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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.”