Colorado Avalanche

Coffee is for Closers: Blackhawks 5 – Avalanche 2

Two for Flinching

This is the type of game you want to see the Blackhawks play against a team that can match them in the speed department. Getting in shooting lanes, not committing penalties, controlling possessions and forcing the other team to either get a goalie win or score more while being outshot by nearly double. There was never a point during this contest where you ever thought Chicago wouldn’t win.

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Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

CtA Season Preview: Northwest Division Edition

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

(Now we’ll take a look at the division the Canucks win every year in a cakewalk and managed to feature exactly one playoff team last year.)

Northwest Division

2011-2012 Standings
#1 Vancouver (111) Calgary (90) Colorado (88) Minnesota (81) Anaheim (80)

Vancouver Canucks

New guys: Jason Garrison (I wanted him), Cam Barker (you’re all horrible people for making fun), Jim Vandermeer (?) and Derek Joslin.

Gone: Samuel Pahlsson (yup, that one), Sami Salo (one ball joke) and Aaron Rome.

Not yet gone: Roberto Luongo

Young players to keep an eye on: There really isn’t a whole lot here. With injuries to guys like Ryan Kesler and David Booth, hulking winger Zach Kassian will get a shot to play in the Vancouver top six. Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton scares the shit out of me – but at least it looks like he’s at least another season away from leaving Rosemont. Should Kesler or Booth miss more time than expected, puny 5’8 center Jordan Schroeder could be called upon to fill the void. Due to all the injuries, 2011 1st round pick Niklas Jensen will get a shot to make the roster out of camp, but that appears to be a long shot.

Outlook: Think a team with Barker and Vandermeer can’t make the playoffs? Think again. Edmonton and Minnesota aren’t pushovers anymore, sure, but the Northwest still belongs to the Canucks. Their depth looks questionable, but as soon as it *really* starts to hurt, they can pull the trigger on a Luongo deal and probably improve multiple spots. Garrison should more than make up for the loss of Sami Salo and I can’t imagine the Sedin’s letting this team nose-dive. As much as you don’t want to hear this, it looks like Vancouver probably gets home ice for at least the opening round.

Edmonton Oilers:

New guys: Nail Yakupov (clearly a cancer in the dressing room) , Justin Schultz (this guy could have played anywhere in the NHL and chose Edmonton), and Mark Fistric (became an Oiler just the other day).

Gone: Taylor Chorney.

Young players to keep an eye on: All of them. Yakupov, Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the list just goes on and on. All of these damn guys are probably going to be superstars (if they aren’t already) and constitute a fine young core for Edmonton. How the hell they plan on paying all these #1 picks in the future is beyond me – but that’s their problem. Should injury strike their defense, 6’3 Swede Oscar Klefbom (a fine hockey name) could see his first NHL action. 2011 2nd rounder David Musil would be another option here.

Outlook: Is this team closer to the ’07-’08 Blackhawks or the ’08-’09 Blackhawks? It’s impossible to say. Some analysts have suggested that the lockout could benefit younger teams. If that’s the case, then the Oil should be in decent sharp – even with Nikolai Khabibulin in net. In my view, the weakest area on this team is the blue line. Yes, Schultz is a great young prospect, but this isn’t a unit many teams are going to fear as they move into the Oilers zone. The offensive potential is pretty much unlimited. If the trio of #1 overall picks click right away, those defensive problems may not matter much. Edmonton is one of the tougher teams to judge this year. Could go either way. Sorry, total cop-out.

Minnesota Wild

New guys: Zach Parise (now sporting a Mr. Monopoly monocle at all times) , Ryan Suter (ditto Parise), Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell and Torrey Mitchell.

Gone: Guillaume Latendresse, Erik Christensen and Mike Lundin.

Young players to watch: The Wild have a pool of prospects that should make any Blackhawks fan who supports realignment strongly reconsider. They are stocked pretty much everywhere. Center-icemen Mikael Backlund and Charlie Coyle, along with defenseman Jonis Brodin and Matthew Dumba, are elite prospects. While it’s unlikely any of them except Backlund (and maybe Dumba) see time in the NHL this year, all are worth keeping an eye on in the future. Guys that have seen NHL time like Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker could be called upon again if needed. Mario Lucia, Zach Phillips, Johan Larsen and Matt Hackett round out their prospect poll. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying.

Outlook: As good as this team may one day be, expectations are probably set a little too high for this season. While you can’t blame Minnesota fans for being excited with the arrival of Parise and Konopka Suter, there are still a lot of question about this teams defensive depth and nobody knows how quickly this semi-overhauled roster will take to gel. The improvements are impossible to ignore, but this is still a team that looks scarier for what they might one day become – as opposed to what they currently are.

*We should mention that their owner, Craig Leipold, was a big driver of this lockout on the owners side. So fuck him and his team. Hating Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun.

Colorado Avalanche

New guys: PA Parenteau (the rare player who wants to leave the Islanders), Greg Zanon and John Mitchell.

Gone: Peter Mueller (getting a second chance with Dale Tallon) and Jay McClement.

Young players to keep an eye on: Colorado’s defense is a disaster, so guys like Ty Barrie, Stefan Elliott and/or Duncan Siemens could get a look once this team is out of the playoff race – which will probably be about three weeks from now. Often injured prospect Joey Hishon may finally get a look if they can’t lure back Ryan O’Reilly from Russia. Mark Olver went to Northern Michigan University, which makes him awesome.

Outlook: This team sucks and will be even suckier if they can’t re-sign O’Reilly. Sure, Gabriel Landeskog is a monster and they have a number of talented forwards, but like we mentioned already, that defense is just terrible. The goaltending behind it is almost as bad. Not a playoff team. Moving on.

Calgary Flames

New guys: Sven Bartschi (remember this name), Roman Cervenka, Dennis Wideman (contain your laughter) and Jiri Hudler (condolences to Hudler on the recent passing of his father).

Gone: Olli Jokinen (obligatory waffle gif), David Moss and Scott Hannan.

Not gone because Jay Feaster is delusional: Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.

Young players to keep an eye on: Bartschi and Markus Granlund (coming over from Finland). The Flames also drafted John Gaudreau, but he’s a few years away. T.J. Brodie is an option on the blue line if they don’t want to torture themselves with Anton Babchuk and Corey Sarich.

Outlook: This team has some talent, yes, but still drag around entirely too much dead weight. The guys over at Hockeenight are always making fun of Flames for giving out no-trade clauses to any and all comers – and its’s completely true! It’s like this roster was carefully booby trapped to guard against any and all rebuilding efforts. Even if they wanted to give up the chasing the dragon and start over, they couldn’t do it.

Oh, and Mike Cammalleri is still a douche.

Western Conference playoff picks:

Los Angeles-St.Louis-Vancouver-Chicago-Phoenix-Detroit-Minnesota-San Jose

(That concludes the Western Conference portion of our season preview. We’ll be back in the next day or so with a look at the East.)

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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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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Ignore This At Your Peril: Red-Hot Avalanche Visit Chicago

Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

My fear as we entered January was that the Blackhawks would bring it during the big games and slack off with the so-called “lesser” opponents. I mentioned Colorado as one of the teams we should not look past. I also mentioned Edmonton. Mmm-hmm. Well, it’s time for the Colorado game. And guess what? The Avalanche are on a friggin’ tear.

3 wins in a row, 8 wins in their last 9 games, 3 straight wins on the road, and victories over Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Jose and Tampa Bay — all in the month of December. Colorado is getting solid and occasionally sensational goaltending from what has become its tandem of J.S. Giguere and Semyon Varlamov, and putting up the necessary goals on a night-in, night-out basis to bring home the wins.

This is not the Colorado team that we beat 3-1 out in Denver on October 20. If the Blackhawks treat it that way, this is another Edmonton loss waiting to happen.

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Boxing Returns Tuesday: Bad Bounces Beat Blackhawks

Photo: AP

On Saturday evening, Jeff was having his weekly psychotic episode. These almost always include (but are not limited to) alcohol, friends, and the Michigan State Spartans football game. This one was particularly bad, as the Spartans went down 14 – 0 in the first 7 minutes of the game, rallied to a 31 – 14 lead — which they then blew in the fourth quarter, only to win against #6 Wisconsin on the already-legendary Hail Mary pass with no time left on the clock.

I’ve spoken to the doctors, and Jeff may be well enough to take visitors as early as tomorrow afternoon. But in the mean time, your fix of “Boxing” will be delayed until after the Ducks game on Tuesday.

I know, you’re disappointed, for the second time. As the Blackhawks were not able to pull together the same fate as MSU: they also came from behind, they also blew a late-game lead, but lost 5 – 4 in a shootout to Colorado. This defeat was much the same as Thursday’s victory, but the bounces went against the Blackhawks this time.

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Potential: Blackhawks Finish Home-And-Home With Avalanche

Photo: Randy Guttierrez/AP

The Blackhawks’ season looked, at the outset, to be fraught with peril: shaky backup goaltending, injuries to key forwards, defensive pairing mix-and-match, questions about conditioning, and the ever-present ticking time bomb that exists in the form of newly-acquired winger Daniel Carcillo. The first six games of the season find the Blackhawks with a 4-1-1 record, and showing the potential for another Stanley Cup run. Thursday’s game was a good example of that potential.

Watching the Blackhawks take on the Avalanche it was apparent that these were two closely-matched teams: young and fast, with quick and dangerous snipers up front and scary-good goaltending on the back end. Thursday’s game saw lots of end-to-end action, goaltenders peppered with shots — and standing on their heads to keep their teams in it, and a lot of quick transitions at the blue line.

Tonight, we are going to see that same Avalanche team again; and again, the Blackhawks are going to have to play the same fast, disciplined game to get past them.

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Calmer Than You Are, Dude: Boxing with Blackhawks and Avalanche

(Ron Chenoy/US PRESSWIRE)

Whew, now that was fast-paced hockey.

The Blackhawks were able to calm themselves after the Avs’ initial first-period rush, get into the flow of the game and come away with a 3-1 victory in Colorado, going 2 for 2 on the brief road trip.

I’m tired, so just a few quick observations before Boxing …

♦   With the entire game going pretty much back and forth at warp speed, both Corey Crawford and Semyon Varlamov saw nearly everything thrown at them, neither giving up a bad goal on the night. The Blackhawks put two difficult shots past Varlamov, while Crawford wasn’t able to get in front of an unfortunate bounce. Varlamov should be spending the night in jail after his ridiculous save on Marcus Kruger.

“Bick-Bo-Fro … douchebag”: A bit of a left turn from the “quid pro quo” comment from The Hangover, but this line has been something special thus far. Poor, poor Michael Frolik. Varlamov robbed him of his first goal on a beautiful chance right in front. Bickell has played his ass off and Bolland, well, …. please for the love of holy Christ stay healthy.

♦   Dan Carcillo’s fantastic pass set up Jonathan Toews’ goal, marking yet another solid feed from Carcillo. He got rewarded with his 2nd point as a ‘Hawk, though it’s not for the shortage of some great opportunities he’s set up which simply haven’t gone in the net.

♦   Duncan Keith disrupted a play in the neutral zone, which ended up leading to Patrick Sharp’s handsome goal. After Keith forced the turnover, the ‘Hawks were able to get into transition, pepper Varlamov with a couple of in-tight chances before Sharp sniped the short side to beat him. It was the second straight solid game for Keith, who has been taking plenty of heat lately.

OK, time for Boxing. Two images, click to enlarge …

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