Detroit Red Wings

Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Going from Coast-To-Coast to the most confusing of the new Alignments, the Atlantic. That contains exactly none of the Old Atlantic Division teams (all in the Metropolitan Division). Also, teams from Ontario & Michigan, which  are land-locked (and in Detroit’s case over 600 miles from the Ocean). The Atlantic isn’t the first body of water you’d associate with Buffalo, either. Anyway, it’s a strange mix of old North Eastern teams with a couple of terrible Floridians from the South East and an escapee from Western time-zone tyranny in the Red Wings.

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Desert Dogs it is: Blackhawks Beat Red Wings in Shootout, Will Face Phoenix in Round 1

Credit: Andrew Weber, US PRESSWIRE

Hopefully those who celebrate are having a nice Easter Sunday, and you’re about to find out what day the Second Season begins in the Second City. You’ll be seeing a lot of posts around these parts in the coming week with a wide variety of things being covered as the playoffs begin.

For the Blackhawks, the quest for the Stanley Cup begins in Phoenix after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over Detroit.

Yes, Patrick Kane made a filthy move in the shootout. It had me taken aback, and his smiling face skating back to the Blackhawks’ bench gave me a nice giggle.

But did that meaningless shot simply mask the disappointment we should be feeling after the ‘Hawks blew a late lead for the second consecutive game? If Kane doesn’t make that move and the Blackhawks lose that shootout, aren’t we going around asking questions about how the ‘Hawks are going to survive in the playoffs, especially if Jonathan Toews isn’t quite ready?

Instead, we’re all “excited” to be playing the Pacific Division champion Phoenix Coyotes, who ended the season with 97 points, four fewer than the ‘Hawks. Avoiding Nashville sounds fun and all, but there’s still the fact the Blackhawks let a chance at home-ice advantage in the first round slip away over the past week.

Now the ‘Hawks get to face Mike Smith, who is pretty much the hottest goaltender in the world right now. Forget that he doesn’t have playoff experience. Some guy named Niemi didn’t have any either. The ‘Hawks were less than a minute away from avoiding him and a Phoenix team that has won five straight games barely breaking a sweat.

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Back in the Swing of Things: Boxing with Blackhawks and Red Wings

I laughed. (Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

No Jonathan Toews. No Pavel Datsyuk. Still, the same ol’ gritty rivalry.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings gave us another entertaining battle on both ends of the ice, and Corey Crawford beat Jimmy Howard in a fantastic goaltending dual as the ‘Hawks held on for a 2-1 victory Tuesday night at the United Center.

Jimmy Hayes was rewarded with a goal after working in front of the net, then assisted on Marcus Kruger’s tally with some nice board work and a charge to the back of the net, as Kruger tipped in an Andrew Brunette shot that bounced off Howard.

You know the basics, so let’s get to some other stuff…

♦   It obviously wasn’t ideal to have Toews out of the lineup with the always-vague upper-body injury, though there weren’t many points in the contest I was screaming for Toews to be there. The final minute sticks out, when The Captain would’ve been on the ice for in-zone draws as the Wings had the extra skater, and Dave Bolland lost two to give Detroit a couple more shots at Crawford as the clock ticked away. Other than that, the ‘Hawks keep the Red Wings at bay and Henrik Zetterberg damn near invisible.

♦   Patrick Kane was solid tonight, and it was only for a spectacular Howard save on Patrick Sharp that Kaner didn’t register a point. Kane took the puck on the far side and circled toward the center of the ice while the ‘Hawks were on the power play. He skated the puck to the near side and went right at Justin Abdelkader, who had lost his stick. Kane was able to move in and create a passing lane to get the puck to Sharp camping in front of the net. Howard went post-to-post and stuck out his left pad, snuffing out the chance. Nonetheless, a smart, heads-up play by Kaner. He was all over the place and seemed to step up his game with Toews out.

♦   Speaking of the power play: 0 for 30 over the last 11 games, with the last PP goal coming when Bolland beat Pekka Rinne in a 3-1 home loss to Nashville on Jan. 24 – the last game before the All-Star break.

♦   Crawford’s play wasn’t stellar, but his saves were not exactly routine. I saw far less rebounds than in the previous games during his current stretch of four straight games with one GA. Him staying in the blue paint more often than not has seemed to pay off, and his run has quelled the talk of trading for a goaltender – for now.

♦   When a goaltender is on like Howard was tonight, garbage goals are necessary to grind out a win like this. The ‘Hawks got them with the help of some aggressive play in front of Howard, taking advantage of a couple loose pucks and pounding them home. This seems to have been lacking recently.

♦  Going 28 for 54 at the dot without Toews is definitely a victory on that end. With that being said, here’s to hoping Toews doesn’t have to sit out Thursday against Dallas.

Here’s Boxing…

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This Is OUR House, Bitches: Blackhawks Host Red Wings

Photo: Associated Press

Yes, Detroit (*spitting noise*) has won 23 straight at home; and yes, that is an all-time NHL record — which will continue to grow until they lose. But they have a problem.

They’re in OUR house today, and the Blackhawks are on a winning streak of their own. So if they think they’re going to have an easy time of it this evening, they came to the wrong place. December 30th ring a bell, bitches?

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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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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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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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Sign of What’s to Come?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Red Wings

(Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

After watching such a well-played game between two world-class teams like the one that went on at the United Center on Friday night, I’m all out of jokes for the hated Red Wings.

I have to show some respect, however much I can muster begrudgingly.

The season isn’t even halfway completed yet, but I can’t help but think of the torture – yet unbelievable excitement – a Western Conference final matchup between the Blackhawks and Red Wings would bring.

The first 40 minutes were some of the best hockey I watched in a long time when factoring in the play of both teams. Fittingly, it took a third-period tie-breaking goal and some big defensive stops at the end, and it was the Blackhawks who came out on top 3-2.

Detroit may be the oldest team in the league, but it is still filled with tons of talent. The Red Wings are going to need to get better on the road (now 9-11-0) if they’re to make serious noise come mid-April, but any team likely would struggle a bit during a stretch playing 11 of 14 away from home.

Before we get to the final Boxing of 2011, here are some thoughts…

♦  OK, so I am going to rag a bit on an old fogy. Nicklas Lidstrom still is a good defender, even at his ripe old age. He was in perfect position to save a Marian Hossa goal while Jimmy Howard was down and out. However, he is not a GREAT defenseman anymore. Lidstrom’s Norris Trophy last season was no more than a parting gift for years of service in the league, then the fucker decided to come back. He’s been overrated for roughly four years, and it’s starting to piss me off.

Thankfully, Jonathan Toews exposed him like Mel Gibson at a Hanukkah party. Toews skated right past him to the center off the ice to accept a feed that led to a breakaway, and Lidstrom could do nothing but hook him, forcing a penalty shot. Toews proceeded to abuse Howard through the five-hole – shocking huh? – to tie the game.

At the end of the first period, Toews played the puck beautifully off the boards, lifted Lidstrom’s stick, corralled the puck and skated in. Again, Lidstrom hooked Toews to slow him down, because that’s all he could do after being left in the dust yet again.

♦  Patrick Kane at center wasn’t so bad, though he was late on the backcheck, allowing former Michigan State hero (sorry) Justin Abdelkader to come right up the gut and score past a diving Corey Crawford.

♦  Marian Hossa – my God. Could’ve easily had a trick tonight. His goal showed every aspect of his game we’ve all come to love. He was in the right spot to get the puck just below the red line, strong enough to fight through stick checks and talented enough to fire the puck past Howard on his around-the-world play.

Hossa’s career high is 100 points with Atlanta in 2006-07, when he scored 43 goals and added 57 assists. He’s currently at 41 points (17G, 24A), and if this fucking beast stays healthy, he may set a new high this season.

♦   Crawford was… meh. Nothing too good, nothing too bad. Even if those couple that hit the post got by him, there wasn’t much he could do anyway. Bertuzzi’s goal went in off the felon’s ass. He’ll be in net on Monday, in my opinion.

♦   I agree Jimmy Hayes looked good and played physically. However, his interference penalty was just dumb, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take less than nine minutes of playing and start talking about staying power. Nice debut, now show me more.

And here’s your last Boxing of 2011. Happy New Year to everyone, and thank you so much for stopping by to read our rants…

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Let It Begin: Dead Things Bring Their Putrid Stench To United Center

Photo: AP

Alas, gone are the days when we can joke about Detroit (*spitting noise*) being better suited for catheters than jock straps. No doubt embarrassed by the constant jokes about Depends undergarments and tapioca pudding, tonight the Red Wings will dress only three players age 35 or older: felon Todd Bertuzzi, AARP spokesperson Nicklas Lidstrom, and backup bingo-caller Ty Conklin.

That’s probably for the better: I was running out of senior citizen jokes. And yes, Tomas Holmstrom falls into that category as well, but he fell and broke his hip while going to get his dentures re-fitted. Or something. Anyhow, he isn’t playing tonight.

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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Detroit with The Winged Wheel

Rather than the standard previews of Central Division foes from an outsider’s point of view, I decided to take a different approach. This week, Behind Enemy Lines will take a look at our divisional rivals through the eyes of those invested in the team in one way or another. Today, we look at the Detroit Red Wings with some good-natured, R-rated discussion followed by a great charity opportunity from Greg of The Winged Wheel.

Bartl: I’m going to get this out of the way quickly though it’s been discussed madly by pretty much everyone, but I’d like to know your opinion: Is Chris Osgood a Hall of Fame goaltender?

Greg: Abso-tittyfucking-lutely. (That’s me, all class right out of the gate). 3 rings. 400 wins. Hands-down the most mentally tough goaltender to step into the blue paint. The dude dominated throughout the playoffs, had a crazy-long career, and punched Patrick Roy in the mouth several times. That translates to one result: In.

Obviously, there are a good number of people who strongly believe that The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz does not deserve a bid to the Hall. Those people are wrong. They often cite just absurd arguments. They argue that his career was unimpressive because he played behind an outstanding team. Not so coincidentally, these arguments are usually made by fans of historically shitty teams. Your favorite barely-mediocre first line-center looks a whole lot better when you write off every player to have ever played for any team who ever came close to winning anything. These buffoons also make the argument that Osgood just isn’t of the same caliber as Roy, Sawchuck, or Brodeur. That’s kind of like saying Dino Ciccerelli is not Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, or Steve Yzerman. Well… yeah. No shit. But, he’s still in the Hall.

Long story short – Ozzie belongs in the hall of fame. You don’t luck your way into 400 wins. Period.

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