Welcome, Stalberg

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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).

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Hawks Recall Jimmy Hayes : Brandon Pirri Back To Rockford

( Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / September 25, 2011 )

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.

Quick Says ‘Not So Fast’: Boxing with Blackhawks and Kings

(Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

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.

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Need Some Purple Pills: Impotent Kings Visit Chicago

Photo: AP

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.

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It Only Gets Harder : Let Crow Ride The Wave

( Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune )

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…

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And We’re Back: Victorious Boxing with Blackhawks and Blue Jackets

(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

We can look at the first period of Monday’s 4-1 win over Columbus in a couple of ways.

1) The Blackhawks looked sluggish in the first 20 minutes, working off the holiday feasts and delicious treats while being outshot by the worst team in the league 13-5. There were signs of rust, and the ‘Hawks looked like they were going to drop a game on home ice to the lowly Blue Jackets.

2) The Blackhawks’ worst was still better than the Blue Jackets’ best, as they kept Columbus off the scoreboard with enough of an effort until they got their legs under them in the second period. There was never a reason to panic, because the ‘Hawks are not as bad as they looked. It’s usually a matter of time that they’re going to show their true talent.

I prefer the latter.

A couple of quick thoughts before Boxing…

♦   How about that Viktor Stalberg, eh? A pair of goals to give him seven points over his last four games, and he skated his ass off throughout the contest. After initially bitching about being dropped off the top line, he’s flourishing in the bottom six with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell. His speed is a nice compliment with the two grinders. Fluke or a sign of things to come? “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet.”

♦   Let’s not call this a goaltender “dilemma,” because the word makes it seem there’s a problem. Far from it, in my book, given the solid play of both Ray Emery and now Corey Crawford over the last two games. They say in the NFL that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have quarterback. Having two solid goalies in the NHL doesn’t relate.

Crow’s 37 saves, coupled with a solid effort against Montreal makes it seem as if he’s back to what we hoped for when the season began. Who gets the start Wednesday? Just a topic of conversation for people leading up to that game, because as of right now, it really doesn’t matter. I’m confident with either of them in net, so let’s see what Q decides.

♦   Any chance John Scott’s wife had quintuplets so he can get five times the paternity leave?

♦   I don’t hear anyone complaining about Marian Hossa’s 12-year contract now, do you?

Let’s get to the glorious images of Boxing:

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“What Are You Going To Do, Bleed On Me?” Blackhawks Host Columbus

It’s getting boring to list the woeful details of the pathetic state of affairs surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the third meeting of these two teams, and each time the story gets more unpleasant.

It’s akin to King Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight: they talk big and look imposing at the outset, and they put up a good fight. But in the end they come away well beaten and embarrassed.

The Blue Jackets have re-claimed the basement in the NHL thanks to a four-game losing streak, which caps off a post-Thanksgiving run that saw them lose 9 of their last 12. Just four (count them, 4) of their players have a plus-minus rating that is not negative, and only one of those is above zero; James Wisniewski,, the off-season mega-contract recipient and purported defensive savior, leads the race to the bottom with a minus-19 on the season. Their “best” goaltender boasts only a 2.66 GAA and still has a losing record, while “starter” Steve Mason is 4-14-1 on the year. And with nearly all of their star players back in the lineup after an injury-riddled start, the BJ’s still couldn’t ride a first period hat-trick by star center Jeff Carter to victory, losing to Nashville in their last pre-holiday outing by a final of 6-5.

“You stupid bastard! You’ve got no arms left!”

It’s no fun beating up on a team that can’t defend themselves. It’s almost as if they should just jump behind the turnbuckle and yell, “No mas! No mas!” Pity them and their fans, for they still have 48 games left to play.

Probably for the better anyhow, there’s plenty to talk about with the Blackhawks.

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Moving on: Blackhawks’ 5-game Winning Streak Comes to an End in Pittsburgh

No Boxing tonight, as I was out celebrating my Dad’s birthday and, well, I’m lucky to be getting this post up as it is. Wednesday night, you’ll have your Boxing.

(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

Shit happens, eh?

Call it a measuring-stick game, if you will. A game in mid-December on the first night of an away-home back-to-back in an inter-conference matchup doesn’t quite qualify for me. Much like the contest against Minnesota didn’t qualify as well.

No matter what happened tonight, we knew both teams would still be contenders. If the ‘Hawks lost 6-0, would we be flipping out that they’re never going to compete for the Stanley Cup? Would we forget about the 21 victories and throw them away? Are we about to do that now?

I understand this Blackhawks team has plenty of questions marks. I more than believe there’s plenty more they need to improve on in order to be clear-cut Western Conference favorites.

More than anything, I never expected to have these Blackhawks “figured out” by mid-December. And if you did, then you need to reassess. What we know, and still know, after tonight: The Blackhawks are good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup. And that vague, borderline assessment is exactly how I expected to feel at this point in the season.

After the 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh, a few things stood out to me, mainly as I began accepting certain things…

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Endangered Species: Blackhawks Face Battered Penguins

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

And there it was, a bright flash of brilliance against the winter sky… The rarest of sights… Coming hence only one in 82…

It’s Crosby’s Comet!

And now, just as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone. Maybe it will show up again next year…

I’m sure that’s how Pittsburgh fans felt when their Sainted Wunderkind took the ice for those 8 games earlier this month, netting 2 goals and adding 10 assists to put him ahead of all but 9 of his teammates on the scoring chart. Which, when you think about it, either says a lot about Sidney Crosby, or a HELL of a lot about the rest of the Penguins.

But one thing to note about the Pens’ stats sheet is its sheer length: 29 skaters have put on the black and gold so far this season, due in no small part to the list of players with injuries stretching nearly as long as the stat sheet. At present, the following players who are NOT named “Crosby” are out of the lineup for Pittsburgh: Robert Bortuzzo, Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek (bless you…), Richard Park, and Jordan Staal. Saying that we’re playing the farm team tonight is not that far off the mark.

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Housekeeping : Trades And Firings!

( Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

So let’s start with the good Blackhawks news. Brent Seabrook was able to put on his jacket after the game (HOLY SHIT!) and traveled with the rest of the team to Pittsburgh today. However, it seems unlikely that he dresses tomorrow against the Pens. Not traveling with the team was Dan Carcillo.Those radio shows don’t plan themselves people!

Jeremy Morin was quiet in his season debut last night, but Joel Quenneville kept him with  Johnny Toews and Patrick Kane the entire game – so he must have seen a few things he liked. The return of Morin is probably bad news for Viktor Stalberg. Stalberg was able to hold off Andrew Brunette and Dan Carcillo for top line duty with the living legends, but one has to wonder if his rope is up now that Morin is here.

Still no word on Rene Bourque’s status after his blatant hit from behind on Seabrook. If he gets off easy, I sincerely hope that is marks the end of the constant loving of Brendan Shanahan by some Blackhawks fans. It’s like these people don’t remember that the 1990′s happened. HE IS EVIL FOLKS. 100% PURE EVIL.

Mum also is the word on the goaltending situation for the Penguins/Canadiens back to back. It stands to reason that Q rolls with Ray Emery against Pittsburgh tomorrow. The Pens are the toughest opponent the Hawks will face this month and they can try to get Corey Crawford going again at the UC against the team he cheered for growing up (Montreal) on Wednesday.

Some random notes from around the league:

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