The last time we were talking about the Oilers we were licking our wounds and wondering how the hell a mediocre team like Edmonton had managed to put 9 (yes, NINE) goals behind our goalies inside the span of just 60 minutes. We were wondering how we could possibly give up 3 power play goals against in a single period, 4 total on the night. We marveled at the fact that our heretofore adequate backup goaltender had allowed 7 goals on just 27 shots, and also that statistically he was the better of our two netminders that night. And we wondered if the confidence we had allowed ourselves to feel after manhandling hated Vancouver 5-1 in their own rink just 3 nights prior was merely wishful thinking.
Had the Blackhawks’ success to date been just an illusion? Had they simply been playing teams that hadn’t gotten in the groove, but that were about to start making them look like the third-place finishers in the Glen Ellyn Bantam A house league? Were we about to see the Blackhawks’ season self-destruct in a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Conference opponents, putting us out of playoff contention by January 1st?
As it turns out, not so much. And as the Blackhawks’ fortunes have turned for the better in the last 45 days since that game, the Oilers’ fortunes have gotten exponentially worse…
The Chicago Blackhawks currently sit atop the NHL with 52 points. In their last 10 games the hawks have an 8-2-0 record with the one loss coming on the road to the Pittsburgh Penguins the other against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. After Friday’s win over the hated Red Wings, there is plenty to be happy about as a Hawks fan right now.
However, we don’t settle for good enough, we want our boys to be the best in the league, superior in all ways. With 2012 upon us, I’ve decided to take a look at some New Year’s Solutions and Resolutions.
After watching such a well-played game between two world-class teams like the one that went on at the United Center on Friday night, I’m all out of jokes for the hated Red Wings.
I have to show some respect, however much I can muster begrudgingly.
The season isn’t even halfway completed yet, but I can’t help but think of the torture – yet unbelievable excitement – a Western Conference final matchup between the Blackhawks and Red Wings would bring.
The first 40 minutes were some of the best hockey I watched in a long time when factoring in the play of both teams. Fittingly, it took a third-period tie-breaking goal and some big defensive stops at the end, and it was the Blackhawks who came out on top 3-2.
Detroit may be the oldest team in the league, but it is still filled with tons of talent. The Red Wings are going to need to get better on the road (now 9-11-0) if they’re to make serious noise come mid-April, but any team likely would struggle a bit during a stretch playing 11 of 14 away from home.
Before we get to the final Boxing of 2011, here are some thoughts…
♦ OK, so I am going to rag a bit on an old fogy. Nicklas Lidstrom still is a good defender, even at his ripe old age. He was in perfect position to save a Marian Hossa goal while Jimmy Howard was down and out. However, he is not a GREAT defenseman anymore. Lidstrom’s Norris Trophy last season was no more than a parting gift for years of service in the league, then the fucker decided to come back. He’s been overrated for roughly four years, and it’s starting to piss me off.
Thankfully, Jonathan Toews exposed him like Mel Gibson at a Hanukkah party. Toews skated right past him to the center off the ice to accept a feed that led to a breakaway, and Lidstrom could do nothing but hook him, forcing a penalty shot. Toews proceeded to abuse Howard through the five-hole – shocking huh? – to tie the game.
At the end of the first period, Toews played the puck beautifully off the boards, lifted Lidstrom’s stick, corralled the puck and skated in. Again, Lidstrom hooked Toews to slow him down, because that’s all he could do after being left in the dust yet again.
♦ Patrick Kane at center wasn’t so bad, though he was late on the backcheck, allowing former Michigan State hero (sorry) Justin Abdelkader to come right up the gut and score past a diving Corey Crawford.
♦ Marian Hossa – my God. Could’ve easily had a trick tonight. His goal showed every aspect of his game we’ve all come to love. He was in the right spot to get the puck just below the red line, strong enough to fight through stick checks and talented enough to fire the puck past Howard on his around-the-world play.
Hossa’s career high is 100 points with Atlanta in 2006-07, when he scored 43 goals and added 57 assists. He’s currently at 41 points (17G, 24A), and if this fucking beast stays healthy, he may set a new high this season.
♦ Crawford was… meh. Nothing too good, nothing too bad. Even if those couple that hit the post got by him, there wasn’t much he could do anyway. Bertuzzi’s goal went in off the felon’s ass. He’ll be in net on Monday, in my opinion.
♦ I agree Jimmy Hayes looked good and played physically. However, his interference penalty was just dumb, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take less than nine minutes of playing and start talking about staying power. Nice debut, now show me more.
And here’s your last Boxing of 2011. Happy New Year to everyone, and thank you so much for stopping by to read our rants…
Alas, gone are the days when we can joke about Detroit (*spitting noise*) being better suited for catheters than jock straps. No doubt embarrassed by the constant jokes about Depends undergarments and tapioca pudding, tonight the Red Wings will dress only three players age 35 or older: felon Todd Bertuzzi, AARP spokesperson Nicklas Lidstrom, and backup bingo-caller Ty Conklin.
That’s probably for the better: I was running out of senior citizen jokes. And yes, Tomas Holmstrom falls into that category as well, but he fell and broke his hip while going to get his dentures re-fitted. Or something. Anyhow, he isn’t playing tonight.
The Chicago Blackhawks are about to embark on a difficult stretch during the month of January, facing tough Western Conference rivals and some pesky Eastern Conference teams as well. Some players on the team are doing fantastic, some others need work, and we have a pair of excellent goaltenders manning the nets. The Cheer The Anthem staff put their heads together and addressed these and other questions in the latest edition of our Round Table…
Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are surging lately and headed for strong end-of-season point totals. What do you see as the cause for this, and what can the Blackhawks do to keep these guys on a roll?
JEFF BARTL, Founder & Lead Writer: Remember all the concerns over Hossa’s contract, cap hit, injuries, etc.? It’s amazing how quickly a solid couple of months can rid us of all that. When the Blackhawks signed Hossa, I tried to break it down to non-hockey enthusiasts as being comparable to the Bears trading for Jay Cutler.
If you’ve even barely been paying attention to the Hawks lately, then you have undoubtedly heard of the emergence of Viktor Stalberg.
We are all surely familiar with his skating abilities and blazing speed. Sadly, we are also familiar with his knack for poor finishing and lack of patience when shooting. Had you mentioned Stalberg to me earlier in the season, even I would have rolled my eyes in frustration.
That all changed with his recent point streak (seven points over four games). It seems his shooting patience and accuracy are finally catching up to his speed. Stalberg producing, you say? Go ahead, I’m listening.
The fairy tale, surge, or whatever you want to call it that began on December 18 with an assist against the Calgary Flames and ended last night against the Los Angeles Kings has gathered the attention of everyone from Joel Quenneville to ESPN fantasy hockey owners (myself included).
Some quick news for you : Today the Blackhawks recalled former Toronto Maple Leafs second round pick Jimmy Hayes. Hayes was acquired by the Blackhawks for the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Hayes played his college hockey at Boston College and his brother Kevin Hayes is a 1st round pick of the Blackhawks. Jimmy is a big boy – listed at 6’6 and weighing 221 pounds. So far this season in Rockford he has 5 goals and 13 assists in 28 games. Apparently he will start with Jamal Mayers and Andrew Brunette on the 4th line for the Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night at United Center. We’ll have to see if he has the speed to keep up at an NHL level right now, but he should help with that whole “net presence” problem the Blackhawks seem to struggle with from time to time.
He wore #39 in the preseason – we’ll have to see what we can do about that. The Blackhawks also sent Brandon Pirri back to Rockford. All in all he wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t exactly making any noise either.
Here’s an example of solid goaltending stealing a game for a less-talented team.
Jonathan Quick made 38 saves – some in spectacular fashion – to lead the Los Angeles Kings to a 2-0 win over the Blackhawks at the United Center on Wednesday night.
In no way do I believe the ‘Hawks played all that well, but Quick made some unbelievable saves to snuff out some solid chances. He kicked away separate chances from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at the last possible second, and he stopped Patrick Sharp on a couple shots in one sequence, among others. No doubt the ‘Hawks could’ve played much better – especially on the power play – but Quick is largely responsible for this loss.
I’ll get to the goals and Coach Q bitching about the refs in Boxing, but here’s a couple quick thoughts:
♦ Toews went nuts about Mike Richards being awarded a penalty shot in the second period, but I’d like to see you make a different call if you were wearing the orange armband. If a player is skating in on a clear breakaway with an opposing player without a stick trailing him by two full strides, then the opposing player reaches out and shoves him from behind and the puck handler goes down, a penalty shot will be awarded 999,999 times out of a million. You’d call it, I’d call it, we’d all call it – right or wrong – and don’t tell me you wouldn’t. It’s basically an anticipation call, and I don’t have a problem with that unless it’s obvious the trailing player did not make illegal contact. In this case, it wasn’t obvious.
♦ Wednesday marked only the third time in the Blackhawks’ last 105 home games that they were shut out.
♦ It also marked the first regulation loss to the Kings in 12 meetings.
♦ Corey Crawford played a solid game, in my opinion. I think Q needs to give him Friday against Detroit to ride out this three-game week with all of them being at home. Actually, I’d put him down for Monday against Edmonton, too. Then, re-assess the situation for the Jan. 5 game at Philadelphia. A loss shouldn’t be what gets either Crow or Ray Emery back to the bench. I have to say I think Q is doing a good job dealing with his goaltenders to this point.
I’m tired, so here’s your Boxing…Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
The big news out of the Los Angeles Kings’ camp in the last month is the dismissal of veteran no-nonsense coach Terry Murray and the hiring of veteran no-nonsense coach Darryl Sutter. The general consensus among the pundits based outside of California was, “There’s a difference?” Murray was implementing a defense-based system, and getting buy-in from the superstar offensive weapons like Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards was difficult. Sutter will implement the same system, so how is that going to improve things?
The jury is still out, as Sutter has only 3 games under his belt as coach, notching 2 wins and a loss — about on par with what the team has been doing the rest of December. But as there is a history between Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi (former GM at San Jose who hired Sutter to coach the Sharks during his tenure there), expect Sutter to get several years to get the team to follow his lead.
The key problem for Los Angeles is offense. In 12 games thus far in December, they have scored more than 2 goals in regulation exactly once. And folks, that includes the games they WON. Granted, they have allowed the seventh-fewest goals against in the league, an impressive stat. But when you are also scoring the second-fewest, that’s bad. If Sutter can get the second stat up while keeping the first one down, he’s got a chance at making the playoffs.
Well, things are rolling along pretty smoothly, eh? I don’t even have anything to complain about! This must be a first.
The Blackhawks continue to lead the NHL in points and are looking pretty damn solid just about everywhere at the moment. But things are about to get real. Up until this point in December, only 4 of 11 games were against teams that would make the playoffs today. Over the next 15 games, 10 will be against teams that would qualify for the postseason.
The good news is that the cosmos decided to balance things out, giving the Hawks 11 home games through those 15. While it’s fantastic to lead the Central, it should be noted that the Red Wings and Blues aren’t exactly buried yet. A bad stretch over the next few weeks and the Blackhawks could easily be sitting in 3rd place.
I’m going to hit on a few issues here and Tim will be around with a preview of the Kings game…