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.

More >

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.

More >

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…

More >

#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.

More >

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.

More >

Old Time Hockey Returns : Blackhawks-Red Wings Rivalry Lives

(Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune)

I know you were promised this yesterday, but life sometimes gets in the way. Anyway, by now you all know the NHL has approved a radical new realignment plan by a vote of 26-4, splitting the league into four conferences. The Blackhawks will play in a yet to be named conference with the Red Wings, Blues, Predators, Jets, Wild, Stars and Blue Jackets. The reaction around the league has been mostly positive and the league did a good job to accommodate the needs of most of the parties involved.

For Blackhawks fans, the worst case scenario of being stuck in a godforsaken division with St. Louis-Nashville-Columbus and Minnesota was averted and the rivalry with the Detroit stays intact. The NHL already stole the Minnesota North Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs from the Hawks – taking Detroit and leaving us with Columbus and Winnipeg would have been cruel and unusual.

More >

A Little Help, Please?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Coyotes

(Credit: Tom Cruze, Sun-Times)

Quickly, Tim has some quick thoughts on the realignment – which I won’t cover here – and Jim will be posting this afternoon with some more analysis about radical changes.

Is there anyone playing as well as Jonathan Toews right now?

If there is, it sure isn’t anyone currently suiting up for the Blackhawks.

Toews owned the second period, bringing the ‘Hawks back from a 3-0 deficit to salvage a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to Phoenix at the United Center on Monday.

Corey Crawford allowed three goals on 16 shots before being pulled in favor of Ray Emery, though the move was more of Q trying to spark the team rather than for the poor play of Crow.

Granted, the third goal was all Crawford’s fault, though the first two were tough. Steve Montador got caught between his skates and his brain, trying to stop hard to chase a loose puck jetting toward center ice. He lost an edge, then couldn’t recover, leading to a 2-on-1 break which Crow had no chance to stop.

The second … my God. Duncan Keith, please tell me what in the living funky hell you were doing? Keith blindly dropped a “pass” into an empty corner behind him. By the time Brent Seabrook had realized his defensive partner had a gigantic brain fart, the Coyotes were taking a two-goal lead.

Marian Hossa missed his 400th goal by shooting it into the foot of Yandle as the immortal Mike Smith was sprawled out somewhere in Schaumburg trying to find his way back to the net. Also cost the ‘Hawks the potential game-winner.

Back to Toews. Can we give this guy some help, please? His 17 goals lead the NHL. He’s scored in five of the last six games, giving him 13 points during that span (7G, 6A). His career high of 34 goals set in 2008-09 is sure to be broken this season. I know it’s too early to start the Hart Trophy talk, but Toews is the only reason the ‘Hawks even got a point out of tonight – the definition of MVP.

My roommate, who watched the Versus broadcast tonight, pointed out Doc called Toews “a great leader.” Yeah, no shit. Isn’t it about time everyone starts recognizing Toews as one of the best players in the world? Here we are talking about a guy who was the MVP of the Olympics playing for Canada. He’s won every single major championship everyone dreams of winning growing up.

Toews is making his case – if he hadn’t already – as an all-everything player who deserves even more recognition than he already gets.

And with that, here’s Boxing …

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

More >

Align This! No More Divisions, NHL Goes To 4 Conferences

Photo: dirtydangle.com

The much-debated and wildly prognosticated NHL divisional re-alignment plan threw everyone completely for a loop in the final throes of the matter, as a new plan was approved late Monday night that will re-align the league into 4 Conferences — 2 with 7 teams, 2 with 8. Names don’t appear to have been part of the plan that was approved, so they are merely being referred to as A, B, C, and D.

Here’s what the new NHL will look like:

More >

Didn’t we just do this? : Hoss goes for 400

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Just under a week ago, the Phoenix Coyotes walked into the United Center and kicked the shit out of the Blackhawks in every aspect of the game. It was probably one of the three worst performances the Hawks put in this year – along with the Vancouver and Edmonton debacles. The Hawks had one good shift in the opening minutes and then watched the Coyotes dominate the last 55 minutes of the hockey game. The UC was a funeral parlor and you would have had to be drunker than Matthew Barnaby to enjoy yourself. Since that horrible evening, each team has played 2 games. The Coyotes were 0-2 in that time (losing to Winnipeg and Philly), while the Hawks took care of business against the Islanders and St. Louis.

The Coyotes come into the game 13-9-3, good for 4th place in the Pacific Division and 9th in the Western Conference. In their last 10 games they are a very mediocre 5-5-0, but they play their best hockey on the road, sporting a 7-4-1 record. The Hawks dominated the first meeting between these teams and the Coyotes controlled the second.

More >