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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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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Sorry, Chicago: Boxing with Blackhawks and Coyotes

Much like Carcillo on this punch, the 'Hawks whiffed against the Desert Dogs. (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

I read on Twitter the Blackhawks were 8-1-0 in their last nine games when returning home from a road trip of four games or more.

Well, that sure went to hell fast.

The awful parts of the Circus Trip resurfaced on the United Center ice in a 4-1 embarrassment against Phoenix. I’m not trying to treat a shit performance at the end of November like life or death, but this was such a listless performance that it’s hard to ignore.

Quickly before I get to Boxing…

Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy played like a pile of dog shit. They both had better views of a couple goals tonight than the damn goal scorers themselves.

Mike Smith needs to be challenged more. Viktor Stalberg had a chance in the first period and didn’t get a shot off as he skated right past the net, Marian Hossa hopped around more than he shot the puck, as he and Jonathan Toews ended up with one shot apiece. I could have thrown some magazines on my shins and beat the ‘Hawks tonight.

Corey Crawford has to get better – and fast.

The Blackhawks were too aggressive when they should have held back, and not aggressive enough when they should have attacked. It was a backwards performance that resulted in a horrible performance in what was supposed to be at least a return home with a decent effort. Instead, we were witness to a bad line change, another delay of game penalty, bad decisions and shaky goaltending.

With Friday brings the possibility of redemption, and it can’t get here soon enough.

Boxing…

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After Up and Down Circus Trip, Crucial December Awaits

(Dale MacMillan, Getty Images)

The Blackhawks’ annual Circus Trip made Barnum and Bailey’s act look as entertaining as a trapeze artist with no arms.

The two-week jaunt had everything. They curb-stomped rival Vancouver 5-1, looked like an AHL team while getting outscored 14-4 in Alberta, partied in Vegas before it got better with a tough 1-0 loss in San Jose on Blackout Wednesday, then ended well with edge-of-your-seat, back-to-back victories in the Golden State.

The unpredictability of sports is what constantly draws fans in, and this last trip exhausted most every emotion possible while watching this ‘Hawks team.

Coming out of it 3-3-0 is what most of us hoped, even if Brent Seabrook was healthy for all of it. Chalk that up as a victory, despite the fact two of the three losses were as ugly as a bearded lady.

Take the six points. Move on. There’s plenty more next month to get crazy over. And yes, I realize there’s still one more game left in November, but when have we ever stopped looking ahead?

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A Farewell To Kings: Blackhawks Finish Circus Trip In L.A.

Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks played arguably their best period of hockey in the third period against Anaheim, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to put the game in the win column with a 6-5 victory. Jonathan Toews notched 2 goals and 3 assists to go along with Patrick Sharp’s hat-trick. Corey Crawford had a solid outing stopping 24 shots, while Jonas Hiller had his night spoiled by getting the hook when the ‘Hawks onslaught got the best of him.

Whatever happened in the locker room between the 2nd and 3rd, it needs to happen before tonight’s game. If the ‘Hawks bring that kind of energy against the Kings, they’ll be in pretty good shape.

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Done with ‘Gobble-Gobble,’ Time For ‘Quack-Quack’

Photo: Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register

The tryptophan coma everyone talks about following Thanksgiving dinner is actually a myth, you know. To get enough tryptophan into your system to turn you narcoleptic would require that you eat something like 1,750 pounds of turkey in one sitting. And despite some valiant attempts on my part, I was only ever able to consume about one third of that.

Let’s hope the Blackhawks aren’t sleepy after their Turkey Day festivities, as they have the fifth game of the Circus Trip facing them this afternoon when the team heads into Anaheim to face the Ducks. The lead-up to this game has been uninspiring, with the Blackhawks trying to break a 3-game losing streak — the second one this month — and struggling to deal with the absence of key members of its young core.

This visit to the Pond might be just what the doctor ordered.

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On the Bright Side: What to be Thankful for on Thanksgiving Day

After dropping three straight games while being outscored 15-4, it may be hard to look at things to be thankful for at the present moment.

Even after going winless in the games since their 5-1 spanking of the Canucks, the Blackhawks still sit tied for second in the Western Conference and atop the Central Division with a 12-7-3 record and 27 points. The surprising Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks – who just showed us why they are high in the standings – are the only ones on par with the ‘Hawks.

Last year the Blackhawks were still running on a Stanley Cup hangover with a record of 10-10-2 after playing 22 games, which was only good for fourth in the division and 11th in the Western Conference. They were not getting consistent play from their No. 1 goaltender – at that time was Marty Turco – and Nick Boynton (yuck) was still in the lineup. The new additions to the team had a hard time adjusting to the new scenery, and chemistry wasn’t there after the salary cap purge during the previous offseason.

The Blackhawks may have lost their last three games, but there have been several things that fans should be thankful for so far this season. They have seen great play from their goaltender, from their veterans and young guns, and even some new pieces which were added in the off-season.

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Back From The Brink, And Into The Shark Tank

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Most of you noticed the cavernous silence coming from Cheer The Anthem following the pair of weekend losses that shall be known henceforth as “The Alberta Ass-Whooping of 2011.” Between the two games, we were out-scored 14 – 4. That’s a High School JV football game.

The net effect was like a nature special with hyenas tearing apart a carcass: what could we say? Edmonton in particular was like watching a game of dodgeball between a class of fourth-graders and the University of North Carolina basketball team. Lambs to the slaughter.

Weekends like those are when being a blogger sucks the worst. You can’t talk up the positives, because there weren’t any; you don’t want to jump on the bring-up-the-IceHogs-and-fire-the-coaches bandwagon, because you know in a week they’ll be lighting up goalies like artificial Christmas trees. So what do you say?

Nothing. There’s nothing to say. All you can do is look forward, and that time is here. It’s game time again, tonight at the Shark Tank. San Jose awaits.

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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.

Fuel To The Fire: Blackhawks Try To Set Calgary Ablaze

Photo: AP

Has Jarome Iginla been traded yet? No? Just checking…

What about now?

It seems that whenever things go south in Calgary the entire hockey media north of the border asserts, en masse, that a deal is imminent. It’s the solution for everything — like duct tape, or chicken soup, or re-booting. Or at least, that’s what the hockey elite in Canada seem to think.

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Thank you Sir, May I Have Another: Boxing with Blackhawks and Canucks

"Everybody! Quick! Come see how good looking I am." (Credit: ANDY CLARK, REUTERS)

THAT’S the way you start a road trip, fellas.

With clowns and elephants occupying the United Center, the ‘Hawks began their annual Circus Trip with a 5-1 thumping of hated Vancouver, giving the Canucks a bit of payback for the ass-whipping they handed them in Chicago.

So, how do you counter the league’s top-ranked power play unit? Don’t give them any power play chances. Seems easy enough. Both ‘Hawks penalties came on coincidental minors, and the Canucks never had the man advantage all night.

Hockey Broad and I traded comments on the Circus Trip Roundtable, with both of us agreeing the ‘Hawks needed to stay out of the box with the penalty kill being less-than-stellar recently. Mission accomplished.

Next up is the Calgary Flames on Friday, and I’ll be watching that game from some sports book in Las Vegas, as I’m headed out for a little vacation. Jim will have your recaps while I’m away, so the next Boxing you’ll get will be after next Wednesday’s visit to San Jose.

Some quick thoughts first …

♦   A lot of what we covered in our roundtable was exactly what happened tonight. We discussed how Duncan Keith would step up with Brent Seabrook out, and he did – minus his awful pass which led to a breakaway. Special teams needed to improve, and it did. Corey Crawford’s recent struggles? Eh, fuck those. Lots of good all around.

♦   Speaking of that, Marian Hossa is just sick. And it was also nice to see him get into a little scuffle. He’s so reserved at times that you wonder if he’s just floating around the ice without a care in the world. But for him to show that emotion, everyone better watch the fuck out.

♦   Crawford – what a night. Saw the puck well throughout the game, and he made a hell of a save on Jannik Hansen’s short-handed breakaway when Keith farted the puck away.

♦   Vancouver’s lone goal appeared to start when Nick Leddy made a poor decision to pinch when one member of the Ambiguously Incestuous Duo had a clear advantage to a loose puck. Sedin lofted it over Leddy along the boards to his brother (shocking), who then found Hansen with a nice pass through Niklas Hjalmarsson. Eh well, I guess.

♦   Speaking of the Sedins, I know that the shit I give them around here is largely biased due to the rivalry. But really, truthfully, honestly, how do Canucks fans cheer for these dirty, cheap assholes? Whichever red-headed step child shoved his stick into Crawford’s crotch as Crawford held the puck near his neck waiting for an obvious freeze should be tarred and feathered and not allowed to see an NHL rink for 10 games. Truly classless, much like their constant diving and shithole antics that make me wonder how these shitheads don’t get called for more penalties. It really, really sucks that they’re good hockey players, because they really disgrace the game at times.

♦   Glad Steve Montador decided he wanted to be Gordie Howe. He’s already halfway to his career high in goals.

The rest is in Boxing …

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Now It’s Our Turn: Blackhawks Visit Canucks

Photo: headtothe.net

You had to believe that after the 6-2 punishment the Vancouver Canucks gave the Blackhawks back on November 6th, all the sports media in B.C. probably spend the next several days pounding their chests and stomping around like the kid in the teen angst movies that ends up getting beaten like a mule, spit on and run up a flagpole for good measure.

Hope you had your fun while it lasted, fellas. Now it’s our turn. Time to go into their rink, humiliate them in front of their slack-jawed fans, then take a meatloaf-sized crap at center ice and climb into the limousine.

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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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Not Quite Yet, Kids: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Oilers

(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

The Edmonton Oilers are going to be playoff contenders, though the jury is still out on when that time will come. The Blackhawks showed them glimpses of what it’s going to take to get there.

The ‘Hawks captured a 6-3 victory Sunday night at the United Center, sending themselves off on a good note heading into the annual Circus Trip – kind of.

Brent Seabrook hit the boards hard and suffered the always-vague lower-body injury which could prevent him from traveling with the team for its six-game jaunt. Q said Seabrook will be evaluated more Tuesday and is going with a “day-to-day” amateur diagnosis.

This could present a multitude of problems for a defense already dressing John Scott. The onus will fall on Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell to fill the void left by the absence of one of the NHL’s best defensemen. That means two players who couldn’t even crack the lineup ahead of a no-talent gorilla will have to attempt to do enough of a Seabrook impression to help anchor the blue line.

I guess we’ll find out more soon if that’s the case …

♦   Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: These kids are good. Hall took advantage of mistakes by both Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy to win the puck and create scoring chances with hard rushes to the net, and also was robbed by Corey Crawford after putting himself into a scoring position in the slot. Eberle’s goal was a pretty move just after coming out of the box, and RNH showed exactly why he was the No. 1 overall pick and stuck with the big club.

The Oil remind me greatly of the 2007-08 Blackhawks – Lots of young talent and not enough veteran support which left them teetering on the brink of breaking out. Nikolai Khabibulin was in net – for 49 starts, anyway – for those ‘Hawks, who got it together the next year when Khabi put together a 25-8-7 season. While Edmonton won’t be getting home-ice advantage in the postseason no matter Khabi’s solid play so far, I fully expect the Oilers to be contending for the No. 8 seed if they can manage to avoid 2-4 road trips like this one down the line. The talent is there.

♦   The ‘Hawks moved to 7-1-2 at home, earning 16 of a possible 20 points at the UC. Part of last season’s shitfest had to do with the fact the Blackhawks were less-than-stellar on home ice, even when the schedule seemingly was doing them favors. Not the case this season – so far.

♦   Another power-play goal. I think I’ll wet my pants.

Onto Boxing….

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Not Crude Anymore: Oilers Visit Chicago

Photo: Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press

There are only two names you need to know to understand the meteoric performance of the Edmonton Oilers this young season. Both of these names have taken the team, and the league, by near-complete surprise; and in one case, has most people scratching their heads.

The names are: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nikolai Khabibulin. The 18-year-old rookie and the inconsistent netminder 20 years his senior have been the catalysts for Edmonton rising near the top of the Western Conference standings.

The Edmonton Oilers’ patience has paid off. They come into the United Center tonight sitting atop the Northwest Division, and eager for some payback against a Chicago team that has manhandled them over the past several years.

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Demon Cleaner : Hawks #1 in Western Conference

( Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Now THAT was a convincing victory. Despite a shaky start to the game, the Blackhawks came to play last night and easily took care of the Flames. The Blackhawks got outstanding performances from Marian Hossa (shocking), Duncan Keith and Ray Emery. The result was a 4-1 victory and a spot all alone in 1st place in the Western Conference. Duncan Keith appeared in his 500th NHL game and opened the scoring in the first after a rebound that hoped over Daniel Carcillo’s stick found its way to Keith who buried it home. The goal may not have happened had Miikka Kiprusoff decided to get up and get back into position after going down to make the first save, but that’s his decision. The Hawks went up 2-0 after a Brent Seabrook drive found its way through Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews traffic out front of Kipper on the power play. The Hawks PP was 1/4 on the night (cause for celebration). The game got interesting for a few minutes halfway through the 3rd after Olli Jokinen ripped a wrist shot over the blocker of Emery. Curtis Glencross provided a fantastic screen in front of Razor, who had no chance to stop the shot. The Hawks put it away after Boss Hoss set up Viktor Stalberg with a pass you’d have to see to believe. It was nice to see Stalberg finish on that one after missing on a couple of chances earlier in the game. He probably could have had 3 or 4 goals had things gone his way. The Blackhawks finished things off after Kane potted an empty netter. Overall, a good effort by the Hawks on home-ice. Their record at the UC improved to 6-1-2 and they have a chance to make it 7-1-2 tomorrow against an Edmonton team who seems to be coming back to earth after a very impressive start to the season.

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Firestarter : Blackhawks v. Flames

The Flames actually wore this abomination on their uniforms once.

Remember a few years ago when the Calgary looked like they were going to become a big rival of the Blackhawks? The Hawks faced the Mike Kennan-led Flames in their first playoff series since 2002 in the opening round of the 2008-2009 postseason. The series (which the Hawks won 4-2) started with Marty Havlat scoring just 12 seconds into overtime in Game 1 and ended with the Hawks knocking out the Flames 4-1 in Calgary in Game 6.  The Hawks went on to lose in the Western Conference final that year to Detoilet but won the Stanley Cup the following season.  They have appeared in 7 playoff series since defeating the Flames. Calgary has not been to the postseason since – their last postseason goal was scored by criminal Todd Bertuzzi. Sucks to be them.

Yup, it’s been all downhill for the Flames since that point and things aren’t getting any better. Jarome Iginla continues to be one of the best hockey players of all-time, yet is still inexplicably surrounded by dogshit. One of the great mysteries of all time will be why the Flames never got this man a true center to play with.  The Flames are 6-7-1 coming into the game tonight and are coming off a 3-0 loss to a surprisingly good Minnesota Wild team. Nothing about this Flames team is special (except Iginla), their PK is right in the middle of the pack and their PP only converts on 15% of its chances (a number the Hawks pathetically envy). The Flames hold the distinction of having the worst FO% in the league (46%) and won just 35% of their draws against the Wild on Tuesday night. One bright spot for Calgary tonight will be their 2007 1st round pick Mikael Backlund appearing in his 1st game of the season after missing time with a broken pinky finger. Apparently, Backlund will center a line with  Iginla on it – lucky him!

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The Blue Jackets are Who We Thought They Were: Boxing with ‘Hawks and BJs

"See that chick in the 8th row?" ... "Dude, after the game. I have ass to kick still." (John Grieshop, Getty Images)

Couldn’t say it much better than Dennis Green during his famous rant.

The BJs showed us and the Blackhawks exactly what we expected: That they’re a dog shit team which the ‘Hawks needed to steamroll after some sub par performances recently.

The Blackhawks dominated every aspect of their 6-3 thumping of Columbus on Thursday night, and they’ll head into back-to-back home games this weekend on a positive note.

Just a couple things before Boxing …

♦   Q said he hoped the ‘Hawks came out “angry” tonight after the past couple of farts they left on the ice. Whether it was anger or the overall stench of the Blue Jackets that had the ‘Hawks rolling, I don’t care. Take the easy two points and see if you can institute all the good done over the weekend at home.

♦   The Blackhawks have given up 13 goals over their last three games. Eight of them have come while they were shorthanded. The penalty kill now sits at 76.5 percent – bad enough for 23rd in the league. That’s not exactly neat.

♦   Hopefully John Scott missed the team flight and is getting in some sort of trouble in Columbus so he’s placed in jail and we don’t have to worry about him dressing this weekend.

♦   Of the Blackhawks’ 50 goals this season, only two have come from defensemen (Steve Montador’s goal Thursday doesn’t count since he was playing forward at the time) and both have come from Nick Leddy. I’m surprised by this, though that may mean the ‘Hawks aren’t taking their shots from the point to get the puck on net to create some more chances and “garbage” goals. If they were doing that, you’d think a few more would have gotten through by now. I mean, we’re 16 games into the season …

Enjoy Boxing …

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Blackhawks Visit Columbus: Who Will Suck Less?

Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images

It was less than one week ago that I was typing, “The Blackhawks are in first place in the Western Conference…” A lot can change in a week, huh? Not that we’ve dropped too far in the standings, but if we keep playing like we have been we’ll find ourselves battling the Columbus Blue Jackets for the coveted spot in the Western Conference basement. And wow, is Columbus ever in the basement.

This is the second meeting between these two teams, and I wrote in the first game preview that Columbus had a 1-8-1 record. Well, not a lot has changed: they have added 1 win and 3 losses. They are the proud owners of 5 (that’s “five”) points. As a matter of rub-it-in trivia, even if they had twice as many points, they would still be in last place in the West.

If you were wondering why there are so many teams bunched up so closely at the top of the Western Conference standings, it’s because every other team has been beating on Columbus like a red-headed step-pinata.

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The Rose Goes In The Front, Big Guy…

For those of you who missed the timeless sports-classic film “Bull Durham,” go back to FourSquare, this article isn’t for you. But for those who didn’t, it’s my contention that we have our own Ebbie Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh right here in the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room.

His name is Nick Leddy. And instead of throwing bean-balls at the mascot, he is throwing close games right in the dumpster. His flubs against Tampa Bay led directly to the Bolts’ third goal, and the game-winner in OT.

“You lolligag around the infield…”

Actually, lolligagging is a word that really can’t be used to describe Leddy’s game. In fact, quite the opposite. He’s very quick, which leads him to believe that he can tear around any area of the ice with impunity. When he goes on these little escapades, he leaves his position to be covered by a winger — who is then a target to be exploited by the other team, since that winger is not trained to play that position. Leddy creates a defensive weakness with his end-to-end rushes. That’s unnecessary, and it’s only a matter of time before other teams exploit that weakness when it arises.

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It’ll Get Fixed … Right?

(Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE)

Sorry, no Boxing tonight. I went out, I’m tired and it takes a long time. It’ll be back Thursday, I promise …

Trying to sugarcoat the past few games is a waste of time, we know that. But I’m going to take a quick step back.

The Blackhawks went down to Florida and got three points on a brief trip in which they very easily could have come out with zero. Then they came home and shit the bed against Vancouver. It pissed us off, royally.

So Q decided he was going to change things up. It resulted in a 3-0 loss in St. Louis, and now we’re about to hang up our proverbial skates with 67 games to play, which is more ridiculous than any line combination Q could ever dream up.

I’ll quickly concede the fact Q shuffles his lines irregularly, at times when it seems unnecessary. This does not qualify as one of those times.

There’s plenty of discussion pointing to the fact that it’s only November, and Q should not be panicking by shifting players around in “unfamiliar” positions with “unfamiliar” players. That right there is the exact point – it’s only November. If there’s a time to make some changes to feel things out after a dog shit stretch, it’s right now. And that’s especially true heading into a road game against team in turmoil playing its first game with a brand new coach.

If Q was pulling the slot machine with his players hoping to pull gold from his ass against a seasoned conference opponent, I could understand a bit of flack heading his way. Despite a stretch in which the ‘Hawks played like shit, I could at least understand the concern.

But to present a quick newsflash to everyone, there’s going to be another dog shit stretch this season – maybe two, or three, or … well, you get the point. Go ahead and change your diapers upon hearing that, but it’ll happen. The best of teams lose games, and most often in succession. During an 82-game season, slumps are going to happen.

With that said, sometimes change breaks a slump. Moreover, especially with a changed roster like the Blackhawks’, teams don’t walk into camp simply tossing combinations together while saying, “Yep, this is going to be it for the next 82 games. Fuck everyone.” Things changed in camp, things change during the season.

Every coach in this league changes line combinations. Most recently, the New York Islanders snapped a six-game losing streak by completely changing personnel and beat Washington 5-3. Jack Capuano felt the need to do what he could in order to spark his squad. It worked, and that’s awesome.

Sometimes, things don’t work. Tuesday’s loss was an example of that. However, that doesn’t mean Q needs to be chastised for it. The ‘Hawks played three consecutive games in which their game wasn’t up to expectations. For Q to toss something together in hopes of surprising an already stunned Blues team learning Ken Hitchcock’s system in two days is not earth-shattering. It’s closer to normal than if he sat on his hands.

I won’t defend certain things. John Scott being in the lineup is never a good idea, and that’s not something I’ll ever be on Q’s side about. The power play? Absolutely pathetic, and someone needs to be held responsible for these disgusting displays, because it’s now a chronic problem which needs to be fixed for the Blackhawks to be the elite team they hope to be this season.

But to get upset at Q for making some line changes to test things out heading into the 15th game of the season against a team with its collective head spinning in circles due to more drastic change than a line combination is panic in itself. Say Q is panicking all you want, but you’re then in turn exceeding his “panic” by miles.

There’s a time and a place for everything, and early November seems to be that time when Q should be allowed to test his squad with some different looks. It’s normal, every coach does it. There’s no bubble around Chicago under which things work drastically different than any other NHL city.

OK, the changes for Tuesday didn’t work out. The ‘Hawks are now 8-4-3 and lead the Central Division. Relax, please. I have some confidence Q isn’t going to troll out the same lines Thursday…. right?

And if he does? Well, it’s only November.

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