Blackhawks top Wings; Set franchise record

160210212_slideIt looked like tonight’s game between the Hawks and Wings was going to be a runaway victory for the home team after Duncan Keith’s powerplay goal just 2:24 into the game. As it turned out, this game was just the opposite.

The Blackhawks got off to a quick start in this one when Keith hammered in a missile of a slap shot past Jimmy Howard to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead and yet another powerplay goal. From that point on in the first period, the Blackhawks controlled the game and spent much of the period in the Red Wings’ own zone. You would have never known that the Hawks played a bruising game in Columbus just 24 hours earlier.

Once the second period began, the momentum almost immediately shifted in Detroit’s favor. The Hawks committed 4 penalties in the second period resulting in 4 Red Wings powerplays, including a 43 second 2-man advantage. While taking 4 penalties in a period is never a recipe for success, the Blackhawks killed off all 4 penalties with relative ease as their penalty kill continues to stay red hot. The Hawks ended up killing off all 6 penalties that they took in the game.

The third period evened out a little bit more compared to the second, but the Wings still controlled most of the play. Once the third began, you could definitely tell that the Blackhawks were fatigued from their game in Columbus on Saturday night. Johan Franzen scored 4:30 into the period to tie the game at one. The Blackhawks clearly had no legs under them and just couldn’t seem to skate the puck into Detroit’s zone, which resulted in a lot of play down by Crawford. Once they ended up getting it into Detroit’s zone, the Hawks couldn’t generate much offense. About 11:30 into the third, Jonathan Ericsson took a holding penalty on Jonathan Toews that gave the Hawks their second powerplay of the game. Even with the man advantage, the Blackhawks still struggled to get any kind of offense going and came up empty. Around a minute after that powerplay ended, Henrik Zetterberg was called for holding Jonathan Toews, again. This time around, the Hawks got a little bit more offense going and a couple shots on Howard, but again didn’t score. The game headed to overtime tied at 1.

In overtime, a nice rush into the Detroit end led by Viktor Stalberg resulted in Nick Leddy getting a snap shot by Jimmy Howard for the game winner. It was Leddy’s first goal of the year, and it gave the Blackhawks their 6th straight victory to being the season. This is the first time in franchise history that the Blackhawks have started a season 6-0.

While the Hawks clearly did not have the energy or strength in them that they had through their first 5 games, they still managed to find a way to win. This was the type of game that they would have almost certainly lost in either of the past 2 seasons. For whatever reason, they just seem to have found another gear this year and are playing with incredible confidence, speed, and skill.

They will need all of the speed and skill they can get in the next 2 weeks as they head out west on a 6-game road trip that takes them to Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, and Phoenix. While the Hawks are currently 4-0 on the road, these next 6 games will be a huge test for them and a great evaluation of where they are at compared to some of the best teams in the Western Conference.


Blackhawks now 5-0-0

Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Kari LehtonenWith tonight’s victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks are now 5-0-0 to start their season. This ties their best start to a season in franchise history. The only other time that they have started a season with 5 straight wins was in 1971. Hard to believe, right?

Through their first 5 games, all 4 lines of the Blackhawks have played well. They have played so well that they are drawing comparisons to the 2009-2010 Hawks team that won the Cup. Over the last 2 seasons, the Blackhawks relied way too much on their top players, both offensively and defensively. In the NHL, you can’t do that and expect to win. You need all 4 lines to contribute if you want to have a successful team. I’m not saying that they don’t need to count on their top dogs to produce, but they shouldn’t put 100% of their faith in them. Having said that, the top players on the Blackhawks (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp) are all off to hot starts to the season. Hossa already has 5 goals through the first 5 games, Kane has 2 goals and 7 assists, Toews has 3 goals, and Sharp has 6 points (2G, 4A).

The special teams of the Blackhawks have been coming up big as well through these first 5 games. Their powerplay is ranked tenth in the NHL, going 6/24, and their penalty kill has only allowed 1 goal in 17 times shorthanded (94.1%). This is a huge turn around from last season, when the Hawks were ranked in the bottom five in the NHL in both categories. Successful teams always have good special teams play, so hopefully the Hawks can continue playing well in those areas from here on out.

Corey Crawford has been another positive so far for the Hawks. He is 4-0 with a .923 save percentage and a 1.99 GAA. You could argue that the only reason the Blackhawks didn’t advance past the Coyotes in last year’s playoffs was because of Crawford’s poor play in net. It was no secret heading into this season that he needs to play much better if they want to be successful. So far, he is playing with a ton of confidence and is making all of the “must make” saves, as well as some highlight-reel ones.

One thing that was very evident in their game against the Stars on Thursday night was the speed of the Blackhawks. You would be hard pressed to find 2 other teams in the NHL with comparable speed to the Hawks right now. They made the Stars look like they were skating in slow motion, which led to numerous great scoring chances (41 shots on goal). If it wasn’t for the incredible play of Kari Lehtonen, the Hawks could have had at least 6 goals that game. Instead, they scored 3 unanswered after going down 2-0 in the second period. The third goal came in overtime after a beautiful, no-look pass from Kane to Hossa for a one-timer goal.

All in all, this team is simply clicking on all cylinders at the moment. Tonight was not a pretty game against the Blue Jackets, but they still found a way to win. The Hawks have that “never quit” attitude to them. It seems as though they are never out of any game. Regardless of the score, they are going to keep coming at you with everything they’ve got. They have a certain feeling about them that I have only felt one other time, and that was with the 2009-10 Hawks. It’s hard to describe that feeling, but you just know when you feel it. While I don’t want to get over-hyped about the Blackhawks, it is hard not to get excited about what this team has the potential to do this season. If they can avoid suffering any big injuries to key players, this could be a memorable spring for the Hawks.

Blackhawks start the season 2-0

6955694We are already 2 games into the Blackhawks’ regular season, and they are 2-0. Both wins came on the road, with the first in L.A., and the second in Phoenix. I don’t think many people really knew what to expect from the Hawks through the first 2 games, but I would bet that not many people predicted things to go as well as they did.

After only a week of training camp, the Hawks (like all other NHL teams) we put right to the test by immediately starting regular season games with no preseason games. Because of this, I was expecting a sloppy start to the season from the Hawks. It would not have surprised me if they went 1-1 or 0-2 to start the season. Fortunately, they did much better than that.

After waiting for the L.A. Kings to raise their first ever Stanley Cup banner, the Hawks went out and thrashed them to begin the season 1-0. Kane started the scoring early in the first by ripping off a wicked one-timer from an impossible angle that beat Jonathan Quick. Not only did this give the Hawks an early lead in the game, but it got their powerplay off to a good start to the season. More on that in a bit. From there, the Hawks ran away with the game and ended up winning 5-2, thanks to goals by Hossa (2), Toews, and Frolik.

Last night in Phoenix, Ray Emery got the start in net in place of Corey Crawford, who started the day before in L.A. Emery let in a soft goal early in the first period, which left many Hawks fans (me included) thinking that it could be a long game. Thanks to Patrick Kane, however, the Coyotes lead didn’t last long. On the Hawks’ first powerplay of the game, Kane, with the puck on his stick, maneuvered his way from behind the Coyotes net, through the defensemen in front of the net, and then dished the puck off to Dave Bolland at the side of the net for an empty net goal. It was as sweet a goal as you will see (See it here). The Coyotes would end up getting the next goal, but the Blackhawks answered that with 4 straight goals to give them a 5-2 lead early in the third. The final score ended up being 6-4 in favor of the Hawks.

So, what did I see from the Hawks in their first two games?

I saw a completely different team than the one who was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round last spring. Throughout their first 2 games this year, the Hawks looked MUCH quicker moving up and down the ice, they had numerous dominating shifts in which they kept the puck in the offensive zone for over 30 seconds, they seemed more aggressive along the boards, and their special teams were solid. Last year, their powerplay and penalty kill both ranked in the bottom 5 in the NHL, which was unacceptable given the amount of talent on their roster. To see them succeed on both sides of their special teams play was a very good sight and should provide them with some confidence moving forward. This team is way too talented to not be one of the best teams on the powerplay this year.

Last night especially,  I thought the Hawks showed much more aggressiveness than they did last year. Brandon Bollig and Niklas Hjalmarsson both had a couple of nice hits along the boards that really helped to set the tone for the game.

It was very nice to see so many guys getting involved in the scoring through the first two games. Frolik, who struggled mightily last year, got off to a good start by scoring in their first game against the Kings. He has looked much like he did in the playoffs last year, which is a VERY good sign. Bickell, who spent the lockout playing in Europe, has been more aggressive already and added a nice assist on Viktor Stalberg’s first goal of the season last night. Dave Bolland, who could prove to be the key to any success the Hawks might have this season, scored twice last night, including a powerplay goal. If he can avoid long stretches of recording minimal points, the Hawks will be much better off.

As for the top guys for the Hawks (Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp), they have gotten off to about as good of a start as we could have hoped for. Hossa already leads the NHL with 4 goals, Kane has looked as good as ever while adding a goal and a few assists, and Toews and Sharp both have a goal plus a couple assists between the two of them. The Hawks are going to need their top dogs to produce this year, and they are off to a good start.

As far as the defense and goaltending goes, both have looked good. The defense, especially in Phoenix, was outstanding. Hjalmarsson and Leddy both played great games, while Rosival added a great assist on Hossa’s first goal of the game. Keith and Seabrook were good as well, but they did nothing out of the ordinary (for them, at least). It is already apparent that the coaching staff is trying to limit Keith’s minutes, which should leave him with some more gas in the tank come playoff time. Corey Crawford looked really strong against L.A., and he is going to have to continue that trend moving forward.

Overall, I am very pleased with how the first two games went over the weekend. Regardless of what point in the season you’re at, getting 11 goals in 2 games is a good sign. This team looks determined to prove that they are better than what they showed in the playoffs last spring. If the can continue getting production from all four lines like they have so far, they are going to be tough to beat. At the same time, however, I don’t want to look too much into these first two games, seeing as how most teams are starting off rusty after a shortened preseason/training camp.

The Hawks play their home opener Tuesday night against St. Louis at 7:30.

Race and the NFL

66479_10151366644732298_2138772528_n130101141938-lovie-smith-1-single-image-cutI am sure that this is somewhat of a touchy subject for some people, but to me, it is annoying. After the NFL’s regular season ended, 8 different head coaches were fired. That meant that 8 teams had to find new head coaches, along with some new coordinators and assistant coaches. That whole process is coming to an end now, with all 8 teams having hired new head coaches. Some are still finishing up with hiring new coordinators and assistants. This whole process has gained some attention from the national media and sports news agencies because of the fact that no African-American head coaches were hired.

Let me first say that I am in no way, shape, or form racist. Having said that, this topic still really upsets me. Why does it matter what skin color NFL head coaches are? If they’re a good head coach, then that’s exactly what they are. Of the 8 new head coaches that were recently hired, all of them are white. Like I said before, this has angered some people. To me, however, it is irrelevant.

If I am a general manager in the NFL and I am looking for a new head coach for my football team, I am going to look for the coach that best fits my team. I am going to look for a guy who knows how to be an effective coach and who can bring wins to the organization. I am not going to be paying attention to skin color! If you are the best coach available for my team, I am going to hire you regardless of whether or not you are black, white, green, or blue.

It aggravates me to hear these people on TV criticizing the NFL and its teams for not hiring more black head coaches. To me, it shouldn’t make a difference what color their skin is! I honestly wouldn’t care if every head coach was black or if every head coach was white. If a team feels that a specific coach is right for their head coaching job, then they should hire them. End of story. There is no need to look any further than that.

I am sure that many people out there have different views than I do, and that is perfectly fine with me. This is just a story that caught my attention and I wanted to voice my own opinion.

Thanks for reading.

MLB Hall of Fame Voting

roids_bondsTomorrow, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) will announce this year’s inductees to the MLB Hall of Fame. Some notable names on the ballot for the first time this year include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Craig Biggio, among others. Some guys on the ballot like Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, and Rafael Palmeiro are hoping to get elected after having already been on the ballot in years past. As you may have noticed, every player I just named except for Craig Biggio has been linked to steroid use at one time or another, and that is what makes this year’s HOF ballot so interesting.

sammy_sosa_before_afterHad they never been accused of using steroids, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire, and Palmeiro would all be first-ballot hall of famers (Bagwell is a bit more questionable, and we will soon find out about Biggio). Bonds has the all-time home run record, Clemens has over 300 wins and is third all-time in strikeouts, Sosa has over 600 home runs, McGwire topped the 500 home run plateau, and Palmeiro has over 500 home runs and more than 3000 hits. For those who are unaware, 300 wins, 500 home runs, and/or 3000 hits used to be 3 of the unofficial requirements to get into the Hall of Fame. However, those players who have been linked to steroids and who have achieved those requirements are by no means assured of getting into the Hall of Fame, as evidenced by McGwire’s and Palmeiro’s history on the ballot.

mcgwire-before-afterToday I was listening to Tim Kurkjian talk about this year’s ballot. Kurkjian is a veteran baseball writer and gets to vote on who is elected to the HOF. He said today that he voted for Bonds and Clemens to get into the Hall of Fame, along with a handful of other guys that I have not mentioned. Needless to say, I was shocked. How could a baseball writer of his caliber and his and knowledge vote for guys who have been linked to steroid use? Also, how can he vote for Bonds and Clemens without voting for Sosa, McGwire, or Palmeiro? Like I said before, they all have Hall of Fame-worthy statistics, so why should only Bonds and Clemens get in? If you’re going to vote for 2 who “deserve” it, then you have to vote for all who have qualifying statistics. His reasoning for voting steroid-users into the HOF was that most players were using steroids during the ’90s and that these guys were the best among those players. He said that you have to look at the circumstances and judge a player based off of those. I couldn’t disagree more.

Cheating is cheating, period. No one should be allowed into the Hall of Fame who cheated in the game of baseball by using steroids or other PED’s. I don’t know how to make it anymore clear-cut than that. Regardless of their statistics, if they cheated, they don’t deserve the Hall of Fame. I realize that of the names I mentioned only Palmeiro and McGwire have been proven to use steroids, but I think most of us know that the others are guilty as well, which is something that no professional sports writers will ever publicly state.

Screen-shot-2012-09-10-at-8.53.34-PMOne last thing, and this if for Major League Baseball. How can these steroid guys be placed on the HOF ballot and the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, can’t be? (In fact, Rose is banned from baseball for the rest of his life for supposedly betting on games while he was still playing and managing.) Rose never cheated while playing. He never did anything to make himself better besides hard work. Yet he is ineligible to be placed in the Hall of Fame, and these cheaters are not. Just think about that one for a while.

I am really anxious to see what percentage of votes these guys are going to get tomorrow. It takes 75% to be put in the HOF, and I will bet that no one I mentioned (besides Biggio) will get more than 50%. I hope I’m right.

We Have a Season!

580465_491885590858202_1121775306_nThe NHL and NHLPA came to a tentative agreement this morning to end the NHL lockout. This came after an apparent 16-hour meeting between the two sides. It sounds like the NHL would like to play a 50-game season, but 48 games may be more likely. I had said in my blog yesterday that a 40-game season would be played if the lockout ended, but it appears more games will be played.

Coaches are going to be in full scramble-mode now to try and get their players into good enough shape for a season. Injuries could be a huge factor early in the season after not much of a training camp or preseason. Since this season will be significantly shorter than usual, it will be the teams that start off hot, avoid injuries and losing streaks, and put together winning streaks that end up making the playoffs. Teams that normally don’t make the playoffs will end up making the playoffs this year. Like I already said, it is going to come down to who starts off on the right foot, who has a hot goaltender, and who can avoid injuries.

The regular season this year will be as intense as ever with each game having a more significant impact on who makes the playoffs. It is going to be a sprint to the finish, and a good one at that. I am pumped and can’t wait for the first puck-drop. Finally, we can say there will be hockey.

An NHL Season?

940-bettman-fehr-8colReports are beginning to surface from different NHL analysts that the NHL and NHLPA are starting to gain some “traction” and that a deal could be agreed upon within the next 24 hours. While I do not want to jump the gun in any way here, this is some encouraging news and has gotten me thinking about a possible NHL season.

I heard the other day on ESPN that if a deal is made and agreed upon within the next week that a 40-game NHL season would begin on January 19. If a deal is made sometime in the next 24 hours like some sources are reporting, that would give players and coaching staffs about 13 days to prepare and get ready for the season. Keep in mind that a number of players are currently playing in Europe, and there are still some free agents on the market who did not sign on with a team prior to the lockout. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that all teams will be a bit rusty if a season does being on the 19th.

Heading into the lockout, the Blackhawks had not made any significant moves in the off-season to upgrade their roster. They needed/need to be stronger on defense, they need a more reliable goaltender, and they absolutely need an actual number two center. Before the lockout, they signed defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rosival in an attempt to add depth on their blue line. However, those were the only moves that they made. If the season were to begin on January 19th, we would be looking at mostly the same roster from last season.

The Hawks finished the 2011-2012 season with 101 points and 6th in the Western Conference. They were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by a more physical Coyotes team who also had a dominant goalie. While 101 points is by no means bad, this is a Blackhawks team who underachieved for most of last season and in the playoffs. They have the offensive firepower to contend in the West, but their physicality and goaltending are what will hurt them this year just as was the case in last year’s playoffs. Shane Doan, the most notable free agent who did not sign with anyone before the lockout, is the exact player that the Blackawks need. I talked about him a couple of times over the summer, but I will say it again. He is a big physical presence on the ice and is a great leader in the locker room. Last year, he recorded more hits than anyone on the Blackahwks, and he did this as a forward. He has also been the captain of the Phoenix Coyotes for a number of years now. Both of those attributes would provide a huge boost the the Hawks’ roster. Unfortunately, it sounded like he was leaning toward either resigning in Phoenix, or signing in Vancouver before this lockout began. If and when the lockout ends, I don’t anticipate any change in heart by Doan to sign elsewhere.

From the sounds of it, this may be the closest that the NHL and NHLPA have come to agreeing on a new CBA. If a deal is done and done soon, look for a number of teams to make quick transactions in an attempt to bolster their rosters. At the same time, it is entirely possible for some free agents to stay on the market for a week or two into the season before they get signed. Either way, if a season is played (whenever that may be), it will be extremely interesting to see how each team approaches the quick transition from off-season to season. For now, however, all we can do is hope that a deal is made soon.

Bears Fire Smith

11860458Yesterday morning as we all know by now, the Bears fired their head coach, Lovie Smith. Smith had been the head coach of the Bears for the last 9 seasons (one of the longest tenured coaches in the NFL before his firing). In his 9 seasons with the Bears, he led them to 3 division titles, 3 playoff victories, and 1 Super Bowl appearance. His overall record as the Bears head coach was 81-63.

Smith’s firing did not come as much of a surprise to most Bears fans, some of which who had been growing increasingly upset with Smith as the head coach. While there is no question that Lovie is one of the best defensive coaches in the league, it was his teams’ lack of offense that essentially got him fired. Only once in his 9 years with the Bears did their offense finish the season ranked in the teens or better, and that was ’06 when they ranked 16th in the league. This year, the year that they were supposed to have a deadly offense with the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears finished the season ranked 28th in total offense. That is simply unacceptable. Instead of scoring touchdowns on drives in which the Bears  started inside the opposing team’s 40 yard line, they regularly settled for field goals or were forced to punt.

I heard a statistic on the radio the other day that I found really interesting. Since Lovie took over as head coach of the Bears, he has hired and fired more assistant coaches/coordinators than any other coach in NFL history over a 9-year span. What this tells me is that Smith is obviously bad when it comes to picking out effective assistant coaches and coordinators. Not once in his tenure with the Bears did Smith hire a decent offensive coordinator. Ron Turner was awful, Mike Martz was better (but still bad), and Mike Tice was no better than Martz this year. When you are competing against teams in your division like the Packers and Lions who have good offenses, you cannot afford to continuously end up near the bottom of the league in total offense. That will get you nowhere.

A lot of fans who liked Lovie are saying that a 10-6 season should not have gotten him fired. While a 10-6 record is not a bad record by any means, you have to look at how the Bears started this season, as well as Smith’s history as the Bears head coach.

The Bears started this year 7-1. They were on their way to a top 2 seed in the NFC. Then, they lost 5 of their last 8 games and missed the playoffs. During their 7-1 start to the season, the Bears gained a ton of national attention for their defense and the amount of touchdowns that the defense was scoring. While this was all great for the Bears, it was also covering up their offensive struggles. The defense was putting up points almost every game, and the offense (and fans) became too relied upon that trend. When the defense finally came back down to earth and stopped scoring touchdowns every week, that is exactly when the Bears began losing games with regularity. The offense had zero consistency and had a tough time putting enough points to win games, even though the defense was still keeping them in the games by not allowing many points.

Denver's Mike McCoy.

Denver’s Mike McCoy.

So here we are today waiting to see who will take over as the next head coach of the Bears. Most analysts are saying that the Bears’ GM, Phil Emery, will be looking for an offensive head coach. A few names have been mentioned already as possible candidates. One name that sticks out to me is Mike McCoy, the current offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. The Broncos ranked 2nd in points-scored this year, and 4th in total yards. I personally think he could be the best option when it comes to guys who have never been head coaches. Some other names being tossed around are Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, and Brian Billick. Of those 4, Bill Cowher would be my choice, however I think it is very unlikely that this will happen. Jon Gruden is a good coach, but I don’t see him and Cutler getting along too well. Andy Reid may be the best offensive-minded coach on the market, but it sounds like he is headed to Arizona. Brian Billick coached some teams in Baltimore that were very similar to the Bears that we have seen over the last 9 years, however, Billick took one of his teams to the Super Bowl and won it. I think he could work well with the Bears’ defense, but I don’t think he is the right choice.

It is going to be very interesting to see what the Bears do over the next couple weeks. I am hoping that they sign a more offensive head coach this time around and that they hang on to Rod Marinelli as their D-coordinator. Unfortunately for me, I have no say in what they do.