This date has been looming large on the horizon ever since this road trip began. New York Rangers franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goaltender in the league since the new year, would likely be the most impenetrable netminder the Blackhawks faced on this road trip. And as the games — ok, let’s call them what they are… the losses — drew us nearer to today, Lundqvist kept getting better. In his last 8 games he has 7 wins, including 2 against Philadelphia and capped with a shutout of Boston on Tuesday. In that stretch of 8 games he has 3 shutouts and has let in a total of only 9 goals.
The way this was looking, the Blackhawks may as well have been shooting at a net protected by a force field.
But then, through some quirk of fate or coincidence, the darkness lifted, the clouds parted, and for the first time since before the All-Star break, the Hockey Gods smiled on the Chicago Blackhawks…
Not only am I a stat wonk but I have a bit of an affection for using Star Wars to explain everything. The Blackhawks have lost lateral controls on their 2011-2012 campaign but the ship is still flying. If you’ve given up hope on this season, and I know for a fact that some of you have, no worries. It’s just hockey. I’m not going to question your fandom (which is stupid), call you a bandwagon jumper (equally unintelligent) or ask that you please turn in your Indian Head sweater along with your keycard on your way out. There’s some flaws that probably won’t be fixed on this roster, even after the February 27th trade deadline that is quickly approaching. What there is, however, is a window that’s very wide for this team in the future.
0-8-1. That is worse than the start the Columbus Blue Jackets got off to at the beginning of the season. I hope all the jerks taking their kids to Disney on Ice are having a great time – because its killing the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks play Nashville tonight, and it’s my job to tell you about what we can expect during the game. So here’s the obligatory paragraph about the Predators before we talk about the Blackhawks’ 8-game losing streak.
Nashville is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, most recently losing in a shootout to Boston. They’ve always been a defense-first team, but this year they are doing well in both categories — just outside the top-10 in both goals-for and goals-against. They can kill you from many, many angles: 9 players have 11+ goals, 9 players have 29+ points. Goaltender Pekka Rinne continues to shine, his .924 save percentage ranks among the league’s top-10. Neither Ryan Suter nor Shea Weber has been traded, and likely won’t be before the puck drops this evening. So that’s bad for us.
Will that work? Okay. On to business.
I’m sure we’d all like to call a “time out” and give the Blackhawks a week off where the team, coaches, and management get to assess what’s wrong, figure out how to fix it, and get this train back on the tracks again. But there’s no rest for the weary, as Chicago is back in action tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The bad news: Phoenix is on a 4-game winning streak. The good news: they have the second-worst power play in the league. So maybe if Coach Joel Quenneville gets his head out of his ass and leaves Nick Leddy on the bench during the penalty kill, we’ll have a shot tonight. More on that in a few moments…
Let’s get something out of the way first. Yes, I am about to subscribe to your Fire Coach Q newsletter but I haven’t quite put my credit card number in yet.
Here are your shift charts, CORSI and I tried to get the line combinations however LwL doesn’t have them available yet so I’ll be going from memory on those. At first glance, the CORSI makes it look like a game that a puck possession team should have won. Vlasic and the tank known as Dougie Murray were out leading their team in keeping pucks away from Antti Niemi which helped San Jose’s cause. We outshot the Sharks by five but once again that doesn’t matter when the Hawks defense looks like it did last night.
The first two goals I’m hesitant to place the blame on Corey Crawford. How many times did we have to see Eddie Olczyk diagram that first powerplay goal and put the blame on Marian Hossa though? As can be taken by my handle here, I’m a pretty big Hossa fan. I think Hossa covered his assignment and was heading for the shooting lane to block the shot. Crawford came out to challenge on Burns’ shot from the point and as we’ll discover later, a common theme arose from that. The puck went wide, Leddy got worked physically in front and Corey never regained his spot in the crease. The second goal I will just consider a wash because the fact the Hawks were shorthanded after Joe Thornton punched Jonathan Toews in the face and removed his helmet is something not even Ed Hochuli could explain clear enough for me.
Still, the Hawks were able to scramble back and get two goals from an unlikely source in Marcus Kruger. Both were nice net crashing plays by Umlaut, especially the 2nd where he went backhand on a rebound. That goodwill was soon spoiled by, no NOT Viktor Stalberg, but Duncan Keith’s inability to not only retain Vik’s pass at the blue line but coming back on the break and never getting into position. He seemed to give up and assume that the 2 on 1 break would result in a goal. Dylan Olsen got back, Keith never did. By the time he got back he never got in proper position and Thornton was able to bank one in off of Crawford.
We wouldn’t see Stalberg on the ice after that incident and I’ll be addressing that in the bullets.
The final period was marred two goals where Corey Crawford once again left his crease only to not return in time as hockey puck, party of two, had taken his reservation there. Someone please chain him to the net because the book is out and I’m tired of reading it. You get Crawford down, away from the net and he can’t scramble to get back in time. Now, let’s get some bullets in here.
It’s difficult to believe that less than a month ago, Chicago took down the San Jose Sharks at the United Center; and furthermore that the game was our second straight victory over San Jose this year. The only game we lost to the Sharks was in the Tank back in November on the Circus trip, and that was a 1-0 loss.
We can skate with this team. Well… we could skate with this team. Of late we can’t skate with Edmonton, or Colorado, or any one of a host of other teams that we should skate circles around. We’re having trouble beating the bottom feeders these days.
The Sharks are in first place in the Pacific Division. Oh Nellie, here we go…
There have been far worse times to be a Blackhawks fan, that goes without saying. But for many of us this last string of losses has conjured up images of Dirk Graham behind the bench, Mike Smith making trades that only a mental patient would approve of, and Steve Passmore flopping around in the crease like a carp that got dropped on the dock. Is this how it begins? Will a six-game skid turn the season into a wash? Are we headed for another five decades of doom and despair? What can snap the Blackhawks out of the funk that they’re in? The boys got together to discuss the current situation, what might be wrong, and what could be done about it in this month’s Round Table…
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The Hawks were lucky to not be trailing by several goals at the end of the 1st period.
The opening period saw each team playing rather tentativly, which makes sense as both teams entered the game with long losing streaks. The goaltenders each made some decent saves and the Blackhawks had a power play opportunity that yielded exactly zero shots. Former Minnesota Wild winger Chuck Kobesaw had the best chance of the period in the waning seconds with Ray Emery down and out, but he missed a wide open net. This game didn’t really begin until the 2nd period though.
The phrase on Blackhawks fans’ lips these days is, “What the HELL is wrong?!?” I’ll tell you what’s wrong in a minute, and you’re going to be more than a little surprised. But the matter at hand is tonight’s game against the Avalanche.
Looking at this Avalanche team reveals one very salient point: this will NOT be the Colorado Avalanche we see next year. 8 players on their current roster are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and another 7 are restricted free agents. Most of the guys we face off against tonight are up for grabs when the season ends.
Hope Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has some of our scouts with us on this trip.