Blackhawks down Wings; Trade deadline nears

165122333_slideSunday afternoon, the Blackhawks absolutely obliterated the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena by a final of 7-1. The Hawks are now 9-0-1 in their last 10 games in Detroit. After a tough 3-game homestand that saw the Blackhawks take just 2 of a possible 6 points, one could say that the Hawks were due for a game like this. They needed a non-stressful game too.

Rookie call-up Jeremy Morin started the scoring early in the first period by notching his third career NHL goal. Shortly after, Brandon Saad and Dave Bolland both scored to make it 3-0.

In the second period, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad scored just seconds apart to improve their lead to 5-0 over Detroit. It was Saad’s second goal of the game, and third point of the day.

The third period saw two more Blackhawk goals; one by Bolland (his second of the game), and another by Nick Leddy. The Red Wings Cory Emmerton also scored with under a minute left in the game to break up Corey Crawford’s shutout. Crawford ended the day making 33 saves on 34 shots.

This was a good win for a still shorthanded Blackhawks team. Both Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were once again absent from the lineup. Like I said before, the Blackhawks needed a game like this after not playing well at all in either of their last 3 games, all at home. Yes, they beat Calgary 2-0 on Tuesday, but that was not a great game for the Hawks.

This week, they will play the Predators times (twice at home, once on the road), as well as one game with the Blues at the United Center. Playing a team 3 times in such a short period always makes for some intense and physical games. Nashville has not been playing great as of late, but Pekka Rinne always has the ability to win a game on his own.

TRADE DEADLINE

With the trade deadline now just a few days away, more and more rumors are beginning to surface regarding the Blackhawks. It was reported in the Daily Herald on Sunday that the Hawks are talking with the New York Islanders about Frans Nielsen and possibly Mark Streit. Nielsen is a 28 year old center currently under contract through the 2015-2016 season. He has a cap hit of $2.5 million this year and next year, and then that increases to $3.5 million for the last 2 seasons of his contract. Mark Streit is a 35 year old defenseman in the last year of his contract.

Obviously the Hawks are looking at Nielsen because he is a center. In 35 games this year, he has registered 18 points (3G, 15A). While those numbers aren’t necessarily bad nor good, they are not the biggest thing that jumps out at me when analyzing this potential acquisition. He is 45.2% at the faceoff circle, and that is what catches my eye. The Blackhawks desperately need a number 2 center who can consistently win faceoffs (Dave Bolland is not the guy). A guy who wins 45% of his draws is not really a “good” faceoff man, which is why I am a bit confused as to why the Hawks are targeting Nielsen.

As for Mark Streit, I don’t really understand this one either. Streit is listed as being 5’11” and weighs 191 lbs. Bottom line, he is not a big dude. While he does have a history of producing a good amount of points (47 last year), I don’t think those attributes will help the Blackhawks. The Hawks need a big, physical, defensive defensman. Not a small offensive defenseman. It is odd that this is even up for discussion considering how well the Hawks’ D-men were playing just a month ago, but things have changed lately.

Johnny Oduya was a -8 over his last 4 games heading into today, and according to Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald, the Blackhawks front office does not feel confident with Oduya as the number 4 defenseman heading into the playoffs. Hence the reason they might be looking at Mark Streit.

If I were Stan Bowman, I would not make either of those deals with the Islanders. Instead, I would focus on guys like Brian Boyle of the Rangers (center), Derek Roy of the Stars (center), and maybe a guy like Lars Eller of the Canadiens (center). I have seen those names linked to the Hawks in more than one place on the internet, as well as on TV.

Boyle_B_0123_Ins1Brian Boyle would be a nice fit with the Hawks I think. He is 6’7″, 244 lbs, and has a faceoff percentage of 57.8% this year as the Rangers number 3 centerman. His numbers (1G, 1A) are not great, but no one on the Rangers is playing that well this year. A change in scenery and line mates may be what Boyle needs. The Hawks could really use is faceoff skills as well as his size in what is one of the lightest lineups in the league, weight-wise.

NHL: Phoenix Coyotes at Dallas StarsDerek Roy is more of a skilled center than Boyle. While Roy has won just 46.8% of his faceoffs, he provides more of a true number 2 center’s skill-set. This year, he has 22 points in 29 games (4G, 18A). However, in the 2007-2008 season, Roy recorded 81 points (32G, 49A), and in the ’08-’09 season he recorded 70 points (28G, 42A). I’m not saying that he would return to putting up those numbers with the Hawks, but playing on a line with Kane and Sharp wouldn’t hurt…

Lars Eller is another center that the Hawks could ask about. He is 6’2″ and weighs 209 lbs. This season he has 17 points (4G, 13A) in 32 games and has won 49% of his faceoffs. Ideally, you’d want a guy who wins over 50%, but 49% isn’t bad (nor great). I feel like Eller is more of a true number 3 center (like Bolland), but he could be useful in the Hawks lineup. Again, they need anyone who can consistently win faceoffs.

As for the Blackhawks’ potential need on defense, I am really not sure what they might do there. They are already carrying 7 defenseman on their current roster, and they have played pretty well as a unit most of the season. Oduya has shown some signs that he can be a very good defenseman in this league, but he has also shown the opposite as of late and in last year’s playoffs. I can understand the management’s concerns about him moving forward, but I don’t know what they think they can do to upgrade. I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Keep checking back throughout the week for updates on possible trades that may take place.

Thanks for reading.

Iginla to Pittsburgh

174Jarome_Iginla._2008What just happened? I think that was the reaction of most hockey fans this morning when we found out that Iginla had been traded to the Penguins overnight. As of last night at midnight (CT), Iginla had been dealt to Boston according to TSN’s Aaron Ward. Many other writers and analysts on Twitter were reporting the same thing. After waiting all night to hear that the deal was official, I went to bed once I heard what Ward had to say. Wrong move on my part.

It was reported by numerous people all night last night that Iginla had been dealt to the Bruins in exchange for two prospects: Alexander Khokhlachev and Matt Bartkowski. Along with Iginla, both Khokhlachev and Bartkowski were late scratches from the lineup before their game last night. Understandably so, this led many people to believe that a deal with Calgary was done, or almost done. Apparently the latter is what was true.

As the night progressed, more and more people began saying that Iginla was a Bruin. Heck, even Claude Julien (Boston’s head coach) said in his postgame interview after last night’s loss that he pulled a few guys into his office before the game to notify them that they had acquired Iginla. It was still later in the night that Aaron Ward said the deal was “official.”

Then, around 1:30am (Eastern time I believe), Pittsburgh apparently made one last offer to Calgary for Iginla. The odd part is that Pittsburgh’s offer was not as good of an offer as the one the Bruins put together. Yet, Calgary at the last minute backed out of its talks with Boston and accepted the Penguins proposal. Calgary will receive prospects Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski, both still in college, as well as Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick in this summer’s draft.

So why would Calgary accept Pittsburgh’s offer? Well, it is being reported that Iginla wanted to be a Penguin all along during this whole process and that Calgary was trying to use the other 3 teams on Iginla’s “list” to get the Penguins to make a better offer. If the Flames made it look as though they were seriously considering trading Iginla to Boston, Chicago, or L.A., they were hoping that Pittsburgh would be forced to increase their offer. I’m not sure that that’s what actually ended up happening, but nonetheless, Iginla is a Penguin.

After trading for Brendan Morrow and Douglas Murray earlier this week and now trading for Jarome Iginla, I think it is safe to call the Penguins the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. That team is stacked. They got tougher, they got bigger, and they got more skilled (yes, that last part apparently was possible). Odds are that they will place Iginla on their second line with Evgeni Malkin who is a better center than anyone Iginla had ever played with in Calgary.

While I am definitely disappointed that my team, the Blackhawks, did not get Iginla, I can only imagine what Bruins fans are going through right now. The last 15 hours for those people have not been good, to say they least. First, they lose in a shootout to their biggest rival, the Canadiens (and lose their division lead), then they wake up this morning to find out that Iginla is a Penguin, not a Bruin. You want to talk about going from bad news to worse news…

It will be interesting to see which teams make moves to try and counter Pittsburgh, and not just in the Eastern Conference. No one will be able to make as many big moves as the Penguins, but teams like Boston and Chicago (among others) will be looking to improve their rosters between now and April 3rd, and they’ll have to if they want to beat Pittsburgh in a 7-game series.

Iginla to the Blackhawks?

jarome-iginla-featuredThis past weekend, Jarome Iginla made a list of 4 teams that he would accept a trade to if the Flames decide to part ways with their captain. The 4 teams on that list, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, are Boston, Chicago, L.A., and Pittsburgh. All 4 teams are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. With Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Brendan Morrow yesterday, one would have to assume that they are no longer going to be trying to trade for Iginla, shortening that list to just 3 teams now. So now the question becomes, what jersey will Iginla be wearing come 2 weeks from now?

The NHL trade deadline is April 3rd, and Jarome Iginla is probably the biggest name being mentioned in trade talks. Assuming that the Penguins are done trading after acquiring Morrow, that leaves us with either Boston, Chicago, or L.A. as possible destinations for Iginla. Being the Blackhawks fan that I am, let’s take a look at what it would take for the Hawks to get Iginla.

Calgary has made it clear that they want at least one first round pick, plus a couple prospects, and/or a current player off an NHL roster in return for Jarome Iginla. Not many teams would be willing to give up that much for a 35 year old player who is in the last year of his contract. However, Iginla is the type of player that could really help a team win the Stanley Cup. In the case of the Blackhawks, he is exactly what they need: a big, physical forward who can score goals.

Going based off what Calgary wants in return for Jarome, the Hawks would probably need to trade away a first round pick, two top prospects, and a player off their current roster. It is rumored that the Flames want Brandon Saad as part of a deal with the Hawks, but that simply won’t happen. My guess is that if the Hawks really do go hard after Iginla, they would be offering something like Brandon Pirri, Mark McNeil/Jimmy Hayes/Jeremy Morin, and a guy like Stalberg or Frolik off their current NHL roster, as well as a future first round draft pick. Odds are that Calgary would lobby hard for Stalberg over Frolik in this deal.

Keep in mind that Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell are both unrestricted free agents after this season, and the Hawks may not be able to re-sign both of them. That makes trading Stalberg a little easier to get over. As much as I don’t want to see Stalberg get traded, I think it would be worth it for Iginla in return.

So what would Jarome Iginla do for the Hawks?

Right now, arguably the biggest weakness of the Blackhawks is their lack of size and physicality. This was made evident in last year’s playoffs and against some bigger teams jarome-iginla-jamie-benn-2010-12-23-21-40-23like the Ducks this year. Iginla is big guy (6’1″, 210 lbs.) and isn’t afraid to hit people. He has often been regarded as one of the tougher guys in the league over the past decade. The Blackhawks could really use a big, physical forward who can contribute on the offensive end. Right now they have some bigger guys like Bickell and Bollig, but neither one is really considered a dual threat. If you place Iginla on one of the top two lines of the Blackhawks, he is going to bring some much needed physical play to the top of that lineup.

Along with his physicality, Iginla is a great locker room presence. He has been the captain of the Flames since 2003 and knows how to be a leader. Not that the Hawks need another leader (they have plenty), but it couldn’t hurt.

Some people question whether or not Iginla could be effective in the Blackhawks lineup because of their team speed, and Iginla’s lack thereof. The Hawks style of play revolves around their team speed and getting out on fast breaks and odd-man rushes. Jarome Iginla is more of a net-front presence (which the Hawks lack) who is much more effective in a half ice style of game. What I mean by that is Iginla is not going to be beating opposing players up and down the ice. Instead, he is much more effective in offensive zone play. He parks himself in front of the net, screens the goalie, and cleans up the rebounds. In a way, he is pretty similar to what Dustin Byfuglien was with the Hawks during their Stanley Cup run.

If the Hawks were to get Iginla, here is what their lines might look like (minus Stalberg):

Saad-Toews-Hossa

Kane-Sharp-Iginla

Bickell-Bolland-Shaw

Frolik-Kruger-Carcillo/Bollig/Mayers

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Quenneville put Sharp back at the number 2 center position like he did when they won the Cup 3 years ago. Some say Kane might move to that spot, but I completely disagree with that. As you can see though, Iginla would instantly make the Hawks a better team and a much tougher team in terms of physicality (and offense for that matter).

This trade is a long ways off from happening, but it is not unrealistic. If I were Stan Bowman, I would do everything I could to complete this trade without hurting the Hawks’ future. For the time being, however, all we can do is hope and speculate.

The deadline is just over a week away, so stay tuned.

 

Blackhawks fall in Anaheim

164216744_slideLast night’s game between the Ducks and Blackhawks in Anaheim lived up to its hype. Everyone was hoping and expecting to see a fast-paced, close, and exciting game, and was it ever. Unfortunately for us Hawks fans, the result was not what we were hoping for.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the third period of last night’s game, just like they did in the first meeting between these two teams back in early February. In that game, the Ducks scored a late third period goal to tie the game, and then went on to win in a shootout. Last night’s game did not go to a shootout, but the Ducks did score late, and they did win.

With a litter over 5 minutes left in the game, Bobby Ryan scored the game-tying goal after Corey Crawford gave up a big rebound off of a Ryan Getzlaf shot from the right circle. There was really no way for Crawford to avoid giving up the rebound.

Then just 64 seconds later, Teemu Selanne scored after a bad Blackhawks turnover, and the Ducks were up 3-2. In a matter of seconds, the Hawks went from having the lead to trailing in the game.

Sheldon Souray would add an empty net goal with 21 seconds left in the game to make it 4-2.

So, what did we learn from last night’s game?

Jonathan Toews is a beast. This is something that we knew already, but I just want to reiterate it. His shorthanded goal last night (much like the one against Colorado a couple of weeks ago) was a perfect example of him outworking and out-hustling everyone else on the ice to score a goal. Toews is arguably the best two-way forward in the game, and he proved this once again last night.

We also learned that the Hawks still have not fixed their late-game issues. Too many times this year, the Blackhawks have blown, or come close to blowing their leads late in games. I mentioned this in an earlier blog this year, and things have not changed. Just to point out a couple examples of this, look back at their games against the Ducks on Feb. 12 , L.A. on Feb. 17, Vancouver on Feb. 19, and last night’s game in Anaheim. Last night was the only one of those games that they lost, but in the other three, the Hawks almost cost themselves the game because of allowing late goals to the opposition. What I have noticed is that sometimes while playing with the lead in the third period, the Hawks will revert to playing strictly defense. It is as though they have decided to try and play “keep away” instead of continuing to attack the other team and add to their lead. Last night the Blackhawks did a better job of trying to add to their lead, but they still gave up 2 late goals that cost them the game.

Another thing that we learned by watching the Hawks and Ducks play last night is that the Ducks are a much bigger, more physical team. Come playoff time, that is going to benefit the Ducks in a big way. Right now, the Blackhawks are a great regular season team. They have a ton of speed and skill, as well as a good defense and two decent goalies. In the 164215175_slideregular season, those things will get you a lot of wins. Come playoff time, however, the game becomes much more physical. Games are won and lost along the boards and hitting becomes a major factor in the outcomes of games. The Ducks are built perfectly for the playoffs. They have a number of big, physical forwards and defensemen who are not afraid to throw their bodies around and try to hit guys through the glass. That includes their star players like Perry, Ryan, and Getzlaf. The Blackhawks are not like that. Their game revolves around speed and finesse players. The star players of the Hawks are not nearly as physical as those of the Ducks. Unless they improve on their size and toughness before the playoffs, this is going to be a big issue for the Blackhawks in the postseason. That is a fact.

I am not saying that the Hawks are going to be bounced from the first round again like they were the last two years, but if they meet up against a team like Anaheim (or Boston for that matter..) in the playoffs, they are going to have some trouble with their physical forwards and defensemen.

For the time being, however, these four days off should really benefit the Hawks. Patrick Kane needs as much rest as he can get after double-shifting in Marian Hossa’s absence the last two games. Hopefully Hossa will be back in the lineup for Monday night’s game against L.A., who oh by the way, has regained its Stanley Cup form from a year ago.

Thanks for reading.

Hawks back on track

163833911_slideAfter dropping two in a row to the Avs and Oilers following their 24-game point streak to start the season, the Blackhawks won their last two games against Columbus and Dallas. Both games came on the road, and both games were the exact opposite of each other.

Following their bad loss to Edmonton at home, the Blackhawks pulled out another 1-goal victory over the Blue Jackets four nights later. The Blackhawks had numerous chances throughout the game (especially in the third period and overtime), but Columbus goalie Semyon Varlamov played fantastic in net and kept the game tied. The Hawks would eventually win in a shootout, thanks to Toews and Kane.

Their next game in Dallas was nothing like the game in Columbus. The Hawks scored goals against the Stars and cruised to an 8-1 victory. It was literally like watching the Globetrotters against the Generals. The Blackhawks were scoring at will, and seemingly in which ever fashion they wanted to. This was by far their most dominating performance of the season.

Tonight, the Hawks are back in Denver where their 24-game streak ended about a week and a half ago. Since that game, Colorado has lost 3 of their last 4, while the Hawks have returned to their early-season ways.

Colorado has done a better job than anyone this season at matching the team speed of the Hawks. It will be interesting to see how the Avalanche approach this game tonight, compared to the last 2 that these teams played against each other. Obviously they will be trying to win, but I doubt that the Avs will come out with as much intensity as they did for the first two games between these teams. The Hawks are no longer unbeaten in regulation, which may lower Colorado’s intensity this time out, especially since the Avs already beat the Hawks. However, I could be wrong.

Tonight’s game between the Hawks and Avs is going to come down to goaltending. Ray Emery will get the nod for Chicago, and I would expect Varlamov to be in net again for Colorado. I doubt that the Hawks are going to give up another 6 goals to the Avalanche, and I also doubt that Colorado is going to hold the Hawks to just 2 goals again. Only time will tell…

As the trade deadline gets closer and closer (April 3rd), more and more rumors are beginning to surface around the league about possible trades. The common belief regarding the Hawks is that they will try to land either another center, and/or a big, physical player who can be effective on this team. Dave Bolland has done OK as the number 2 center this year, but I don’t think he is a true number 2. Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell are two big bodied forwards currently on the Hawks’ roster, but it would not be hard to upgrade from Bollig. Chris Neil from Ottawa is a name that continues to pop up in Blackhawks rumors. He is a big, physical forward who is not afraid to throw his weight around.

Game-time is in an hour. Let’s hope for a W.

New streak for the Blackhawks

163379422_slideAfter starting the season 21-0-3 and setting many new records, the Blackhawks have now lost their last two games, and have looked bad doing so. There is a saying that states, “You’re never as good as you think when you’re hot, and you’re never as bad as you think when you’re not.” Maybe this is the case with the Blackhawks, or maybe it’s not.

During the Hawks’ incredible point streak to start this season, it was hard to point out any weaknesses on that team. When you’re winning every night, you’re weaknesses are usually hidden. Because of this, most Blackhawks fans and a lot of hockey fans around the country automatically labeled the Hawks as Stanley Cup champions. The amount of bandwagon fans that the Blackhawks gained during their streak was incredible. Now, I’m not saying that the Blackhawks aren’t as good as they were during their streak, but it is very possible that they were over-achieving through their first 24 games.

There is no question that the Blackhawks have one of the best offenses in the game, and they have proven that thus far this season. However, their team defense might not be as good as it looked during their streak. This was made evident over their last two games in Colorado and then at home against Edmonton when the Hawks allowed 12 goals in the two games combined, and lost both

Johnny+Oduya+Chicago+Blackhawks+v+Detroit+MTygqWw0dkMlThey have some very good defensemen on that team (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson), and then they have some defensemen who have been playing a lot better than they ever have in their careers (Leddy, Oduya, and maybe Hjalmarsson again). Having said that, every one of those guys was playing at a very high level through the first 24 games, and it is unrealistic to think that they would all continue to do so the rest of the season. It is extremely rare to see 5, or all 6, of your defensemen playing up to their full potential at the same time, and that is exactly what was happening during the Hawks’ point streak. Now, as you saw their last two games, the defensemen of the Hawks, and their forwards, have all come back to earth in terms of their defensive play. I’m not saying that they are going to keep giving up 6 goals per game from here on out, but don’t expect them to be insanely good on defense like they were to start the season.

With not having such an incredible defense comes more shots, and quality shots, on goal. Again, this was evident against the Avs and Oilers. In a lot of cases, goalies are only as good as the defense in front of them (that is unless your last name is something like Roy or Brodeur). The Blackhawks do not have elite goaltenders. They have two average goalies, with Crawford possibly being a slightly above average goalie. Over the first 24 games, those two guys were being praised left and right for their play in net, and rightfully so. They were fantastic. But, that is also because the Blackhawks’ defense was playing so well and not allowing many shots on goal. I would not expect that type of play to continue on such a consistent basis from here on out.

buff1One other thing that I want to mention is the size of the Blackhawks. The average weight of a player on the Hawks is 200.9 pounds. Only eight teams in the league average a lighter weight per player. If you look at the average weight of a player on the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, it is 210.4 pounds, the heaviest in the NHL. It is a fact that size and physicality become a huge factor in the playoffs, and the Blackhawks lack both. Their 2009-2010 team that won the Cup had a ton of skill, and also a lot of size and grit (Byfuglien, Ladd, Brouwer). There is no question that their size that season was a big reason as to why they were so successful. I am not prepared to say that the Hawks’ lack of size will keep them from winning the Cup this year, but it is a weakness of this team (as evidenced by last year’s first round exit against Phoenix). The trade deadline is April 3rd, and I would not be surprised to see Stan Bowman make a move to try and add more size to the lineup.

While it probably seems like I am making the Hawks sound like a bad team, I’m really not. I am simply pointing out some facts that people need to realize. The Blackhawks are still a good team, and one of the best teams in the league. They are not, however, miles ahead of everyone else in the NHL like people were making it sound over the last month and a half. I still expect this team to end up with the number 1 seed in the Western Conference, and I still think it would be a disappointment if they do not make the Western Conference Finals. I do not, however, think it is impossible for them to get eliminated before the Stanley Cup Finals, unlike some people.

Even though I just pointed out a few weaknesses of the Blackhawks, I do realize that their last two losses came during a very exhausting stretch of the schedule. They just played 7 games in 11 nights, which is very tough for any team to endure. Those two losses also came against two of the fastest teams in the league, and the Hawks were trying to defend them while skating on very tired legs. Now that they have 3 full days off to rest before their next game in Columbus on Thursday, I would expect to see a better performance and effort from everyone on that team. Nothing cures exhaustion like rest.

Rose should wait for next season

Derrick RoseAs the Bulls’ season inches closer and closer to the end, this team is showing no signs of doing anything spectacular come playoff time. They might get by the first round (depending on who they play), but there is also a solid chance they won’t. Every week lately, it’s somebody else leaving the lineup due to injury. Gibson, Hinrich, and Hamilton were all out of last night’s game in San Antonio. Even if Rose did come back, I just don’t see this team going anywhere, which leads me to my main point.

Derrick Rose should wait to return to the Bulls’ lineup until next season. Like I already said, I really don’t see the Bulls going anywhere come playoff time. If Rose is back for the playoffs, there is a good chance that he won’t even be totally back to normal form (even though he says he won’t return until he’s 110 percent). There are too many holes on this team preventing them from being any major threat to do damage in the playoffs. Think about it, even with Rose, do you really think they could beat Miami in a 7-game series? Not a chance.

There is no point for Rose to come back at this point and risk another injury. He would be smart to sit out the remainder of the season and take the entire off-season to get as healthy as possible.

The Bulls really weren’t built to win anything this year anyway. Knowing that Rose would be out until late in the season, Gar Forman and John Paxson signed guys like Robinson, Hinrich, Belinelli, Radmanovich, and Mohammed to somewhat “get by” this year. This summer, I would expect to see the Bulls make another slew of moves. However, this time I believe they will be made in more of an attempt to win next year knowing that Rose will be/should be healthy from day one. Having said that, the Bulls are going to have a tough time signing any quality free agents because of the fact that they are going to be heavily restricted by the salary cap. There have been talks already of them possibly trying to trade Deng to get under the cap…

My bottom line here is that there is no need for Derrick Rose to return this season. If he comes back, the Bulls aren’t going to beat Miami in the playoffs (they might not even get to Miami), and they sure aren’t going to win any championships this year. I would much rather see Rose spend all summer getting even healthier so that the Bulls can make a serious run next year, assuming Deng is still with the team.

Blackhawks simply amazing

163279535_slideWhat more can be said about the Blackhawks? Every single game it seems as though they do something else to get a win that just blows your mind. I’m honestly not sure if there are anymore appropriate adjectives that have not been used to describe this team. They are simply amazing.

Tonight’s game against the Avalanche was bound to be a tougher one for the Blackhawks, who played a good team in the Minnesota Wild just a night earlier. However, just before puck drop, tonight’s game got even tougher. Marian Hossa was announced as a last second scratch from the lineup with what the Blackhawks are calling an “upper body injury.” No word on how or what happened to him.

As for the game itself, the Avs gave the Hawks just about all they could possibly handle and threatened to end The Streak at 23 games.

The first period got off to a bit of a slow start, with each team registering 3 shots through about the first 7 minutes or so. Then with 8:43 gone in the period, Cody McLeod was given a two minute minor for roughing, sending the Blackhawks to the powerplay. On that powerplay, Brent Seabrook launched a rocket of a slap shot from just inside the blue line that was redirected past Semyon Varlamov by Andrew Shaw. Hawks were up 1-0.

With just under two minutes left in the first, Colorado tied the game on a nice play that resulted in John Mitchell backhanding a shot over the left pad of Ray Emery. This was a big goal at the time because it gave Colorado all the momentum heading into the first intermission.

In the second period, each team had a few decent scoring chances, but only the Avs were able to put one in the back of the net. At the 13:17 mark in the period, Matt Duchene wristed a shot off the side/back of Ray Emery that ended up crossing the goal line. This was a goal that Emery would no doubt like to have back.

Patrick Sharp had a really good second period as he registered four shots on goal. A couple of them were high quality scoring chances, including a two on one with Viktor Stalberg that Varlamov denied. The period would end with the score 2-1 in favor of the Avalanche.

Early in the third, Michal Rozsival was called for hooking, sending the Blackhawks to the penalty kill. On the ensuing kill, Jonathan Toews scored a beautiful shorthanded goal after taking a pass from Dave Bolland just inside the Colorado zone. Leave it up to the Captain to will his team back into the game.

As the period progressed, each team had their fair share of chances, but both goalies stood tall and made all of the stops. That is until there were just 49 seconds left in the game…

163279294_slideWith just under a minute left to play, Marcus Kruger carried the puck in towards Varlamov and let go of a good wrist shot from the left circle. The puck hit Varlamov and eventually found its way in behind the net. Kruger then won the puck battle and fed a perfect pass in front of the net to a wide open Viktor Stalberg for a one-timer. Varlamov made the save, but gave up a rebound. After multiple hacks at the puck from players of both teams, Daniel Carcillo finally was able to backhand a shot past Varlamov to give the Hawks the lead. A classic on-ice celebration ensued.

The Blackhawks were able to hold off Colorado for the remaining 49 seconds, and The Streak still remains in tact now at 24 games (or 30 going back to last season). This was also the Blackhawks’ 11th straight victory. While we’re on the topic of streaks, with tonight’s win Ray Emery became the first goalie in NHL history to start a season 10-0 (there are too many streaks surrounding this team that it’s getting hard to keep track of them all).

While this was a memorable game for the Hawks and us fans, not all is well concerning this team.

Near the end of the second period, Andrew Shaw took an elbow to the head from Paul Stastny and was clearly shaken up. He struggled to get back to the bench, and never ended up returning to the game.

About a quarter of the way into the third period, Patrick Sharp was checked into the glass by Ryan O’Byrne and was visibly in a lot of pain right away. Holding his left shoulder, he could hardly skate off the ice and immediately went into the Hawks’ dressing room. He would not return to the game either. In the postgame interview with Joel Quenneville, he said that Shaw will be reevaluated tomorrow and that Sharp will likely “miss some time.” Q was asked if Sharp could miss the rest of the season and responded by saying, “I don’t think so.” That’s not exactly the answer us fans wanted to hear.

As for Hossa, he is expected back in the lineup Friday night in Colorado. Brandon Bollig was sent back to Rockford today and Steve Montador (did you forget about him?) was activated and placed on the active NHL roster.

Now, back to the game itself tonight.

The Avalanche did as good of a job as any team the Hawks have played this year at not allowing them any “open ice.” A huge part of the Blackhawks’ strategy is to use their speed up and down the ice and to play an uptempo game. The Avs did a very good job of not allowing the Hawks to do this. They forced the Blackhawks to play a “chip and chase” type game instead. While the Hawks ended up getting the win, a lot of teams are going to look at the tape of this game and try to replicate what the Avs were able to do defensively.

163279531_slide (1)Having said all of that, this team never gives up and once again found another way to win despite being majorly shorthanded in terms of forwards. Of all players on this roster, who would have expected to see Dan Carcillo out on the ice in the last minute of a tie game, and who would have predicted that he’d score the game winning goal with just 49 seconds left? The Blackhawks have 21 wins this year, and after tonight’s game, 13 different players on the team have recorded a game-winning goal. That is incredible. You won’t find another team in the NHL who can say that.

Ray Emery. Just like the team he plays for, what more can you say about this guy? He set the all-time NHL record tonight for most consecutive wins by a goalie to start a season (10). Now to be completely honest with you, I was surprised to learn that no goalie had ever gone 10-0 before. But nonetheless, that is pretty impressive for him to have set that record while being the team’s number two goalie.

The Blackhawks head to Colorado for a rematch with the Avs on Friday night. Could the thin air in the Mile High City be the factor that ends the Hawks’ streak? We shall wait and see. While I would love to see this team go 48 games without a regulation loss (they won’t), a few losses will actually help the Hawks come playoff time. They need to know what it’s like to battle back and win games after losing one or two. I bet if you ask Joel Quenneville, he would agree.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Blackhawks beat Wings in a shootout

163018073_slideToday’s game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings was as close to a playoff game as you will find during the regular season. Quick-paced and physical play, incredible goaltending, and low scoring. That is the best way to describe the playoffs, and that is exactly how today’s game was played.

If the Detroit-Chicago rivalry wasn’t a good enough reason for the Red Wings to want to win this game, then the fact that the Hawks hadn’t lost in regulation yet this season should have done the trick. Based on the way the Wings played, you could tell they wanted this one badly.

The fist period was pretty much dominated by the Blackhawks. Much of the period was spent in the Detroit end as the Hawks peppered Jimmy Howard with 9 shots on goal. Howard stopped all 9 and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game. Detroit was able to get off just 3 shots through the first 20 minutes of action, and like Howard, Corey Crawford had an answer for all 3.

163012908_slideThe second period was a much more intense period than its predecessor. Both teams were putting a ton of pressure on each other at both ends of the ice and generated multiple Grade-A scoring chances. Jimmy Howard and Corey Crawford, however, played like brick walls and came up with huge save after huge save. It almost seemed as though they had a personal battle going between one another to see who could come up with the biggest, best saves. After two periods, the game remained scoreless, but the shot totals grew to 21-18 in favor of the Hawks.

The third period was filled with just as much intensity as the second. Just 2:43 into the third, Tomas Tatar beat Crawford with a one-timer that was setup beautifully by Joakim Andersson from behind the net. It was at this time that it appeared as though the Hawks’ streak may be coming to an end.

As the third period moved along, both sides continued to get decent scoring chances, but both goalies kept on making the big saves. There must have been more highlight-reel saves in this game than every game from Saturday night (9 games) combined.

Then with 2:25 remaining in the third, Jonathan Ericsson was given a 2-minute delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from inside the Wings’ defensive zone. On the ensuing Blackhawks’ powerplay, after Patrick Sharp’s slap shot from the point was blocked in front of the net, the puck dropped to the ice and Viktor Stalberg was able to backhand a pass to Patrick Kane. Kane, all in one motion, caught the pass and let go of a wicked wrister that beat Jimmy Howard over his left shoulder to tie the game. Stalberg’s pass was a thing of beauty and couldn’t have been more perfectly placed. After Kane’s goal, there was just 2:02 remaining on the clock.

In the dying moments of the game, Johan Franzen backhanded a shot that beat Corey Crawford and hit off the post. That would have been an incredible turnaround in the game had that puck gone in. Then with 1:23 left in the game, Niklas Kronwall was hit with a delay of game penalty for also shooting the puck out of play from his own defensive zone.

The Wings would keep the Hawks from scoring in regulation and the game headed to overtime.

In overtime, Detroit killed off the rest of Kronwall’s penalty to put both teams at even strength. As was the case throughout all of regulation, each goalie (Crawford especially) came up with some big time saves to keep their teams alive. No goals would be scored and a shootout was on the way.

After Datsyuk, Toews, and Brunner were all denied on their shootout attempts (three of the best players in the NHL at shootouts), Patrick Kane pulled out another incredible move from his bag of tricks to beat Howard and put the Hawks in front.

Henrik Zetterberg was Detroit’s last hope to extend the shootout, and Corey Crawford denied his attempt to win the game for the Blackhawks.

This was by far one of the best regular season games I have seen in recent years. A couple of the Hawks’ other top regular season games that I can remember off hand both involved the Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena (all three were ironically on NBC and day games).

If there was ever a game that the Hawks were going to lose to end their incredible points streak, this was it. Detroit gave them all they could handle. Corey Crawford played possibly his best game ever today and personally won them the game. Yes, Kane came up with the big 2 goals, but Crawford made a countless number of major saves on great scoring chances from Detroit.

The Blackhawks are playing with a never-die attitude this year. Regardless of any adversity that they have faced, the Hawks have overcome it and found a way to get at least one point. Today was a perfect example of this. They found themselves trailing late in the game in a hostile environment and could have easily crawled up into a ball and let the Wings walk all over them. But they didn’t. They shook off Tatar’s goal and never gave up.

I said in my last blog that if the Hawks were to lose any of their upcoming games, this one would have been it. Now that they have avoided doing just that, I give up on trying to predict when they’ll lose. If they take a night off and don’t give everything they’ve got, that is when they will lose. Every team they play is going to bring their best effort to try and end this streak, so the Hawks need to be on their toes night in and night out.

My three stars of today’s game for the Blackhawks would have to be 1) Corey Crawford 2) Patrick Kane 3) Brandon Saad. Saad had 5 shots on goal.

Side notes: This was Marian Hossa’s 1,000th career game……….The Blackhawks’ streak of not losing in regulation is now up to  28 games dating back to last season.

 

The Streak is still alive

162944136_slideWe are almost half way through the NHL season as the Blackhawks have played 21 games, and they still have yet to lose a game in regulation. The previous record of 16 straight games to open a season with a point held by the ’06-’07 Ducks is long gone, and the Blackhawks are showing no signs of slowing down.

There really isn’t a lot left to say about this team that hasn’t already been said during this incredible streak. To make it short and sweet, the Blackhawks are the best team in hockey right now, and the hottest team in professional sports. They are winning the games that they should win, they are winning the close games, and now they are winning the games that they really shouldn’t be winning.

Last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worst team in the NHL, was one of the worst game the Hawks have played this year. Sure you can blame it on the fact that the Hawks played the night before in St. Louis, but the fact of the matter is that the lowly Blue Jackets almost ended the Hawks streak at 20 games. Yet, the Blackhawks still prevailed in overtime and have now gone 21 straight games to start the season without a regulation loss. In fact, if you go back to last season the Hawks have now gone 26 straight regular season games with at least a point. That’s good for third all time.

In order to win a lot of games in a season, you need your top players to produce. In order to go on a streak like the Blackhawks are on and in order to win a Stanley Cup, you need production from top to bottom in your lineup. The Blackhawks are getting both. Their top players such as Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp are all producing offensively, but so are their third and fourth line guys. Over the past 2-3 games, the Blackhawks best line has arguably been their third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and Viktor Stalberg. All three players are creating chances and sustaining pressure on the opposition, and all three are scoring goals. Last night both Stalberg and Bickell recorded goals, Thursday night Shaw had a goal, and last Sunday night it was Shaw who had the lone goal in the Hawks’ 1-0 victory over the Blue Jackets. It’s not just the top two lines of this team that are beating their opponents, and that is what makes the Blackhawks so hard to play against.

162777149_slideThe biggest question mark coming into this season was their goaltending. Now, that might be the most consistent part of this team. Night in and night out, whether it is Crawford or Emery in the net, the goaltending has been great. Both players are tied for the third most wins this year (9), Crawford is first in goals-against average, and both are in the top 10 for save percentage (Crawford ranks second). What more could you possibly ask for from your goalies? Even when Ray Emery was supposed to have the night off against St. Louis on Thursday, he came into the game in relief of an injured Crawford and shut out the Blues for the final 2 periods (the two goalies combined for a shutout that night).

Going along the lines of great goaltending is this team’s great defense. The Hawks are first in fewest goals-against per game, and rank second on the penalty kill. This is thanks in large part to the improved play of Keith, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, and Leddy. If you look back at the recent Stanley Cup winners, every one of them has been near the top of the league in goals-against per game. Last year, the Kings ranked second, in ’10-’11 the Bruins ranked second, and in ’09-’10 the Blackhawks were sixth. It’s not always about how much you score, but how rarely you get scored on, and the L.A. Kings of last year are the perfect example of that. They ranked 17th in goals scored per game during the regular season.

A lot of people, myself included, thought that the Blackhawks’ streak was going to end this past Thursday in St. Louis. Jonathan Toews and the rest of that first line put an end to that prediction just 12 seconds into the game. Looking forward, their toughest upcoming game has to be tomorrow afternoon in Detroit. The Wings and Hawks always play close games against each other, and I would expect nothing different tomorrow. If the Hawks win that one, then I really have no idea how long this streak could last. It’s kind of scary to think about (in a good way).

Updated Oduya Stat: The Blackhawks are now 30-2-7 with Johnny Oduya in the lineup since getting him at last year’s trade deadline.