Hawks Beat Kings: Antti Who?

Photo: AP/Yahoo Sports

Blackhawks fans got to see the team put one in the win column at the United Center last night, and against one of the better teams in the league at that. But looking beyond the net result, that’s where the good news ends.

Well, almost. The undisputed star of the game was Blackhawks goaltender Marty Turco, who turned away 33 shots for his fifth win in his last six starts. Turco’s rebound control was nearly flawless, he was mindful of his now-legendary five-hole weakness, and with a little help from his three red, iron friends behind him he put on a Dominic Hasek-like display of acrobatics and aeronautics throughout the game. Turco now boasts a .927 save percentage, good for 3rd in the league among goalies with more than five starts.

Antti… Antti who?

Outside of the crease, however, the news ranged from bad to worse. The bad news was, apart from seeing score sheet contributions from unusual sources, Coach Joel Quenneville’s line shake-up could hardly be called a success. Managing only 28 shots on goal — including a mere two from defensemen whose mothers call them something other than Duncan — the Hawks goal production continues to be a disappointment. The Hawks average under 3 goals scored per game, and they did nothing to boost that statistic last night. Were Kings starter Jonathan Quick in goal instead of backup Jonathan Bernier, the outcome could have been much different. And once again conditioning showed itself to be a weak spot, as was evident at the beginning of the third period.

Then, there’s worse. Blackhawks powerhouse winger Marian Hossa left the game early in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury and did not return. No information was available after the final buzzer, and we will have to wait until a formal evaluation takes place today before we know the extent of his injury — and how much time he is expected to miss.

In case you have been paying too much attention to which porn star is in Charlie Sheen’s closet this week, Hossa missed the first 20-odd games of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery to repair. If that shoulder has been re-injured, we may be looking at weeks, or even months before his return.

Discount Hossa’s contribution to the score sheet, and the Hawks are averaging just barely over 2 goals per game. That’s not enough to keep a .500 record, let alone make the playoffs. Right now we are getting meager (that’s putting it lightly) contributions from the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland and the youngsters in the forward ranks. If Hossa goes under the knife again, and these guys don’t start to crank it up, it is going to be a season we will all want to forget.

Stay tuned here, and join us on Twitter if you haven’t already for the latest news. We’ll be watching the Marian Hossa injury reports come in as they happen, and we’ll pass it along. Say a prayer, rub that rabbit’s foot, or whatever it is you do. This could be big, for all the wrong reasons.

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Kings Visit Chicago: Pardon us while we kick your Majesty’s arse

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 21: Wayne Simmonds  of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates after scoring a second period goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on October 21, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Usually I start these previews by taking a look at our opponent for the night. But there has actually been some turbulence in BlackhawkLand, so it’s worth exploring that first and getting to the Kings in a few minutes.

As you know, Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville is not shy about moving players around the lineup, even in the middle of games. Well, Tuesday at practice he apparently had just drawn names out of a hat, because exactly *nobody* could have predicted what combinations were on display. Observe and be confused:

Line 1: Patrick Sharp / Jonathan Toews / Jack Skille

Sharp back on the wing, where he’s most productive; Jonathan Toews at center, no surprise there; and look who’s earned himself a chance to play with the big boys! Bet he was out ordering the biggest hunk of meat in the joint at Gibson’s last night.

Line 2: Troy Brouwer / Tomas Kopecky / Marian Hossa

Kopecky at center, a position he played while with the Red Wings (*spitting noise*), but the Hawks have yet to try him at this position for anything more than an in-game stint. We have seen how well he seems to work with Marian Hossa, so that seems to make sense. Brouwer will provide some defensive capabilities and a little grit.

Now things get weird.

Line 3: Viktor Stalberg / Dave Bolland / Patrick Kane

The Slump Line. Bolland has been downright depressing, Kane’s hangover seems to have lasted longer than expected, and Stalberg has shown fleeting bursts of exceptional play amid long stretches of demonstrative mediocrity. Two speedy wingers might be a good combination, as we saw with Kane and Jeremy Morin during the pre-season. But merely the fact that Kane is relegated to the third line is a message in itself: pick it up, kid. Those goals don’t score themselves.

Line 4: Bryan Bickell / Jake Dowell / Fernando Pisani

Two fourth line regulars and, in my opinion, one headed for the scrap heap. Pisani was as long a shot as Ryan Potulny, who has already rode the Greyhound out to Rockford. Pisani has been all but invisible so far this season, and while he wasn’t expected to be anything but a role player, the role he’s played so far is “Dead Weight #3.”

All of this is an attempt to get the once-potent Blackhawks offense to kick it into gear. We make a big deal out of this every time Coach Q tries new line combinations in practice. The Twitterscape and Blogosphere nearly had an aneurysm when the initial reports came out of practice. But just watch: after all of this hullaballoo, QStache will have Toews centering Kane and Brouwer, and Sharp between Hossa and Kopecky by midway through the second period.

The Blackhawks got even better news on the Brian Campbell beat: he may be back in the lineup in under a week, making my two-to-three weeks prediction from yesterday look rather foolish. But even more foolish would be bringing Campbell back too early, only to have him suffer a season-ending injury to the same MCL. I hope these doctors know what they’re doing, and don’t screw us harder by bringing him back too soon.

That leaves the defensive pairings just where they were, with John Scott and Jordan Hendry drawing straws to see who sits this one out. Later today we’ll find out who gets the start in net: bank on it being Marty Turco, but follow us on Twitter at @blackhawksup and you’ll know as soon as it’s announced. Come on, you know you want to…

The Hawks will meet up with a Kings team that is off to a very strong start. 6-2 with 12 points, good for second place in the NHL. Anze Kopitar leads the charge for the Kings’ offense, though they are spreading the wealth rather wide: ten players have one or more tallies in only eight games. On the back end, netminder Jonathan Quick boasts a 1.95 GAA with only one loss to speak of. Yikes. The only good news is, defensive wunderkind Drew Doughty will not be in the lineup tonight, having had a setback in his recovery from what is being called an “apparent” concussion.

I’ve had a concussion, and it’s pretty “apparent” when you have one. If you can’t remember getting hit, you have a concussion. Don’t know why they’re beating around the bush.

The off-season was an average one for the Kings. After losing out on the Ilya Kovalchuk Sweepstakes, they went about building their team up with mere mortals. Sean O’Donnell and Fredrik  Modin were among those allowed to walk; long-time Leafs underachiever Alex Ponikarovsky came over from the Penguins, and Canucks’ cast-off Willie Mitchell was brought in to bolster the blue line.

Suffice to say that the LA Kings are rolling, and it’s going to be hard to stop them, especially with our deficient defense and sporadic offense. Game time 7:30pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet; broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will hear the game on channel 208.

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October Mail Bag: Injuries, Trapezoids, and Fool-Idiot Suck-Weasels

Letters... We get letters...

We have a little break in the action, the Blackhawks are enjoying three days off to lick their wounds from the embarrassing losses over the weekend, so we thought it was time to open up the Mail Bag and answer some of your Blackhawks and hockey questions. Lots of new hockey fans in the Chicago area, so remember: there are no stupid questions!

How serious is Brian Campbell’s injury, and when do we expect him back?

— Dave, River North

A sprained MCL (medial collateral ligament, it’s a vertical stretchy thing on the inside of your knee) is not as serious as a torn MCL, so the Hawks dodged a bullet there. Plus there’s good news from the weekend: Mr. Campbell skated for the first time in the last couple of days. He’s on target for his return to the lineup, which is… they’re not saying. But figure at least two more weeks, and maybe three. He’s got to get doctor’s clearance for participating in practices, and then to do contact drills, both of which usually take a week. They’re talking about him returning for the Circus Road Trip, which starts on November 17th. So cross your fingers.

I’ve watched hockey before, and they’ve put some new lines on the ice behind the net that I don’t understand. What do those mean?

— Huey, Mundelein

Nothing whatsoever. It’s called the trapezoid, and in theory it is supposed to be a restricted zone where goaltenders can’t play the puck. But neither the goaltenders nor the referees really know what that means, so play continues as it did before the area was created. Just ignore it.

How come some goals get reviewed and some goals don’t?

— Mika, Kankakee

Because some refs are idiots, and some aren’t! No seriously, in theory every goal is reviewed. But when the guys that review the goals think the refs might have screwed up, they stop the proceedings on the ice and take as much time as they want to in order to sort things out. Whether each goal is *actually* reviewed, I’ve seen enough blown calls to believe that’s not the case.

There is also allegedly a “war room” back in Toronto, where every goal from every game is reviewed to make sure the *reviewers* are getting the call right. But that’s a load of crap. They just got the dedicated satellite feeds because they wanted free Playboy Channel.

Hey! They made a big deal about fool-idiot suck-weasel referee Bill McCreary retiring last year. But then I watched the Blackhawks game the other day, and there he is! What gives?

— Mark, Addison

Yes, they did. And yes, you did. Buckethead is back, and despite being 54 years old and barely able to skate two lengths of the ice without an oxygen mask, Mr. McCreary will be donning the stripes and blowing call after call after call again for the 2010-11 season. Apparently NHL Director of fool-idiot suck-weasels Terry Gregson talked McCreary out of retiring late last season, because apparently there were too many veteran fool-idiot suck-weasels retiring, and the rookie fool-idiot suck-weasels replacing them were actually worse! If you can believe that.

I once watched two games with the Blackhawks playing against Tampa Bay and Florida, during which a grand total of four goals were scored. Replays for each of the four showed very clearly that McCreary, reffing both games, blew three out of the four goal/no-goal calls. That’s a 75% failure rate, and that was over ten years ago. He hasn’t gotten any better since then.

If the Penguins offered to trade Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, do you think we should take the deal?

— Stewart, West Loop

Stew, it is my fervent hope that Jonathan Toews turns into the Blackhawks version of Steve Yzerman, playing his entire career in a Blackhawks uniform and wearing the captain’s ‘C’ until they raise the #19 to the roof of the United Center. I would be surprised if we could keep Patrick Kane that long, as the contract offers that will await him upon the day he becomes an unrestricted free agent will likely be out of reach for the Hawks.

That having been said, I think if the phone rang in Stan Bowman’s office and somebody from the Penguins organization were on the line offering that deal, I think we’d have to sedate the Blackhawks’ GM to keep him from laughing himself to death. I would be hard pressed to find two players on any team right now that match the output — and potential — of Kane and Toews. And the two flame-outs from the Pens that you mentioned definitely don’t come close.

Who do you think the Blackhawks’ biggest rival is this year, Detroit or Vancouver?

— Brian, Joliet

I think the Blackhawks’ biggest rival this year is the Blackhawks from *last* year. The fans won’t be concerned about whether we beat Detroit or Vancouver so much as whether we win the cup again. As Jeff has outlined here recently, it’s a fool’s errand to expect a championship team this year. But that won’t stop the fans’ expectations from being elevated to that point. As for Detroit and Vancouver, we’ll bitch-slap both of them enough for us to enjoy this year. Don’t you worry.

The Red Wings are going to win it all this year!!!

— Chris, Novi, MI

Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, Chris. Now go put your nuts in a toaster.

That’s it for now, but keep those letters and e-mails coming! See you in November with another edition of Mail Bag.

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Theory of the Three-Year Grace Period

I’ve lived by a notion for quite some time. There’s no right or wrong, but there’s a general understanding I believe should be accepted by an avid supporter of any franchise.

It’s the Theory of the Three-Year Grace Period. It’s fairly simple, and the Chicago Blackhawks are the perfect example.

If I had to come up with a general overview of the Theory, it would go something like this: If the franchise you support wins a championship, you have no right to get angry or upset regarding any player decisions — excluding “star players” — made by management for a period of three years.

To be more clear, the Theory does not include coaching decisions. For instance, I can be completely perplexed and question  QStache for jumbling the lines or, more importantly, why the living hell he continues to scratch  Jordan Hendry when John Scott noticeably sucks.

Here are the general principles:

Players are often forgotten, but championships are remembered forever.

If you’re a supporter of a franchise, you’ll remember the exact place you were and whom you were with when your team wins a championship. I can tell you the exact places I was when the Chicago Bulls won all six of their titles in the 1990s, and I’ll always remember where I was on June 9, 2010. None of those memories will ever, ever go away.

However, I have no idea where  Bobby Hansen went for the 1992-93 season after sparking the Bulls to a fourth-quarter rally in Game 6 of the 1992 NBA Finals. He’s long been forgotten. And in 10-15 years, I challenge you to remember where  Brent Sopel went after the ‘Hawks won the Cup. But in 10 years, you’ll still remember where you were and whom you were with when the ‘Hawks ended their 49-year title drought.

Repeating championships are nice, but it’s a greedy thought.

Sometimes we forget how hard it is to win one championship, let alone two, three, four, etc. And for a long-suffering Blackhawks fan, I can’t see how that’s possible. Do you realize how long 49 years is?

It’s very easy for a fan to become entitled and spoiled by a championship. Many great athletes played their entire career without winning a championship, and many franchises with extremely large fan bases have gone years without a single title *cough* Cubs *cough.*

As a fan, take your title and be happy for a little while. A repeat is just gravy. In the case of Blackhawks fans, enjoy the Stanley Cup we currently have and enjoy some good hockey. Take in the banner when you go to the United Center. Watch your championship DVD. Re-watch Game 6 on your DVR. You’ll enjoy it just as much as you did live.

If you think your franchise stopped liking winning, you’re stupid.

Every management representative of the franchise you support wants to win again. If you think you want to win, multiply it by 100 and you’ll come close to knowing how they feel. Not only do they feel a sense of pride, but they get very rich by winning. If management makes moves, it’s either because they’re forced by player demands/league rules which would financially over-extend the franchise or break rules, OR because it’s simply at management’s discretion the player be moved.

And since the management of your franchise made the right personnel moves the season before which won you the championship you’ll never forget, I’d say there’s a decent head on that person’s shoulders.

If I had to come with FAQs on the Theory, here’s what it would look like:

If my team made the finals, do I live by the Theory?

No. Simply playing for a championship does not qualify you to live by the Theory. The reason being that your team was THAT close to a title, and you have every right to challenge and question management for making offseason or in-season moves that you feel may bring down the chances of winning a title. For example, Philadelphia Flyers fans can challenge and question with great vigor any player moves made.

Can I still be upset about the actual play of the new/current players and be just as passionate about my team winning another championship?

Of course. It’s the reason we love sports so much. Some players — new or remaining — are just terrible, and teams are forced to win titles in spite of those players. However, to say, “Damn, we should have kept Departed Player X rather than get this asshole,” is not right. As previously stated in the general principles, the move was made for a reason by the management who gave you the championship you’ll never forget.

Why is it the Theory of the Three-Year Grace Period and not four, five, six, etc.?

Three years for a championship team is plenty of time to reload/rebuild/find a new direction to win another title. If a franchise had to over-extend itself to win you the title you’ll never forget, management deserves time to be able to do what’s right by them to keep the franchise running successfully, though it may not feasibly be at a championship level.

If your team has not won another title within those three years, you have every right to challenge and question moves heading into the fourth year of the drought. After all, we’re still supportive fans and paying customers who help feed the franchise money. Especially since we’re living in a “I want it right now!” society, three years is more than enough time.

* * * *

The Theory can be difficult to live by for fans, including myself. I questioned the Blackhawks sending  Nick Leddy to Rockford when he was more than serviceable during his stint, especially because  Brian Campbell is out with an injury. Nick Boynton and  Scott are worthless. In my mind, I couldn’t justify the decision. Then I checked out my Stanley Cup Champions t-shirt, and I immediately began to trust  Stan Bowman.

However, I will never, ever, ever complain about the ‘Hawks trading  Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager or Andrew Ladd, letting Adam Burish sign with Dallas or walking away from  Antti Niemi. I made it pretty clear why simply based on what the Blackhawks had left to compete this season. But beyond that, I trust Bowman. I trust his hockey mind and I trust what he needs to do in order to stay competitive yet stay within financial compliance.

The bottom line is that I keep hearing a lot about how we should have kept one or more of the above players mentioned when the Blackhawks struggle. And the memory of people questioning the signing of  Marian Hossa at the expense of letting  Martin Havlat walk even furthers my point that management is smarter than us — no matter hard it is for us to admit.

I want to see the Blackhawks repeat as Stanley Cup champions as much as the next person. I probably think about it so much it borders on being unhealthy.

But if they are hoisting the Cup in 2011, management put the players on the ice, not us. And if they’re not? Well, that Stanley Cup champions t-shirt still looks pretty sweet.

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Bupkis for the weekend: ‘Hawks drop a pair to annoying division rivals

I hate you. (Chicago Tribune)

Admittedly, I spent most of this weekend focused on on a college reunion for the Michigan State vs. Northwestern game and wasn’t focused on the Blackhawks. The problem with that? I still saw enough shitting the bed that annoyed me.

The winning streak was nice, but the shortcomings we’ve been pointing out during those wins ultimately came back to bite us in the ass Friday night against the St. Louis Blues during the 4-2 loss in Chicago Jr. Then, Columbus did its best impression of the ‘Hawks, coming back from two goals down Saturday to beat us 3-2 at the UC.

Here’s my brief Sunday morning recap of what I saw. And this is all assuming you watched the games, so if you’re looking for a traditional recap check the Blackhawks’ official site….

♦  David Perron  continues to shove his stick directly up my ass for dropping him on my fantasy team by killing the ‘Hawks. The asshole has all of his four goals and four of his five points in two games against the Blackhawks. I only have myself to blame. Well, actually…

♦  Nick Boynton  is officially playing like the guy who’s been a castoff for a few teams over the past few seasons, sat in Rockford for most of last season and was a healthy scratch whenever possible during the ‘Hawks Cup run. How  Jen Patterson  wants any part of this guy is beyond me, especially if she’s ever seen him lace up his skates. Boynton is constantly out of position, and because of that is flailing around the ice most of the time wondering where he should go next.

He pinches when he shouldn’t pinch, he falls for the slightest of fakes and is so slow  Hans Moleman  could run him down. He played like a complete pile of dog shit in both games this weekend, and the best part of the Blackhawks having the next three days off is that I don’t have to watch Boynton attempt to be a hockey player.

♦  I’m not sure how many of you thought you’d ever say this, but  Tomas Kopecky  being out Saturday seemed to hurt the ‘Hawks. His absence did allow for Kane/Toews/Sharp to get back together for the night and allowed  Dave Bolland  to get back with  Marian Hossa  and  Troy Brouwer.  But as much shit as Kopecky gets, he still plays solid, pretty fundamental hockey, which seemed to be lacking toward the end of the second and into the third.

♦  Speaking of Bollandany excuses for his poor performance to date can officially be thrown out the window. Talk all you want about him centering players who aren’t as talented like  Fernando Pisani  and  Bryan Bickell,  but Saturday he skated with one of the league’s top goal scorers and a guy who should have been playing on the top two lines all season long. Bolland’s 41.4 faceoff percentage is atrocious, and he simply looks like a kid skating around that needs a haircut.

Bolland has one goal and one assist in 10 games and I’m about ready to start calling out QStache to make him a healthy scratch to set him straight. It’s becoming a nightmare to watch.

♦  Patrick Sharp  is playing out of his mind. He’s tied with  Steven Stamkos  for the NHL lead in goals and continues to be a very handsome man.

♦  On the other hand, Hossa has slowed down and has now been held without a point in three straight games.

♦  Both  Marty Turco  and  Corey Crawford  played well in their starts this weekend — especially Crawford. The kid gave us every opportunity to win and each of the three goals he gave up came on defensive lapses. Turco’s performance was solid in St. Louis, but he needs to stop the Blues’ third goal hands down. I understand there was traffic, but that’s the second time this season — including the home opener against Detroit  — that he let a weak shot trickle five-hole for the game-winner.

♦  Don’t look now, but Kopecky has more points than  Jonathan Toews   and  Patrick Kane.  This includes Saturday night’s game when Toews had a goal and an assist in a game when Kopecky sat out. Kane hasn’t scored a goal in five games. I’m assuming this won’t continue for the rest of the season. However, if it does, the short blonde guy swinging from a noose off the Michael Jordan statue will be me.

♦  I understand  Duncan Keith  is leading the NHL by averaging nearly a half hour of ice time (29:44), but he’s slapping that puck around like he’s thinking, “I won the Norris, so I can do whatever I want.” Now, to be clear, I don’t think Keith is the type of guy who thinks that way. However, he’s sure as hell playing like it. He’s attempting to force pucks in places they have no business going even if there weren’t three opponents in the way, and I’m failing to remember a time when I thought to myself, “Man, Duncs played really well tonight.”

♦ This is just hilarious.  Adam Burish  apologizes for being a shitty video-game character.

Ok, I’m about done here. A combined edition of “Boxing” will be up tomorrow morning, then you can expect something from Tim either tomorrow or Tuesday.

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Some Gotta Win, Some Gotta Lose…

Photo: Getty Images

Since Monday, players on the St. Louis Blues have been doing their usual off-day routine: daily practice, dry-land training, watching last week’s episode of “Glee” over and over and over, and cursing their agent for landing them on  such a suck-bag team.

What they haven’t done since Monday is play a game. That means they are going to be well-rested, fired up in front of the home-town crowd, and looking for revenge after blowing a 2-0 lead with 6 minutes to go in the third and falling to the Blackhawks 3-2 in OT. Their wrists will be a little sore from… well, they’ve had the whole week off, you figure it out.

No changes in the lineup for St. Louis, as Cam Janssen is still not ready to return from the concussion he suffered while masturbating running into his own teammate during a game October 9th. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin will likely split the starts on the Blues Friday/Saturday back-to-back games, but word is we will be facing Halak on Friday.

The Blues hope to win games on defense and goaltending this year, but that plan is already showing its weaknesses. They slid to a 2-1-2 record following Monday’s OT loss to the Blackhawks, and they are going to have to pick up the scoring if they expect to win anything. 14 goals in 5 games is not a recipe for a winning team.

Despite the history between these clubs, there wasn’t much to report in the penalties department from the last outing. A Bryan Bickell/David Backes rematch is possible, but judging from the way the teams played earlier this week, I’m not expecting the gloves to be dropped.

On the Blackhawks’ side, Coach Q seems to have Jordan Hendry, Jack Skille and Viktor Stalberg’s names in a hat and is drawing one after each practice to see who sits. We’ll find out after the morning skate who today’s victim is, the safe money is on Hendry.

One wonders why it won’t be John Scott, who may as well be painted day-glo orange and plopped down on the blue line for guys to skate around. Watching him out there is like watching somebody try to eat linguine with a spork. He simply doesn’t have the tools for the job.

It’s been hard not to notice the production from the “energy line” wingers Skille and Stalberg. With Stalberg displaying his sniper capabilities by flicking one past a stunned Roberto Luongo for the Blackhawks’ only regulation-time goal on Wednesday, we may see those two grow into bigger roles with the team as the season continues.

We are still waiting for the Blackhawks who aren’t named “Hossa” or “Sharp” to start scoring like they are capable of doing. Conditioning continues to be a problem with the Blackhawks, as the OT period against the Blues on Monday illustrated frighteningly. The Hawks were badly out-skated and allowed 7 shots in under 4 minutes of play before Patrick Sharp flipped home the game winner. Shots against was a factor again against Vancouver, with the Hawks giving up 29 in regulation and another 8 in the overtime period. Thank goodness Marty Turco is starting to look very solid between the pipes — but relying on him will come back to bite us, mark my words.

In Brian Campbell news, the injured defenseman is reported to be on target in his recovery from a sprained MCL suffered during pre-season, and should start skating again soon. Look for doctors to clear him to lace ‘em up next week.

Follow us on Twitter at @blackhawksup and you’ll get the latest on healthy scratches and starting goaltenders once they’re announced. Also check back here for post-game wrap-ups and our exclusive “Boxing” feature tomorrow morning.

Puck drops at 7:00, and it’s dropping from a rather sexy hand at Scottrade Center tonight: IRL hottie Danica Patrick will be on hand to help the players pitch some tents. I gotta say, as a race car driver, she’s a great bikini model.

TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 207.

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Boxing with Hawks/Canucks, 10/20/10

Sorry for getting this up so late, but I had some car issues I had to work with yesterday and there was a bunch of other shit going on that you don’t care about. So, here’s your latest edition of “Boxing” from the Blackhawks’ shootout win Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks.

There are two separate images — one for the Summary and one for the Box. Click on the images to enlarge them.

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Thank You Sir May I Have Another: Blackhawks vs. Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are not off to the best start in 2010-11. Their most promising game came Sunday in a 5-1 win over Carolina, and with all the this-is-our-year talk among Canucks fans this fall, you could almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief after that outing. But they followed it up with a 6-2 beat-down at the hands of the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. Suckers…

Speaking of the Minnesota game, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time with another re-hashing of the fan-shoving incident. Rick Rypien is about to become the poster child for You Don’t Fuck With Colin Campbell, so we have one less idiot with an orca on his sweater to worry about this evening.

For those of you who need a refresher on the Canucks, they’re the team that gives us fits every year until we figure out that their goaltender is a headcase who falls apart after he lets in the third goal. Once that happens, the game turns into a shooting gallery.

I actually read an article that claimed Roberto Luongo was the Blackhawks’ “nemesis.” Holy crap: do you WATCH hockey? We made that pansy bitch cry. I got your nemesis right here, chump.

Mr. Luongo and his 3.38 GAA/.888 SVG arrive at the United Center for the first of four shellackings before we bounce them out of the playoffs for the third straight year. He has had the captain’s ‘C’ ripped publicly from his chest, and he brings with him Danielle and Henrietta Sedin, who between them have 18 points so far this year. The rest of the team combined has 24. Explains their 2-3-1 record, doesn’t it?

Some faces have departed since we last saw the Canucks in the playoffs: forwards Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood, and Ryan Johnson; blueliners Willie Mitchell and Brad Lukowich; and backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft are all out the door. Forward Raffi Torres and Manny Malhotra, as well as defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard are new to the lineup. All represent significant upgrades over their departed colleagues.

But the combination hasn’t really gelled so far. The fact that the Sedins are so far ahead of their teammates in scoring indicates that there is much tinkering left to be done. The Canucks’ rear guard has been riddled with injuries early in the season, so we can expect to see guys doing stupid stuff that allows Hawks forwards to squeeze out odd-man rushes and breakaways. Plays right into our hands.

Speaking of the Blackhawks, few changes in the lineup tonight since we’re on such a roll: Jordan Hendry is the likely scratch, Viktor Stalberg is back in, and John Scott shifts back to D. Marty Turco is starting in net, which makes sense: expect Corey Crawford to start one of our back-to-back games on Friday & Saturday.

Despite the outcome against St. Louis on Monday, few would argue that the Hawks didn’t play like crap. Additionally with 13 of the team’s 23 goals thus far coming from Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa, the rest of the lineup had better kick it into gear. Last-minute heroics and between-the-legs acrobatics works against lousy teams; good teams will kick us around like nerf footballs.

The Blackhawks’ defense is still a shambles, as evidenced by the fact that they have let in more goals than all but two teams in the league so far this season. That can’t continue, and we can’t continue to allow nearly 34 shots against per game either. Those two things go hand-in-hand, fellas. In case you’d forgotten.

The good news is, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and we’re leading our division already. This should be a fun one tonight, hard-fought and fast. Let’s hope we come out on the right end of it when the bullhorn sounds.

Odd start time of 8pm tonight, one has to assume that’s to accommodate the Canadian broadcasters. Locally it will be seen on Comcast SportsNet, catch it on broadcast radio WGN AM-720, and XM channel 206.

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When It’s Time For Leavin’ I Hope You’ll Understand

Photo: AP

The battle of wills appears to be over, and it ended with a wave.

In Monday night’s game against the Blues, Blackhawks’ goaltender and ramblin’ man “Myocardial Marty” Turco skated out of his net to field a puck at the left face-off dot. He stopped. He looked up ice. And he waved.

Some background for you who haven’t been following this closely. The word on Turco when the Blackhawks acquired him in the off-season was that he was a skilled puck-handler, able to deftly wander the defensive zone and become an additional mobile asset on breakouts. This, it was reported, would be particularly helpful on power plays and when opponents were trying to execute a line change. Or for beaning Mike Leggo in the melon when he misses calls so obvious that somebody standing outside the United Center and facing away from the arena could have seen them.

During pre-season we saw this in action: both the good, and the bad. In two separate games Turco wandered up-ice and fired a tape-to-tape saucer pass to our right winger on their blue line. Both of those plays ended with the puck behind their goaltender in the next five seconds. This was an incredible crowd-pleaser, and it showed the potential for Turco’s offensive capabilities.

But the down-side was when Turco would go on his fishing expeditions with opponents in our zone. Twice during pre-season Turco either mis-fired on a pass or was stripped of the puck, resulting in an open-net goal for the opposing team, and Turco himself diving frantically back towards the net looking like a leaping tree frog from a nature special on the National Geographic channel.

The TV broadcasters were even nice enough to use their super-slow-mo feature to show Turco, hanging in mid-air for what seemed like an eternity, all four limbs splayed in abject panic as the puck sails gently past him into the webbing. This was the other side of that double-edged sword Stan Bowman had bought at a discount.

So then, about a week ago there was a suggestion amongst the “legitimate” (ha-ha-ha) Blackhawks press corps that insinuated that perhaps there was the possibility that maybe Coach Joel Quenneville could potentially be growing tired of his number one goaltender making plays that made him look like the freshman goaltender on the St. Mary’s School for Girls JV team. This was whispered, few took note, and nothing more was said.

Then, last night, came the wave.

The wave was aimed at Brent Seabrook.

The wave said, “Come here and get this, I’m not passing it to you up there.” Which he did, and the play continued.

But what the wave really said was, “If I do what my instinct tells me to do, and things go badly with me 30 feet out of my net, Coach Q will have the trainers tape my wiener to my butt-crack, the long way, then make me skate side-boards with my skate laces tied together until Captain Serious believes I’ve learned my lesson.”

And thus, the battle of wills ended, with a wave.

I’m sure that we will see Marty Turco out of his net again, and I’m sure we will see him make bone-headed mistakes again. Every goalie does a few times a season. But I’m reasonably sure that the days of keeping a defibrillator charged and ready every time Turco is announced as the starter have come to an end.

(*sigh*) And I spent all that time thinking up a cool nickname for him…

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Shattered Dreams: A Sticky Situation

Pat Foley: “Welcome back to the action here at the United Center, ladies and gentlemen. Hawks down by one early in the third period, they’re fighting to get back in the game.”

Eddie Olczyk: “Hawks showing a lot of heart, they’re really turned up the gas here in the third.”

Foley: “Here’s Duncan Keith keeping it in, up the boards to Patrick Sharp… Holds there for a moment — now has Jonathan Toews racing towards the net, hits him with a pass, he SHOOTS!” OOOHHH and Toews’ stick shattered into a hundred pieces on that shot!”

Olczyk: “Great opportunity for Toews there, just couldn’t convert as the lumber cost him a scoring chance there, Pat.”

Foley: “Now the Hawks head back into the zone, Marian Hossa pulls up and waits, now hits Duncan Keith on the far point, the ONE TIMER: NO NOT AGAIN! Pieces of Keith’s stick wind up in the netting 75 feet above the ice surface.”

Olczyk: “Tough break for Duncs there Pat, he had the goaltender down and out, all he had to do was get that shot on net. But a broken twig stopped him cold.”

Foley: “Off the turnover, here’s Brent Seabrook now, gains the line, he’s got Davey Bolland with him, the pass across to Bolland— OH WHAT’S THIS! Bolland tries to field the pass, and his stick broke midway up the shaft!”

Olczyk: “Yeah, Pat, it looked like Bolland’s stick just crumpled like an aluminum can when he tried to catch that pass from Brent Seabrook.”

Foley: Now heading back to retrieve the dump-in all by himself is Niklas Hjalmarsson, he has plenty of time as he arrives to pick it — NO! Hjalmarsson’s stick exploded like a water balloon when he touched the puck with his stick!”

Olczyk: “I was talking to a rep from a stick manufacturer last week, Pat. They say they are putting new age materials in these sticks, they are so strong that an elephant can stand on one and it won’t snap.”

Foley: “All evidence to the contrary. Now ready for the face-off, Jake Dowell to take the draw, they’re ready and — GOOD GRAVY! Jake Dowell’s stick disintegrated as he began to take the draw! I don’t even think he touched the puck, did he Edzo?”

Olczyk: “Not at all, Pat. As we look at the replay, he set up for the draw, got his stick in position, now STOP IT RIGHT HERE! The referee still has the puck in his hands. As Jake Dowell gets a tighter grip on his stick, the shaft begins to fall apart like it’s made of sand. It was merely the added pressure he put on the stick when he gripped it that caused it to vaporize. All you young hockey players out there, if you’re dad is buying you these one-piece carbon sticks, you need to be on the lookout for this exact thing.”

Foley: “The Blackhawks, believe it or not, have not had a single shot on goal, but that’s not for a lack of trying. They have suffered, by my count, one hundred and thirty-one broken sticks! Trainer Mike Gapski is on the phone with the equipment manager who is in the car on the way to Total Hockey out in Schaumburg right now. Not sure he’s going to get back in time to save the Hawks tonight.”

Olczyk: “As a former player who was around before all of this one-piece composite business got started, Pat, I can tell you: there’s nothing like a good hunk of ash wrapped in fiberglass when it comes to scoring goals.”

Foley: “We’re waiting for them to clean up the debris as you look here at a picture of Patrick Kane, who as we heard this past week was a bit under the weather, in fact it looks like he’s got a bit of an itchy nose there on the bench.”

Olczyk: “Yeah, he’s asking the stick boy to hand him some tissues he has there on the — Holy Moly, Foley! Did you see that?”

Foley: “I sure did Eddie! Patrick Kane sneezed, and the stick he was holding in his other hand instantly turned to dust!”

Olczyk: “I have never seen anything like this before in my years playing, coaching and announcing the game of hockey. And look at that, the officials are now saying there’s too much debris on the ice, they can’t continue playing.”

Foley: “That will do it from here: the Hawks fall for the first time here at home, and as we sign off the United Center has asked us to inform you viewers that the Nickelback concert scheduled for tomorrow night has been postponed. Apparently the UC facilities personnel will be working around the clock to clean up the shrapnel caused by all the broken composite sticks during this game tonight.”

*     *     *     *     *

Major League Baseball only allows players to use bats made of wood. I’m now convinced they were on to something. This is getting fucking ridiculous.

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Boxing with ‘Hawks/Blues, 10/18/10

Here’s your latest edition of “Boxing” from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 OT win Monday against the St. Louis Blues. Sorry about not getting boxing going from the weekend games, but… actually, I’m not sorry. I was tired and lazy and you’re still alive so whatever.

There are two separate images — one for the Summary and one for the Box. Click on the images to enlarge them.

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Monday Evening Blues: St. Louis Visits Sweet Home Chicago

Photo: Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT

The Blackhawks bookend this week with a home-and-home series starting tonight at the United Center against the St. Louis Blues, who aren’t looking too bad so far this young season. Boasting a 2-1-1 record with wins over Philly and Anaheim, the Blues’ new goaltender Jaroslav Halak has backstopped them solidly with a 2.00 GAA and .909 save percentage. The Blues were counting on that, and so far Halak has delivered.

So far offense has been sparse, with the Blues scoring more than 3 goals only once so far this season. All but one game has been a one-goal margin, and two of their tilts have gone to OT. So the Blues aren’t blowing anybody out of the water so far, and since their marquee player had only 24 goals last season and boasts a NHL-career minus-14 rating, you can bet they’re not going to.

It appears from the box scores on their early outings, the Blues are trying to come out at break-neck speed, score quickly, and ride their early lead to a win. This didn’t work on Saturday against Dallas, and now that the Hawks are once again showing the kind of persistence that won them Lord Stanley’s Cup, it shouldn’t work in Chicago either. Blues dirtbag Cam Janssen is still out with a concussion, apart from that the Blues are healthy and ready to be beaten like the dogs that they are.

On the Blackhawks’ end, fans were puzzled and disappointed to hear the club announce that rookie defenseman Nick Leddy was sent down to the AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs. The kid looked dazed and confused his first two regular-season NHL games, but had steadily improved since then and was showing promise. However this is likely a move designed to get him 20-25 minutes of ice time per game, and groom him for the future. I would not be surprised to see him called up — permanently — after the trade deadline to stick with the Blackhawks through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. We’ll keep the name on your locker, Nick.

With Niklas Hjalmarsson returning from suspension this past Saturday, that leaves him, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook, as our top-three on the blueline. The bottom-four are now (everybody take a deep breath, this is going to hurt a bit) Nick Boynton, John Scott, Jordan Hendry, and Jassen Cullimore. It appears, with Leddy’s re-assignment, that we are going to have to endure this combination until Brian Campbell returns from his injury. Maalox Extra Strength can be found in the handy 16-oz. size at your local Walgreen’s store.

The good news is that the Blackhawks’ offense is kicking it into gear. The plus/minus numbers are still a little dodgy, but we’re starting to see the kinds of things that made Blackhawks hockey exciting last year. Tic-tac-toe passing. Power-play conversions. Short-handed goals. Patrick Sharp snapping in rebounds. Marian Hossa toying with goaltenders and making them cry. And most importantly, sticking with games until the final horn sounds. Our two wins over Buffalo were come-from-behind victories, and that’s the best news of all.

Marty Turco gets the start, and during his last two outings he has stopped all but 5 of 73 shots against. That’s a .931 save percentage. Let’s hope that keeps up. Coach Q was tight-lipped after practice today about lineup specifics, but spies peering over the dasher boards suggest that Jack Skille will be back in the lineup, John Scott will stay up on the wing, and Viktor Stalberg will get a rest.

Puck drops at 7:30, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio AM-720 WGN. XM subscribers can find the game on channel 208. Sirius, aaaah find it yourself.

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Looking Sharp: ‘Hawks take two with help from a very handsome man

Hug me, cuz I'm beautiful. (Getty Images)

Patrick Sharp is a very handsome man. He’s a pretty decent hockey player, too.

The man behind the looks had a pair of two-goal games in Friday’s 5-2 win against Columbus and Saturday’s 4-3 win against Buffalo. Sharp’s performances also block that big spotlight beaming on Saturday’s win that the ‘Hawks pretty much should have lost.

But as my buddy Boston Joe told me earlier today when Michigan State struggled through a win against Illinois, “Good teams win.” The ‘Hawks still play like the champions they are when needed.

That was no more evident than during Friday’s dismantling of the BJs. After the loss to Nashville and with  Marty Turco sitting for two straight games, the ‘Hawks needed to take advantage of a rusty Columbus team that hadn’t played in nearly a week.

Sharp put 13 shots on net Friday. To put that into perspective, the ‘Hawks had 21 shots Saturday as a team. He’s simply playing like a man possessed. To me, it’s clear when someone is playing like they have something to prove when the kid in them comes out. After each of Sharp’s goals Saturday — which includes the game-winner late in the third period — he celebrated like he scored his first goal in pee-wee hockey. It was beautiful to watch, and he’s showing he knew he had to put his name on the scoresheet even more this season with all of the departures during offseason. He’s neat.

All right, onto the meat of this…

♦  Marian Hossa is a goddamn beast. A goal and an assist Friday, another goal Saturday. Him and Sharp have both potted five goals now and are clearly playing like men among boys. Not only is Hossa putting himself on the scoresheet, he’s doing all the things we need to appreciate more: Kill penalties, backcheck like a mother fucker, control the puck and provide scoring opportunities for his teammates. Hossa is the ultimate example of unselfishness, he’s got a six-game points streak and I have a gigantic man crush.

♦  There’s been a  Dave Bolland siting! He’s been playing like  Fat Albert on roller skates up until tonight, when he made a great move on  Patrick Lalime to tie the game 3-3. Bolland also was 13-for-19 on faceoffs tonight after farting on the dot most of the previous five games. Hopefully we see more of Saturday’s Bolland from here on out.

♦  Both of  Brent Seabrook’s assists tonight were gorgeous. He made a great pass on a 4-on-4 to spring Bolland and earlier fed a beautiful lead pass to Hossa for his goal. We haven’t seen the 2009-10 Seabs until tonight, which isn’t surprising given he’s been playing nearly a half-hour per night. But Saturday his passing skills led to two big goals.

♦  John Scott is a 6’8″, 258-pound paperweight.

♦  Anyone else surprised the Sabres didn’t at least try and stir up shit with  Niklas Hjalmarsson tonight? I really felt we’d see some punches thrown or at least a monster hit from someone. Eh, whatever.

♦  O Campbell, Where Art Thou?  Jassen Cullimore belongs in Rockford or on a couch somewhere. He played 18:54 in sheer terror and had me begging for  Brent Sopel’s ugly ass by the 10-minute mark. Also, the ‘Hawks were out-shot 41-21 against Buffalo and let 32 go through against Columbus. PooP.

♦  What a week for  Nick Boynton. He takes a dipshit delay-of-game penalty that doomed the ‘Hawks against the Preds, took another dipshit penalty at the end of the game tonight against Buffalo and played a role in the hotness that is  Jen Patterson getting fired from Comcast Sportsnet. Asshole.

♦  Back to some better stuff,  Marty Turco played really well in both victories this weekend. He may scare the shit out of you and may lead you to brief moments of heart failure, but Turco makes the saves when they’re need the most. The ‘Hawks have made life difficult for their goaltenders so far this year, and Turco has stepped up.

I know there’s more stuff I can add, but I don’t want to make this too long. “Boxing” upcoming… when I feel like it.

‘Til then…

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No Excuses: Blackhawks vs. Not-The-Buckeyes

Photo: ESPN.com

Columbus, Ohio residents were shocked to learn in early October that they still had an NHL hockey team! Paying so much attention to the still-undefeated and #1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes football team, residents began calling the newspapers and TV outlets wondering who the funny-looking guys were wearing the skates and red-white-and-blue uniforms.

It didn’t help matters that the BJ’s spent late September and early October eating Lutfisk, cabbage, and pickled lingenberries while playing two regular-season games against the Sharks in Stockholm, Sweden. How could anybody pay attention to them, the team wasn’t even in town!

Alas, with so much hullaballoo over OSU and their pigskin performance, not to mention the disappointing season the Blue Jackets had in 2009-10, both media coverage and ticket sales are down noticeably for the Columbus franchise. Add to that a goalie coming off a sophomore slump and a leading-scorer whose effectiveness is waning, and you have the recipe for a, “Who Jackets?” reaction from central Ohio residents.

The just-completed off-season brought one substantial change, and little else. Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel was brought in as a permanent replacement for long-departed Ken Hitchcock, bringing with him a puck-possession style system that the team is having difficulty adapting to.

Apart from that the only brand-name addition to the roster is former Blackhawk and departed Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau who they snatched up on waivers. He is expected to bring some energy back to the team and provide leadership and confidence in what is reported to be a dour locker room scene.

KHL-banished prospect Nikita Filatov has returned to the team after personality clashes last season with Hitchcock and some teammates — many of whom are still on the squad. So while the young sniper has the potential to provide steady and crowd-pleasing offense, there is also the possibility that his attitude presents problems for the team. Only time will tell.

The Jackets have young Steve Mason between the pipes, who followed up a Calder-trophy-winning 33-win/10-shutout season in 2008-09 with a middling performance last year. Flimsy defense in front of him didn’t help the situation, and Mason will have to show his coach that he’s capable of handling the load. The other thing is, even the faithful fans are souring on Mason. If he can’t repeat his spectacular rookie season, or at least show that it’s possible, the coaching staff may lose patience as well and give him the hook.

Though it’s hard to blame Mason exclusively. Word from Columbus is that the Jackets’ defensive corps is big but slow, and they are having trouble adapting to the puck-possession system implemented by Arniel. If the blueliners can’t get with the program, Mason will have his hands full. If he lets in 3 goals on 60 shots, that’s a .950 save percentage. Not Mason’s fault if they lose that one 3-2.

The other factor that that has plagued Columbus is penalties. Their slow defensemen have been compensating with a lot of clutch-and-grab, and the Jackets have already racked up an above-average number of penalties in the early part of this year. Their penalty killing has gotten a workout, and this will likely prove to be a factor as games wear on and benches get shortened.

Let’s hope the speedy Blackhawks forwards take advantage of that, and we should expect to see all guns blazing as the Hawks come into the attacking zone. All guns except one, that is: Patrick Kane didn’t make the trip to Columbus, having sat out practice on Thursday with an illness.

In an unusual move, defenseman Jassen Cullimore got on the plane out of Rockford this morning and will be on the bench tonight. The groans from Blackhawks fans who know of Cullimore’s barely-AHL-caliber play could be heard all the way in Columbus. Goodness knows how Coach Q is going to shuffle the cards tonight — perhaps moving blueliners Jordan Hendry or John Scott up to a wing? — but this twist will make for an interesting game.

Kane’s absence is icing on the cake to a couple of weeks chock full of roster challenges. The Hawks are still without Niklas Hjalmarsson (suspension) and Brian Campbell (injury) on the back end. Expect Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to test the limits of their endurance once more, as the supporting cast behind them is still struggling to, you know, play defense. Marty Turco gets the start tonight amid unconfirmed reports that Coach QStache is growing weary of Turco’s bone-headed out-of-the-crease activities.

But regardless of who is in, who is out, who’s in net, who’s on D, and who’s playing 59 minutes per game, there are no excuses tonight. There are few scenarios where the Blackhawks can’t kick the holy living crap out of Columbus. Most pundits are putting the Blow Jerkers either last or next-to-last in the Conference this year. We should take every game from them, including this one. So I want to see nothing but elbows and assholes tonight, fellas: we need one in the ‘Wins’ column, and I’m not taking no for an answer.

Puck drops at 6pm Chicago time, TV is Comcast SportsNet, WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio, XM channel 204, and you Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers look for channel 208.

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The Evil Troll & Company Steal One In The UC

Photo: The Tennessean

By now you’ve either seen, heard, or read about the Blackhawks’ snooze-inducing loss to the Nashville Predators, Barry “The Evil Troll” Trotz leading his crew of injury replacements to a late-3rd-period game winner that sealed the deal against Chicago.

I’m not going to give you the blow-by-blow, as it will likely put you to sleep — just like the second period of last night’s game did. Typical Nashville, but just like last year’s playoff series, whatever it is they do, they seem to throw the Hawks off their game every time. Last night was no exception: the forwards could barely get anything going, and the defense looked like they all had their skates on the wrong feet.

Some quick thoughts about the ups and downs:

- Rookie Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his first NHL start. So he’s probably sitting at home milking the moose right now, thinking about last night’s win and dreaming of his Ryan Miller-esque contract demands. Well, don’t rub it raw there, Andy. Next time we see you it may be 50 shots coming at you instead of 25. Even blind mice find cheese every once in a while. This ain’t over.

- Dave Bolland was easily one of the most consistent, over-performing players throughout the playoffs last year. Now he looks like he’s playing over-40 Men’s League. Is he injured? Sick, maybe? Did his hamster die? Something has to change there. He’s a liability right now.

Viktor Stalberg hasn’t impressed me with any exceptional bursts of speed quite yet. What impressed me last night was his shot. The kid can unload, both slap shot and wrist shot. More accuracy, and he’s going to have goalies wondering how it got behind them so fast.

- If Patrick Sharp hasn’t fully recovered from whatever “undisclosed injury” he suffered last week, get him off the ice. Right now he’s playing like old people have sex: slow and sloppy. We need him at full capacity, and if that means letting him have two weeks off, so be it.

- If there is one thing I would work on with this team right now, it’s conditioning. The Hawks used to out-skate teams by 10 minutes into the second, and dominate by halfway through the third. That needs to happen again if we are going to put up good numbers this season.

- Corey Crawford played even better against Nashville than he did against Buffalo. He was screened on the first goal, the second was a deflection, and the third was a PK defensive lapse that left Joel Ward standing by the far post with enough time and space to smoke a cigarette and chat up the girls in the front row before snapping in the game-winner. Crawford has great reaction time, he’s squaring to the shooter well, he’s seeing the ice much better, and his rebound control is improving. Suffice to say I have a good deal of confidence in our backup goaltender.

- When Niklas Hjalmarsson comes back on Saturday, give Duncan Keith the night off. The guy is killing himself out there, and it doesn’t help his game, and it doesn’t help the team. He can’t be two defensemen, he can only be Dunc. Right now he’s being whipped like a rented mule, and it’s going to take a toll.

- Speaking of which, I would like to see a return to the Niklas Hjalmarsson we saw during the last regular season. He’s been trying to be a cross between Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell, and in the process he’s turned into Alain Nasreddine. Stop it, Nik. You’re no good to us this way.

- The Blackhawks had four — that’s FOUR — shots on goal in the third. That means I had only four shots fewer than the entire team while sitting on my living room couch and arguing with my cat about whose roast beef sandwich that really was.

- It’s my belief that this line juggling and musical defensemen is contributing to this crappy start. I know it’s Coach Q‘s way of doing things, but you can’t develop chemistry with guys who you only play with for three shifts a game. Look at it this way: it can’t get much worse if we stick to set lines for an entire game. Why not try it once, see what happens.

The Hawks are at Columbus on Friday, and you can bet Buffalo will be puttin’ on the foil to get a crack at Hammer when they visit the UC on Saturday. Check back here for previews before and wrap-ups after each game, and we’re always good for some laughs at others’ expense. Hey, they say stick to what you’re good at.

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Boxing with Blackhawks and Monsters in the Forest in Arnold movies, 10/13/10

Here’s Wednesday’s twisted box score from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. Enjoy.

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Cats Without Fangs: Injury-Riddled Predators Visit Chicago

Photo: The Tennessean

Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich. Ever heard of them? Me neither. But one of them will be between the pipes for their first NHL start when the injury-depleted Nashville Predators arrive at the United Center for the game against the Blackhawks.

During Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, usually-impenetrable starting goaltender Pekka Rinne suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury and is out for, well, they’re not saying.

And seriously, is this “undisclosed injury” crap ever going to end? Tell the truth: the guy took a puck in the man-jigglies.

Lindback, a gangly 22-year-old Swede at 6’ 6” tall, is the likely choice to get the start — his first in North America — after coming in to relieve Rinne on Saturday night. He stopped all seven shots in 17 minutes of play during that game. But that’s 17 minutes more than Dekanich has ever played in the bigs, so the Predators had better hope Lindback is up to the task. Not an enviable position to be in when your star goalie is out.

In fact, the Preds will be without many of their effective weapons for this tilt with their Central Division rivals, as Martin Erat, Jamie Lundmark and Sergei Kostitsyn are all out of the lineup with various (wait for it…) undisclosed injuries. In fact, the entire thing is so secretive, I’ve heard that all of the players will wear number double-zero with no names on their jerseys so that the Hawks don’t even know who is on the ice!

Incognito or not, we can expect to see former Blackhawks J.P. DuMont and Speedy Stevie Sullivan, and we can also expect Barry Trotz’s minions to play a style of hockey that could put a crack-addicted gerbil to sleep. Pinch and press, dump and loiter, four-men across at their own blue line. It’s like a concert where the band just plays “Wooly Bully” over and over endlessly.

This will be just the second game of the year for Nashville, so we have little to go on past their 4-1 win over league-scourge Anaheim on Saturday. With so many guns absent from the arsenal, it’s anybody’s guess how the Preds will respond. Look for newly-minted captain Shea Weber to try to rally the troops against the defending champs.

And speaking of the Blackhawks, getting a win under their belt was no-doubt a confidence builder. And in a move that came as a surprise to everyone, late Wednesday afternoon Coach Q named Monday’s winning goaltender Corey Crawford for tonight’s start. No suggestion that Marty Turco was either injured or falling out of favor: the Hawks schedule has them in 4 games over the next 6 days, and the Coach is merely putting his ducks in a row to get the right ‘tender up against the right opponent.

The forward corps are looking reasonably good. Patrick Sharp returned on Monday after missing the Detroit (*spitting noise*) game with — you guessed it — an undisclosed injury, and he was a factor in the win over the Sabres. Newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille are working their butts off; Patrick Kane is starting to catch fire; and Marian Hossa is already as hot as a two-dollar pistol with five points in three games.

Some of our expectations of our veterans haven’t been met, in particular Dave Bolland whose face-off percentage looks like he’s using a badminton racquet instead of a hockey stick. Here’s hoping that turns around quickly.

News on defense is not so good. Already reeling from the absence of the injured Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson has earned a two-game suspension from the league for his hit on Jason Pominville during Monday’s game. That leaves Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both already logging 28+ minutes per game, to hold down the fort with an unstable compliment of rookies and lesser-talented veterans behind them.

Never mind the fact that both Dunc and Seabs have made an uncharacteristically large number of bone-head plays themselves so far this young season. All it took was one injury and one ill-conceived hit, and suddenly our best-in-the-league defense looks barely capable of stopping a beach ball. Tonight will be a big test of who can (and does) step up.

Rallying from two goals down in the Sabres victory says a lot about this team. One of the best traits of the Stanley Cup Championship lineup was that they *never* gave up on a game. I’m hopeful that what we saw on Monday was the beginning of that attitude returning to the Hawks’ locker room.

Puck drops at 7:30 at the United Center, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, XM channel 208, Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers can find the game on channel 217.

Check back here for the wrap-up and commentary Thursday morning.

That’s Gonna Leave A Mark

Photo: Buffalo News

When you play baseball, you can tell when a hit is going for the wall. There’s a certain feeling in the bat, that perfect connection between two objects in motion, and the feel of it says, “Bye-bye.”

Slap shots in hockey have the same feel to them when you “get all of it.” Pros have that feeling pretty much every shot. My slap shot sucks, so I felt it maybe twice in my years of amateur hockey.

But hits can have that same eerie resonance to them as well. Those I was good at. My favorite setup was catching a forward skating towards me, looking back over his shoulder to catch a pass. Happened maybe once per season. Time it just right, and you drop a shoulder into his sternum at the exact instant the puck hits his stick — BOOM. He goes down like he’s been hit in the chest by a wrecking ball.

That was the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. You could see it on the replays: he dropped like a stone. After his head ricocheted off the boards a couple of times, I mean.

Late Tuesday Niklas Hjalmarsson received a two-game suspension for the hit on Pominville. I had guessed three. During the preceding 12 hours I had heard the Old-Time-Hockey chorus around Chicago chiming in that they didn’t think it even deserved a penalty, let alone a suspension. Similarly, the Buffalo faithful were advocating that the league throw the book at him. That’s to be expected.

I actually read some barely-literate chucklehead comment on TSN.ca and suggest a suspension of 40 games. Holy bird turds, it’s pro hockey, not powderpuff soccer. Get a grip.

Let’s deal with the not-even-a-penalty suggestion first. From the NHL rule book, “Rule 41″ and “Rule 42″ respectively:

Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

“Charging: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”

The ref had both of these as options for the Hjalmarsson hit, as the play very easily met both of these descriptions. It was called on the ice as a boarding major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. So it’s quite plain to all but the most biased observer that *some* penalty should have been called — and it was.

There is also the new “Rule 48″ which addresses blind-side and/or head-targeted hits, which is new this year:

Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.

The league would have announced this as the cause for the suspension if that were the case, since it would have been the first one they ruled on. They made no such announcement, so I have to believe they did not feel the hit fell into the description as noted above. I think most casual observers would agree with that assessment.

So: not a blind-side hit, no intent to injure, not targeting the head, then why the suspension? In my opinion, it’s a question of PR.

This hit made the news. It was likely shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, because they love good video that they can slow down and make viewers watch as bodily parts do things they were never intended to do in the interest of sport, while commentators who know precious little about hockey at all say, “Yeah Dave, that’s gonna leave a mark.”

It would have made the Buffalo newscasts, and other hockey markets as well. The follow up stories (when they show the hit and Pominville’s stretcher-bound exit yet again) will tell everyone that Pominville suffered a concussion, needed 8 stitches, and will be out a minimum of a week. This presents a PR problem for the league. There’s really no provision in the rule book that justifies a suspension per se, but they can’t do nothing.

If the league lets Hjalmarsson off with no suspension, then sports columnists and commentators get on their high horse about the league turning a blind eye to the needless violence that is now making a comeback. Next thing you know there’s some fool-idiot petition circulating about stopping innocent children from playing or watching hockey. And Lord love a duck, if Don Cherry says something about it on Hockey Night in Canada, then just look out. Every time that old bastard opens his mouth it’s as if somebody had skated to center ice and set a basket of kittens on fire.

Understand that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff. If you’re reading this, you can likely quote the number of games Alexander Ovechkin got for the hit that sidelined Brian Campbell last year. But 99% of the people who only see the news reports about this incident and don’t follow hockey at all. So because these people have the attention span of a gnat, the league only has one shot at controlling the message.

The only way to do that is to move quickly and give the appearance of firm and definitive action. Get the suspension, whatever it is, done quickly — and make sure it’s made public before the 6pm news sportscast goes on the air. You’ll notice that was the precise timing for this announcement.

The league brings this on itself. The rules of the game don’t — and can’t — accommodate for every single circumstance. So when something new or unique comes up, they have to wing it. This opens up debates precisely like this one, and because of the completely secretive and often-times incomprehensible means by which they choose whom and what to punish, they look like idiots, and the sport looks like a joke.

But in the absence of a set of rules that turns hockey into basketball (MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!) we’re going to have to put up with this.

So, Niklas, enjoy your two games off, have some press box popcorn, and we’ll see you next week.

*     *     *     *     *

In other news, the league also handed out a two-game suspension to Islanders’ defenseman James Wisniewski, for being a dick-head.

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NHL lays the Hammer: Hjalmarsson suspended 2 games for hit

You got knocked the fug out! (Getty Images)

As suspected,  Niklas Hjalmarsson  has been suspended for two games for his bone-crushing hit on  Jason Pominville, according to TSNI thought it would only be one game, personally, but the NHL gave two games to  James Wisniewski  today for making a blowjob gesture on the ice. I guess nearly killing someone — intent be damned — is worth at least a blowjob.

Wait…

Anyway, we’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Boxing with the Blackhawks and Giant Swords, 10/11/10

Monday night’s box score of the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres — with a twist.

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The Champs are here! The Champs are here!: Blackhawks 4, Sabres 3

GET ON YOUR HOSSA!

This game, nor this season, started like we wanted it to start. Before anyone finished mixing their after-work cocktail, the ‘Hawks fell behind 2-0 and seemed headed toward their third straight loss to open their title defense.

But this is what champions do — they fight back. Monday’s win won’t go down as the prettiest — unless you’re counting  Patrick Sharp being back in the lineup — but it’s a win nonetheless which gets the ‘Hawks on the board.

Also, good to hear  Jason Pominville only suffered a concussion. For a minute there it looked like he would be making a tee time on Cloud 9 with  Kim Johnsson.

Here’s what I’ve got…

♦  Marian Hossa is the motherfucking master. His two goals tonight made  Ryan Miller look like Cristobal Huet‘s little sister, and he’s got five points in the first three games. Hossa also set up a chance for  Jonathan Toews while lying on his testicles by somehow sliding the puck over with his stick to a cutting Toews. Watching this guy play is a thing of beauty, and everyone better start appreciating how lucky we are to be able to witness this until he retires before his 300-year contract is up for the next 11 seasons.

♦  Despite the two quick goals,  Corey Crawford played very well tonight and made some good saves — especially on scrambles in front of the net. Sharp stood and watched  Drew Stafford skate right past him up the middle of the ice and put a dart on net 14 seconds into the game. Then every ‘Hawk on the ice supervised while  Derek Roy positioned himself in front of the net to put a rebound past Crawford just a couple minutes later. It could’ve shaken the kid up, but he hung tough and finished strong.

♦  Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t intend to nearly kill Pominville, but he’s going to get suspended — it’s just a matter of how many games. It was simply a timing play Hammer mistimed. But with the NHL dying to make an example of someone other than people who make blowjob gestures on the ice — Very classy, Wiz — Hammer will have some extra time to film his Ikea commercials.

♦  Another half hour-plus (31:42) of ice time for  Duncan Keith, with  Brent Seabrook adding close to that (28:30). Not trying to make excuses from their sometimes spotty play, but I’m wondering if these two are feeling the effects of so much time on the ice. Granted, Seabrook looked absolutely lost a few times tonight, most notably on the Sabres’ third goal which slipped right past him. But with  Brian Campbell out, Hammer getting booted,  John Scott being a complete boner and the inexperience of  Nick Leddy, the ‘Hawks are relying heavily on Keith and Seabs and it’s tough to expect them to make every single play.

♦  Speaking of Leddy, congrats on your first goal, kid. Even if it was uglier than a  Brent Sopel look-a-like contest.

♦  Patrick Kane netted a power-play goal to pull the ‘Hawks within 2-1, scoring a goal in Buffalo for the first time since 2007.

♦  The fourth line of  Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and  Viktor Stalberg had some great shifts tonight, which is becoming a trend. Now, if they can just put one in the net …

♦  Dave Bolland needs to get his head out of his ass. He was 3-for-9 on the faceoff dot and looked like a complete moron most of the night. I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but through three games he’s done nothing but aggravate me.

♦  Toews’ numbers: 21:09 on-ice, +3, 14-for-25 in faceoffs and one good deed, bringing Leddy the puck for his first NHL goal.

That’s it for now. The latest edition of “Boxing” will be up around noon tomorrow. You’ll read it.

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Blackhawks vs. Ryan Mill— umm, Buffalo

Photo: viewfrommyseats.com

Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.

Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”

The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.

If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.

However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.

Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.

Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.

Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.

Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.

On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.

After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.

I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.

The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.

Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.

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Boxing with the Blackhawks and Communists, 10/9/10

Here’s Saturday night’s Blackhawks vs. Red Wings box score with a twist:

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Detroit (*spitting noise*) vs. Chicago: Invasion Of The Colostomy Bags

Photo: AP

Seems the Red Wings organ-eye-zation didn’t care too much about my vicious evisceration of their geriatric lineup, as the only assisted-living candidate that was cut from the team late in the pre-season was Kirk Maltby.

Don’t let the oxygen tank hit you in the derriere on the way out the door, gramps.

But you can be sure to see five more of the skating senile on Saturday night, all north of 37 years of age: Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood.

As predicted, barely any of the young mustangs in the Detroit stables made the team: Justin Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz will bring his -11 rating from last season to the forward ranks; and Jakub Kindl, still fuming from his not-unexpected defeat during the copyright infringement lawsuit with Amazon.com, will be on the blue line.

Detroit brings with them the usual cast of characters: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen, and prodigal Euro-trash Jiri Hudler fresh off an I’m-taking-my-football-and-going-home contract dispute that landed him teaching pre-schoolers how to tie their skates in Russia for a year. Or something.

Our pre-season win against the Motor City’s limp and incontinent came with leaky sieve Osgood in net, and however I’d be surprised if we were so lucky this outing. You can bet Jimmy Howard will be between the pipes, and he’s a more formidable backstop, if only due to the fact that he doesn’t soak his teeth between periods. We’ll see what Coach Cranky Pants decides to do.

All kidding aside, whatever the Scum are doing, it appears that they are firing on all cylinders to start the year: last night they blanked Anaheim 4-0. Let’s hope the back-to-back games gives us the advantage.

For the Blackhawks, it’s likely the same lineup we saw against Colorado, with the likely exception of defenseman Nick Boynton replacing either Jordan Hendry or John Scott. You will continue to see the same 12 forwards in the lineup for the foreseeable future, as injuries and salary cap restrictions mean we can only carry 12 on the roster right now. So everybody plays. Yee-ha…

The fun begins at 7:30pm, and what fun it will be. Expect Lord Stanley’s Cup to make an appearance at center ice, as the Blackhawks raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center prior to dropping the puck.

And won’t that be a treat for the Detroit (*spitting noise*) players to watch. Chicago is “Hockey Town” now, bitches.

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Boxing with Blackhawks and Big Falling Snow Pile, 10/7/10

My nice new job allows me access to screenshots of the box scores, so I thought I’d take advantage and try to put something together for last night’s Blackhawks opener vs. the Colorado Avalanche.

I’m going to try and do this as much as I can this season. Can’t guarantee I’ll get to it every single game. Sorry if the font is a bit small, but it’s definitely readable. Let me know what everyone thinks.

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