The Boss Returns, Hawks Look To Settle A Score

Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa takes a shot during the skate around before the game against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center in Chicago on October 20, 2010.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom

SURPRISE!

After the 5-4 shootout win over the Thrashers on Saturday, Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville hinted in his easily-decodable way that Marian Hossa will be in the lineup tonight. The collective sign of relief from Hawks fans could be heard as far away as Peoria.

The Blackhawks were 2 – 3 during Hossa’s absence, scoring an average of 3.2 goals per game while allowing 4. We forget that, in addition to being one of the Blackhawks’ leading scorers, The Boss is also one of the premier two-way players in the game today. His return will improve not only our goal production, but also our goals against. Which brings us to tonight’s game.

The game most Blackhawks fans would like to forget from this young season was when the last-place Edmonton Oilers walked into town, chased our starting goaltender after the first period, and went on to a humiliating 7-4 victory. It should have been a walk in the park. It looked more like a walk through wet cement.

While the end result was emasculating, there were positive signs. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp all tallied goals. We converted 2 out of 5 power plays, took only one penalty and killed that effortlessly. While Marty Turco was chased after one period, Corey Crawford allowed only two goals in relief. Additionally, the Hawks held the Oilers to only 10 shots in the final two periods combined, arguably the best defensive showing all year. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s good to realize that there were good signs coming out of such a spectacular failure.

But make no mistake: they came into our house, drank our beer, insulted our girlfriend, and pissed on the carpet. It’s time for some payback.

So while Marian Hossa returns, there may be another absence. Rookie Jeremy Morin was called up from Rockford to make his NHL debut against the Thrashers. He looked good, showed a good amount of hustle, won some battles along the boards, and generally made a good impression in just under 10 minutes of ice time. Then, he made the painful mistake of turning away from the shooter when blocking a shot. The slap shot caught him on the back of the leg — where there is barely a millimeter of padding — and was left writhing in agony. He did return later in the game, but was limited to one shift, and one has to assume he will be a scratch tonight.

Dave Bolland will still be out; expect pathetic defenseman Jassen Cullimore to be back in the lineup to replace even-more-pathetic-defenseman Jordan Hendry; and assuming Hossa is back and Morin is out, we will probably have to suffer another night of seeing John Scott embarrass himself by playing left wing on the fourth line.

Game time is an unusual 6:00pm this evening at the United Center. WGN completes the second half of a back-to-back TV double-header; radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers look for channel 207.

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Hey, you look familiar: Blackhawks visit some old friends in Atlanta

Fancy seeing you here. How’s everything going?

Most Chicagoans will remember Atlanta as “Chicago South” following the off-season roster-wide flea market that arose due to salary cap constraints. Atlanta worked trades to acquire forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd, as well as defenseman Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu. So the Blackhawks will see a lot of familiar faces staring back at them across the face-off circle.

So how are our former Stanley Cup winning heroes doing in A-Town? Quite well, as it turns out. Byfuglien had most of his success in a Blackhawks uniform on the wing, but the Thrashers are using him both in that role as well as on defense. The dual role seems to suit him: he leads the team with 12 points, and is second on the squad with 5 goals.

Ladd shares the most-points distinction, and is having what some NHL pundits have already called a “career year.” Leading the team with goals is second-year pro Evander Kane (no relation), who is on a pace to nearly triple his scoring totals from his rookie season. Also showing his teeth at pivot is long-time Maple Leafs disappointment Nik Antropov, who actually has the trophy for team’s biggest player at 6′ 6″, 245 lbs. When you have Byfuglien on your team, that’s really saying something.

The Thrashers have had their ups and downs. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec went temporarily tits-up during a stoppage of play in the season opener. One second he was standing there, a face-off about to occur at the other end of the ice; the next, BAM! Out like a light.

Pavelec was removed on a stretcher, kept for several days at the hospital, and doctors were unable to find any serious or potentially lethal cause for the momentary lapse of vertical stability. I guess that’s good news, but if they can’t find the cause, what’s to stop it from happening again?

Where this team is not performing well is defense. They hold second-to-last place in the league with 46 goals allowed in just 12 games, and the best +/- rating on the entire team is a +2. The aforementioned Antropov holds the basement in that category with a -9.

Chris Mason holds down the fort in net, though his 3.45 GAA is not what you’d call impressive. Let’s hope the Blackhawks take that opportunity to light the lamp in a humiliating fashion.

Because, in case you haven’t noticed, they are not doing so of late. Apart from Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, the highest individual goal total on the squad is 4 for the year. That’s Patrick Kane’s number; Jonathan Toews has 3; and the rest of the supporting cast is not contributing nearly as much as they should be.

Defensively things are more stable after Brian Campbell’s return, but still not excellent. Goaltending is starting to slip a bit, as Marty Turco may be starting to show signs of wear. The threshhold is 3 goals: when the opponent scores 3 or more, we lose. If they score 2 or fewer, we win. So be on the lookout for that.

Last game’s throw-up-your-hands-and-pray-for-a-miracle coaching decision was to put both Jordan Hendry and John Scott up on the wing, which (as anybody could have guessed) was a catastrophic failure of a magnitude not seen since the Alpo Suhonen era.

Look it up. You’ll get a chuckle.

So this morning the Blackhawks recalled rookie forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford. This, as you’ll recall, is the speedy winger who seemed to gel quite nicely with Patrick Kane during the pre-season, but was handed a Greyhound ticket due to salary cap issues. Morin will be making his NHL debut against the Thrashers: let’s hope it’s a memorable one, for the right reasons.

Game time is 6:00pm. WGN has the TV broadcast this time, and radio as well on AM-720. XM subscribers should look for channel 207.

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A Proposal That Shouldn’t Be Necessary

May 18, 2010 - Sunrise, FL - Florida, USA - United States - (CAV) PANTHERS GM 0518C.CAV - The Florida Panthers newly-named General Manager Dale Tallon is seen during a news conference at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Tallon comes to the Panthers from the Chicago Blackhawks where he is credited for turning around the former cellar-dwellers. Joe Cavaretta, Sun Sentinel.

At the NHL General Managers’ meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, the league’s GM’s will have an interesting proposal in front of them courtesy of ex-Blackhawk GM (and current Florida GM) Dale Tallon. The proposal suggests allowing each team’s coach to have one “coach’s challenge” (meaning video review) per game.

This mimics other sports, college football in particular, where a coach can call for a video review of a play if he feels the call on the field is in error. In college football the team loses a time-out if they are wrong, but not if they are right.

Tallon’s proposal is similar in nature, but it raises the question: why should he have to be proposing it at all?

I once had an argument with a friend of mine concerning instant replay/video review in baseball. His argument was that it was a human game, played by humans, and humans make mistakes. That was part of the game, it works out in the wash, and it would lessen the integrity of the game to introduce video review.

To that, verily I say unto thee, butt-nuggets.

I, as a fan, pay money to go to a game. I cheer for my team, I buy its merchandise, and I have a certain amount of emotional energy wrapped up in the team’s success or failure. For me, the fan who spends the money to buy the ticket, I want the game to be fair and the call to be right. Every. Single. Time.

Does that mean stopping play every time a player takes a shot? Every time somebody falls down? Every time there’s a line change? No. There are limits, there have to be. But any goal, EVERY goal, should be reviewed. Anything that even looks like it might be a goal should be reviewed. Any time a player gets injured — or pretends to be injured! — should be reviewed.

When will they review it? Dunno. How? Dunno. Who will do it? Dunno. Obviously there are a lot of details to be worked out, but fortunately the infrastructure for a comprehensive video review is already in place. But the fans, the players, and the coaches should have the confidence in knowing that they are playing a game that has been called accurately.

What’s the expense? Probably less than 5 real-time minutes a game. What’s the payoff? Solidifying the reputation and integrity of the game. And that’s a lot more important than you might think.

For a very long time there was a figure skating special on every Saturday or Sunday afternoon, because the ratings were dynamite. Nationals, Worlds, exhibitions, you name it. Now? I think you’d have to search long and hard to find figure skating on television outside of the Olympics.

Why? The judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City. Once the fans believed the scoring system was no longer fair, and that tainted officials had the ability to negatively affect results, they fled the sport by the thousands. Ratings suffered, and quite quickly the sport was bleeding revenue by the millions.

Integrity of officiating is no laughing matter. If the NHL is serious about its fan base and its revenue stream, it will consider a robust, if not complete video review regimen that sets a standard for fairness and accuracy in professional sport.

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Boxing (and a lot more) with Blackhawks/Devils, 11/3/10

Saw this go on five times too many tonight. (Chicago Tribune)

I’m going to add more to “Boxing” tonight, simply because this diarrhea-inducing excuse for a performance deserves more than some quick whit.

The amount of flabby ass left on the ice tonight is starting to become all too familiar, which is piss-poor for a defending Stanley Cup champion. I don’t want to hear anymore about how this team needs to jell, and I don’t want to hear anymore about what the Blackhawks DON’T have that could be contrived as an excuse.

The ‘Hawks handed over two points in their 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils, a team that had scored three goals ONCE before tonight. The Devils’ all-world goaltender Martin Brodeur left with an injury in the second period, and he wasn’t challenged all that much to begin with when  Johan Hedberg relieved him.

I don’t care if  Marian Hossa is out. I don’t care that  Dave Bolland is out. I don’t care that half of last year’s Cup team is spread around the NHL this season. The Blackhawks have three gold medalists, including the Olympic MVP and Conn Smythe winner, a silver medalist and electrifying goal-scorer, a Norris Trophy winner, a defenseman worthy of a $7-million-per-year salary and a very handsome man taking the ice every night. Few teams in the NHL boast this, especially when most of the aforementioned accomplishments came from players under 29.

All of that is more than good enough to make up for/help out the role players on this team, or any team for that matter. There’s so much talent that’s playing patty-cake night in and night out that is making me sick to my stomach. I hate talking like this, and I hate being this guy. However, there’s only so much I can take before I start getting insanely pissed.

The Devils came into the UC tonight without stud muffin  Zach Parise and looking like a team that could barely beat the Chicago Wolves. Yet, the Blackhawks displayed enough laziness and poor decision-making to fart away what should have been a sure victory to a team far, far less talented.

I mentioned before the season started that  QStache was really going to have to earn his money this year. So far, there’s nothing for which I can pat him on the back. This isn’t the same strategic team as it was last year. Anyone who watches sports has seen teams with less talent win games and championships simply because of coaching and strategy. This Blackhawks team won’t do it. Q needs to start coaching to what he has, rather than forcing players into roles they’re not suited for and have no chance to succeed.

Tonight’s loss exposed all the bullshit within that team. They’re not playing like they want to defend the Cup and keep it here in Chicago. They seem content with bringing it to bars, clubs and on TV this past summer and letting someone else experience their fun this coming June. There’s no urgency. There’s no heart. There’s nothing that was the staple of this team last season. And the reason that’s inexcusable is because the main core of this team is still the intact.

*** I’d like to send a special shout out to Brian, Scott and Drew of VIP’s for the complimentary passes and Brian, the manager of Cans Bar, for the drinks. Much appreciated, fellas.

So, with that, here’s your fucking “Boxing.” As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil: New Jersey visits the UC

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 15: Ilya Kovalchuk  of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center on October 15, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So this is what $100 million looks like.

In case your attention was focused too acutely on getting tickets for the Lady GaGa “Monster” tour, there was an auction of sorts happening in the NHL this summer. Mega-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who came over to the Devils in a blockbuster trade with Atlanta at the end of last season, became a free agent. And about five team’s general managers were clamoring over each other to be the first in line to hand over the cash.

So once the deal was done, it turned out the deal really wasn’t done, because Gary Bettman — Supreme Emperor of the NHL — decided he didn’t like it. So it was back to the auction block! When the dust finally settled, Kovalchuk wound up with a deal that will put $100 million in his pocket.

Not bad money, considering he boasts only 6 points and a pathetic -5 rating through 12 games.

Big contracts are par for the course in New Jersey, as the Devils have six players making $4 million per year or more, including names like Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, and Jason Arnott. In that way, their salary structure is a lot like the Blackhawks: a handful of superstars making mega-bucks, and then the rest of the team earning at or near the league minimum. Not surprisingly, both teams are off to a mediocre start.

The salary cap hit got a little lighter on Tuesday, however: doctors performing exploratory surgery on Devils’ forward Zach Parise found a torn meniscus and repaired it during the same session. Parise is expected to miss three months, and will be one less gun in New Jersey’s arsenal when they arrive at the United Center.

But the biggest surprise for the Devils this year has been the so-so goaltending of Martin Brodeur. One hopes in such situations that your backup can carry the load. But Johan Hedberg has had two starts so far this season, and has had to be relieved in both of them. Quite the pickle to be in: your starter slumping, and your backup about as effective as a sixth-grade girl. Needless to say that, despite the coach and GM repeatedly praising the Hall of Fame goalie, the winds of change may be blowing if Brodeur can’t start delivering.

Thankfully, goaltending has yet to be a serious issue with the Blackhawks. But the rest of the team continues to be riddled with injuries, and their replacements have performed (*ahem*) underwhelmingly, to be charitable. The good news is, Brian Campbell made his season debut against the Rangers on Monday, and despite being a little rusty and a step slow, looks to be well on his way to regaining his form. The bad news is, Marian Hossa is still out, and is talking about a return to the lineup next week. Currently he is participating in practice with a “no-contact” designation.

Similarly Dave Bolland has been placed on injured reserve, though his performance so far this season has been so pathetic I doubt anyone would care, or for that matter, notice.

On Tuesday the Blackhawks made the unusual move of sending both Ben Smith and Ryan Potulny back to the AHL affiliate IceHogs. This may simply be a pre-cursor to recalling a different forward for Wednesday’s game, since even with John Scott skating at a wing position, it leaves the team short by one forward. We’ll see what today brings.

The Hawks’ defense looked far more stable against New York than any game to date. Campbell’s return eased the burden on stalwart blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, though Keith still found himself on the ice for over 27 minutes. The biggest bonus, however, was minimizing the ice time for the third defensive pairing, which has been pathetic for the Blackhawks thus far, no matter who it was comprised of.

Look for announcements about call-ups and the starting goaltender following today’s morning skate. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest as it happens.

Game time is 7:30: TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM satellite radio subscribers should turn to channel 208.

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Boxing with Hawks/Rangers, 11/1/10

Well, that was just frustrating. There’s really no better way to describe it.

If you’re going to give up a goal in the last 20 seconds of a period, take a penalty at the end of a period and then give up a game-winner after tying the game 28 seconds earlier, how the living fuck are you going to expect to win a game?

Adding to that, the Rangers played without Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal and  Marian Gaborik.

The Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss Monday to the New York Rangers spoiled the return of  Brian Campbell, who looked like, well, like he’s been out for a long time. However, he did play well, and you can’t expect much out of a guy who hasn’t dressed yet this season.

Unfortunately,  Sean Avery was not taken out by a sniper during the game, which was something I actually bowed my head and prayed would happen before the game started.

Without further ado, here’s your latest edition of “Boxing.”

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Home On The Range(rs): Blackhawks Take Manhattan

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: Henrik Lundqvist  of the New York Rangers sits on the ice after allowing Erik Cole, of the Carolina Hurricanes, to score the game-winning goal in the third period on October 29, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. The Hurricanes defeated the Rangers 4- 3. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have been the blogosphere’s punching bag for more than a decade now, particularly as the retirement home for over-the-hill veterans to be paid ludicrous sums of money. That strategy resulted in a lengthy streak of teams that missed the playoffs, despite having boasted such luminaries as Leech, Lafontaine, Kovalev, Nedved, Lindros, Barnaby, Bure, Holik, Gretzky, and Messier.

The Hall Of Fame names aren’t as prevalent anymore, though the name Jagr graced the roster as recently as two seasons ago. But that year, the Rangers did make the playoffs. Though the same could not be said for last year. The Rangers have nearly half of their salary cap dollars tied up in just four players, and they missed the playoffs in 2009-10. Despite the reduction in marquee names, the results are the same.

Backstopping the effort is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist boasting an impressive .921 save percentage, though that comes with a 2.76 GAA because of an average of 34 shots against per game. In front of him is a defensive corps comprised of largely competent yet wholly unimpressive individuals, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi anchoring the platoon.

Offense is spread surprisingly evenly, with 11 players above the 4-point mark after 10 games, and only four players off the scoresheets entirely (and three of those having played in only one or two games). Tough guys Brandon Prust and Sean Avery provide the muscle: and as luck would have it, Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal are all out of the Rangers lineup with injuries.

The Rangers bring a 5-4-1 record back into Madison Square Garden for this tilt against the Blackhawks. They are brimming with confidence after a shutout against the Maple Leafs two nights ago, so we can expect them to put up quite a struggle. A win tonight moves them up to 6th place in the Eastern Conference — good enough to make the playoffs.

For the Blackhawks’ part, it’s another patchwork lineup again tonight, though one of the pieces we’ve been missing is reportedly back where it belongs.

Blackhawks’ announcer Ed Olczyk went on NHL Live on the NHL Network today, and confirmed that Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell will make his season debut tonight. Campbell’s return will take a huge load off of overworked blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and should help the +/- stats of Niklas Hjalmarsson — not to mention reduce the amount of playing time for pitiful fill-in Jassen Cullimore. Soupy suffered a sprained MCL in a pre-season game October 1, and his absence has been the hole most desperately in need of filling.

But not the only hole. Winger Marian Hossa is still out, as is underperforming center Dave Bolland. Off-season league-minimum acquisition Ryan Potulny and what-the-@$%$#-is-this-guy-doing-here forward Ben Smith were recently called up from Rockford to provide warm bodies to pretend to fill those voids. The Hawks’ win over Minnesota on Saturday began the process of healing from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the dead-last Edmonton Oilers the previous night. With luck that trend will continue this evening.

Administratively speaking, Bryan Bickell and Nick Boynton are the healthy scratches, no official word on who is starting in net, but there is little reason not to suspect Marty Turco will be in goal.

Game starts at 6:00pm. The NHL Network has national coverage for tonight’s game, though Chicago locals can get coverage on Comcast SportsNet. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will find the game on channel 204.

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Eddie O: Campbell playing tonight

Eddie Olczyk stopped by the NHL Live studios in New York, and said on the show that  Brian Campbell will be playing tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.

It’ll be interesting to see how many minutes QStache gives him and/or how many the doctors have cleared him to play. Either way, having watched  Nick Boynton and  John Scott fart all over the ice this season, even just a few minutes of Soupy would be a welcome site.

Tim should have your full preview later today.

Welcome back, Soupy.

UPDATE: A guy with actual big-boy credentials, Tim Sassone, puts up a blog stating Campbell’s return benefits  Niklas Hjalmarsson the most, seeing has he’s currently a minus-8.

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Boxing with ‘Hawks/Wild, 10/30/10

This edition of “Boxing” is a bit more wordy in order to make it more recap-like. There’s just not a ton to write about the Blackhawks’ 3-1 win Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. The game was so boring, it’s hard to even try and make shit up that’s funny.

Either way, here’s it goes. As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Boxing with Hawks/Oilers, 10/29/10

Here’s your “Boxing” from the Blackhawks diarrhea-inducing 7-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

Please note there will be no preview for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild.  Tim is out of town and I’m watching the Michigan State vs. Iowa game. You’ll live.

As always, there are two separate images — one for the summary, one for the actual box score. Click on the image to enlarge it.

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