the form of San Jose. The new year has been good to the Sharks, with 6 wins and a shootout loss to their credit thus far.

In those six victories, they never allowed their opponents to tally more than twice. Defense is a big key to the Sharks’ game — they are 5th-best in the league in goals against. There is just one regular member of the Sharks roster who has a negative plus/minus. One. It’s Jason Demers, in case you’re interested.

But that’s not to say the Sharks have lost their once-potent offense. The usual one-two punch of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is still as effective as ever, with the three-four punch combination of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture close behind. Those four account for over 130 points of the Sharks’ offense. This is not a team that is prone to sitting back and protecting a lead.

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How Near, How Far : Hawks Fall in Overtime

Jared Leto creeps up on Marian Hossa (US Presswire Photo)

Wow. What a roller-coaster ride that was. One can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if the Blackhawks had decided to play in the 1st period.

About that abortion of a 1st period – it may have been one of the worst of the season (excluding the Edmonton game, of course). Detroit was able to glide right into the Hawks zone and set up  while the Hawks couldn’t even execute a dump and chase. Detroit led in shots on goal by an astounding 21-4 (9-0 through the first 7 minutes) margin and out-hit the Blackhawks 12-9. As you probably guessed by looking at the shots on goal, the Wings dominated every aspect of the game in the opening frame. The only reason this game wasn’t 5-0 at the end of the period was Corey Crawford, who was outstanding.

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Tell The Kids To Do It: Chicago Visits Detroit (*spitting noise*)

Photo: NHL.com

The biggest challenge about this game isn’t the Red Wings’ roster, or its goaltender, or Coach Cranky Pants, or the brain-dead knuckle-draggers throwing seafood on the ice.

Detroit (*spitting noise*) is nearly unbeatable on home ice.

But notice I said “nearly.”

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Blackhawks Survivor: Ben Smith Voted Off

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

When you’re stacked with loads of talented youth in your system and under-performing or injured starters in the NHL, in comes the carousel of players going back and forth between the NHL and AHL.  Case in the point, the 2011-12 Blackhawks.

With the return of Marcus Kruger from injury this morning Joel Quenneville was forced to make a decision about which of his young studs wouldn’t make the cut.

Marcus Kruger, as a center, will always find a warm welcome on the Hawks, seeing as they need as much help as possible in the middle.  With rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes playing lights out and both producing huge last night against Minnesota, Q had a decision to make.

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Recap: Hawks Domesticate the Wild

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

There are few teams better than the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild to use as slumpbusters in the NHL right now.  That is precisely what the Blackhawks have done in their last two games.  They could have stuck their tails between their legs after Patrick Sharp went down with his injury.  Instead, they responded with swagger.

Viktor Stalberg has taken Sharp’s spot, playing with Toews and Kane.  He’s taken full advantage of that opportunity with four goals in two games.

Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes are showing that they are here to stay.  Sign them up.  I have to give Shaw some credit.  I was a major doubter when he got called up, not of his potential but whether he was ready for the NHL.  He’s shut me up really fast.  These two kids have been the spark the Hawks needed on the third and fourth lines.  Shaw scored his second NHL goal in tonight’s game and continues to impress me every game with smart and energetic shifts.  Both Shaw and Hayes scored goals against the Wild, showing that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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And We Thought We Had It Bad: Blackhawks Host Wild

Remember earlier this season, not long ago in fact, when everyone soiled their unmentionables over the headline, “Minnesota Wild First in Western Conference?” Oh, how things change.

For those of us feeling bummed or pissed or confused about the Blackhawks’ latest string of losses, we should thank our snowblowers that we’re not Minnesota Wild fans.

The Wild have two wins — that’s TWO WINS — in their last 13 games. The second one came against San Jose just this past Tuesday, when they blew a 2-goal lead and needed a shootout to finally get the W. They now sit clinging desperately to 7th place in the Western Conference, having dropped from 1st in just over a month. Unbelievable.

Guess they should have held on to Cam Barker, huh?

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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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Dull Game Without Sharp: Blue Jackets Visit Chicago

Photo: AP

News Flash: the Columbus Blue Jackets fired their coach.

*Yawn*

Everything else about the team is still the same as the last time we discussed them. Key players are injured; marquee names are trying their damnedest but can’t produce; offense sucks; defense is worse; goaltending is pathetic.

I really wish there was more to go into here, but there really isn’t. I feel like I’m giving Columbus the short end of the stick compared to the other previews I do, but how many different ways can you say, “Columbus sucks?” I ran out months ago.

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Sharp Will Miss 3-4 Weeks: Kruger Skating, Smith Recalled

The chick in the front row does her best Gene Simmons impression, while the guy on the right looks on skeptically. ( Nuccio DiNuzzo-Chicago Tribune)

If you’re a glass half empty person, you think the loss of Patrick Sharp comes at the worst possible time for the Blackhawks. With the PP going down the crapper (again) and the schedule getting a lot tougher, the Hawks can ill-afford to be without a key cog in their top-6 for the next 3 to 4 weeks.If you’re the glass half full sort, you say to yourself that this injury could have been much worse and the kids they have called up from Rockford have been impressive.

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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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Call the Snow Patrol- Hawks Feel the Whiteout

Photo- Scott Slingsby

Blackhawks fans are certainly feeling the frustration right now, myself included.  Our team is on a roller coaster this season.  It’s pretty hard to deny that we are plummeting down the hill right now.  Another frustrating loss against the Avalanche tonight has led me to drink my sorrows away yet again. Yes, the Avs are on fire.  Let’s give them some credit.  However, it’s time to throw the excuses out the window.  What the hell is wrong with the Hawks’ ability to play consistent hockey?

Tonight was another prime example of what happens when the superstars can’t score.  No one picks up the slack for them and it’s deeply troubling.  The Hawks have thrived off their top scoring lines all season, with very little support from those lower on the depth chart.  This hurts in nights like tonight when they can’t get it going.

Semyon Varlamov earned a rare shutout in the United Center.  Unfortunately, this is the second time the Hawks have been shutout at home in 5 game stretch.  This is inexcusable.  Erik Johnson dominated the blueline for the Avs, logging two assists and a +3.

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