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…
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:
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.
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.
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…
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.
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:
Joel Quenneville became the second-fastest coach to reach 600 career victories after the ‘Hawks beat Calgary 4-2 on Sunday at the United Center, but it may have come at the expense of losing Brent Seabrook for a period of time.
While Quenneville’s accomplishment deserves some recognition – only Scotty Bowman reached 600 quicker – it became a bit easier to come by in the era of no ties. Nevertheless, this team became what it is now with Q behind the bench. Good for him.
Beyond that, the loss of Seabrook means some more shuffling amongst the blue liners, and it comes after a ridiculously dirty hit by Rene Bourque that simply shouldn’t have happened. While Seabrook hasn’t exactly been playing his best lately, his absence is not something to sneeze at.
Hopefully when we find out more, the news won’t be too terribly bad.
I’m very tired, so we’re going to get straight to Boxing. One of us will be back in the afternoon with some further thoughts as the ‘Hawks continue a stretch of three games in four days on Tuesday.
He’s back. Who, you ask? Lubomir Visnovsky. I’ve got bad news too. He looks really good.
After a fairly disappointing start, posting 1 goal and 3 assists in 16 games, Visnovsky broke his finger and sat out a month.
Visnovsky returned to his team and made a statement last night against the Phoenix Coyotes. He had an assist, was a +2, and recorded 7 shots, while posting an impressive post-injury 24:23 of ice time. I watched the game for this very reason. I was interested in seeing how Visnovsky would bounce back from his injury and if he was capable of returning to the form he was in last season. He scored 18 goals and recorded 50 assists last year for the Ducks.
While I’m not a fan of the whole moving-at-a-snail’s-pace-in-what-is-supposed-to-be-an-exciting-shootout tactic, Patrick Kane’s move to fake Niklas Backstrom out of his pads to pot the winner was pretty … well, you saw it.
And while I’m also not crazy about a three-point game against a Western Conference foe, the back-and-forth was pretty exciting, and the ‘Hawks came away on the positive end with a win over conference-leading Minnesota on the road.
When the Blackhawks scored twice in less than two minutes, even scoring on the power play, I felt like they had this one in control and would keep rolling.
Then I remembered they’re the ‘Hawks, and making things interesting seems to be their staple.
A couple of things we need to talk about ….
♦ The icing no-call that led to the Wild’s first goal was downright horrific to the point of being embarrassing for an NHL linesman. Sometimes, calls can go either way. This one, however, could only go one way, and he flat out missed it. You can bet if the ‘Hawks didn’t come out with two points, you would’ve been cursing this non-call over your cup of coffee in the morning.
♦ With that said, John Scott is … you know what, I’m running out of degrading adjectives for this guy. No matter what, if he thought icing would’ve been called, why in the hell are you going to skate below the goal line when Steve Montador had the puck won by about five strides? Coast, and get ready for the icing draw, if that’s what you were thinking.
Since his brain rivals that of a mosquito’s, he took his giant ass out of the play, left the front of the net wide open and let the Wild get back into the game. If he coasted in, he would’ve been able to have a chance to recover and disrupt the play. Instead, he acted indignant and proved he’s not the most colorful tool in the shed (I make a funny, he ha).
♦ No idea why Matt Cullen was similarly indignant when Duncan Keith made a fantastic play to put an end to Cullen’s breakaway. It was clean, stick-on-stick. Cullen gets an unsportsmanlike, and the ‘Hawks take the lead. Fine with me.
♦ With the way Ray Emery is playing, he’ll likely start through Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh unless he completely shits the crease against either Anaheim or Calgary. If not, Corey Crawford likely won’t play until next Wednesday’s home tilt against Montreal. Does anyone have a problem with that? Probably not.
♦ Anyone want to argue with me that Jonathan Toews is the best player in the world at this moment? Tell me who’s better. I’m open-minded about this, but it’s going to take a strong argument. And remember, I said at this moment.
♦ While I want to say the ‘Hawks shit themselves in letting the Wild come back from down two goals, then again after Toews’ goal, Minnesota is a good hockey team and they weren’t going to fold up against a solid opponent at home. I won’t go as far as to guarantee the ‘Hawks will be competing with the Wild for the top seed come April, but they’ve got a good group over there that can keep it going, in my opinion.
♦ Are you honestly kidding me with Kaner’s 75 moves on that winner? For the love of all that is holy, the stick-handling and control were beautiful. Even the Boo-Ya Network recognized it as No. 1 for the night.
And now Boxing…
I was able to trade emails with Mike Doyle of Wild.com to help figure out why in the hell the Minnesota Wild are actually atop the NHL standings. Here’s what he had to say:
Bartl: The Wild seem to be surprising everyone but themselves this season, leading the Western Conference despite a host of new players and a first-year coach. What has been the main reason for the turnaround, and how different of a team is this from last year’s squad?
Doyle: Well, I wasn’t working for the Wild last season and some people have tried to make that connection, but I have to give credit to the other Mike in the Wild organization.
Coach Mike Yeo has this team focused and there is a belief from top to bottom that if the Wild sticks to its game plan, the team can beat anyone. Other teams say that they are tough to play against because they don’t breakdown or give up a lot of opportunities.
To start the season, there was a lot of excitement with the off-season acquisitions and a new coach, and that enthusiasm has continued into the season. Yeo was able to get the veterans to buy into the system immediately. This team truly doesn’t seem to care who gets the credit, just as long as the team wins, and that might be the thing that has propelled the turnaround from last season.