Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks at least go down fighting in 3-2 loss to San Jose

As losses go, this was a pretty good one.

You can piss and moan and bitch, if you really want, about Cristobal Huet perhaps not being technically sound on the first two goals in this 3-2 loss to San Jose. The Blackhawks goalie almost seemed to react differently than he has in recent weeks, when he has come out and challenged shooters consistently, because he knew offensive stars Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton were bearing down on him with no defense to help him.

Huet went down early facing both duels and lost. Heatley broke away just enough from Duncan Keith left of the net after sucking in defenseman Dan Boyle's pass and lifted a first-period goal over a crouching Huet. Not at all surprising from a Sharks team that began this unholy night leading the NHL with 65 road goals.

Considering that the Hawks put on sustained pressure from the outset against goalie Evgeni Nabokov and couldn't quite get a rhythm going, despite outshooting the Sharks 26-7 in the first two periods, you had the weird feeling early that this might be San Jose's game after dropping a pair of games to the Hawks in November.

The law of averages seemed to enter into the equation here. It was the Sharks turn. When Chicago made a mistake, turning over the puck in the neutral zone when opportunistic Joe Pavalski anticipated well in the second period and turned a steal into a pass that led to a Thornton score shorthanded, you sensed that no matter how hard they tried, the Hawks weren't destined to turn in a miracle finish here.

But God knows they tried. If only Patrick Kane had better luck on a power-play shot in the second period. If only Jonathan Toews had been in a little better position to bury a rebound chance that same period rather than ring it off the post. If only Patrick Sharp had found the goal mouth rather than shooting high.

"We tried to shoot from bad angles," Marian Hossa told reporters afterward.

That's how a 47-14 shot differential went bad. They needed better reads to beat Nabokov. Or better luck. That would have made a difference, too. But everything bounced away from their grasp in this old West shootout where the fastest guns ended up dead.

If, if if...You can name a bunch of possible turning points that could have saved the Hawks.

No one can say the Hawks ever stopped. They kept coming in the third period, down 2-0. Once again we learned that Hossa won't quit. For a scorer, this guy is one hell of a forechecker. It was Hossa's spade work to grab the puck behind the net that resulted in his pass to Kane that finally put the Hawks on the scoreboard in the third.

Seconds later, of course, as far as the Hawks had scrambled to get within a goal, Jason Demers knocked the wind out of the Chicago comeback by beating Huet to his stick side with that decisive stab to the chest. Heatley made the pass that made the score possible, showing again that maybe Chicago should have traded for Heatley--provided of course they could have as some reports have it--before signing Hossa to that monster contract.

Hossa or Heatley? Who would you prefer? Of course the Hawks would have had to trade somebody good to Ottawa to get Heatley, but it was probably doable if they wanted.

Well, as much as I like Heatley, his questionable attitude and all, I might just have to side with Chicago taking Hossa. While I see Hossa still trying to fit into the Chicago offense, he certainly has impressed with how hard and determined he has played. Sometimes it looks as if he is trying to bull his way into a system that hasn't quite figured out how to use him in the best ways possible at the same time he isn't quite sure where he belongs.

Hossa's hard-working goal with 1:51 remaining in the game raised the possibility the Hawks could force an overtime. Again, you also sensed there would be no Calgary-like turnaround in this performance at United Center, even with the crowd roaring at the end.

According to Boyle's post-game interview on Versus, the Sharks took no pleasure from this victory.

"We'll take the win, but it wasn't good," he said, acknowledging the Hawks had outplayed the Sharks in all three matchups this year. "Our goalie gets 1st, 2d and 3d star of the game. No excuse to play like that."

He gave a nod to the Hawks, and even in defeat, perhaps we should follow his lead and do likewise.

The Hawks did pretty well all night on faceoffs against a club that had won 56.3 per cent of its faceoffs this year, just a little better than Chicago at 53.7. But the Sharks won the faceoff that led to Demers goal, winning when they had to, as they often do on the road.

Once again, Kane and Hossa were extremely impressive. Once again, you wished Sharp and Kris Versteeg were more of a factor in the offense. It was Versteeg's errant neutral-zone pass that Pavalski snared to turn the play in the wrong direction.

Something's wrong when it's the meek Heatley egging Sharp into a roughing penalty as he did. The Hawks were frustrated every step of the way, despite dominating San Jose.

Everyone raved afterward about the Hawks' power play, even if it didn't score. The puck movement, especially in the first period, was good enough to believe the unit could find a better passing pattern than it has so far with its ragged presentation.

As Hossa recently said, the power play has to learn to move the puck more than it moves the people on it. We saw improvement there in this game, if no positive results.

All will quickly be forgiven if the Hawks go to Detroit Wednesday night and follow their Sunday win in Chicago against the Red Wings with another ass kicking.

The Sharks won this game after winning Monday night in Dallas. The Hawks have to keep up with their top competition in the West and show they can rebound from a loss and win right away in the challenging environment of Joe Louis Arena.

I would think it's time for coach Joel Quenneville to play Andy Niemi Wednesday against the Wings and give Huet a rest. if Niemi can come out of the bullpen and save the day, he will be as welcome as Santa Claus with Christmas on the horizon.

This performance did nothing to lessen our belief that this still will be the year of the Hawk. I would certainly be more relieved, however, if I saw more consistency from a power play that seems to be a constant work in progress with advances made in small measures.

Without more power play goals, the Hawks will find the rest of the season hard sledding.

And I would be much happier if Hossa found a way after this game to get a shot on goal against his former Red Wing teammates, which he didn't accomplish Sunday.

If I was Q, I would be working overtime figuring how to make the offense work around Hossa rather than constantly rely on Hossa's hard work creating his offensive chances.

Of course if I was Q, I wouldn't be bald and I'd have one hell of a mustache to tickle my vodka bottle. Say, that reminds me, I got to get going.

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18 Comments

VegasHawksFan said:

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Several things to like in this game. To me, that they played another complete game and just kept coming is what I have been waiting to see since last spring. The 47-14 shot differential doesn't tell the whole story, but it tells most of it. For as much as the Hawks got pushed to the outside to shoot from bad angles, they also managed to walk a decent amount of those right to the doorstep of Nabby who played exactly like you would expect for a man who got badly embarrassed in his own house.

Not much you can say for Huet, he had a bad night. McCarty said it before the game on versus, "He goes down early and you have to elevate the puck". they did exactly that three times. I didn't buy the story line ahead of time that this game was a yardstick, but if it was, I believe the message is the Sharks have work to do if they want to beat this team in a playoff series.

As for the Hawks, I still believe they are on an upward projection. They may not know exactly how to use Hossa yet and then again maybe the team needed to change and come to him. He is physical, smart and so talented. I don't believe it is just a coincidence that Kane and the rest of the team have substantially picked up their efforts at back checking and never giving up on even a busted play. The Sharks are a damn good team, but I don't see the upside left in them that I do the Hawks.

Mike Kiley said:

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The Hawks haven't gone through a real bad stretch this season, and most teams do, even the good ones. So I see no reason to over-react to a game that can allow the coaches to tighten the screws on some players and-sigh, yet again--the power play. Bad effort is one thing. This was good effort and sometimes you have to swallow a loss and move on.

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, I guess if one can call any loss a 'good' loss, one could find arguments to support that regarding this game.

But when Jonny Toews gets beaten at the dot and DunkinSeabs goes minus three on the night, it's hard for me to find 'good' in last night's addition to the L column.

The Sharks did a Muhammad Ali on Les Blaques Hawques, rope-a-doping their way through each round, taking the punches--most of which weren't dangerous--and waiting for their chances, to land one...two...three...smack on the kisser.

Dan Boyle can be as modest as he likes...but the Sharks played a first class road game, letting Nabby and the PKers do the heavy lifting.

Credit The Kaner and The Hoss Man--easily the two best Hawks last night--with making it look close.

The Hawks can't expect Cristo to channel Glenn Hall three games in a row, and giving Dangerous Dany Heatley, Jumbo Joe Thornton and Jaunty Jason Demers (not to mention Personable Patrick Marleau's ring-a-ding off the iron) perfect scoring opportunities, is not a way to make your goalie look good.

And turnovers? The UC was like Pepperidge Farm, the Hawks servin' em up piping hot.

Mr. Hossa's succinct assessment of his team's approach ("We tried to shoot from bad angles") further indicates that he is THE megawatt star on this team. If the rest of the crew play smart, physical, complete games the way he does, they'll win.

Finally, why, after having such a strong outing against D-Troit, did Sopel and Hendry play so few minutes?

No hankies, please. There's a rematch versus The Motor City Cobras on tap.

Adult beverages on tap too.

Mike Kiley said:

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Dave, you are a tough grader. Seabrook and Keith won't be the rocks of Chicago every night. If teams never lost tough ones, we'd never know how they respond when they have to come back the next night against Detroit at Joe Louis. To every season there is a purpose under heaven. And this is the week for religious symbolism.

Dave Morris said:

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Amen to that, Brother Mike.

And as Frank Perdue once said, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." Don't know how that relates to Q and the Hawks, but I always liked that phrase.

Cheers and Happy Holidays.

fattybeef said:

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I listened to it on the radio, havent seen the highlights yet --- how I loathe VS. Sounded like 2 of those goals were real real dumb plays and guys like Thornton will make you pay.

If you get 47 shots on goal, not counting the other opportunities that were blocked, shot over, wide or whatever (1 shot every 1:16 if you do the math) and you only score 2 goals you should not be allowed to win.

Also, the Sharks arent a garbage team like what Detroit has been throwing on the ice and their keeper is significantly better.

Cant win every game, panic if they drop 4 in a row or go on a 3 and 10 run. At least it sounded like we played well even if we couldnt score.

SharpKane said:

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Sopel is still bustin' out his best Frankenstein impression. The man can't make a pass tape to tape if his life depended on it. Hendry, on the other hand, looked very good, and I almost mistook him for Keith a couple times based on his style and passing. His positioning is still a little less than stellar, as was most of our D-men's last night. As for shooting from bad angles, I constantly find myself feeling bad for Hossa out there on the PP. The PP collapsing in the corners forcing each other to make 2 foot passes is getting old. I mean, just because the guy is good enough to score off a nearside smash in doesn't mean we should force him to keep doing it. Buff on the point for the PP is heart stoppingly bad and our lack of passing lanes opening up is a direct result of this. If you can't keep the puck moving on the point it isn't going to get low enough to get in the net.

Mike Kiley said:

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I'd really like to hear a reasonable, rational explanation from Q on what he is trying to do on the point on the power play and even with the power play itself. It's constant flux and I trust there's a reason beyond not scoring enough. Q is free to share with Blackhawks Con any time he wants. Enlighten us Q. I don't think you need to keep your thoughts a secret, because you're obviously not fooling the opposition.

iplagitr said:

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That's where I'm at right now -- what on earth is going on with the power play? It's tough to make any excuses for a loss when you go 0-for-7 on the PP, and give up a shorty to boot.

I've said it before -- even about games the Hawks have won -- why can't this "high-powered offense" seem to be able to finish on the buckets of great chances they generate in every game? That includes good scoring chances and PP opportunities.

All that said, it was still somewhat satisfying to see them dominate the play against a good team - even in a loss, and likewise to read the Shark comments afterwards acknowledging they stole this game while being outplayed. As Mike says, unfortunately, the law of averages does weigh in in the game of hockey, and it just wasn't working in the Hawks' favor last night.

Hostile Hawk said:

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The problem they have scoring is because they shoot on Huet in practice. Just kidding, a little.
I conquer, this is not the first time that we have significantly out shot another team and lost. The PP has to generate at least 1 goal in that game. Plus we gave up a shorty.

hawktalk1979 said:

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To me, the game was lost on 2 poor turnovers by Kris Versteeg. With the NHL's top line/players on the ice, you can't have careless turnovers as Steeger did on goals 1 and 2. As hard as the Hawks battled to get back in the game, today's NHL shows that a 2 goal lead is most likely going to lead to a victory. Especially when that team in the Sharks.
I would disagree with placing blame on lack of offense squarely on the shoulders of Sharp and Versteeg. Both were leading the team in goals until Kane's 11th. Where are guys like Ladd, Buff, Madden and if I can say it without my computer exploding, TOEWS! The team has won all year with an offense that is spread out from top to bottom. Don't turn that arund and point the finger at 2 players just because the team lost.

HawksFan71 said:

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HT1979, you stole my thunder. One cannot, I repeat, cannot amalyze last night's game without laying some blame on Versteeg. Even the VS pre-game analysis got it right - the Hawks win when everyone plays the defensive system, makes the smart play and frustrates the other team. The one cog in the works that consistantly seems to be "off" is No. 32. Yes, the kid has skill. Yes, he surprised everyone with his assist total last year and was a deserving Calder finalist. However, if he's going to keep turning the puck over 10 ft. inside the offensive blue line or, worse yet, in the neutral zone, then his days in the Indianhead sweater should be numbered.

fattybeef said:

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Sopel has been playing well considering he skates very not well. He's not there for his offensive prowress, just to block shots and eat a few minutes for the skilled guys. Real expensive clock eater but you know what you can expect from him day in and day out.

Theyre working on the power play in practice so Im sure it will improve soon. Anyways, they have an "average" power play, its really not that bad. Obviously room for improvement but if they bury 2 of those other 47 shots then were not having this discussion.

Buff is on the point becuase he's a skilled player and doesnt want to grind it out in front of the net. As long as he keeps hitting people and scoring even strength goals I could care less what he does on the PP.

I dont know why Sharp is there. Unless theyre trying to cycle him up the backside to bury a 1/100 pass. Thats the only reason to have him there.

Hostile Hawk said:

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But Buff's spot should be in front of the net. They have been trying Brouwer out in that spot and he has shown promise, but nobody pisses a goalie off more than Buf. We have enough offensive defensemen to have Buf planted in front of the net and not behind everyone where his abilities are lost.

mikeyo said:

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So much for the smuggery, eh? You can't win 'em all, but you can lose the tough ones on a couple of soft goals. I don't like the Sharklers alone atop the west, either. All I want for Christmas is to beat up the Deadwings tonight. Is that too much to ask for? I gave up on Peace on earth.

Mike Kiley said:

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All you had to do is wait a day. The smuggery is back.

Hostile Hawk said:

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I don't understand the finger on Sharp last night. I thought he played well. He had a few great shots and made some nice plays, took a bad a penalty yes, but that happens. Versteeg has been a little off of his game since the deals were announced to the Three Musketeers. I can't believe he made that horrible pass.

I'm sure that I am just as tired of hearing Huet's mishaps being excepted and praise being thrown in his direction as you are of hearing me comment on his lack of abilities. So here it is anyway.
Sure, he recorded a shutout against Detroit, but any goalie in the NHL would have. Sure, he has made a few really good saves this year, but I can probably count them with my four hands. The only reason he has the numbers he does is because of the Hawks defense, pure and simple. Take many goalies from the league put them behind the Hawks defense and he is putting up record numbers. What we saw last night is what happens any time a team breaks our D for a moment, and a sign of possibilities for the playoffs when it might happen more often. I agree that Niemi had a bad game the other night, it was gonna happen, especially without a strong amount of playing time, and that Huet had a bad game last night, but I still think Niemi looks better.
Huet needs to learn how to lift his arms and react to shooters. He plays a guessing game and looses often. He doesn't make saves, people shoot it into him. Maybe our team is good enough to win with anyone in net and none of this matters. But I still think the administration is trying to build up his reputation to trade him. Never once did I hear anything negative said about him during the game as much as it seemed Eddie O wanted to. Eddie knows who the better goalie is and it can be heard in his comments of both goalies.

However, it was sure nice to see the Hawks simply dominate against one of the top three teams in the NHL besides the Hawks. It was a thing of beauty at most moments.

iplagitr said:

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I know I'm probably in the minority here, but I tend to agree with most of what powwow says. Huet is a positional goalie who goes down early and gives a fair amount of rebounds. This style works fine when the great Hawk defense is allowing perimeter shots, but it can make him look bad when he faces the more patient, skilled players who get in close (eg, Heatley, Thornton...). Huet didn't really even appear to move on the first and third goals last night. He looked like a statue as the puck sailed by.

One thing that goes against this line of thought is Huet's surprisingly strong play in shootouts this year. He's really improved in this area. Maybe he needs to infuse a little more of his shootout mentality into his regulation game mindset?

Interesting angle on the trade possibility for Huet. It shouldn't surprise anyone that they'd love to offload his giant salary if they can find a worthy replacement -- especially with the strong defense not demanding a superstar goaltender on most nights.

The book is still out on Niemi. We haven't seen enough of him yet to make any solid judgements, but apart from a couple mistakes in the last game, it's hard to argue with what he's done so far this season.

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