Columbus, Ohio residents were shocked to learn in early October that they still had an NHL hockey team! Paying so much attention to the still-undefeated and #1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes football team, residents began calling the newspapers and TV outlets wondering who the funny-looking guys were wearing the skates and red-white-and-blue uniforms.
It didn’t help matters that the BJ’s spent late September and early October eating Lutfisk, cabbage, and pickled lingenberries while playing two regular-season games against the Sharks in Stockholm, Sweden. How could anybody pay attention to them, the team wasn’t even in town!
Alas, with so much hullaballoo over OSU and their pigskin performance, not to mention the disappointing season the Blue Jackets had in 2009-10, both media coverage and ticket sales are down noticeably for the Columbus franchise. Add to that a goalie coming off a sophomore slump and a leading-scorer whose effectiveness is waning, and you have the recipe for a, “Who Jackets?” reaction from central Ohio residents.
The just-completed off-season brought one substantial change, and little else. Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel was brought in as a permanent replacement for long-departed Ken Hitchcock, bringing with him a puck-possession style system that the team is having difficulty adapting to.
Apart from that the only brand-name addition to the roster is former Blackhawk and departed Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau who they snatched up on waivers. He is expected to bring some energy back to the team and provide leadership and confidence in what is reported to be a dour locker room scene.
KHL-banished prospect Nikita Filatov has returned to the team after personality clashes last season with Hitchcock and some teammates — many of whom are still on the squad. So while the young sniper has the potential to provide steady and crowd-pleasing offense, there is also the possibility that his attitude presents problems for the team. Only time will tell.
The Jackets have young Steve Mason between the pipes, who followed up a Calder-trophy-winning 33-win/10-shutout season in 2008-09 with a middling performance last year. Flimsy defense in front of him didn’t help the situation, and Mason will have to show his coach that he’s capable of handling the load. The other thing is, even the faithful fans are souring on Mason. If he can’t repeat his spectacular rookie season, or at least show that it’s possible, the coaching staff may lose patience as well and give him the hook.
Though it’s hard to blame Mason exclusively. Word from Columbus is that the Jackets’ defensive corps is big but slow, and they are having trouble adapting to the puck-possession system implemented by Arniel. If the blueliners can’t get with the program, Mason will have his hands full. If he lets in 3 goals on 60 shots, that’s a .950 save percentage. Not Mason’s fault if they lose that one 3-2.
The other factor that that has plagued Columbus is penalties. Their slow defensemen have been compensating with a lot of clutch-and-grab, and the Jackets have already racked up an above-average number of penalties in the early part of this year. Their penalty killing has gotten a workout, and this will likely prove to be a factor as games wear on and benches get shortened.
Let’s hope the speedy Blackhawks forwards take advantage of that, and we should expect to see all guns blazing as the Hawks come into the attacking zone. All guns except one, that is: Patrick Kane didn’t make the trip to Columbus, having sat out practice on Thursday with an illness.
In an unusual move, defenseman Jassen Cullimore got on the plane out of Rockford this morning and will be on the bench tonight. The groans from Blackhawks fans who know of Cullimore’s barely-AHL-caliber play could be heard all the way in Columbus. Goodness knows how Coach Q is going to shuffle the cards tonight — perhaps moving blueliners Jordan Hendry or John Scott up to a wing? — but this twist will make for an interesting game.
Kane’s absence is icing on the cake to a couple of weeks chock full of roster challenges. The Hawks are still without Niklas Hjalmarsson (suspension) and Brian Campbell (injury) on the back end. Expect Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to test the limits of their endurance once more, as the supporting cast behind them is still struggling to, you know, play defense. Marty Turco gets the start tonight amid unconfirmed reports that Coach QStache is growing weary of Turco’s bone-headed out-of-the-crease activities.
But regardless of who is in, who is out, who’s in net, who’s on D, and who’s playing 59 minutes per game, there are no excuses tonight. There are few scenarios where the Blackhawks can’t kick the holy living crap out of Columbus. Most pundits are putting the Blow Jerkers either last or next-to-last in the Conference this year. We should take every game from them, including this one. So I want to see nothing but elbows and assholes tonight, fellas: we need one in the ‘Wins’ column, and I’m not taking no for an answer.
Puck drops at 6pm Chicago time, TV is Comcast SportsNet, WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio, XM channel 204, and you Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers look for channel 208.
By now you’ve either seen, heard, or read about the Blackhawks’ snooze-inducing loss to the Nashville Predators, Barry “The Evil Troll” Trotz leading his crew of injury replacements to a late-3rd-period game winner that sealed the deal against Chicago.
I’m not going to give you the blow-by-blow, as it will likely put you to sleep — just like the second period of last night’s game did. Typical Nashville, but just like last year’s playoff series, whatever it is they do, they seem to throw the Hawks off their game every time. Last night was no exception: the forwards could barely get anything going, and the defense looked like they all had their skates on the wrong feet.
Some quick thoughts about the ups and downs:
- Rookie Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his first NHL start. So he’s probably sitting at home milking the moose right now, thinking about last night’s win and dreaming of his Ryan Miller-esque contract demands. Well, don’t rub it raw there, Andy. Next time we see you it may be 50 shots coming at you instead of 25. Even blind mice find cheese every once in a while. This ain’t over.
- Dave Bolland was easily one of the most consistent, over-performing players throughout the playoffs last year. Now he looks like he’s playing over-40 Men’s League. Is he injured? Sick, maybe? Did his hamster die? Something has to change there. He’s a liability right now.
- Viktor Stalberg hasn’t impressed me with any exceptional bursts of speed quite yet. What impressed me last night was his shot. The kid can unload, both slap shot and wrist shot. More accuracy, and he’s going to have goalies wondering how it got behind them so fast.
- If Patrick Sharp hasn’t fully recovered from whatever “undisclosed injury” he suffered last week, get him off the ice. Right now he’s playing like old people have sex: slow and sloppy. We need him at full capacity, and if that means letting him have two weeks off, so be it.
- If there is one thing I would work on with this team right now, it’s conditioning. The Hawks used to out-skate teams by 10 minutes into the second, and dominate by halfway through the third. That needs to happen again if we are going to put up good numbers this season.
- Corey Crawford played even better against Nashville than he did against Buffalo. He was screened on the first goal, the second was a deflection, and the third was a PK defensive lapse that left Joel Ward standing by the far post with enough time and space to smoke a cigarette and chat up the girls in the front row before snapping in the game-winner. Crawford has great reaction time, he’s squaring to the shooter well, he’s seeing the ice much better, and his rebound control is improving. Suffice to say I have a good deal of confidence in our backup goaltender.
- When Niklas Hjalmarsson comes back on Saturday, give Duncan Keith the night off. The guy is killing himself out there, and it doesn’t help his game, and it doesn’t help the team. He can’t be two defensemen, he can only be Dunc. Right now he’s being whipped like a rented mule, and it’s going to take a toll.
- Speaking of which, I would like to see a return to the Niklas Hjalmarsson we saw during the last regular season. He’s been trying to be a cross between Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell, and in the process he’s turned into Alain Nasreddine. Stop it, Nik. You’re no good to us this way.
- The Blackhawks had four — that’s FOUR — shots on goal in the third. That means I had only four shots fewer than the entire team while sitting on my living room couch and arguing with my cat about whose roast beef sandwich that really was.
- It’s my belief that this line juggling and musical defensemen is contributing to this crappy start. I know it’s Coach Q‘s way of doing things, but you can’t develop chemistry with guys who you only play with for three shifts a game. Look at it this way: it can’t get much worse if we stick to set lines for an entire game. Why not try it once, see what happens.
The Hawks are at Columbus on Friday, and you can bet Buffalo will be puttin’ on the foil to get a crack at Hammer when they visit the UC on Saturday. Check back here for previews before and wrap-ups after each game, and we’re always good for some laughs at others’ expense. Hey, they say stick to what you’re good at.
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Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich. Ever heard of them? Me neither. But one of them will be between the pipes for their first NHL start when the injury-depleted Nashville Predators arrive at the United Center for the game against the Blackhawks.
During Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, usually-impenetrable starting goaltender Pekka Rinne suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury and is out for, well, they’re not saying.
And seriously, is this “undisclosed injury” crap ever going to end? Tell the truth: the guy took a puck in the man-jigglies.
Lindback, a gangly 22-year-old Swede at 6’ 6” tall, is the likely choice to get the start — his first in North America — after coming in to relieve Rinne on Saturday night. He stopped all seven shots in 17 minutes of play during that game. But that’s 17 minutes more than Dekanich has ever played in the bigs, so the Predators had better hope Lindback is up to the task. Not an enviable position to be in when your star goalie is out.
In fact, the Preds will be without many of their effective weapons for this tilt with their Central Division rivals, as Martin Erat, Jamie Lundmark and Sergei Kostitsyn are all out of the lineup with various (wait for it…) undisclosed injuries. In fact, the entire thing is so secretive, I’ve heard that all of the players will wear number double-zero with no names on their jerseys so that the Hawks don’t even know who is on the ice!
Incognito or not, we can expect to see former Blackhawks J.P. DuMont and Speedy Stevie Sullivan, and we can also expect Barry Trotz’s minions to play a style of hockey that could put a crack-addicted gerbil to sleep. Pinch and press, dump and loiter, four-men across at their own blue line. It’s like a concert where the band just plays “Wooly Bully” over and over endlessly.
This will be just the second game of the year for Nashville, so we have little to go on past their 4-1 win over league-scourge Anaheim on Saturday. With so many guns absent from the arsenal, it’s anybody’s guess how the Preds will respond. Look for newly-minted captain Shea Weber to try to rally the troops against the defending champs.
And speaking of the Blackhawks, getting a win under their belt was no-doubt a confidence builder. And in a move that came as a surprise to everyone, late Wednesday afternoon Coach Q named Monday’s winning goaltender Corey Crawford for tonight’s start. No suggestion that Marty Turco was either injured or falling out of favor: the Hawks schedule has them in 4 games over the next 6 days, and the Coach is merely putting his ducks in a row to get the right ‘tender up against the right opponent.
The forward corps are looking reasonably good. Patrick Sharp returned on Monday after missing the Detroit (*spitting noise*) game with — you guessed it — an undisclosed injury, and he was a factor in the win over the Sabres. Newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille are working their butts off; Patrick Kane is starting to catch fire; and Marian Hossa is already as hot as a two-dollar pistol with five points in three games.
Some of our expectations of our veterans haven’t been met, in particular Dave Bolland whose face-off percentage looks like he’s using a badminton racquet instead of a hockey stick. Here’s hoping that turns around quickly.
News on defense is not so good. Already reeling from the absence of the injured Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson has earned a two-game suspension from the league for his hit on Jason Pominville during Monday’s game. That leaves Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both already logging 28+ minutes per game, to hold down the fort with an unstable compliment of rookies and lesser-talented veterans behind them.
Never mind the fact that both Dunc and Seabs have made an uncharacteristically large number of bone-head plays themselves so far this young season. All it took was one injury and one ill-conceived hit, and suddenly our best-in-the-league defense looks barely capable of stopping a beach ball. Tonight will be a big test of who can (and does) step up.
Rallying from two goals down in the Sabres victory says a lot about this team. One of the best traits of the Stanley Cup Championship lineup was that they *never* gave up on a game. I’m hopeful that what we saw on Monday was the beginning of that attitude returning to the Hawks’ locker room.
Puck drops at 7:30 at the United Center, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, XM channel 208, Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers can find the game on channel 217.
Check back here for the wrap-up and commentary Thursday morning.
When you play baseball, you can tell when a hit is going for the wall. There’s a certain feeling in the bat, that perfect connection between two objects in motion, and the feel of it says, “Bye-bye.”
Slap shots in hockey have the same feel to them when you “get all of it.” Pros have that feeling pretty much every shot. My slap shot sucks, so I felt it maybe twice in my years of amateur hockey.
But hits can have that same eerie resonance to them as well. Those I was good at. My favorite setup was catching a forward skating towards me, looking back over his shoulder to catch a pass. Happened maybe once per season. Time it just right, and you drop a shoulder into his sternum at the exact instant the puck hits his stick — BOOM. He goes down like he’s been hit in the chest by a wrecking ball.
That was the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. You could see it on the replays: he dropped like a stone. After his head ricocheted off the boards a couple of times, I mean.
Late Tuesday Niklas Hjalmarsson received a two-game suspension for the hit on Pominville. I had guessed three. During the preceding 12 hours I had heard the Old-Time-Hockey chorus around Chicago chiming in that they didn’t think it even deserved a penalty, let alone a suspension. Similarly, the Buffalo faithful were advocating that the league throw the book at him. That’s to be expected.
I actually read some barely-literate chucklehead comment on TSN.ca and suggest a suspension of 40 games. Holy bird turds, it’s pro hockey, not powderpuff soccer. Get a grip.
Let’s deal with the not-even-a-penalty suggestion first. From the NHL rule book, “Rule 41″ and “Rule 42″ respectively:
Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
“Charging: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”
The ref had both of these as options for the Hjalmarsson hit, as the play very easily met both of these descriptions. It was called on the ice as a boarding major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. So it’s quite plain to all but the most biased observer that *some* penalty should have been called — and it was.
There is also the new “Rule 48″ which addresses blind-side and/or head-targeted hits, which is new this year:
Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.
The league would have announced this as the cause for the suspension if that were the case, since it would have been the first one they ruled on. They made no such announcement, so I have to believe they did not feel the hit fell into the description as noted above. I think most casual observers would agree with that assessment.
So: not a blind-side hit, no intent to injure, not targeting the head, then why the suspension? In my opinion, it’s a question of PR.
This hit made the news. It was likely shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, because they love good video that they can slow down and make viewers watch as bodily parts do things they were never intended to do in the interest of sport, while commentators who know precious little about hockey at all say, “Yeah Dave, that’s gonna leave a mark.”
It would have made the Buffalo newscasts, and other hockey markets as well. The follow up stories (when they show the hit and Pominville’s stretcher-bound exit yet again) will tell everyone that Pominville suffered a concussion, needed 8 stitches, and will be out a minimum of a week. This presents a PR problem for the league. There’s really no provision in the rule book that justifies a suspension per se, but they can’t do nothing.
If the league lets Hjalmarsson off with no suspension, then sports columnists and commentators get on their high horse about the league turning a blind eye to the needless violence that is now making a comeback. Next thing you know there’s some fool-idiot petition circulating about stopping innocent children from playing or watching hockey. And Lord love a duck, if Don Cherry says something about it on Hockey Night in Canada, then just look out. Every time that old bastard opens his mouth it’s as if somebody had skated to center ice and set a basket of kittens on fire.
Understand that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff. If you’re reading this, you can likely quote the number of games Alexander Ovechkin got for the hit that sidelined Brian Campbell last year. But 99% of the people who only see the news reports about this incident and don’t follow hockey at all. So because these people have the attention span of a gnat, the league only has one shot at controlling the message.
The only way to do that is to move quickly and give the appearance of firm and definitive action. Get the suspension, whatever it is, done quickly — and make sure it’s made public before the 6pm news sportscast goes on the air. You’ll notice that was the precise timing for this announcement.
The league brings this on itself. The rules of the game don’t — and can’t — accommodate for every single circumstance. So when something new or unique comes up, they have to wing it. This opens up debates precisely like this one, and because of the completely secretive and often-times incomprehensible means by which they choose whom and what to punish, they look like idiots, and the sport looks like a joke.
But in the absence of a set of rules that turns hockey into basketball (MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!) we’re going to have to put up with this.
So, Niklas, enjoy your two games off, have some press box popcorn, and we’ll see you next week.
* * * * *
In other news, the league also handed out a two-game suspension to Islanders’ defenseman James Wisniewski, for being a dick-head.
As suspected, Niklas Hjalmarsson has been suspended for two games for his bone-crushing hit on Jason Pominville, according to TSN. I thought it would only be one game, personally, but the NHL gave two games to James Wisniewski today for making a blowjob gesture on the ice. I guess nearly killing someone — intent be damned — is worth at least a blowjob.
Anyway, we’ll have more thoughts on this later.
This game, nor this season, started like we wanted it to start. Before anyone finished mixing their after-work cocktail, the ‘Hawks fell behind 2-0 and seemed headed toward their third straight loss to open their title defense.
But this is what champions do — they fight back. Monday’s win won’t go down as the prettiest — unless you’re counting Patrick Sharp being back in the lineup — but it’s a win nonetheless which gets the ‘Hawks on the board.
Also, good to hear Jason Pominville only suffered a concussion. For a minute there it looked like he would be making a tee time on Cloud 9 with Kim Johnsson.
Here’s what I’ve got…
♦ Marian Hossa is the motherfucking master. His two goals tonight made Ryan Miller look like Cristobal Huet‘s little sister, and he’s got five points in the first three games. Hossa also set up a chance for Jonathan Toews while lying on his testicles by somehow sliding the puck over with his stick to a cutting Toews. Watching this guy play is a thing of beauty, and everyone better start appreciating how lucky we are to be able to witness this until he retires before his 300-year contract is up for the next 11 seasons.
♦ Despite the two quick goals, Corey Crawford played very well tonight and made some good saves — especially on scrambles in front of the net. Sharp stood and watched Drew Stafford skate right past him up the middle of the ice and put a dart on net 14 seconds into the game. Then every ‘Hawk on the ice supervised while Derek Roy positioned himself in front of the net to put a rebound past Crawford just a couple minutes later. It could’ve shaken the kid up, but he hung tough and finished strong.
♦ Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t intend to nearly kill Pominville, but he’s going to get suspended — it’s just a matter of how many games. It was simply a timing play Hammer mistimed. But with the NHL dying to make an example of someone other than people who make blowjob gestures on the ice — Very classy, Wiz — Hammer will have some extra time to film his Ikea commercials.
♦ Another half hour-plus (31:42) of ice time for Duncan Keith, with Brent Seabrook adding close to that (28:30). Not trying to make excuses from their sometimes spotty play, but I’m wondering if these two are feeling the effects of so much time on the ice. Granted, Seabrook looked absolutely lost a few times tonight, most notably on the Sabres’ third goal which slipped right past him. But with Brian Campbell out, Hammer getting booted, John Scott being a complete boner and the inexperience of Nick Leddy, the ‘Hawks are relying heavily on Keith and Seabs and it’s tough to expect them to make every single play.
♦ Speaking of Leddy, congrats on your first goal, kid. Even if it was uglier than a Brent Sopel look-a-like contest.
♦ Patrick Kane netted a power-play goal to pull the ‘Hawks within 2-1, scoring a goal in Buffalo for the first time since 2007.
♦ The fourth line of Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and Viktor Stalberg had some great shifts tonight, which is becoming a trend. Now, if they can just put one in the net …
♦ Dave Bolland needs to get his head out of his ass. He was 3-for-9 on the faceoff dot and looked like a complete moron most of the night. I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but through three games he’s done nothing but aggravate me.
♦ Toews’ numbers: 21:09 on-ice, +3, 14-for-25 in faceoffs and one good deed, bringing Leddy the puck for his first NHL goal.
That’s it for now. The latest edition of “Boxing” will be up around noon tomorrow. You’ll read it.
Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.
Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”
The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.
If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.
However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.
Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.
Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.
Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.
Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.
On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.
After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.
I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.
The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.
Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.