Quick Says ‘Not So Fast’: Boxing with Blackhawks and Kings

(Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Here’s an example of solid goaltending stealing a game for a less-talented team.

Jonathan Quick made 38 saves – some in spectacular fashion – to lead the Los Angeles Kings to a 2-0 win over the Blackhawks at the United Center on Wednesday night.

In no way do I believe the ‘Hawks played all that well, but Quick made some unbelievable saves to snuff out some solid chances. He kicked away separate chances from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at the last possible second, and he stopped Patrick Sharp on a couple shots in one sequence, among others. No doubt the ‘Hawks could’ve played much better – especially on the power play – but Quick is largely responsible for this loss.

I’ll get to the goals and Coach Q bitching about the refs in Boxing, but here’s a couple quick thoughts:

♦  Toews went nuts about Mike Richards being awarded a penalty shot in the second period, but I’d like to see you make a different call if you were wearing the orange armband. If a player is skating in on a clear breakaway with an opposing player without a stick trailing him by two full strides, then the opposing player reaches out and shoves him from behind and the puck handler goes down, a penalty shot will be awarded 999,999 times out of a million. You’d call it, I’d call it, we’d all call it – right or wrong – and don’t tell me you wouldn’t. It’s basically an anticipation call, and I don’t have a problem with that unless it’s obvious the trailing player did not make illegal contact. In this case, it wasn’t obvious.

♦  Wednesday marked only the third time in the Blackhawks’ last 105 home games that they were shut out.

♦  It also marked the first regulation loss to the Kings in 12 meetings.

♦  Corey Crawford played a solid game, in my opinion. I think Q needs to give him Friday against Detroit to ride out this three-game week with all of them being at home. Actually, I’d put him down for Monday against Edmonton, too. Then, re-assess the situation for the Jan. 5 game at Philadelphia. A loss shouldn’t be what gets either Crow or Ray Emery back to the bench. I have to say I think Q is doing a good job dealing with his goaltenders to this point.

I’m tired, so here’s your Boxing…

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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Need Some Purple Pills: Impotent Kings Visit Chicago

Photo: AP

The big news out of the Los Angeles Kings’ camp in the last month is the dismissal of veteran no-nonsense coach Terry Murray and the hiring of veteran no-nonsense coach Darryl Sutter. The general consensus among the pundits based outside of California was, “There’s a difference?” Murray was implementing a defense-based system, and getting buy-in from the superstar offensive weapons like Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards was difficult. Sutter will implement the same system, so how is that going to improve things?

The jury is still out, as Sutter has only 3 games under his belt as coach, notching 2 wins and a loss — about on par with what the team has been doing the rest of December. But as there is a history between Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi (former GM at San Jose who hired Sutter to coach the Sharks during his tenure there), expect Sutter to get several years to get the team to follow his lead.

The key problem for Los Angeles is offense. In 12 games thus far in December, they have scored more than 2 goals in regulation exactly once. And folks, that includes the games they WON. Granted, they have allowed the seventh-fewest goals against in the league, an impressive stat. But when you are also scoring the second-fewest, that’s bad. If Sutter can get the second stat up while keeping the first one down, he’s got a chance at making the playoffs.

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It Only Gets Harder : Let Crow Ride The Wave

( Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune )

Well, things are rolling along pretty smoothly, eh? I don’t even have anything to complain about! This must be a first.

The Blackhawks continue to lead the NHL in points and are looking pretty damn solid just about everywhere at the moment. But things are about to get real. Up until this point in December, only 4 of 11 games were against teams that would make the playoffs today. Over the next 15 games, 10 will be against teams that would qualify for the postseason.

The good news is that the cosmos decided to balance things out, giving the Hawks 11 home games through those 15.  While it’s fantastic to lead the Central, it should be noted that the Red Wings and Blues aren’t exactly buried yet. A bad stretch over the next few weeks and the Blackhawks could easily be sitting in 3rd place.

I’m going to hit on a few issues here and Tim will be around with a preview of the Kings game…

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And We’re Back: Victorious Boxing with Blackhawks and Blue Jackets

(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

We can look at the first period of Monday’s 4-1 win over Columbus in a couple of ways.

1) The Blackhawks looked sluggish in the first 20 minutes, working off the holiday feasts and delicious treats while being outshot by the worst team in the league 13-5. There were signs of rust, and the ‘Hawks looked like they were going to drop a game on home ice to the lowly Blue Jackets.

2) The Blackhawks’ worst was still better than the Blue Jackets’ best, as they kept Columbus off the scoreboard with enough of an effort until they got their legs under them in the second period. There was never a reason to panic, because the ‘Hawks are not as bad as they looked. It’s usually a matter of time that they’re going to show their true talent.

I prefer the latter.

A couple of quick thoughts before Boxing…

♦   How about that Viktor Stalberg, eh? A pair of goals to give him seven points over his last four games, and he skated his ass off throughout the contest. After initially bitching about being dropped off the top line, he’s flourishing in the bottom six with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell. His speed is a nice compliment with the two grinders. Fluke or a sign of things to come? “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet.”

♦   Let’s not call this a goaltender “dilemma,” because the word makes it seem there’s a problem. Far from it, in my book, given the solid play of both Ray Emery and now Corey Crawford over the last two games. They say in the NFL that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have quarterback. Having two solid goalies in the NHL doesn’t relate.

Crow’s 37 saves, coupled with a solid effort against Montreal makes it seem as if he’s back to what we hoped for when the season began. Who gets the start Wednesday? Just a topic of conversation for people leading up to that game, because as of right now, it really doesn’t matter. I’m confident with either of them in net, so let’s see what Q decides.

♦   Any chance John Scott’s wife had quintuplets so he can get five times the paternity leave?

♦   I don’t hear anyone complaining about Marian Hossa’s 12-year contract now, do you?

Let’s get to the glorious images of Boxing:

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“What Are You Going To Do, Bleed On Me?” Blackhawks Host Columbus

It’s getting boring to list the woeful details of the pathetic state of affairs surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the third meeting of these two teams, and each time the story gets more unpleasant.

It’s akin to King Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight: they talk big and look imposing at the outset, and they put up a good fight. But in the end they come away well beaten and embarrassed.

The Blue Jackets have re-claimed the basement in the NHL thanks to a four-game losing streak, which caps off a post-Thanksgiving run that saw them lose 9 of their last 12. Just four (count them, 4) of their players have a plus-minus rating that is not negative, and only one of those is above zero; James Wisniewski,, the off-season mega-contract recipient and purported defensive savior, leads the race to the bottom with a minus-19 on the season. Their “best” goaltender boasts only a 2.66 GAA and still has a losing record, while “starter” Steve Mason is 4-14-1 on the year. And with nearly all of their star players back in the lineup after an injury-riddled start, the BJ’s still couldn’t ride a first period hat-trick by star center Jeff Carter to victory, losing to Nashville in their last pre-holiday outing by a final of 6-5.

“You stupid bastard! You’ve got no arms left!”

It’s no fun beating up on a team that can’t defend themselves. It’s almost as if they should just jump behind the turnbuckle and yell, “No mas! No mas!” Pity them and their fans, for they still have 48 games left to play.

Probably for the better anyhow, there’s plenty to talk about with the Blackhawks.

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Moving on: Blackhawks’ 5-game Winning Streak Comes to an End in Pittsburgh

No Boxing tonight, as I was out celebrating my Dad’s birthday and, well, I’m lucky to be getting this post up as it is. Wednesday night, you’ll have your Boxing.

(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

Shit happens, eh?

Call it a measuring-stick game, if you will. A game in mid-December on the first night of an away-home back-to-back in an inter-conference matchup doesn’t quite qualify for me. Much like the contest against Minnesota didn’t qualify as well.

No matter what happened tonight, we knew both teams would still be contenders. If the ‘Hawks lost 6-0, would we be flipping out that they’re never going to compete for the Stanley Cup? Would we forget about the 21 victories and throw them away? Are we about to do that now?

I understand this Blackhawks team has plenty of questions marks. I more than believe there’s plenty more they need to improve on in order to be clear-cut Western Conference favorites.

More than anything, I never expected to have these Blackhawks “figured out” by mid-December. And if you did, then you need to reassess. What we know, and still know, after tonight: The Blackhawks are good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup. And that vague, borderline assessment is exactly how I expected to feel at this point in the season.

After the 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh, a few things stood out to me, mainly as I began accepting certain things…

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Endangered Species: Blackhawks Face Battered Penguins

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

And there it was, a bright flash of brilliance against the winter sky… The rarest of sights… Coming hence only one in 82…

It’s Crosby’s Comet!

And now, just as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone. Maybe it will show up again next year…

I’m sure that’s how Pittsburgh fans felt when their Sainted Wunderkind took the ice for those 8 games earlier this month, netting 2 goals and adding 10 assists to put him ahead of all but 9 of his teammates on the scoring chart. Which, when you think about it, either says a lot about Sidney Crosby, or a HELL of a lot about the rest of the Penguins.

But one thing to note about the Pens’ stats sheet is its sheer length: 29 skaters have put on the black and gold so far this season, due in no small part to the list of players with injuries stretching nearly as long as the stat sheet. At present, the following players who are NOT named “Crosby” are out of the lineup for Pittsburgh: Robert Bortuzzo, Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek (bless you…), Richard Park, and Jordan Staal. Saying that we’re playing the farm team tonight is not that far off the mark.

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Housekeeping : Trades And Firings!

( Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

So let’s start with the good Blackhawks news. Brent Seabrook was able to put on his jacket after the game (HOLY SHIT!) and traveled with the rest of the team to Pittsburgh today. However, it seems unlikely that he dresses tomorrow against the Pens. Not traveling with the team was Dan Carcillo.Those radio shows don’t plan themselves people!

Jeremy Morin was quiet in his season debut last night, but Joel Quenneville kept him with  Johnny Toews and Patrick Kane the entire game – so he must have seen a few things he liked. The return of Morin is probably bad news for Viktor Stalberg. Stalberg was able to hold off Andrew Brunette and Dan Carcillo for top line duty with the living legends, but one has to wonder if his rope is up now that Morin is here.

Still no word on Rene Bourque’s status after his blatant hit from behind on Seabrook. If he gets off easy, I sincerely hope that is marks the end of the constant loving of Brendan Shanahan by some Blackhawks fans. It’s like these people don’t remember that the 1990′s happened. HE IS EVIL FOLKS. 100% PURE EVIL.

Mum also is the word on the goaltending situation for the Penguins/Canadiens back to back. It stands to reason that Q rolls with Ray Emery against Pittsburgh tomorrow. The Pens are the toughest opponent the Hawks will face this month and they can try to get Corey Crawford going again at the UC against the team he cheered for growing up (Montreal) on Wednesday.

Some random notes from around the league:

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Bittersweet: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Flames

(Credit: Scott Stewart, Sun-Times)

Joel Quenneville became the second-fastest coach to reach 600 career victories after the ‘Hawks beat Calgary 4-2 on Sunday at the United Center, but it may have come at the expense of losing Brent Seabrook for a period of time.

While Quenneville’s accomplishment deserves some recognition – only Scotty Bowman reached 600 quicker – it became a bit easier to come by in the era of no ties. Nevertheless, this team became what it is now with Q behind the bench. Good for him.

Beyond that, the loss of Seabrook means some more shuffling amongst the blue liners, and it comes after a ridiculously dirty hit by Rene Bourque that simply shouldn’t have happened. While Seabrook hasn’t exactly been playing his best lately, his absence is not something to sneeze at.

Hopefully when we find out more, the news won’t be too terribly bad.

I’m very tired, so we’re going to get straight to Boxing. One of us will be back in the afternoon with some further thoughts as the ‘Hawks continue a stretch of three games in four days on Tuesday.

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Ducks Fly Together- Hawks vs. Ducks Preview

Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

He’s back.  Who, you ask?  Lubomir Visnovsky.  I’ve got bad news too.  He looks really good.

After a fairly disappointing start, posting 1 goal and 3 assists in 16 games, Visnovsky broke his finger and sat out a month.

Visnovsky returned to his team and made a statement last night against the Phoenix Coyotes.  He had an assist, was a +2, and recorded 7 shots, while posting an impressive post-injury 24:23 of ice time.  I watched the game for this very reason.  I was interested in seeing how Visnovsky would bounce back from his injury and if he was capable of returning to the form he was in last season.  He scored 18 goals and recorded 50 assists last year for the Ducks.

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Your Jock is Over … Somewhere: Boxing with Blackhawks and Wild

(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

While I’m not a fan of the whole moving-at-a-snail’s-pace-in-what-is-supposed-to-be-an-exciting-shootout tactic, Patrick Kane’s move to fake Niklas Backstrom out of his pads to pot the winner was pretty … well, you saw it.

And while I’m also not crazy about a three-point game against a Western Conference foe, the back-and-forth was pretty exciting, and the ‘Hawks came away on the positive end with a win over conference-leading Minnesota on the road.

When the Blackhawks scored twice in less than two minutes, even scoring on the power play, I felt like they had this one in control and would keep rolling.

Then I remembered they’re the ‘Hawks, and making things interesting seems to be their staple.

A couple of things we need to talk about ….

♦   The icing no-call that led to the Wild’s first goal was downright horrific to the point of being embarrassing for an NHL linesman. Sometimes, calls can go either way. This one, however, could only go one way, and he flat out missed it. You can bet if the ‘Hawks didn’t come out with two points, you would’ve been cursing this non-call over your cup of coffee in the morning.

♦   With that said, John Scott is … you know what, I’m running out of degrading adjectives for this guy. No matter what, if he thought icing would’ve been called, why in the hell are you going to skate below the goal line when Steve Montador had the puck won by about five strides? Coast, and get ready for the icing draw, if that’s what you were thinking.

Since his brain rivals that of a mosquito’s, he took his giant ass out of the play, left the front of the net wide open and let the Wild get back into the game. If he coasted in, he would’ve been able to have a chance to recover and disrupt the play. Instead, he acted indignant and proved he’s not the most colorful tool in the shed (I make a funny, he ha).

♦   No idea why Matt Cullen was similarly indignant when Duncan Keith made a fantastic play to put an end to Cullen’s breakaway. It was clean, stick-on-stick. Cullen gets an unsportsmanlike, and the ‘Hawks take the lead. Fine with me.

♦   With the way Ray Emery is playing, he’ll likely start through Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh unless he completely shits the crease against either Anaheim or Calgary. If not, Corey Crawford likely won’t play until next Wednesday’s home tilt against Montreal. Does anyone have a problem with that? Probably not.

♦   Anyone want to argue with me that Jonathan Toews is the best player in the world at this moment? Tell me who’s better. I’m open-minded about this, but it’s going to take a strong argument. And remember, I said at this moment.

♦   While I want to say the ‘Hawks shit themselves in letting the Wild come back from down two goals, then again after Toews’ goal, Minnesota is a good hockey team and they weren’t going to fold up against a solid opponent at home. I won’t go as far as to guarantee the ‘Hawks will be competing with the Wild for the top seed come April, but they’ve got a good group over there that can keep it going, in my opinion.

♦  Are you honestly kidding me with Kaner’s 75 moves on that winner? For the love of all that is holy, the stick-handling and control were beautiful. Even the Boo-Ya Network recognized it as No. 1 for the night.

And now Boxing…

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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Wild.com’s Mike Doyle

I was able to trade emails with Mike Doyle of Wild.com to help figure out why in the hell the Minnesota Wild are actually atop the NHL standings. Here’s what he had to say:

Bartl: The Wild seem to be surprising everyone but themselves this season, leading the Western Conference despite a host of new players and a first-year coach. What has been the main reason for the turnaround, and how different of a team is this from last year’s squad?

Doyle: Well, I wasn’t working for the Wild last season and some people have tried to make that connection, but I have to give credit to the other Mike in the Wild organization.

Coach Mike Yeo has this team focused and there is a belief from top to bottom that if the Wild sticks to its game plan, the team can beat anyone. Other teams say that they are tough to play against because they don’t breakdown or give up a lot of opportunities.

To start the season, there was a lot of excitement with the off-season acquisitions and a new coach, and that enthusiasm has continued into the season. Yeo was able to get the veterans to buy into the system immediately. This team truly doesn’t seem to care who gets the credit, just as long as the team wins, and that might be the thing that has propelled the turnaround from last season.

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Blackhawks vs. Wild : Who’s Best In West?

What is it?

Lisa: Dad, what’s a Muppet?

Homer: Well, it’s not quite a mop, it’s not quite a puppet, but man…

[laughs hysterically]

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.

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It’s Still 2 Points: Blackhawks vs. The Shootout

NOTE: Entries to the random drawing for the two FREE tickets to Friday’s Blackhawks vs. Ducks game at the United Center will be taken all day Tuesday on Cheer the Anthem’s Facebook page. Go “like” the page, follow directions, and you could be heading to the game Friday on CtA as an early holiday gift.

I’ve referred to the NHL shootout as many, many things over the years. Those descriptions usually involve curse words and/or some sarcastic comment.

I think it’s a stupid way to decide a professional competition. And yes, even worse than a tie. Putting the same amount of points on the line in a one-on-one between a skater and goaltender as are at stake in a team-oriented battle for 60-plus minutes is something only Gary Bettman would do, and something only meatball fans would love.

Is it exciting? Not really. Does it matter what I think? Like most of the time in my life, the answer is no.

Bottom line, no matter how much we hate it, the shootout affects the standings. The Blackhawks have already gone to six shootouts by mid-December after going to 11 all of last season.

With it being an off day, let’s take a look at some of shootout numbers for the current Blackhawks and the goaltenders, just so you have some reference the next time we need to suffer through one of these things.

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Ben Smith Sent To Rockford

(Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America)

Ben Smith was sent to Rockford today. His short time up in the NHL this season has not been especially productive and last night against San Jose he played less than 6 minutes. There is no word yet on the next call up. I’m looking in Jeremy Morin’s direction. This would give the Hawks the option of using either Morin or Stalberg on a 3rd line, a unit which desperately needs a shot in the arm. We will see what Stan has in mind. This probably means Bryan Bickell will be back in the lineup against Minnesota on Wednesday.

Thanks, Pops: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Sharks

"You're not so bad yourself there, Hoss." (Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Daddy likes the sauce.

Patrick Sharp potted his second consecutive overtime winner and first as a father, sealing a 3-2 Blackhawks win over San Jose on Sunday night at the United Center.

While Sharpie’s handsome winner and Andrew Brunette’s deflection with a little over a minute remaining to tie the game were fantastic, the ‘Hawks played like they were wearing slippers for the first 40 minutes. Getting outshot 33-13 through the first two periods is just downright embarrassing, and it caused Q to switch up his lines – and rightly so – to start the third.

Whether it was that which sparked the rally or the Sharks playing not to lose, the Blackhawks were able to improve to 6-1-1 in their last eight games and are taking advantage of a favorable schedule like we all hoped.

Quick thoughts before Boxing…

♦   It’s true Jonathan Toews didn’t play his best game tonight, and there might be a reason: His 26 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time were a career-high, as Ben Smith sat and watched. Granted, Toews playing this many minutes simply can’t happen night after night, but Q called on his Captain to play the necessary minutes to get the ‘Hawks back into it. Toews went 14 for 23 on the faceoff dot, including winning the draw leading to Brunette’s equalizer. That’s why he’s the best player in the world at this moment. He doesn’t need to show up on the score sheet to affect the outcome of a game.

♦   Speaking of Brunette’s goal, the ‘Hawks executed the play just as it was drawn up. Brunette darted straight for the blue paint after the puck was dropped. Two quick passes and a one-timer toward the net gave the ‘Hawks exactly the type of goal they were looking for to beat Antti Niemi, whose solid performance went for naught.

♦   Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe are complete ass hats. Thornton should have gotten another minor for shoving Toews around the ice after his high stick, and I’m still in shock Clowe didn’t have to start OT in the box after punching everything in a ‘Hawks sweater.

♦   Ray Emery is the reason the ‘Hawks even had a chance to tie and win that game late. He’s 3-0-1 in starting the last four games, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he started Wednesday in Minnesota against the surging Wild. Corey Crawford isn’t going to get off the bench soon if Emery keeps this up.

♦   FREE STUFF ALERT! I’m going to be giving away two free tickets in Sec. 326 to Friday’s game against Anaheim. No catches, the tickets are a free holiday gift as an appreciation for stopping by and reading us here at our new home since moving here in June. The random drawing will be held Tuesday, and one winner will get both tickets. Contest rules will be posted Tuesday morning on Cheer the Anthem’s Facebook page, so if you haven’t “liked” it yet, you better do it now. Only those who “like” the page have a shot at winning the tickets. Good luck!

Boxing is all I’ve got from here…

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#400 for Marian Hossa

+1 to the lady in the Christmas sweater. (Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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.

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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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A Little Help, Please?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Coyotes

(Credit: Tom Cruze, Sun-Times)

Quickly, Tim has some quick thoughts on the realignment – which I won’t cover here – and Jim will be posting this afternoon with some more analysis about radical changes.

Is there anyone playing as well as Jonathan Toews right now?

If there is, it sure isn’t anyone currently suiting up for the Blackhawks.

Toews owned the second period, bringing the ‘Hawks back from a 3-0 deficit to salvage a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to Phoenix at the United Center on Monday.

Corey Crawford allowed three goals on 16 shots before being pulled in favor of Ray Emery, though the move was more of Q trying to spark the team rather than for the poor play of Crow.

Granted, the third goal was all Crawford’s fault, though the first two were tough. Steve Montador got caught between his skates and his brain, trying to stop hard to chase a loose puck jetting toward center ice. He lost an edge, then couldn’t recover, leading to a 2-on-1 break which Crow had no chance to stop.

The second … my God. Duncan Keith, please tell me what in the living funky hell you were doing? Keith blindly dropped a “pass” into an empty corner behind him. By the time Brent Seabrook had realized his defensive partner had a gigantic brain fart, the Coyotes were taking a two-goal lead.

Marian Hossa missed his 400th goal by shooting it into the foot of Yandle as the immortal Mike Smith was sprawled out somewhere in Schaumburg trying to find his way back to the net. Also cost the ‘Hawks the potential game-winner.

Back to Toews. Can we give this guy some help, please? His 17 goals lead the NHL. He’s scored in five of the last six games, giving him 13 points during that span (7G, 6A). His career high of 34 goals set in 2008-09 is sure to be broken this season. I know it’s too early to start the Hart Trophy talk, but Toews is the only reason the ‘Hawks even got a point out of tonight – the definition of MVP.

My roommate, who watched the Versus broadcast tonight, pointed out Doc called Toews “a great leader.” Yeah, no shit. Isn’t it about time everyone starts recognizing Toews as one of the best players in the world? Here we are talking about a guy who was the MVP of the Olympics playing for Canada. He’s won every single major championship everyone dreams of winning growing up.

Toews is making his case – if he hadn’t already – as an all-everything player who deserves even more recognition than he already gets.

And with that, here’s Boxing …

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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Align This! No More Divisions, NHL Goes To 4 Conferences

Photo: dirtydangle.com

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:

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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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Up Yours: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Blues

(Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images)

It doesn’t get much sweeter than beating the St. Louis Blues on their home ice in front of the biggest contingent of degenerates known to man.

Cheer louder for a hit than a goal? Check.

Looking like dip shits during your power play “dance?” Check.

Getting behind a team that quite obviously can’t compete talent-wise so it has to resort to playing like cheap hooligans? Double check.

Saturday’s 5-2 win at the Whatever the Hell They’re Calling it Now Stadium Arena Place was a nice kick in the ass to a team which, admittedly had been playing well – especially there. If the ‘Hawks had to play the Blues for 82 games, no one would have to worry about the “coming out flat” talk or wondering where their energy is hiding.

It’s a Sunday, so no random thoughts or anything. Here’s your Boxing…

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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.

Hjammer Down

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward

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

Pros:

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.

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