And so, it begins: the home stretch of the regular season, kicked off by a 9-game road trip over the next 20 days, during which we take on 8 different Western Conference opponents starting tonight with our old friends the Vancouver Canucks.
So how have LuLu Belle and the Tampon Twins been lately, anyhow?
Well, LuLu is playing so well that his coach doesn’t trust him to play the Big Bad Blackhawks who made him cry; and just before the All-Star break the Tampons were held to a single point, going minus-4 between them against the one-point-out-of-last-place Lightning. Not exactly what you call inspiring performances.
I’m a little late to the party on this one, so I apologize for not chiming in earlier. I’m late because, as with most fans of the game of hockey, I pay no attention to the All-Star Game whatsoever. It’s not hockey, and it’s definitely not a “game.” It’s 40 guys pretending to care who wins while goofing around for 3 periods and playing inside jokes on one another. It was only when my wife asked me to find out what channel the game was on that I blew my stack.
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Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made his first splash into the trade market Friday, albeit the type of splash resulting from stepping into the bathtub.
It isn’t the deal many had hoped for, but getting center Brendan Morrison from Calgary for prospect Brian Connelly seems to be a solid depth move with very little risk.
Bowman said he’s been talking to Calgary “for awhile” to secure this deal, which seems beneficial for both teams.
Two things. First, Morrison is not the second-line center the fan base hoped the Blackhawks would acquire. His job will be – or should be, since we never seem to know what Q is thinking – to win draws on the fourth line while not playing a ton of minutes.
Second, he’s 36 with a history of knee problems, so don’t expect him to provide anything more than serviceable minutes.
It’s precisely the reason Bowman wasn’t about to give up anything of substance for him, and Connelly seems to be on the back end of the list when it comes to NHL potential for Blackhawks defensive prospects. An AHL All-Star doesn’t translate into NHL-ready, or even close to NHL-ready.
Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times posted a series of tweets with quotes from ‘Hawks players and Morrison himself regarding the trade, some ‘Hawks chirping after Morrison was injured in a meeting last season and his injury history.
The main thing to come from this deal is that Bowman is hitting the phones trying to make this team better. We’ll see what else he has up his sleeve.
♦ Jonathan Toews is expected to play Tuesday in Vancouver, according to Bowman.
He made sure to note the trade for Morrison had nothing to do with Toews’ injury, which came as a welcome relief.
So, the Blackhawks have to be the best 4th place Central Division team of all time going into an All Star break, right? If you would have told the general public a month and a half ago that the Blackhawks would be where they are at this point, they would have lost their collective shit. While most people aren’t freaking out quite yet, the “trade Patrick Kane” movement that seems to spring up each time he hits a rough patch is back in force.
By far the most mind-blowing criticism we’ve seen in the past few days of Kane was that he was cherry picking while 3 other Hawks were fighting in the defensive zone (killing yet another too many men penalty) in the waning minutes of the Tuesday Nashville game. How can these people be serious? Why the hell else would Kane be on the ice at the end of a game on a penalty kill? THE HAWKS NEEDED A DAMN GOAL! OF COURSE HE WAS CHERRY PICKING! Game 5 in 2010 anyone?
Listen, we all know the Blackhawks lack a big time asset that will help us land the defenseman we need, but the notion that you would deal Kane at this point in his career is simply absurd and it’s getting extremely tedious going over this every time either Kane or the Blackhawks slump. Another thing, how many guys in the league would cut off a finger to have a down year in which they recorded 41 points in the first 50 games?
There may not be a team in the league looking more forward to the All-Star break than the Blackhawks.
Playing without Jonathan Toews and of course Patrick Sharp, the ‘Hawks looked fell short on the defensive end a dropped the final game before the break, 3-1 to the Predators.
Despite the offense lacking, I didn’t feel the offense necessarily was the issue. Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson are becoming painful to watch. Absolutely and completely painful. It actually hurts from getting so damn angry at their problems – and they’re many.
No more crap about Leddy being young and learning and being thrust into a position to learn on the job. He’s playing for a Stanley Cup contender, and that label for the ‘Hawks comes in spite of him, not because of him. The second goal was a direct result of his inability to play defense with enough muscle nor brains. The blind ring around the boards didn’t work simply because he thrre it into a forechecker’s legs, leading to a nice kick pass for Mike Fisher’s goal.
Hjalmarsson gets plenty of blame as well, as Fisher had all day to prepare himself for that pass. At this point, I’d like to see Sami Lepisto get a night with one of these two in the press box. Something needs to be done.
(UPDATE: It’s since been confirmed it was Sean O’Donnell on the ice with Leddy, and not Hammer. My eyes weren’t working right from the opposite end of the stadium, which is my bad. However, it doesn’t change my stance that one of these guys needs a seat up high for at least a game.)
♦ Corey Crawford is giving up far too many rebounds, but this game could’ve gotten out of hand tonight if it weren’t for him. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith allowed a breakaway chance, as did Hjalmarsson’s flat feet. Crawford stopped them both, then made some saves in the third that could’ve doomed the ‘Hawks had they gotten past him. No real praise, but no real thoughts of this being his fault by any means.
♦ Dave Bolland won 17 of 20 faceoffs tonight. Dave. Bolland. Won. 17. Of. 20. Faceoffs. I slowed it down for you to make you read it slower. Between that and his goal, I think he embraced taking Toews’ spot on the top line.
♦ Marian Hossa is an under-appreciated part of this team. He never gets enough credit, in my book. The reason he’s not talked about much is because he doesn’t do much wrong. I guess it gets hard to constantly praise someone.
♦ Patrick Kane stopping to twirl mid-breakaway is a prime example of him thinking too much about his slump. No, I really don’t have any idea what’s running through his head. It could be hookers or pretty pink bows. However, it’s hard not to speculate when a true, killer goal scorer refuses to simply take his space and go hard to the net to try and beat the goaltender like he’s always capable of doing.
♦ Andrew Shaw has officially become Q’s new Kris Versteeg. Shaw led all ‘Hawks forwards in ice time tonight, and while he’s playing hard, I don’t necessarily believe he deserved all that time. Q is trying to ride the hot hand, but Shaw hasn’t exactly done anything stellar over the past few games to have me going nuts over him. As I’ve said before, everyone needs to stay grounded on this guy – including Q.
♦ Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch in favor of Bryan Bickell. And no one cared or noticed one way or the other. The drop off of these guys is epic.
I’m sure there are those who wouldn’t mind re-living last Saturday’s embarrassment down in Nashville, but I’m not among them. As far as I’m concerned we should have pulled the team off the ice and forfeited when the bloop grounder to short hopped past Corey Crawford. That was the sign that it was not our night, and no measure of effort nor change in strategy would change that.
The Hockey Gods played a joke at our expense, and we walked away with a 5-2 loss. Thanks very much, assholes.
How did Nashville do it? The same way they always do. They played their usual more-boring-than-Latin-mass style of defensive hockey, and took advantage of the many, many scoring opportunities we gave them. Were it not for some heroics by Marian Hossa the Blackhawks would easily have been shut out.
Tonight, let’s not be such easy prey, shall we fellas?
One day, the Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division standings, at times boasting the most points in the NHL. The next, they wouldn’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round if the playoffs began at that moment.
It’s a difficult time to keep up with the constant shifts in the standings, but such is life in the competitive Central – which is currently on pace to make a bit of history while providing us fans with some entertaining hockey down the stretch.
This is the 13th season since the NHL went to six divisions and the current playoff format in 1998-99 (the 2004-05 season marked the lockout). In the 12 completed seasons, at least one division has sent four teams to the playoffs 10 times.
In a game Blackhawks fans likely won’t forget soon, Minnesota beat Dallas on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season to prevent the Pacific from becoming the first division to send all five teams to the postseason.
Essentially, the playoff format has three division winners and five “wild-card” teams. The only seasons one division didn’t claim three “wild-cards” were 2000-01 and 2005-06.
The 2008-09 season marked the one time two divisions accomplished the feat. The Atlantic and the Central, when Detroit (No. 1 seed), the ‘Hawks (4), St. Louis (6) and Columbus (8) qualified four of their five teams – the only time since current realignment the Central has done it.
Overall, a single division qualifying a quartet is quite common. The rarity lies in what the Central currently is on pace to accomplish – place all four teams within the top six seeds.
The amount of pain resulting from Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Nashville is to be determined.
Jonathan Toews played less than 10 minutes before leaving, and the ‘Hawks played careless defense and got sub-par goaltending from Corey Crawford, helping extend their road losing streak to four games.
There’s little question the “upper-body” injury that kept Toews from finishing is the same that sent him to the bench against Florida. The slash to the hand/wrist area is the likeliest of anything anyone can think it to be. How it got aggravated, though, is anyone’s guess.
I know this may be tough to hear without a diagnosis and it coming after a humiliating defeat to a division rival, but as long as Toews’ injury isn’t a clean break, it came at the best possible time. If it’s necessary, Toews can sit Tuesday and then relax for a week after skipping the All-Star game next Saturday, and we can see where we’re at then. If this happened in the middle of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, then I may be a bit more concerned.
That doesn’t mean I’m not now, especially since the vagueness of the NHL injury front keeps us from knowing much. However, though briefly, I’m remaining optimistic.
♦ Allowing a 100-foot goal became Crawford’s biggest of his many blemishes this season – and maybe his career. We can talk about funny bounces all we want, but that floater has to be stopped. The momentum completely shifted after the ‘Hawks controlled most of the game to that point. He’d later go down like he took a shotgun to the chest on a move by Kostitsyn, leading to the hook in favor of Ray Emery, who was promptly greeted with a breakaway he stopped.
♦ Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson - I’m begging them to prove their worth soon. Leddy’s offensive talent doesn’t help with what the Blackhawks need. They have plenty of scoring. What the ‘Hawks need is defensive reliability, which he’s not giving at the moment. The failed clear led to Hammer staring at Legwand, as Wilson slid right behind him for an easy goal. That’s not on Crow, that’s the defense. And Duncan Keith didn’t do Crow any favors by coming up way too high on the kill, leaving Smith two clear cracks at putting it into the net.
♦ Marian Hossa played an outstanding game at both ends, and potted the only Blackhawks’ goals while making the red-hot Pekka Rinne look pretty damn bad.
Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.
Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.
Is it paying off?
So Bartl was supposed to be around with your Boxing – but he has gone MIA. Sombody should probably look into that.
But we have bigger fish to fry! We’re going to forego a traditional recap as the game was yesterday and you’ve probably already read recaps here and here. Just a couple of real quick thoughts on the game and some other things: