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Hawks v. Islanders : Razor Starts

( Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

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.

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Old Time Hockey Returns : Blackhawks-Red Wings Rivalry Lives

(Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune)

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.

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Didn’t we just do this? : Hoss goes for 400

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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.

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Slam Dunk?: ‘Hawks Seek 2 Easy Points vs. Islanders

Gorton's Fisherman!

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.

Changes : Kane Back To Right Wing + No Bobby Ryan

( Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / April 24, 2011 )

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.

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Bang and Blame : The Natives Are Getting Restless

( Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / November 29, 2011 )

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.

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Fell on Black Days : Blackhawks Blue-Line Struggles

(Lou Capozzola/SI)

WORST. WEEKEND. EVER.

After some R&R in Vegas the last few days, the Blackhawks will continue the circus trip against Antii Niemi, Martin Havlat and the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night. As I’m sure you all know by now, the Hawks’ are coming off two of their worst games of the season – one of them being a 9-2 horror show in Edmonton. Predictably, people are losing their minds. The calls to bench Duncan Keith are starting on Twitter and elsewhere.

This is just about the most batshit thing I’ve ever heard and makes no sense whatsoever. In his last two games, Keith has been a -8 combined and certainly hasn’t been on top of his game. However, Fifth Feather points out some problems with putting the Edmonton debacle all on him and its not like #2 was the only Hawk who had a dreadful +/- that night. Aside from it being literally impossible to bench him (not enough d-men with Seabs hurt), have these people forgotten how good Keith looked in the Vancouver game and the games preceding it? Why would you rush to the whip when it appeared your best defenseman was finally returning to form before the whole team collectively turned to shit over the weekend?

The Blackhawks have problems on the back end, but it’s not all on Keith. The absence of Brent Seabrook is killing this team in the physical department and the continued presence of John Scott in the lineup every night necessitates more tough minutes be logged by Keith, Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarrson.

Another issue is the surprising lack of depth on the defense. Most figured the Hawks had left the dark days of Scott, Nick Boynton and Jassen Cullimore behind when Stan Bowman went out and picked up Steve Montador, Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell up in the offseason. Tragically, this has not been the case. O’Donnell and Lepisto don’t even play over the incompetent and useless Scott lately.

This is unacceptable and the way things are shaping up, Bowman might have to go out and acquire another defenseman with some of those millions he has saved. While most people are looking for the Hawks’ to acquire a Top 6 forward, the situation on the blue line might actually be more pressing, especially if Viktor Stalberg continues to play well with Jonathan Toews (not something I ever thought I’d be saying).

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Smoked : Calgary wins 5-2

It was that kind of night ( STRINGER/CANADA, REUTERS / November 19, 2011 )

There would be no epic comeback this time. The intensity the Blackhawks had a couple nights ago in Vancouver was simply not there tonight. The offensively challanged Flames put 5 goals past Corey Crawford and controlled the tempo most of the night. The defense in particular was atrocious and the forwards shouldn’t get off much easier. Give the Flames a little credit - Mikka Kiprusoff was outstanding and Curtis Glenncross had 2 goals in the winning effort. The Hawks’ were short Michael Frolik and Brent Seabrook, but Ben Smith made his season debut and to many’s surprise did not single handedly carry the Hawks’ to victory.

Just a few quick thoughts because its Friday, ya know?

♦ The Hawks’ nearly had a too many men penalty in the opening minutes and Calgary had a goal off a terrible change. Joel Queneville is a good coach, but Hawks’ teams have been consistently horrible at executing basic line changes during his tenure here. I don’t know if it’s a result of Q’s penchant for matching up with the other teams or not but it is super fucking annoying.

♦ I would LOVE to know what was said between Jarome Iginla and Patrick Kane that got Iggy so pissed off.

♦ The first Flames goal was a result of Duncan Keith guessing incorrectly and Lee Stempniak taking advantage. He had an assist, but #2 was in 2010-2011 mode for most of the night and was a -4.

Edzo compared Viktor Stalberg to Ken Yaremchuk after Stalberg took a lap around the Calgary zone with the puck. This is probably not the first time many have heard the comparison, albeit for different reasons.

♦ The opening minute of 2nd was a disaster. Rene Bourque scored 40 seconds in and 17 seconds later Paul Byron was  gifted in the slot after Nick Leddy tried to get a little too cute while attempting a tight pass to Dave Bolland. The Hawks’ would cut the lead 5 minutes later when Marian Hossa blasted a one-timer past Kiprusoff on a 4 on 3 power play, but the Hawks’ never really recovered from the Byron goal.

♦ Halfway through the 2nd, Ben Smith carried the puck into the zone in a 1-1 situation and briefly leaned to his left like he was going to try and cut the slot, but changed his mind and went outside instead. One has to wonder if he had a flashback to the Brandon Smith hit there that concussed him.

John Scott is lucky his blatant hit from behind on Tim Jackman wasn’t just a few feet closer to the Calgary bench or we would have had Lemieux/Draper all over again. Calgary was pissed and frankly they were probably justified.

♦ This game sucked. Luckily, the Hawks’ will have a chance to rebound tomorrow night in Edmonton. One suspects Ray Emery will get the start as the Hawks’ will face San Jose, Los Angles and Anaheim starting Wednesday. 2 points are a must tomorrow if the Hawks’ want to capture 6 or 7 points on this road trip considering the opponents the rest of the way.

Circus Trip Roundtable

Clowns suck.

Myself, Jim and Tim decided to touch on a few issues heading into the annual Circus Trip. Three idiots, three questions. Get some.

1) Just when Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith seemed to be regaining their form together, Seabrook goes down with an injury which may keep him out as the ‘Hawks embark on the annual Circus Trip. How will Seabrook’s absence affect the defensive corps, and who will you be looking for to step up?

Jim: Ugh. Seabrook going down sure took a bit of the fun out of an otherwise fantastic Sunday for Chicago sports fans. The timing of this is fucking horrible and certainly dampens the outlook as the Hawks head out on the Oregon Trail. Seabrook brings the mean back on the Hawks blue line and he certainly would have been nice to have in the Vancouver and Anaheim games – two teams which bring it physically. God only knows what this does to the pairings. Does Q revert back to Keith and Leddy, or does he let Monty step up into the first pair and keep Hjammer and Leddy together? Hjammer is going to have to be the physical force back there and Nick Leddy is going to have to continue to eat up important minutes (27 against Edmonton). The biggest impact will be on Duncan Keith. #2 will be asked to pick up the load (especially on the PK), much as Seabrook did when he went down. I think Duncs will be equal to the task. The absolute worst part of all of this? You guess it.….more John Scott. Shoot me now.

Tim: I think we saw a decent picture of how this group will adjust to the absence of one of its leaders with the Keith hand injury. That’s a very positive sign. And just like in those games, I hope Coach Q has the sense to dress 6 qualified defensemen, instead of John Scott.

As for who needs to step up, the name we have heard precious little of so far this season is Niklas Hjalmarsson. Granted, at least he isn’t getting nightly delay-of-game penalties anymore. But he needs to make more of an impact out there on a nightly basis. So far he’s been largely invisible.

Bartl: Seabrook stepped up when Keith was out, now Keith is going to have to do the same with his rekindled partner sidelined. While Hammer quite obviously will need to step up his game, that’s something we’ve known for quite some time now. The defensive deficiencies lie with Scott, Lepisto and/or O’Donnell to play smart, sound hockey. While that those qualities waived bye-bye to Scott a long time ago, it’s the other two I’m concerned about. Neither have been able to crack the lineup ahead of that elephant on skates, and having to rely in decent minutes from either of them racks my brain. Aside from that Montador likely won’t be seeing as much time at forward given he’ll need to play more minutes on D, and taking away a hot stick from a clicking offense is rarely good.

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NHL News & Notes : EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!

Jon Hayt/Getty Images

♦ First things first – Brad Richards is apparently dating Olivia Munn. And here you thought he should have stayed in Dallas…

♦ A big congratulations to Eddie Belfour. The Eagle was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday along with Joe Nieuwendyk, Mark Howe and Doug Gilmore. Belfour amassed 484 carrer wins (201 in Chicago) with the Blackhawks, Sharks, Stars, Maple Leafs and Panthers and ranks #10 all time in career shutouts with 76. He won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and a NCAA Championship in 1987 with North Dakota. Belfour was last Blackhawk to win the Calder Trophy (1991) before Patrick Kane (2007). He remains the most recent Blackhawk to win a Vezina, which he took home in both 1991 and 1993. Losing Eddie was tough, but at least the Blackhawks got Ulf Dahlen in return.

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