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.
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.
When Nashville scored in the first minute off a fluky goal, I couldn’t help but think Halloween had something to do with it. But the Blackhawks turned the “holiday” into Hawk-o-ween with 5-4 overtime victory over the Predators and the Barry Trotz’s non-existent neck.
A couple quick things before Boxing …
♦ While Pekka Rinne made a few great saves which kept this game from possibly getting out of hand, the Blackhawks found his weakness between his arm and above the pad. He made some great saves on Marian Hossa when the puck never left the ice, but Patrick Kane beat him past the hip on his goals, including his second when Rinne was caught too far toward his net and didn’t take away the angle. Overall great game from him, but the Blackhawks exposed a weaker part of his game.
♦ It’s gotta be noted the powerless play went 0 for 7 tonight, including a missed opportunity on a third-period 5-on-3 which could’ve resulted in doom had the ‘Hawks not come away with two points. The ‘Hawks are 0 for 18 over their last four games, and they’re converting on an 8.9 percent clip – 29th in the league, one spot above St. Louis’ 8.3 percent.
Yes, there was some good puck movement out there, and Rinne had plenty to do with the 0-fer tonight, but if we’re going to crunch stats and talk about every other statistic under the sun, we can’t ignore the results. With a 7-2-2 record, there’s not much to complain about except for the PP, but I don’t think I’m out of line saying the ‘Hawks need to start converting rather than looking pretty and not scoring, because it will come back to bite them down the line.
♦ Duncan Keith’s injury may damning if anything is broken on that hand.
♦ A great game from Kaner, giving him 11 points on the season – which may be surprising considering the stat I give you in Boxing.
♦ Three goals in two games for Viktor Stalberg, who completely fooled Rinne and stuck it under the arm on the short side for the winner.
♦ Two breakaway saves from Corey Crawford – who got away with an iffy performance tonight – and Jonathan Toews went 20 for 25 on faceoffs. Neato.
♦ Two quick site notes: As I posted earlier, Jim Nakis, AKA “HjammerTime” on the SCH comment boards, is our newest writer on CtA. Please give him a warm welcome.
Secondly, I keep receiving plenty of emails about an iPhone app. Here’s what you do. Pull up Safari and type in cheertheanthem.noticeorange.com. Bookmark that page and it works just like an app. That should solve it until we get our own app built, which may take some time with Apple being assholes.
And Boxing …
Wouldn’t it be a riot if the players got to dress up for Hallowe’en games? If I were better at PhotoShop I’d have prepared a whole album full of images for you for this preview of the Blackhawks vs. Predators game, but instead we’ll just have to use our imaginations.
Nashville Head Coach Bary Trotz’s (Boris Badonov) team marches into the United Center tonight for these clubs’ first meeting of the season. These teams split the 6-game series last year 3 each, the biggest difference being the margin of victory. When Nashville won, it was a one-goal game. When Chicago won, it was (for some strange reason) *exactly* three goals. Go figure.
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, it’s the Nashville Predators and Dirk Hoag, who runs the fantastic blog, On the Forecheck
Bartl: The major development surrounding the Predators quite obviously was the Shea Weber arbitration award, which set a new record. However, the situation dragged on for a good amount of time, with each side very far off on their requested salary. With no long-term contract, does this situation become a distraction for Weber or the team during the season?
Dirk: Absolutely, this will be a distraction hanging over the team until some long-term resolution is found. You can bet that media will ask about this situation in every NHL city the Preds visit, and the Canadian media in particular will speculate often about how their Olympic hero would look great playing north of the border. When the going gets tough during the season, Weber’s captaincy will naturally come into question – how does it look when your team leader couldn’t even agree on a one-year contract with the team? All those questions and more will be fair game.