Bittersweet: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Flames

(Credit: Scott Stewart, Sun-Times)

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.

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Ducks Fly Together- Hawks vs. Ducks Preview

Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

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Your Jock is Over … Somewhere: Boxing with Blackhawks and Wild

(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

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…

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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Wild.com’s Mike Doyle

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.

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Blackhawks vs. Wild : Who’s Best In West?

What is it?

Lisa: Dad, what’s a Muppet?

Homer: Well, it’s not quite a mop, it’s not quite a puppet, but man…

[laughs hysterically]

Homer: So to answer your question, I don’t know.

I imagine conversations similar to this happen all the time in NHL arenas when a kid asks their parent what a Wild is when Minnesota comes into town.

Anyway, tonight’s game features the top 2 teams in the Western Conference to date. Yes folks, we live in a world where the Minnesota Wild sit atop the NHL. Nobody really knows how, but the Wild have amassed 43 points and lead the Blackhawks by 3 in the soon to be defunct Western Conference.

Indeed, the Wild have been the feel good story of the NHL this year. Tuesday night,  they lost for the first time in 7 games to the Winnipeg Jets. However, the game was widely hailed as one of the funnest matches yet this season and was a great preview of what realignment will look like.

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It’s Still 2 Points: Blackhawks vs. The Shootout

NOTE: Entries to the random drawing for the two FREE tickets to Friday’s Blackhawks vs. Ducks game at the United Center will be taken all day Tuesday on Cheer the Anthem’s Facebook page. Go “like” the page, follow directions, and you could be heading to the game Friday on CtA as an early holiday gift.

I’ve referred to the NHL shootout as many, many things over the years. Those descriptions usually involve curse words and/or some sarcastic comment.

I think it’s a stupid way to decide a professional competition. And yes, even worse than a tie. Putting the same amount of points on the line in a one-on-one between a skater and goaltender as are at stake in a team-oriented battle for 60-plus minutes is something only Gary Bettman would do, and something only meatball fans would love.

Is it exciting? Not really. Does it matter what I think? Like most of the time in my life, the answer is no.

Bottom line, no matter how much we hate it, the shootout affects the standings. The Blackhawks have already gone to six shootouts by mid-December after going to 11 all of last season.

With it being an off day, let’s take a look at some of shootout numbers for the current Blackhawks and the goaltenders, just so you have some reference the next time we need to suffer through one of these things.

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Ben Smith Sent To Rockford

(Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America)

Ben Smith was sent to Rockford today. His short time up in the NHL this season has not been especially productive and last night against San Jose he played less than 6 minutes. There is no word yet on the next call up. I’m looking in Jeremy Morin’s direction. This would give the Hawks the option of using either Morin or Stalberg on a 3rd line, a unit which desperately needs a shot in the arm. We will see what Stan has in mind. This probably means Bryan Bickell will be back in the lineup against Minnesota on Wednesday.

Thanks, Pops: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Sharks

"You're not so bad yourself there, Hoss." (Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Daddy likes the sauce.

Patrick Sharp potted his second consecutive overtime winner and first as a father, sealing a 3-2 Blackhawks win over San Jose on Sunday night at the United Center.

While Sharpie’s handsome winner and Andrew Brunette’s deflection with a little over a minute remaining to tie the game were fantastic, the ‘Hawks played like they were wearing slippers for the first 40 minutes. Getting outshot 33-13 through the first two periods is just downright embarrassing, and it caused Q to switch up his lines – and rightly so – to start the third.

Whether it was that which sparked the rally or the Sharks playing not to lose, the Blackhawks were able to improve to 6-1-1 in their last eight games and are taking advantage of a favorable schedule like we all hoped.

Quick thoughts before Boxing…

♦   It’s true Jonathan Toews didn’t play his best game tonight, and there might be a reason: His 26 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time were a career-high, as Ben Smith sat and watched. Granted, Toews playing this many minutes simply can’t happen night after night, but Q called on his Captain to play the necessary minutes to get the ‘Hawks back into it. Toews went 14 for 23 on the faceoff dot, including winning the draw leading to Brunette’s equalizer. That’s why he’s the best player in the world at this moment. He doesn’t need to show up on the score sheet to affect the outcome of a game.

♦   Speaking of Brunette’s goal, the ‘Hawks executed the play just as it was drawn up. Brunette darted straight for the blue paint after the puck was dropped. Two quick passes and a one-timer toward the net gave the ‘Hawks exactly the type of goal they were looking for to beat Antti Niemi, whose solid performance went for naught.

♦   Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe are complete ass hats. Thornton should have gotten another minor for shoving Toews around the ice after his high stick, and I’m still in shock Clowe didn’t have to start OT in the box after punching everything in a ‘Hawks sweater.

♦   Ray Emery is the reason the ‘Hawks even had a chance to tie and win that game late. He’s 3-0-1 in starting the last four games, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he started Wednesday in Minnesota against the surging Wild. Corey Crawford isn’t going to get off the bench soon if Emery keeps this up.

♦   FREE STUFF ALERT! I’m going to be giving away two free tickets in Sec. 326 to Friday’s game against Anaheim. No catches, the tickets are a free holiday gift as an appreciation for stopping by and reading us here at our new home since moving here in June. The random drawing will be held Tuesday, and one winner will get both tickets. Contest rules will be posted Tuesday morning on Cheer the Anthem’s Facebook page, so if you haven’t “liked” it yet, you better do it now. Only those who “like” the page have a shot at winning the tickets. Good luck!

Boxing is all I’ve got from here…

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#400 for Marian Hossa

+1 to the lady in the Christmas sweater. (Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last night, Marian Hossa became only the 85th player in NHL history to record 400 goals. The milestone goal came one day shy of the 13th anniversary of his first NHL goal,  December 9th, 1998 against Sean Burke and the Florida Panthers. In that game, Hossa had a goal and 2 assists, just like he did last night against Al Montoya and the Islanders.

Drafted #12 overall in 1997, Hossa spent his first 6 full seasons with the Ottawa Senators, recording a career high 45 goals in the 2002-2003 season. Hossa and a stacked Senators team reached the Eastern Conference final that season but lost in the 7th game to the New Jersey Devils who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

After the lockout, Hossa was unfortunately dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers just two days after signing a 3 year/ 18 million dollar contract with the Senators for Danny Heatley and Greg de Vries. Hossa perfomed well in Atlanta along with Ilya Kovalchuk, but the team was terrible and they made the playoffs just once in his two and a half seasons there. They were swept out.

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Hawks v. Islanders : Razor Starts

( Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

So after this can we be done with the Islanders and Coyotes?

The Blackhawks arrive on Long Island coming off a Jekyll/Hyde performance against Phoenix which saw them fall behind by 3 goals, then crawl all the way back to salvage a point. Corey Crawford was pulled in the 2nd for Ray Emery and it looked like the Hawks would put on a repeat performance of the previous Phoenix game. But Jonathan Toews decided that wasn’t going to happen and put the Hawks on his back (again), scoring 2 goals and setting up Patrick Kane beautifully for the equalizer. The Hawks ultimately lost in the shootout (which will happen when Emery is in net) but you left the game feeling good about getting a point out of a game that at one point looked like a laugher.

New York comes into the game dead last in the Atlantic Division at 9-11-5. However, they have improved over the last few weeks and pulled out their last two games since falling to the Hawks 6 days ago in a shootout. Tuesday night they torched Tampa Bay 5-1 and then defeated a surprisingly competitive Dallas team 5-4 on Saturday.

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