When the backup goaltender debate was raging, the issue I raised (that everyone, and I mean *everyone* called me nuts for raising) was the prospect of injuries. What do you do if one of our top-two goaltenders gets hurt?
While it’s not looking like Corey Crawford isn’t healthy enough to go and more simply getting a night off, Ray Emery will start in net for the Blackhawks after battling the flu much of this week.
Remember these guys? Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien make their return to the United Center since being dealt in salary dumps following the 2009-10 Stanley Cup run. After one middling season in Atlanta, the two are a part of the NHL’s long overdue return to Winnipeg, with Ladd donning the ‘C’ and Byfuglien carrying some new paper.
Here to help me preview the Jets is Winnipeg Free Press beat writer Ed Tait, who discusses the atmosphere in Winnipeg, the Jets still being the Atlanta Thrashers, and the two former Blackhawks. Enjoy!
Bartl: First thing, can you talk about the atmosphere in Winnipeg for the season opener and how the fans and players alike are embracing having hockey back in the city?
Tait: The season opener was like no other sporting event I’ve covered. There was a variety of different emotions shown by fans and players, from pure euphoria to sadness during the pre-game memorial to Rick Rypien. I saw grown men crying tears of joy, the Canadian national anthem has arguably never been sung louder in these parts and the MTS Centre concourse was jammed with people three hours before the opening face-off. The whole event had the feel of opening night and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final morphed into one. The cool thing for fans now is this: after this road trip to Chicago and Phoenix the next home game is against Pittsburgh and everyone has their fingers crossed Sidney Crosby is back on the ice.
Bartl: Eventually, the excitement of having hockey back will turn to wanting competitive hockey. Do the fans realize they’re still cheering for the Atlanta Thrashers, who have yet to win a playoff game? Will the fans be a bit lenient with them this season?
Hopefully all of this injury shit is confined to the start of the season, when the ‘Hawks had five days to heel up and get back in gear.
♦ Corey Crawford practiced today with a sore groin, and he’s not certain if he can go against Winnipeg tomorrow night. Crawford downplayed it and said he’ll decide at the morning skate how healthy he is, but there’s no reason to rush back for the third game of the season. In fact, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to sit Crawford either Thursday or Saturday against Boston anyway even if he was healthy.
The humorous part, though, is that Ray Emery also missed Wednesday’s practice with the flu. To counter that, the Blackhawks recalled Alexander Salak to either start or be the backup against the Jets. With all the hullabaloo over the backup goaltender, we all may get a chance to see what Salak is all about. Then if he posts a shutout, we can read 19 more blogs about whether or not Salak will replace Emery even after Emery is done vomiting. Yippy.
After Friday’s poop fest, it was more than nice to see the ‘Hawks score first and shut down the Stars out of the gate in a 5-2 win Saturday night at the United Center.
It also helped that Andrew Raycroft was getting beat like a group of Mormons in a keg race to his glove side all night. A couple of inches on numerous shots and this game could’ve ended 9-2.
Jonathan Toews scored out of the penalty box after Andrew Brunette got his first goal as a Blackhawk. Dave Bolland had a pair, including one that made Raycroft look like, well, Raycroft. Goals came much easier than they did Friday against Kari Lehtonen.
The Blackhawks seemed to be determined well before puck drop, as the ‘Hawks limited shots to Corey Crawford as he was playing a back-to-back for the first time since late last season. No real threats were posed other than a Vernon Fiddler goal which was set up by a nice give-and-go with former friend Adam Burish. Still, it took a great shot from Fiddler to beat Crawford to the far top shelf when Crawford had the near post covered.
Jamal Mayers helped welcome back Jake Dowell to the UC with a couple of haymakers, while John Scott was up to his same old shit – wasting a perfectly good uniform while dressing his large, worthless body for a whole three minutes.
Bolland, on the other hand, proved just how useful he can be when he can stay healthy. Friday and Saturday were night and day, and don’t think Bolland wasn’t a major cause of it. The Stars looked completely out of sorts, and Bolland provided plenty of offense as well. It’s probably both good and bad, but the ‘Hawks seem to be a different team when he’s out on the ice (See: Vancouver series, Games 4-7).
Onto Boxing to celebrate the first of (hopefully) many more victories. As always, separate images for the summary and box score, click each to enlarge:
Oh well. Not much to get nuts about here. One game down, 81 (and hopefully more) to go.
Sure, there are certain things that made me angry. The power play was 0 for 4, Duncan Keith looked like poop. Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik missed on a couple of good chances.
Again, it’s just one game and a 2-1 loss in Dallas on opening night isn’t something to cower in the corner about. It’s time for the Stars to head into our house.
It’s time for the triumphant return of Boxing – the first one here at our new home, Cheer the Anthem. There are two separate images, one for the game summary and one for the box score. Click on each to enlarge.
The bad news for the Dallas Stars is, they come in to the 2011-12 season with most hockey pundits expecting them to miss the playoffs, ranking in 11th place or lower when April rolls around. The worse news is, they have a rookie coach, their leading scorer flew the coop in the off-season, and they may be moving to Medicine Hat at any moment.
That unfamiliar face behind the bench is Glen Gulutzan, coaching his first NHL team in his first NHL game. Both his playing and coaching careers topped out at the minor league level — until tonight. Star center Brad Richards decided to follow dozens of overpaid and underperforming hockey players to the white-hot Klieg lights of the New York Rangers’ dressing room. And the ownership situation is still very much up in the air — leaving the question open as to whether new ownership will want to take the team someplace where the most prevalent religion is not NASCAR.
And let’s not forget, this is the Dallas Stars team that handed their playoff berth to the Blackhawks on the final day of last season, with a hog-smoking performance against the nearly-impotent Minnesota Wild. That Cubs-worthy choke sent the Stars to an early tee time for the third straight season, and contributed significantly to the dismissal of former head coach Marc Crawford.
Not exactly a good time to be a Dallas Star.
The season opener(s) is upon us, and to help preview the home-and-home with the Dallas Stars is ESPNDallas.com’s Mark Stepneski, who discusses last season’s letdown, the departure of Brad Richards and the Stars’ gameplan for the weekend against the Blackhawks.
Bartl: After missing the playoffs on the final day of the season and allowing the Blackhawks to sneak in, has there been any talk around the team about that near miss providing added motivation for this season, or has the team moved on?
Stepneski: I think missing the playoffs for a third straight season is a big motivation. But the sense I get from the team is that this season is kind of a fresh start. There’s a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan and several new players have been added via free agency. Not many in the national media are giving them much of a chance – hardly anyone is picking them to make the playoffs – and that is providing a little extra motivation as well.
The battle for the backup goaltender job with the Blackhawks this pre-season was the most anticipated contest at camp. That is, until Brandon Saad came along and played like he wanted his locker next to Jonathan Toews for the season. He may yet get his wish. But that’s another story.
Much ballyhooed rookie goaltender Alexander Salak came into camp with a phalanx of very vocal supporters, clamoring from any soap-box that they could find that the kid was “ready.” But the Blackhawks invited veteran netminder Ray Emery for a tryout anyhow. On Monday that battle came to an end when Emery signed a one-year contract and Salak was demoted to Rockford.
Did Salak “lose” the starting job to the enigmatic (and frequently problematic) veteran Emery? Was there ever a competition to begin with, or did the team just want to give the appearance of actually considering Salak when their intention was to sign Emery all along? A lot of fans are crying “foul,” believing that Salak was the better of the two goaltenders in the pre-season, and didn’t deserve the fate handed to him.
Here’s how I view the situation looking back at it now: the Blackhawks were left with two unpleasant choices after Friday’s loss to Pittsburgh, and they chose the least unpleasant of the two.
The Blackhawks officially signed Ray Emery to back up Corey Crawford this season, ending the competition with Alexander Salak. Why should you care? Well, you really shouldn’t.
It doesn’t matter what the reasons were for Coach Q and Stan Bowman to go this route. There are plenty, I’m sure, and none of which are of any concern to me. Chicago fans have an affinity for the backup, no matter what sport. It’s always been that way. And finally, for the first time in a few years, Blackhawks fans don’t have to worry who the hell is wearing the baseball cap this season while the starting goaltender shines in net.
After a nice little break I like to enjoy each offseason, I’m making my triumphant, much-anticipated return so you folks can remind me of how my fantastic, well-written, well-informed opinions are what you look forward to on a daily basis bother you.
I hit the United Center last night in my usual spot in Section 326, Row 12, Seat 11 and watched the Blackhawks earn a meaningless 4-3 win over Detroit, much to the delight of the woman behind me screeching each time the ‘Hawks crossed the red line. Thanks, psycho.
The problem with these games that don’t count is that bad shit still can happen, evident by the fact Viktor Stalberg will be sidelined three weeks with a leg injury, and Ben Smith got railroaded by a nasty hit which knocked him out cold. The bad stings, and the good is taken with a shaving of ice.
Now that I’ve made you more depressed about watching preseason hockey, here’s what I saw: