Lisa: Dad, what’s a Muppet?
Homer: Well, it’s not quite a mop, it’s not quite a puppet, but man…
Homer: So to answer your question, I don’t know.
I imagine conversations similar to this happen all the time in NHL arenas when a kid asks their parent what a Wild is when Minnesota comes into town.
Anyway, tonight’s game features the top 2 teams in the Western Conference to date. Yes folks, we live in a world where the Minnesota Wild sit atop the NHL. Nobody really knows how, but the Wild have amassed 43 points and lead the Blackhawks by 3 in the soon to be defunct Western Conference.
Indeed, the Wild have been the feel good story of the NHL this year. Tuesday night, they lost for the first time in 7 games to the Winnipeg Jets. However, the game was widely hailed as one of the funnest matches yet this season and was a great preview of what realignment will look like.
Last night, Marian Hossa became only the 85th player in NHL history to record 400 goals. The milestone goal came one day shy of the 13th anniversary of his first NHL goal, December 9th, 1998 against Sean Burke and the Florida Panthers. In that game, Hossa had a goal and 2 assists, just like he did last night against Al Montoya and the Islanders.
Drafted #12 overall in 1997, Hossa spent his first 6 full seasons with the Ottawa Senators, recording a career high 45 goals in the 2002-2003 season. Hossa and a stacked Senators team reached the Eastern Conference final that season but lost in the 7th game to the New Jersey Devils who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
After the lockout, Hossa was unfortunately dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers just two days after signing a 3 year/ 18 million dollar contract with the Senators for Danny Heatley and Greg de Vries. Hossa perfomed well in Atlanta along with Ilya Kovalchuk, but the team was terrible and they made the playoffs just once in his two and a half seasons there. They were swept out.
So after this can we be done with the Islanders and Coyotes?
The Blackhawks arrive on Long Island coming off a Jekyll/Hyde performance against Phoenix which saw them fall behind by 3 goals, then crawl all the way back to salvage a point. Corey Crawford was pulled in the 2nd for Ray Emery and it looked like the Hawks would put on a repeat performance of the previous Phoenix game. But Jonathan Toews decided that wasn’t going to happen and put the Hawks on his back (again), scoring 2 goals and setting up Patrick Kane beautifully for the equalizer. The Hawks ultimately lost in the shootout (which will happen when Emery is in net) but you left the game feeling good about getting a point out of a game that at one point looked like a laugher.
New York comes into the game dead last in the Atlantic Division at 9-11-5. However, they have improved over the last few weeks and pulled out their last two games since falling to the Hawks 6 days ago in a shootout. Tuesday night they torched Tampa Bay 5-1 and then defeated a surprisingly competitive Dallas team 5-4 on Saturday.
I know you were promised this yesterday, but life sometimes gets in the way. Anyway, by now you all know the NHL has approved a radical new realignment plan by a vote of 26-4, splitting the league into four conferences. The Blackhawks will play in a yet to be named conference with the Red Wings, Blues, Predators, Jets, Wild, Stars and Blue Jackets. The reaction around the league has been mostly positive and the league did a good job to accommodate the needs of most of the parties involved.
For Blackhawks fans, the worst case scenario of being stuck in a godforsaken division with St. Louis-Nashville-Columbus and Minnesota was averted and the rivalry with the Detroit stays intact. The NHL already stole the Minnesota North Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs from the Hawks – taking Detroit and leaving us with Columbus and Winnipeg would have been cruel and unusual.
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:
Just under a week ago, the Phoenix Coyotes walked into the United Center and kicked the shit out of the Blackhawks in every aspect of the game. It was probably one of the three worst performances the Hawks put in this year – along with the Vancouver and Edmonton debacles. The Hawks had one good shift in the opening minutes and then watched the Coyotes dominate the last 55 minutes of the hockey game. The UC was a funeral parlor and you would have had to be drunker than Matthew Barnaby to enjoy yourself. Since that horrible evening, each team has played 2 games. The Coyotes were 0-2 in that time (losing to Winnipeg and Philly), while the Hawks took care of business against the Islanders and St. Louis.
The Coyotes come into the game 13-9-3, good for 4th place in the Pacific Division and 9th in the Western Conference. In their last 10 games they are a very mediocre 5-5-0, but they play their best hockey on the road, sporting a 7-4-1 record. The Hawks dominated the first meeting between these teams and the Coyotes controlled the second.
After a pathetic showing on Tuesday night, the Hawks’ get a chance to redeem themselves against one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Islanders roll into United Center at 7-11-4 with just 18 points. They are dead last in the Eastern Conference. To put things in perspective, the Isles have exactly 1 more point than the Columbus Blue Jackets. They suck very badly.
Things were supposed to be better for the Islanders this season but it just hasn’t happened. They are dead last in the NHL with just 1.96 goals per game and have only one player, Frans Nielsen , on the right side of the plus/minus category. Everybody’s favorite former Blackhawk Marty Reasoner was picked up to provide veteran leadership and has not yet recorded a goal and is a team worst-14. That should make you feel a little better about Stan Bowman not holding onto him last season.
Former #1 overall pick John Tavares looked poised to have a breakout season, but has disappointed with just 8 goals and 8 assists in 22 games. Tavares is tied for the Islanders lead in goals with linemate Matt Moulson. These aren’t horrible numbers, but they aren’t exactly great for a #1 overall pick. Michael Grabner had a great season last year but has underperformed this campaign with just 7 goals. line with Kyle Okposo and Nielsen.
One imagines the Islanders will stick with Al Montoya in goal. They have won two games in a row with him and probably won’t want to interrupt their little streak. They are a rare team that carries 3 goaltenders and Montoya is playing ahead of 2010 Stanley Cup run victim Evgeni Nabokov and biggest waste of money ever, Rick DiPietro.
Hopefully Nino Niederreiter plays – his name is awesome.
The Blackhawks come into the game tied with Detroit at 31 points – but the Red Wings have 2 games in hand. The Hawks’ have a ton of home games coming up here in December and need to make the most of it. A Friday night home game against a team like this is a game the Hawks’ simply need to have.
The Hawks’ played like shit on Tuesday night and they know it. As you probably know by now, Joel Quenneville juggled the lines again and has moved Patrick Kane back to RW with Jonathan Toews. As Bartl pointed out yesterday, it’s a risky move breaking up Toews and Patrick Sharp right now as those are the only two Hawks’ doing anything offensively as of late. But they can’t have both Marian Hossa and Kane struggling at the same time and a shake up isn’t uncalled for. Freddy Kruger is moving up to the 2nd line to center Hossa and Patrick Sharp – all that good work lately has paid off for Kruger.
Neither Dave Bolland or Brent Seabrook practiced yesturday, but both are expected to dress tonight.
Q will go with Ben Smith tonight ahead of Bryan Bickell, who has been a goddamn ghost of late. Bickell is clearly in the doghouse, and it will be a good chance for Smith to show him being a healthy scratch since Edmonton motivated him.
Corey Crawford is expected to get the nod in goal again for the Hawks’.
Bottom line: The Hawks’ need to walk out of this game with 2 points. No excuses. Beating the shit out of them like they did last season 5-0 would do just fine. Get it done.
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.
Hawks news first :
A lot going on at Hawks’ practice today. Joel Quenneville has decided to reunite Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line. Viktor Stalberg will ride along on the left wing. Stalberg must have died in a previous life saving a bunch of babies from a fire. He is very, very lucky.
It appears Marcus Kruger will get a shot to play with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the 2nd line. You could feel the shake up coming after the 4-1 drubbing against the Coyotes. Kane has been way to quiet lately along with Hossa and Dave Bolland. Q also appears to have taken Bryan Bickell off double secret probation and is putting him back with Bolland and Michael Frolik.
It wasn’t that long ago the Blackhawks had a dominating lead in the Central Division and led the Western Conference .
That is no longer the case.
Their lead has all but disappeared. The Hawks hold an insignificant one-point lead in a very tight division and the Blues and Red Wings each have games in hand on the Hawks.
The honeymoon is over and this season is quickly becoming a roller coaster ride that everyone would like to get off. Any talk about running away and hiding in the Central Division after Christmas has disappeared and the discussion has become about survival rather than dominance.