Westward, Ho! Blackhawks Visit Vancouver

Okay, well that was torture.

The Blackhawks followed up a dominant performance against the worst team in the Western Conference (a 5 – 0 win over Edmonton) with a middling effort against the second-worst team in the Western Conference (last night’s 7 – 2 loss to Calgary). The ‘Hawks are now back to .500, for the Circus trip, and for the season.

Tonight it’s the Vancouver Canucks, the team Chicago has bounced from the playoffs the last two years straight — turning Vancouver fans against their starting goaltender and team captain in the process. Now Roberto “WWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” Luongo is just a plain old goalie, the captain’s ‘C’ now residing on the jersey of Henrietta Sedin.

But the change hasn’t improved Luongo’s play any, as the Canucks fell to the Hawks 2 – 1 earlier this year at the United Center, each of the Blackhawks deking Luongo out of his panty liners in the shootout to seal the win. Luongo’s 2.69 GAA, .913 save percentage and 7-5-2 record suggest that this year is bound to disappoint Canucks fans once again.

Offensively, the Sedin twins have been the Canucks bread and butter this season, and sure enough they are tied for the team lead with 24 points each. Mikael Samuelson and Ryan Kessler are the next most prolific forwards at 12 points apiece, so you have a frame of reference for exactly how much the Canucks are relying on the Sedins’ output this year. Suffice to say, stop the Sedins and you stop the Canucks.

But the Blackhawks have been having a hard time stopping anyone this year, as the loss to Calgary illustrated rather embarrassingly. Brian Campbell was the only blueliner that ended the night in positive territory, but the carnage was spread pretty evenly among the remaining defensive corps. Marty Turco’s barely-above-.800 save percentage from the tilt is the worst performance since the Edmonton shellacking on October 29th, and the most goals-allowed by him this season.

Marty, this is NOT the time to turn into Marc Lamothe. Coach Joel Quenneville has decided not to take that chance, and is starting Corey Crawford between the pipes tonight.

The Blackhawks’ offensive stars were kept off the score sheet completely in the Calgary game, another bad sign. The fact that we are wondering which of our million-dollar men are going to earn their keep on any given night is an indication that this team is not firing on all cylinders, and in fact has a long way to go.

And so, we cross our fingers, and hope for the best.

9:00pm CST game time this evening. Comcast SportsNet for TV here in Chicago, and Canadian viewers will see this game as the second part of a Hockey Night In Canada double-header on CBC. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will hear the game on channel 204.

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Blackhawks vs. Calgary A Multi-Media Bonanza!

Looks like no matter where you are or what your media tool of choice is, you can see or hear the Blackhawks take on the Calgary Flames tonight.

First, local radio is WGN AM-720, as are they all.

Satellite radio, for those XM subscribers, tune to channel 206 for all the action.

Local Chicagoland TV viewers can find the Blackhawks on Comcast SportsNet.

TV viewers in Canada will get this game on TSN — a treat for our Indian Head faithful north of the border!

And for you Hawkey Heads in the U.S. but outside of Chicago, a special treat. Fire up the web browser, click here, scroll down to the Blackhawks/Flames game, and click on “Hockey Night on Y!” in the lower right corner. Allegedly that’s a live stream of the game, courtesy of our friends at Yahoo! Sports.

I’ll try to remember to check it, but somebody post a comment here if it works, okay? I’d love to know. Not often they do this.

Everybody enjoy the game, wherever you are: and GO BLACKHAWKS!

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Back In The Saddle (Dome): ‘Hawks Hope To Extinguish Flames

What better way to start the annual Circus Trip than by obliterating the two crappiest teams in the Western Conference! The Blackhawks will get a chance to do just that when they take on the Flames at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome.

I know the venue was built for the Olympics, but who designed that ass-hammer anyhow? Just looking at that thing gives me hemorrhoids.

I would imagine the cold November snows in Alberta got a little warmer for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night, after they finally gave the Edmonton Oilers the treatment they should have gotten when they visited the United Center earlier this season. A hat-trick for Captain Serious, Patrick Sharp broke his scoreless drought, and Marty Turco earned his first shutout as a Blackhawk. And there was much rejoicing.

Now it’s on to Calgary to hopefully douse an equally dismal Flames squad, prevented from occupying the Western Conference basement by none other than the Oilers, minus center Olli Jokinen. Roly Poly Olli decided to bury the shaft of his stick in Wojtek Wolski’s neck, and the league told him to enjoy some press box popcorn for three games. So for the next week, the only place he won’t live up to expectations is in the bedroom.

Former Blackhawk draft pick Rene Bourque leads the offensive charge for the Flames, with 9 goals and 15 points in as many games. Long-time captain Jarome Iginla is choosing to lead from the rear, being owner of a team-worst -7 rating.

But the real news in Calgary is the arrival of two new Flames, one of whom is familiar to Blackhawks fans. Defensive linebacker Anton Babchuk brings his howitzer slap shot — and its pathetic accuracy — to a Calgary squad rather lacking in firepower. His -4 rating suggests that firepower is about all he’s good for: part of the reason Chicago sent him packing.

On the Blackhawks’ side, far be it from Coach Joel Quenneville to fix something that isn’t broken. Expect the same lines as were on the ice for the Edmonton game, and Marty Turco gets the start again. All is right with the world once more, as Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa lead the ‘Hawks in scoring (in that order), though we still have a little work to do in the +/- department. And Duncan Keith is even showing signs of not sucking.

I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong, and in winger Viktor Stalberg it appears that I may have been off the mark. He’s my “player to watch” tonight, as he is gaining confidence (along with speed) each time I see him. Against Edmonton he had only 2 shots on goal and tallied no points, but his assignment to the Toews/Kane line works very well for his skill set. I expect we’ll start to see the 20-goal scorer we hoped we traded for very soon.

Game time is 8:30pm Chicago time: Canadian viewers can see the game on TSN, Chicago locals will find it on Comcast SportsNet as usual. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers turn the dial to channel 206.

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Nothin’ tricky about it: Boxing with Blackhawks/Oilers, 11/18/10

"Um, Marty? Why are you poking me with your stick?" (Reuters)

Finally, the roles were back in order. It took two shit-bomb performances against the Edmonton Oilers, but the Blackhawks took two points from those pesky fucks and won their first game on the Circus Trip in convincing 5-0 fashion. Boom.

Jonathan Toews played like he was out to lead by example, rather than tell the media what the ‘Hawks need to do to get this season turned around. His hat trick did all the talking, and Tazer’s constant push toward the net should be a lesson to the rest of the ‘Hawks.

Toews,  Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg looked like badasses and played a huge role in a 20-4 SOG advantage after the first period. Toews’ third goal was a snipe from the slot, which was something rarely seen out of Toews so far this season. He’s had his chances, but even in that split second from when the puck hit his tape on pass from Kaner to the missile he put into the twine, you could just tell he had the look that said, “This fucking thing is going to the back of the net, and there ain’t shit Khabby can do about it.” And he was right.

Congrats to  Marty Turco on his first shutout in the Indian-head sweater. The Oilers played like the pile of shit they are tonight — finally — and posed no real threat to Turco.

Oh, and  Patrick Sharp is a very handsome man. Beautiful shorty move on Khabby to break his eight-game scoreless drought.

It’s late and I’m tired, so here’s your latest edition of “Boxing.”

As always, there’s two separate images — one for the game summary, and one for the actual box score. Click on the images to enlarge.

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Third Time’s A Charm? Damn Well Better Be… Hawks Visit Oilers

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 14: Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin  of the Edmonton Oilers misses a shot by Ruslan Fedotenko of the New York Rangers for a goal during the third period of a hockey game at Madison Square Garden on November 14, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Arright, now I’m fuckin’ PISSED.

I just looked at the Oilers’ schedule to date. I looked back to October 11th, nearly the entire regular season. In that span of time, the Oilers have lost nine games outright, and lost another 3 in overtime. They’ve lost four games to such bottom-feeders as Minnesota and Calgary.

They have won two games. BOTH AGAINST CHICAGO!

There is NO WAY we can lose three games to this festering sack of frog vomit in one year. It just can’t happen. If it does, I expect there to be some Seppuku at center ice after the game. That would be a disgrace no team should permit.

Speaking of disgrace, the Oilers are fresh off a colossal humiliation at the hands of the New York Rangers, to the tune of an 8 – 2 spanking. Nikolai Khabibulin was in net for all 8 of those goals: why he wasn’t pulled is beyond me. But the Rangers had no shortage of players eager to make him look like he had just failed a breathalyzer test. One can only hope that we see him between the pipes, and have similar luck.

The last time Khabby played the Blackhawks he was solid, making some genuinely remarkable saves on his way to stopping 25 shots. The fact that we only *took* 25 shots may have contributed to the fact that we lost that game 2 – 1. The prior game the Oilers needed little more than a cardboard cut-out in net, since the Hawks gave up 7 goals while allowing 41 shots, chasing Marty Turco after just one period. Our bad luck against these guys is nothing short of startling.

The rumblings in the Oiler-ogosphere are currently bemoaning the team’s defensive problems, and the latest grousing centers on their centers, specifically their abysmal performance at the face-off dot. So there’s two things the Hawks need to try to exploit when they arrive in the snow-laden northlands.

Back home, Blackhawks fans are enjoying the realization that the boys managed to scrape together three points out of a possible four during the last two games. We managed to hand out three points to Conference opponents in the process, but that’s immaterial. Just the fact that we put one in the ‘win’ column is reason to celebrate.

We’re also getting cautiously optimistic about the play of newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille. Stalberg put up his sixth goal of the season while getting the game-winner against Anaheim, and Jack Skille posted his first goal of the year — and his second — in the loss to Nashville. If both of these guys can put in consistent performances every night, they’ll find themselves getting 10 to 15 minutes a night.

Roster-wise, nothing of note for the Hawks. Troy Brouwer was absent from practice on Tuesday, but he will make the trip and is likely to play against Edmonton. If that’s the case, expect Coach Quenneville to field the exact same team and lines he did over the weekend. He’s not one to tinker with success, especially when the Hawks are teetering so close to the .500 mark.

For the Oilers, no doubt you saw the Ladislav Smid/Sean Avery sucker-punch incident from the Rangers game, the one that resulted in penalties for every skater on the ice, and even one who was NOT on the ice! The most severe penalty handed out was a 10-minute misconduct however, and despite the severity of the fracas the league issued no suspensions. Smid apparently suffered a head injury in that melee, and will sit out this tilt tonight. The Oilers have called up heavyweight defenseman Shawn Belle to replace him. Beyond that, we will be facing a full and healthy Oiler lineup Wednesday night.

Game time is 8:30pm: Comcast SportsNet for the TV broadcast; regular-old radio is WGN AM-720, as usual; XM subscribers flip to channel 205.

And for the love of crap, guys: start this road trip off right.

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Removing the elephant from the room: ‘Hawks hit Circus Trip on high note

NOTE: Boxing with ‘Hawks/Not-so-Mighty Ducks is below

"We won! Yay! This is fun! Maybe we should do it more often!" (Chicago Tribune)

The not-so-hidden mishaps didn’t completely vanish with this victory, but the home losing streak sure did. Take it when you can.

Duncan Keith is still drunk, the ‘Hawks gave up yet another goal within a minute of scoring their own and Tomas Kopecky did his best  Nick Boynton impression by taking a horrible penalty in the final minute of a tight game. Some things don’t change.

Thankfully, the result was more pleasant after  Viktor Stalberg redirected a Keith shot in overtime to give the ‘Hawks a 3-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks — their first win at home in five games.

I’m going to admit this right off the bat: When Kopecky went to the box, I figured the game was as good as over. Even if the ‘Hawks killed the remaining 53 seconds of the third — which I wasn’t confident about — no way were they going to kill the 4-on-3 to start overtime. I was just hoping to come away with two points for the weekend after the shootout loss to Nashville on Friday night.

Needless to say, I’m happy I was wrong.

Marian Hossa and  Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist each, and it was a welcome sight to see those two on the scoresheet. Especially Hossa. Kid hadn’t scored in his last seven games.

I’m still having trouble getting over Keith’s turnover which led to  Corey Perry’s first of two goals 57 seconds after Kane’s goal. To put into perspective how utterly poorly Keith has been playing lately, here’s the text I got from my Dad — who watches the ‘Hawks on and off, but isn’t invested — after Keith’s brain fart:

“Once a game, he falls asleep and costs his team a goal. This time less than a minute after we scored. I’m watching Andy Griffith.”

Can’t say I blame my Pops.

Other than Keith, Kopecky is off the hook after the ‘Hawks snatched the second point in overtime. Boynton was persecuted after his dipshit delay of game penalty cost the ‘Hawks earlier this season, and Kopecky was right in line to get a proverbial curb stomp if the Ducks netted one on the power play.

OK, OK. Yes, there’s some good. Corey Crawford played outstanding and made some key stops on point-blank chances, including a couple great saves in overtime. We’ve discussed Perry’s goal which Keith left Crawford out to dry, and Niklas Hjalmarsson was caught flat-footed as Perry skated right past him on his second goal. Crawford is going to get a couple of starts on the Circus Trip, and I’m hoping he shows more of what he did tonight.

The passing on the winning goal was fantastic, as Brian Campbell’s fake-shot-pass to Keith froze the Ducks on the far side of the ice, leaving Stalberg time to get into position for Keith’s slapper toward the net.

And speaking of the Circus Trip, this is a good time for all these assholes to get themselves some quality time together and quit telling us how it’s taking time to get the locker room acclimated with each other. I’ll be writing up a more detailed preview of the trip and what it’s done for the ‘Hawks the past couple of seasons, but if these guys come back liking each other more even if they go 2-4 I’ll be a happy man.

So, for now, that gigantic elephant with “YOU GUYS SUCK” written on the side of it that we didn’t want to look at anymore has left the locker room. There’s some tough road games coming up, and what a better way to hit the pavement than with a ‘W’ at home.

Without further ado, here’s a happier version of “Boxing.” As always, there’s two separate images — one for the game summary, and one for the actual box score. Click on the images to enlarge.


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Hoping It’s Not Wabbit Season: Chicago Hosts Anaheim

Photo: Hanna Barbera

Last night’s game was a dramatic improvement over what we’ve seen lately from the Blackhawks. Yes, they let two leads slip away. Yes, they lost in a shootout. Yes, they only mustered four shots on goal in the 3rd.

But the team showed up. Jack Skille broke the jinx, twice. Viktor Stalberg lit the lamp. Defensively we were *far* more competent, only three players ended the night in the minus column. The Hawks were lining guys up, and standing up for their teammates. This was a good effort, and one hopes they can bring their first-period intensity into tonight’s game against Anaheim.

The big news from Duckville is that starting goaltender Jonas Hiller took a shot in the mask at practice on Saturday which resulted in a cut over his eyebrow that required four sutures. His status for tonight’s game has not been formally announced as of this writing, however one expects him to be in civvies for tonight’s tilt. That means Curtis McElhinny will likely be between the pipes tonight.

Which is good news, because the Ducks bring with them a 6-game winning streak. Forwards Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan all have a minimum of 6 goals and 17 points each. They have strong power-play conversion, they’re getting decent goal support from the blueline, and their goaltending has been solid. This is going to be a difficult test for the Blackhawks, even with Schmedley McLosermuffin in goal.

Doubtful that there will be any lineup changes for the Blackhawks, though the latest trade rumor concerning Corey Crawford and Tomas Kopecky might throw a wrench in things. Depends if they pull the trigger before the puck drops or not. Or at all. If anything happens before game time we’ll let you know via Twitter — follow us using the link below.

6:00pm start at the UC. WGN has the TV broadcast, WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio, and channel 204 for XM subscribers.

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Edzo, Get A Rule Book

Photo: NHL

Sorry, Eddie, we all love you. But you’re wrong, and the tripping call by the official against Patrick Kane in overtime was complete and utter crap.

NHL 2010-11 Official Rule Book, Rule 57 – Tripping, Section 57.1, paragraph 3:

If, in the opinion of the Referee, a player makes contact with the puck first and subsequently trips the opponent in so doing, no penalty shall be assessed.

There was no “opinion of the referee” needed here. If Kane had not touched the puck first, it would not have been careening towards the boards and up the ice towards the ref who called the penalty!

So sorry, Mr. Olczyk, read the rule book. The ref was wrong, the call was crap, and that call could have cost the Blackhawks the game.

This extends the streak of badly called games by NHL officials to 35,466,907. These refs are pathetic, and the league risks the integrity of the game and the loyalty of its fans when it allows this kind of shit to go unpunished.

Sorry, had to get this up and make sure Blackhawks fans knew the truth. Jeff will have a more in-depth report on this game (plus Boxing!) later in the weekend.

Hawks have the Ducks at home on Sunday, we’ll preview that match-up right here for you, so check back and watch for our tweets!

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Picking The Carcass Clean: Blackhawks Hunted By Predators

Those of you reading this are probably dreading tonight’s game. My comment to my wife yesterday was, every day the Blackhawks don’t play is a day they don’t lose. That’s what it’s come to.

How bad is it? In our last 10 games we are 3-7 including 5 losses on home ice. The losses are close, four of the seven are by one goal. Patrick Sharp in his last six games has no goals, two assists, and rates a -7. Marian Hossa is a -3 in his last six games with no points, period. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have totaled no goals, five assists and are a combined -10 in their last four games.

To call this a slump is like calling Megan Fox “cute.”

But this goes beyond statistics. When this team took the ice last year, they were intimidating. There was a confidence and a determination about them that elicited fear in opponents, and prepared crowds in other arenas for the inevitable reality that their beloved skate-monkeys were about to be treated like toilet paper.

This year, I don’t think they could instill fear into the hearts of an opposing squad of pee-wee girls. Their passing is the biggest giveaway. Last year it was no-look, tape-to-tape at full stride from the opening minute. Now it’s hard to get them to hit an open man standing still.

They’re skittish, they’re tentative, they’re trying to do too much, they’re trying for highlight-reel goals, and it’s making them look foolish. I hate to say it, but this team more closely resembles the Blackhawks of 10 years ago than team one that hoisted the Stanley Cup.

They’ll get the next chance to redeem themselves and show us that they *can* bring the intensity tonight when they take the ice in Nashville. The last time they faced the Predators it was on home ice, as they gave rookie goalie Anders Lindback his first *ever* win in his first *ever* start by letting a third-period lead slip away with two late goals. This was to become a trend, as the last two games showed us.

The significant change to the lineup for the Hawks is that Dave Bolland will be back at center between Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Bolland was activated from IR on Friday after sitting out the last two weeks with an upper-body injury.  Bolland’s play prior to being placed on IR was arguably the worst of his career as a Blackhawk, so it’s unlikely that his return will spark anything more than uncomfortable sideways glances.

Nashville comes in at 6-5-3, having just broken a five-game losing losing streak by beating St. Louis in a shootout on Thursday. Lindback has actually been their more consistent goaltender this year, as starter Pekka Rinne has shown some chinks in his armor. No injuries of substance to the Predators, and they will come in eager to get the home-town crowd back on their side.

Game time is 7:00pm tonight. Comcast SportsNet for the TV broadcast, WGN AM-720 is the broadcast radio outlet, and XM subscribers look for the game on channel 238.

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It’s Not Time To Panic

Photo: AP

What it’s time for is an intelligent, measured response that has a better chance of effecting positive results. Stan Bowman, I’m talking to you.

We need a trade before the Circus Trip begins. Plain and simple.

We’ve shuffled this deck as many times as possible, and let’s face it, nothing’s working. We need some fresh, experienced blood. We also need to send a message to the team that nobody’s job is safe as long as this lackadaisical attitude continues.

What do we need? A 20-goal-per-season forward, preferably a center, and preferably from an Eastern Conference Team.

Who gets the boot? Any and/or ALL of the following:

Troy Brouwer: He’s a relatively inexpensive utility forward who could be a top-six guy on a lesser-talented team. Plus, for whatever reason, Coach Quenneville doesn’t like him and won’t play him to the extent of his capabilities. He’s a million dollars of cap space that could be used on somebody who puts goals in the net.

Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell: All three of these guys are also underachieving. Yes, they’re cheap. Yes, they’re serviceable. But they have more value to a team that sees their potential than they do here.

Brian Campbell: Yeah, we sucked while he was out of the lineup. But if we’re going to shake things up, we have to consider all options, and he is the biggest financial suck on this team. Trading him means our options for adjustments to the roster expand by an order of magnitude. Target a team with a mountain of cap space that is letting in a lot of goals, and try to work a deal.

Kyle Beach: I know everyone in the blogosphere thinks this guy is the second coming. But the reality is, he could just as easily be the biggest bust since Ty Jones. He’s got a reputation as a head-case, and that is *not* what we need right now. And currently his perceived value exceeds his actual value, which is the perfect time to put together a trade.

Corey Crawford: It pains me to say this, but the kid is good, and that’s why we could include him in a deal if it becomes necessary. He’s been solid in a backup role, and he has the potential to be a starter down the road. If teams express interest, we should jump on that. Backup goaltenders are cheap and plentiful.

So who to pursue? I’ll forward one name: Carolina center Brandon Sutter. 6′ 3″, right handed shot, 21 goals last year and on a similar pace this season. The Canes have +$10 million in cap space, they don’t have a “franchise” defenseman, and they’re going to be struggling to make the playoffs with the blueline corps they’re fielding today.

Ship Campbell and either Brouwer or Beach to the Hurricanes for Sutter. Despite sucking up $8 million in cap dollars, they get the better of that deal by a mile. But we get what we need: a change of blood for a big, young pivot with the potential to be part of the young core that solidifies our position as an offensive powerhouse.

That’s my Monday Morning Quarterback  idea. I’m sure there are many others. But it’s time. Enough screwing around, let’s get some offers on the table and move somebody quickly. Re-focusing the team’s attention and getting them out of their comfort zone before the Circus Trip might be just what the doctor ordered.

Umm, Stan? Stan? Talk to Daddy, there, Junior. And get your ass in gear. We’re bleeding here.

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Boxing with ‘Hawks/Coyotes, 11/10/10

Well, this officially sucks. It’s not even fun to watch. I pulled the hood over my head a few minutes into the third period. As I type this, the NHL On the Fly crew is calling the Blackhawks “weak.”

That’s actually a very good word to describe this team. They’re avoiding contact, not playing with any physicality, and look like there’s nothing keeping them motivated. Boos showered the ‘Hawks at the end of the second period. And why not? They deserved it.

Beyond that, the Blackhawks lost their seventh home game in regulation. They lost eight all of last season. The entire 2009-10 hockey season, they lost eight. They’re already at seven.

Duncan Keith must have developed an alcohol problem, because he’s playing drunk.  Patrick Kane might as well have not played tonight. It’s really, really painful to watch — and that’s probably because it’s so shocking that we have no idea what to do anymore. These are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they probably couldn’t even win a Shinny Stick tournament right now.

Without further ado, here’s another depressing edition of “Boxing.” As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Rising Beyond Mediocrity: Phoenix visits the UC Tonight

Photo: AP

The Blackhawks take on the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at the United Center. After Sunday night’s disheartening loss to the Edmonton Oilers, I hope the concession stands are going to offer Maalox.

There have been some positives in the Blackhawks’ play. We are 3rd in the league in power play conversions, something that was a serious problem for us at this time last year. And our goaltending, originally thought to be our weak spot this season, has proved solid.

But that’s the end of the good news. Our penalty killing is so-so, our defense isn’t the impermeable fortress of last year, our veterans aren’t leading, our youngsters aren’t following, and the results show it. Above all, while we are showing flashes of brilliance here and there, our biggest problem is consistency.

The Oilers were a better team than the Blackhawks for about 45 seconds on Sunday. It cost the Blackhawks the game. They talk about a 60-minute effort, and that’s why. The Hawks didn’t play a bad game: decent number of shots, reduced their number of shots allowed, killed four penalties out of five, and kept the game at a defensive stale-mate against a speedy Edmonton squad. But one power play goal and a complete mental let-down on the following shift, and the visitors take home two points.

The mental lapse following the Oilers’ goal is not an isolated incident. Chicago Sun-Times reporter Adam Jahns scoured the box scores and found that the Blackhawks have allowed a goal against on the shift immediately following a goal no fewer than *seven* times this season. This is the kind of thing that makes coaches pull a Rumplestiltskin, and I would imagine it is the primary focus of Coach Joel Quenneville’s attention right now.

That, and shuffling the lines — AGAIN. Tuesday’s practice saw Patrick Kane moved to left wing (?!?!?) on a line with Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland. This can’t be a good sign, since both the Hossa/Bolland and Hossa/Kane combinations have been tried — with zero success — before. I see it as a sign that Q is simply throwing darts at a lineup sheet and seeing which ones land where.

There is something to be said for the definition of insanity here: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. When you shuffle a deck and expect to have it come up all aces, something’s wrong.

It may be time for some new cards. But we’ll address that another day.

The Phoenix Coyotes are a team without a city right now, as the ownership battle — and no-doubt relocation fight immediately to follow — has yet to be settled. They come into the United Center with more overtime/shootout losses than any team in the league. After regulation, they are a perfect 0-5. Their roster boasts plenty of names you’ll recognize, like Eric Belanger, Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, and Adrian Aucoin. But the whole, in this case, is far less than the sum of its parts.

This is another Edmonton, a team that we should beat handily. They sit second-to-last in the Conference, and goaltending has not been their strong point to date. However, as we saw on Sunday, the Blackhawks have had trouble with teams meeting this description. Let’s hope that they come out swinging and bury this one quickly.

Look for tweets from us about injuries, starting lineups, and scratches later today.

Game time is 7:30pm: TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can look for the game on channel 208.

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I want to talk about how we have nothing to talk about

NOTE: Sorry for no strict recap and/or Boxing. I was on vacation in Boston for a Bruins game and admittedly didn’t see much of either game this weekend. In fact, I still haven’t seen a highlight of the Thrashers game. It would be more of a disservice if I wrote about stuff I didn’t see. You’re alive, so you’ll be OK with that.

I really wanted to see Prognosis Negative with Jerry. Wanna go see Ponce de Leon? (Chicago Tribune)

Sunday night, it took a matter of 14 seconds for the Edmonton Oilers to relieve the Blackhawks of their lead and take their own.

The clock on when we’re going to see the defending Stanley Cup champions is still ticking.

What is it I’m hoping for? I don’t know. I can’t say I’m demanding to see every semblance of dominance we saw last season when the Blackhawks were the best team in the NHL. I’m not going to start crying if  Marty Turco isn’t “The One” or if the departed ‘Hawks succeed. Business decisions had to be made.

I will say I may have been a bit too harsh on some of our star players to date. Stars alone don’t win titles.  Jonathan Toews and  Patrick Kane didn’t win that Cup alone last season. I’m guilty of saying I want to see more out of them and  Duncan Keith and the other top-tier talent the ‘Hawks possess. There’s a lot of it. I understand the role of a star player is to play like a star all the time. But even  Michael Jordan had off nights.

It’s the off-the-ice stuff that needs the attention. No more talking about how they miss the old guys. No more talking about the new locker room and how it’s taking time to jell.

What I’m hoping for is the Blackhawks new faces and role players to start proving they’re impressed by that brand new banner hanging at the United Center. I want them to think back to the home opener when they stayed on the bench secluded from the players from the title team, and they watched the ring bearers witness something they’ll never forget.

I want them to start imagining that they’re on the ice at the 2011 home opener standing in the same spot and watching a banner be raised. It’s not to say they’re talented enough to make it happen, but it sure as hell doesn’t seem like they’re playing up to what’s now expected in Chicago. And they really don’t seem to be playing with the purpose of getting to that point.

And most of all, I want last year’s team members to starting telling the new faces why that’s so important.

There was a different look about last year’s champs. There were a lot of times the role players didn’t do their jobs and we got on them. However, they still had the fire in their eyes and the determination to accomplish that goal of winning the Cup. They always talked like it. Maybe they just knew the media and what had to be said, but everyone constantly talked about winning the Cup. It never went away.

Do you see that from the new faces yet? Do you see  Fernando Pisani or  John Scott or Viktor Stalberg have that look like, “Whatever I have to do, whatever these guys want me to do, I’ll do it because I want what they have”…?

I sure haven’t. And beyond that, it’s happening at home — where that banner hangs right above them as a constant reminder of the expectations surrounding anyone in a Blackhawks sweater.

I refuse to believe these Blackhawks that take the ice every night don’t have what it takes to win another Cup. Maybe it’s the superfan in me, but we’ve all seen flashes of brilliance from lots of those new guys. It’s the consistency that’s lacking. Last year’s ‘Hawks team was consistently good, then got great when they needed to be great.

This team is consistently mediocre, and they’ve gotten good at times. The personalities are different, sure. Last year’s team had a closeness about them that even the players have acknowledged is lacking at this point. Well, what are they going to do to regain that? Last year’s team didn’t know each other until they met. Seems like a stupid thing to say, right?

However, these guys are all professionals and share a locker room, and a city. Figure something out. Remember in that  Seinfeld episode when Elaine referred to her and George as friends-in-law? Elaine then sat down with George and told Jerry afterward, “I wanted to talk about how we have nothing to talk about.” Well, do that if you have to. Get your shit together, and get it together fast.

Toews knows what I’m talking about:

“That motivation should be coming within our own locker room … we’re adults and we’re mature hockey players and when it’s time to light that fire, you know where… “

While the ‘Hawks find some lighter fluid, the Detroit Red Wings continue to win. The St. Louis Blues, of all the goddamn teams, are playing phenominal. The ‘Hawks are currently staring up at both their naked asses being waved in their proverbial face. I know, it’s early. But how many times have teams had rough starts in a good division and simply can’t catch up because the other teams above them continued to play well? It’s not uncommon. More often than not, a solid start leads to long-term success.

So, what’s it going to take? Losing two games to a bottom-feeding Western Conference team at home within a week? I hope so. Maybe on Wednesday we can watch a team beginning to get things in order, beginning to play together rather than trying to do things in spite of each other.

The ‘Hawks still haven’t hit the opposition with their best shot.

Hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer.

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Committed Indian column: 10 Reasons Why the Blackhawks Can Repeat

**** Sam Fels of Second City Hockey gave me some space in his wonderful creation, The Committed Indian,  for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. Here’s my column. Don’t be cheap and purchase one outside the UC for $3 if you’re headed there tonight. GO ‘HAWKS!

Despite all the departures, I don’t think anyone believed the Blackhawks would be stumbling into November hovering around the .500 mark. Things sure as shit haven’t been ideal and right now, this isn’t a Stanley Cup contender.

Fortunately, the NHL doesn’t hand out the Stanley Cup in November. Through 16 games last season the Blackhawks were 9-5-2 – not much difference from this season — Antti Niemi’s balls hadn’t dropped yet and Cam Barker still skated on the third pairing.

Lots of things can change between now and June – and they have to. As much as we all sit and point farts in the direction of Stan Bowman, we know he knows, too. And we know the players know it.

So, with that in mind, I present you with 10 Reasons Why the Blackhawks Can Repeat. I’m not saying they will repeat, so don’t come trying to chop my head off if the ‘Hawks are on their couches come June. Agree, disagree, whatever. Sam gave me the space for tonight, you paid for the damn thing, so you will listen to every single word I have to say.

John Scott and Nick Boynton

Total joke. These two worthless piles of shit hopefully won’t be around come March. I’m actually hoping Scott murders Boynton and is sent to jail for life. Then we won’t have to worry about either of them. Now that I have your attention…

Patrick Kane will start to give a shit

Partying with his best friend Jack Daniels and a summer of casual sex may still be on his mind, but Kaner isn’t far off his pace from last season. After 16 games, he had 16 points (4G, 12A). He’s behind, but not by much.

The problem is that his attitude seems to be different. He looks like he’s ready for the bar as soon as he steps on the ice. I personally think his “20 Cent” incident last offseason had him coming out of the gate with fire in his eyes. After winning the Cup and being loved for scoring the winner, he may seem a bit more casual. Rather than playing with something to prove on top of his ridiculous talent, he’s simply playing on talent.

Despite all of his nonsense, Kaner is a competitive SOB. He’s not happy where the team is right now, and his attitude will change. I’m certain of it. Last season’s, “I’m going to score on you, and there’s nothing you can do about it” attitude will come out – and soon.

Marian Hossa is, well, Marian Hossa

Hopefully while you’re reading this, Hossa is on the ice somewhere. Before he got hurt, Hossa was the best player in the NHL. He was doing everything right, scoring goals, finding teammates… it was beautiful to watch. The ‘Hawks haven’t been the same without him. They’ve looked like they’ve been missing something.

That something has been Hossa’s “Yeah, I’m doing this, you can watch if you’d like” style of play. The Blackhawks have Marian Hossa, the other teams don’t. Advantage: ‘Hawks.

Patrick Sharp is extremely handsome… and good

I remember saying at about the midway point of last season that Sharp has the offensive talent to be a 40-goal scorer. He just may accomplish the feat this season – and look good doing it.

I understand he can be better in his own zone, which his plus/minus proves. But his offense is what’s going to help the Blackhawks, and he hasn’t disappointed thus far.

Jonathan Toews won’t let this bullshit continue

I’m not talking about his performance on the ice – though the ‘Hawks could use some more offensive production from Tazer. I’m talking about that ‘C’ on his chest which he’s shown he’s well deserving of having. With all the new faces in the locker room, I’m assuming he’s simply waiting for the right time to start putting people in their place.

Duncan Keith recently said it’s taking some time for everyone to jell – both on and off the ice – and the Blackhawks are struggling because of it. Toews isn’t going to stand for much more of that excuse. This team is a bunch of professionals and they’re expected to mesh with whatever situation they’re thrust into. Tazer will do his job and right the ship.

Marty Turco may give you heart failure, but he’s a very serviceable goalie

The flailing, the flopping, the sometimes recklessness with the puck … I know, it can be taxing on blood pumper. His style is similar to Tim Thomas of Boston, which has been said to not but suitable for a playoff grind.

It’s true, Turco hasn’t had much playoff success. But Turco has come up with big saves while facing a lot more shots than he and any of us thought he’d be facing. Turco is far from the reason the Blackhawks are roughly mediocre right now. He’s kept some games closer than they should’ve been, and he has the talent, experience and determination to earn a ring to help the ‘Hawks through the season.

Brian Campbell is back

Without him, the Blackhawks were giving up an alarming amount of shots and changing up the defensive pairings seemingly every night. His absence was more than noticeable. Does anyone find it coincidental the ‘Hawks began rolling in the playoffs once Campbell came back last season? His return is the reason I believe …

Niklas Hjalmarsson will start playing up to his contract

Hammer’s left a lot to be desired since the ‘Hawks matched San Jose’s offer sheet, but I refuse to put all the blame on him. He hasn’t been able to play with the same cohesiveness with his defensive partner as he did nearly all of last season with Campbell.

Super Nintendo Hjalmers is a very heady player who is fundamentally sound and isn’t afraid to absorb contact in order to make the correct play. Though he hasn’t lived up to his new salary, look for Hammer to return to form with Campbell returning.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will play like the best D tandem in the NHL

Campbell’s injury forced Keith and Seabrook to play ungodly amounts of minutes, mainly because the units behind them were simply far less talented. They even had to be split up at times to try and make up for the deficiency.

Keith is still the Norris Trophy winner for a reason, and he’s near the top of the league in assists. His decision-making has been questionable, and Seabrook has appeared to be a bit lazy and getting beat on plays he normally wouldn’t.

Fatigue can’t be ignored in this situation. They’re the best tandem in the league when they’re on top of their game, and I can’t see some of the sloppiness continuing much longer.

Everything will fall into place by mid-January.

The ‘Hawks basically wrapped up the Central with a 10-4-1 January last season with Hossa hitting full stride after returning from injury. Hopefully the Blackhawks can stay healthy and won’t have to worry about that sort of thing. However, the new faces should have meshed with the stars by this point, and everyone should understand their roles. There’s a reason the stars are the stars, and they make people better. We’re not seeing the immediate effects, but by January we should be seeing some solid results.

No matter what, this team will be dangerous come June.

Put a defending Stanley Cup champion in the playoffs and anything can happen. Last season, some wondered if the ‘Hawks were too young and inexperienced to win it all. Well, there went that idea.

Now think of a young team coming off a Cup win and hungry enough to want to repeat. Five of the last six President’s Trophy winners haven’t won gone all the way, so forget regular-season record.

I know it may seem harder than it sounds with the Central Division being as strong as it is this season. But if the Blackhawks can get in the playoffs, they’ll make some noise. They have the talent to win a finesse series, the ability to win a speed series and the toughness to win a physical series.

Stealing a quote, “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.”

Contact Bartl sits in Section 326. Go buy him a beer or contact him at Jeffrey.Bartl@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlackhawksUp

The Boss Returns, Hawks Look To Settle A Score

Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa takes a shot during the skate around before the game against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center in Chicago on October 20, 2010.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom

SURPRISE!

After the 5-4 shootout win over the Thrashers on Saturday, Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville hinted in his easily-decodable way that Marian Hossa will be in the lineup tonight. The collective sign of relief from Hawks fans could be heard as far away as Peoria.

The Blackhawks were 2 – 3 during Hossa’s absence, scoring an average of 3.2 goals per game while allowing 4. We forget that, in addition to being one of the Blackhawks’ leading scorers, The Boss is also one of the premier two-way players in the game today. His return will improve not only our goal production, but also our goals against. Which brings us to tonight’s game.

The game most Blackhawks fans would like to forget from this young season was when the last-place Edmonton Oilers walked into town, chased our starting goaltender after the first period, and went on to a humiliating 7-4 victory. It should have been a walk in the park. It looked more like a walk through wet cement.

While the end result was emasculating, there were positive signs. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp all tallied goals. We converted 2 out of 5 power plays, took only one penalty and killed that effortlessly. While Marty Turco was chased after one period, Corey Crawford allowed only two goals in relief. Additionally, the Hawks held the Oilers to only 10 shots in the final two periods combined, arguably the best defensive showing all year. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s good to realize that there were good signs coming out of such a spectacular failure.

But make no mistake: they came into our house, drank our beer, insulted our girlfriend, and pissed on the carpet. It’s time for some payback.

So while Marian Hossa returns, there may be another absence. Rookie Jeremy Morin was called up from Rockford to make his NHL debut against the Thrashers. He looked good, showed a good amount of hustle, won some battles along the boards, and generally made a good impression in just under 10 minutes of ice time. Then, he made the painful mistake of turning away from the shooter when blocking a shot. The slap shot caught him on the back of the leg — where there is barely a millimeter of padding — and was left writhing in agony. He did return later in the game, but was limited to one shift, and one has to assume he will be a scratch tonight.

Dave Bolland will still be out; expect pathetic defenseman Jassen Cullimore to be back in the lineup to replace even-more-pathetic-defenseman Jordan Hendry; and assuming Hossa is back and Morin is out, we will probably have to suffer another night of seeing John Scott embarrass himself by playing left wing on the fourth line.

Game time is an unusual 6:00pm this evening at the United Center. WGN completes the second half of a back-to-back TV double-header; radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers look for channel 207.

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Hey, you look familiar: Blackhawks visit some old friends in Atlanta

Fancy seeing you here. How’s everything going?

Most Chicagoans will remember Atlanta as “Chicago South” following the off-season roster-wide flea market that arose due to salary cap constraints. Atlanta worked trades to acquire forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd, as well as defenseman Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu. So the Blackhawks will see a lot of familiar faces staring back at them across the face-off circle.

So how are our former Stanley Cup winning heroes doing in A-Town? Quite well, as it turns out. Byfuglien had most of his success in a Blackhawks uniform on the wing, but the Thrashers are using him both in that role as well as on defense. The dual role seems to suit him: he leads the team with 12 points, and is second on the squad with 5 goals.

Ladd shares the most-points distinction, and is having what some NHL pundits have already called a “career year.” Leading the team with goals is second-year pro Evander Kane (no relation), who is on a pace to nearly triple his scoring totals from his rookie season. Also showing his teeth at pivot is long-time Maple Leafs disappointment Nik Antropov, who actually has the trophy for team’s biggest player at 6′ 6″, 245 lbs. When you have Byfuglien on your team, that’s really saying something.

The Thrashers have had their ups and downs. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec went temporarily tits-up during a stoppage of play in the season opener. One second he was standing there, a face-off about to occur at the other end of the ice; the next, BAM! Out like a light.

Pavelec was removed on a stretcher, kept for several days at the hospital, and doctors were unable to find any serious or potentially lethal cause for the momentary lapse of vertical stability. I guess that’s good news, but if they can’t find the cause, what’s to stop it from happening again?

Where this team is not performing well is defense. They hold second-to-last place in the league with 46 goals allowed in just 12 games, and the best +/- rating on the entire team is a +2. The aforementioned Antropov holds the basement in that category with a -9.

Chris Mason holds down the fort in net, though his 3.45 GAA is not what you’d call impressive. Let’s hope the Blackhawks take that opportunity to light the lamp in a humiliating fashion.

Because, in case you haven’t noticed, they are not doing so of late. Apart from Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, the highest individual goal total on the squad is 4 for the year. That’s Patrick Kane’s number; Jonathan Toews has 3; and the rest of the supporting cast is not contributing nearly as much as they should be.

Defensively things are more stable after Brian Campbell’s return, but still not excellent. Goaltending is starting to slip a bit, as Marty Turco may be starting to show signs of wear. The threshhold is 3 goals: when the opponent scores 3 or more, we lose. If they score 2 or fewer, we win. So be on the lookout for that.

Last game’s throw-up-your-hands-and-pray-for-a-miracle coaching decision was to put both Jordan Hendry and John Scott up on the wing, which (as anybody could have guessed) was a catastrophic failure of a magnitude not seen since the Alpo Suhonen era.

Look it up. You’ll get a chuckle.

So this morning the Blackhawks recalled rookie forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford. This, as you’ll recall, is the speedy winger who seemed to gel quite nicely with Patrick Kane during the pre-season, but was handed a Greyhound ticket due to salary cap issues. Morin will be making his NHL debut against the Thrashers: let’s hope it’s a memorable one, for the right reasons.

Game time is 6:00pm. WGN has the TV broadcast this time, and radio as well on AM-720. XM subscribers should look for channel 207.

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A Proposal That Shouldn’t Be Necessary

May 18, 2010 - Sunrise, FL - Florida, USA - United States - (CAV) PANTHERS GM 0518C.CAV - The Florida Panthers newly-named General Manager Dale Tallon is seen during a news conference at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Tallon comes to the Panthers from the Chicago Blackhawks where he is credited for turning around the former cellar-dwellers. Joe Cavaretta, Sun Sentinel.

At the NHL General Managers’ meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, the league’s GM’s will have an interesting proposal in front of them courtesy of ex-Blackhawk GM (and current Florida GM) Dale Tallon. The proposal suggests allowing each team’s coach to have one “coach’s challenge” (meaning video review) per game.

This mimics other sports, college football in particular, where a coach can call for a video review of a play if he feels the call on the field is in error. In college football the team loses a time-out if they are wrong, but not if they are right.

Tallon’s proposal is similar in nature, but it raises the question: why should he have to be proposing it at all?

I once had an argument with a friend of mine concerning instant replay/video review in baseball. His argument was that it was a human game, played by humans, and humans make mistakes. That was part of the game, it works out in the wash, and it would lessen the integrity of the game to introduce video review.

To that, verily I say unto thee, butt-nuggets.

I, as a fan, pay money to go to a game. I cheer for my team, I buy its merchandise, and I have a certain amount of emotional energy wrapped up in the team’s success or failure. For me, the fan who spends the money to buy the ticket, I want the game to be fair and the call to be right. Every. Single. Time.

Does that mean stopping play every time a player takes a shot? Every time somebody falls down? Every time there’s a line change? No. There are limits, there have to be. But any goal, EVERY goal, should be reviewed. Anything that even looks like it might be a goal should be reviewed. Any time a player gets injured — or pretends to be injured! — should be reviewed.

When will they review it? Dunno. How? Dunno. Who will do it? Dunno. Obviously there are a lot of details to be worked out, but fortunately the infrastructure for a comprehensive video review is already in place. But the fans, the players, and the coaches should have the confidence in knowing that they are playing a game that has been called accurately.

What’s the expense? Probably less than 5 real-time minutes a game. What’s the payoff? Solidifying the reputation and integrity of the game. And that’s a lot more important than you might think.

For a very long time there was a figure skating special on every Saturday or Sunday afternoon, because the ratings were dynamite. Nationals, Worlds, exhibitions, you name it. Now? I think you’d have to search long and hard to find figure skating on television outside of the Olympics.

Why? The judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City. Once the fans believed the scoring system was no longer fair, and that tainted officials had the ability to negatively affect results, they fled the sport by the thousands. Ratings suffered, and quite quickly the sport was bleeding revenue by the millions.

Integrity of officiating is no laughing matter. If the NHL is serious about its fan base and its revenue stream, it will consider a robust, if not complete video review regimen that sets a standard for fairness and accuracy in professional sport.

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Boxing (and a lot more) with Blackhawks/Devils, 11/3/10

Saw this go on five times too many tonight. (Chicago Tribune)

I’m going to add more to “Boxing” tonight, simply because this diarrhea-inducing excuse for a performance deserves more than some quick whit.

The amount of flabby ass left on the ice tonight is starting to become all too familiar, which is piss-poor for a defending Stanley Cup champion. I don’t want to hear anymore about how this team needs to jell, and I don’t want to hear anymore about what the Blackhawks DON’T have that could be contrived as an excuse.

The ‘Hawks handed over two points in their 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils, a team that had scored three goals ONCE before tonight. The Devils’ all-world goaltender Martin Brodeur left with an injury in the second period, and he wasn’t challenged all that much to begin with when  Johan Hedberg relieved him.

I don’t care if  Marian Hossa is out. I don’t care that  Dave Bolland is out. I don’t care that half of last year’s Cup team is spread around the NHL this season. The Blackhawks have three gold medalists, including the Olympic MVP and Conn Smythe winner, a silver medalist and electrifying goal-scorer, a Norris Trophy winner, a defenseman worthy of a $7-million-per-year salary and a very handsome man taking the ice every night. Few teams in the NHL boast this, especially when most of the aforementioned accomplishments came from players under 29.

All of that is more than good enough to make up for/help out the role players on this team, or any team for that matter. There’s so much talent that’s playing patty-cake night in and night out that is making me sick to my stomach. I hate talking like this, and I hate being this guy. However, there’s only so much I can take before I start getting insanely pissed.

The Devils came into the UC tonight without stud muffin  Zach Parise and looking like a team that could barely beat the Chicago Wolves. Yet, the Blackhawks displayed enough laziness and poor decision-making to fart away what should have been a sure victory to a team far, far less talented.

I mentioned before the season started that  QStache was really going to have to earn his money this year. So far, there’s nothing for which I can pat him on the back. This isn’t the same strategic team as it was last year. Anyone who watches sports has seen teams with less talent win games and championships simply because of coaching and strategy. This Blackhawks team won’t do it. Q needs to start coaching to what he has, rather than forcing players into roles they’re not suited for and have no chance to succeed.

Tonight’s loss exposed all the bullshit within that team. They’re not playing like they want to defend the Cup and keep it here in Chicago. They seem content with bringing it to bars, clubs and on TV this past summer and letting someone else experience their fun this coming June. There’s no urgency. There’s no heart. There’s nothing that was the staple of this team last season. And the reason that’s inexcusable is because the main core of this team is still the intact.

*** I’d like to send a special shout out to Brian, Scott and Drew of VIP’s for the complimentary passes and Brian, the manager of Cans Bar, for the drinks. Much appreciated, fellas.

So, with that, here’s your fucking “Boxing.” As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil: New Jersey visits the UC

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 15: Ilya Kovalchuk  of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center on October 15, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So this is what $100 million looks like.

In case your attention was focused too acutely on getting tickets for the Lady GaGa “Monster” tour, there was an auction of sorts happening in the NHL this summer. Mega-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who came over to the Devils in a blockbuster trade with Atlanta at the end of last season, became a free agent. And about five team’s general managers were clamoring over each other to be the first in line to hand over the cash.

So once the deal was done, it turned out the deal really wasn’t done, because Gary Bettman — Supreme Emperor of the NHL — decided he didn’t like it. So it was back to the auction block! When the dust finally settled, Kovalchuk wound up with a deal that will put $100 million in his pocket.

Not bad money, considering he boasts only 6 points and a pathetic -5 rating through 12 games.

Big contracts are par for the course in New Jersey, as the Devils have six players making $4 million per year or more, including names like Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, and Jason Arnott. In that way, their salary structure is a lot like the Blackhawks: a handful of superstars making mega-bucks, and then the rest of the team earning at or near the league minimum. Not surprisingly, both teams are off to a mediocre start.

The salary cap hit got a little lighter on Tuesday, however: doctors performing exploratory surgery on Devils’ forward Zach Parise found a torn meniscus and repaired it during the same session. Parise is expected to miss three months, and will be one less gun in New Jersey’s arsenal when they arrive at the United Center.

But the biggest surprise for the Devils this year has been the so-so goaltending of Martin Brodeur. One hopes in such situations that your backup can carry the load. But Johan Hedberg has had two starts so far this season, and has had to be relieved in both of them. Quite the pickle to be in: your starter slumping, and your backup about as effective as a sixth-grade girl. Needless to say that, despite the coach and GM repeatedly praising the Hall of Fame goalie, the winds of change may be blowing if Brodeur can’t start delivering.

Thankfully, goaltending has yet to be a serious issue with the Blackhawks. But the rest of the team continues to be riddled with injuries, and their replacements have performed (*ahem*) underwhelmingly, to be charitable. The good news is, Brian Campbell made his season debut against the Rangers on Monday, and despite being a little rusty and a step slow, looks to be well on his way to regaining his form. The bad news is, Marian Hossa is still out, and is talking about a return to the lineup next week. Currently he is participating in practice with a “no-contact” designation.

Similarly Dave Bolland has been placed on injured reserve, though his performance so far this season has been so pathetic I doubt anyone would care, or for that matter, notice.

On Tuesday the Blackhawks made the unusual move of sending both Ben Smith and Ryan Potulny back to the AHL affiliate IceHogs. This may simply be a pre-cursor to recalling a different forward for Wednesday’s game, since even with John Scott skating at a wing position, it leaves the team short by one forward. We’ll see what today brings.

The Hawks’ defense looked far more stable against New York than any game to date. Campbell’s return eased the burden on stalwart blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, though Keith still found himself on the ice for over 27 minutes. The biggest bonus, however, was minimizing the ice time for the third defensive pairing, which has been pathetic for the Blackhawks thus far, no matter who it was comprised of.

Look for announcements about call-ups and the starting goaltender following today’s morning skate. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest as it happens.

Game time is 7:30: TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM satellite radio subscribers should turn to channel 208.

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Boxing with Hawks/Rangers, 11/1/10

Well, that was just frustrating. There’s really no better way to describe it.

If you’re going to give up a goal in the last 20 seconds of a period, take a penalty at the end of a period and then give up a game-winner after tying the game 28 seconds earlier, how the living fuck are you going to expect to win a game?

Adding to that, the Rangers played without Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal and  Marian Gaborik.

The Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss Monday to the New York Rangers spoiled the return of  Brian Campbell, who looked like, well, like he’s been out for a long time. However, he did play well, and you can’t expect much out of a guy who hasn’t dressed yet this season.

Unfortunately,  Sean Avery was not taken out by a sniper during the game, which was something I actually bowed my head and prayed would happen before the game started.

Without further ado, here’s your latest edition of “Boxing.”

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Home On The Range(rs): Blackhawks Take Manhattan

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: Henrik Lundqvist  of the New York Rangers sits on the ice after allowing Erik Cole, of the Carolina Hurricanes, to score the game-winning goal in the third period on October 29, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. The Hurricanes defeated the Rangers 4- 3. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have been the blogosphere’s punching bag for more than a decade now, particularly as the retirement home for over-the-hill veterans to be paid ludicrous sums of money. That strategy resulted in a lengthy streak of teams that missed the playoffs, despite having boasted such luminaries as Leech, Lafontaine, Kovalev, Nedved, Lindros, Barnaby, Bure, Holik, Gretzky, and Messier.

The Hall Of Fame names aren’t as prevalent anymore, though the name Jagr graced the roster as recently as two seasons ago. But that year, the Rangers did make the playoffs. Though the same could not be said for last year. The Rangers have nearly half of their salary cap dollars tied up in just four players, and they missed the playoffs in 2009-10. Despite the reduction in marquee names, the results are the same.

Backstopping the effort is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist boasting an impressive .921 save percentage, though that comes with a 2.76 GAA because of an average of 34 shots against per game. In front of him is a defensive corps comprised of largely competent yet wholly unimpressive individuals, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi anchoring the platoon.

Offense is spread surprisingly evenly, with 11 players above the 4-point mark after 10 games, and only four players off the scoresheets entirely (and three of those having played in only one or two games). Tough guys Brandon Prust and Sean Avery provide the muscle: and as luck would have it, Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal are all out of the Rangers lineup with injuries.

The Rangers bring a 5-4-1 record back into Madison Square Garden for this tilt against the Blackhawks. They are brimming with confidence after a shutout against the Maple Leafs two nights ago, so we can expect them to put up quite a struggle. A win tonight moves them up to 6th place in the Eastern Conference — good enough to make the playoffs.

For the Blackhawks’ part, it’s another patchwork lineup again tonight, though one of the pieces we’ve been missing is reportedly back where it belongs.

Blackhawks’ announcer Ed Olczyk went on NHL Live on the NHL Network today, and confirmed that Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell will make his season debut tonight. Campbell’s return will take a huge load off of overworked blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and should help the +/- stats of Niklas Hjalmarsson — not to mention reduce the amount of playing time for pitiful fill-in Jassen Cullimore. Soupy suffered a sprained MCL in a pre-season game October 1, and his absence has been the hole most desperately in need of filling.

But not the only hole. Winger Marian Hossa is still out, as is underperforming center Dave Bolland. Off-season league-minimum acquisition Ryan Potulny and what-the-@$%$#-is-this-guy-doing-here forward Ben Smith were recently called up from Rockford to provide warm bodies to pretend to fill those voids. The Hawks’ win over Minnesota on Saturday began the process of healing from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the dead-last Edmonton Oilers the previous night. With luck that trend will continue this evening.

Administratively speaking, Bryan Bickell and Nick Boynton are the healthy scratches, no official word on who is starting in net, but there is little reason not to suspect Marty Turco will be in goal.

Game starts at 6:00pm. The NHL Network has national coverage for tonight’s game, though Chicago locals can get coverage on Comcast SportsNet. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will find the game on channel 204.

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Eddie O: Campbell playing tonight

Eddie Olczyk stopped by the NHL Live studios in New York, and said on the show that  Brian Campbell will be playing tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.

It’ll be interesting to see how many minutes QStache gives him and/or how many the doctors have cleared him to play. Either way, having watched  Nick Boynton and  John Scott fart all over the ice this season, even just a few minutes of Soupy would be a welcome site.

Tim should have your full preview later today.

Welcome back, Soupy.

UPDATE: A guy with actual big-boy credentials, Tim Sassone, puts up a blog stating Campbell’s return benefits  Niklas Hjalmarsson the most, seeing has he’s currently a minus-8.

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Boxing with ‘Hawks/Wild, 10/30/10

This edition of “Boxing” is a bit more wordy in order to make it more recap-like. There’s just not a ton to write about the Blackhawks’ 3-1 win Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. The game was so boring, it’s hard to even try and make shit up that’s funny.

Either way, here’s it goes. As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Boxing with Hawks/Oilers, 10/29/10

Here’s your “Boxing” from the Blackhawks diarrhea-inducing 7-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

Please note there will be no preview for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild.  Tim is out of town and I’m watching the Michigan State vs. Iowa game. You’ll live.

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Edmonton Remodeled the Basement, But It Still Stinks

Photo: thestar.com

Following the dead-last finish by the Edmonton Oilers last season, the first thing to do was boot Pat Quinn out of his day-to-day role, and up to middle management where he could do less damage. Tom Renney was brought in to steer the team to a better finish than last year. That hurdle could be cleared by a paraplegic tortoise.

Then the team was re-made via the draft, some trades, and the promotion of some youngsters from the minor leagues, Juniors, and the European ranks. Veterans Ethan Moreau, Mike Comrie, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ryan Stone, Chris Minard, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot and Riley Nash were all given early release for good behavior, so as to clear space for the newest victims.

The Oilers brought in some experience in the form of former Blackhawks Colin Fraser and Jim Vandermeer, but mostly young talent — first among them (quite literally) being Taylor Hall, highly-coveted superstar forward and number one overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Edmontonians hailed the super-scoring wunderkind as the next coming of Wayne Gretzky. They would soon be disappointed. Through 8 games, Hall is a minus-4 with only 3 points.

Joining Hall in the category of those most likely to have their skates filled with shaving cream were Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, both of whom had the benefit of lower expectations given the blazing hot spotlight being shined on their teammate. So far they have both performed better than Taylor Hall, but it’s still early.

Goaltending questions also plagued the Oilers in the off-season, as former-Blackhawk netminder and now Edmonton mainstay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin came dangerously close to starting the 2010-11 season in, umm… jail! Found guilty on DUI charges (twice the legal blood-alcohol limit while driving at nearly twice the speed limit) in Arizona, Khabibulin received a fine and a 30-day jail sentence. However, his legal team is appealing, and they managed to convince the judge to let him stay free on bail while the appeal is in progress.

This debacle coming so close to training camp, the Oilers were forced to sign veteran netminder Martin Gerber, who was promptly placed on waivers once Khabibulin weaseled his way out of a stint in the pokey. Khabby is backed up by Jeff Delauriers who has not seen any action to date.

So have the improvements helped? Will Edmonton be able to climb out of the basement? Not so far. Edmonton is (you guessed it) dead last in the Western Conference with a 2-4-2 record, giving up an average of 3.5 goals on 33 shots against per game. The much-hoped-for offense hasn’t materialized as yet either: Defenseman Ryan Whitney is the only player with more than 5 points.

So the Blackhawks face a team with little offense, shoddy defense and porous goaltending, that is also playing the second half of back-to-back games after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout last night. Looks like we have a recipe for an overwhelming Blackhawks victory this evening.

This is all good news, because if ever you wanted to play the worst team in the league, it is when you just lost one of your leading scorers to injury. Already suffering through the lengthy absence of defenseman Brian Campbell, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday that Marian Hossa will be out for the next two weeks with an upper-body injury. Right wing Ben Smith has been recalled from Rockford, and will be in the lineup tonight against the Oilers.

Wait a second. Ben Smith? BEN SMITH? Now we know that Jeremy Morin is not ready to return from his injury yet, so he’s out. But you still have Igor Makarov, Brandon Pirri, and Kyle Beach to choose from. Rob Klinkhammer, as un-exciting as he may be, is also an option. Yet they recall Ben Friggin’ Smith?

I swear, this guy has pictures of Stan Bowman doing the watusi with somebody’s niece. That’s the only way Ben Smith gets the call over these other forwards.

At any rate, the jumbled lines from Wednesday night’s victory over Los Angeles will be jumbled again, which won’t hurt much, since scoring output was no better than when the usual suspects were in their usual places. So expect Coach Joel Quenneville to be playing his 60-minute game of musical wingers.

Defense should be unchanged, though it’s a toss-up as to whom between John Scott and Jordan Hendry will be enjoying press box popcorn for the tilt. Since this is the first game of a Blackhawks’ back-to-back, I expect Corey Crawford to start against Edmonton. Give him the weaker of the two starts to pad his stats a bit.

Game time is 7:30: TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM channel 208.

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