Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks have to shake their moneymaker in Pittsburgh to win more hearts

shake1.jpgWhen the Blackhawks obliterated the Sharks in San Jose last month, they shot straight to the top of the league in many estimations as the best team out there.

They won hearts and minds, not just a contest. Not all wins are equal. Some outcomes exude and expel into the ether of ever-shifting opinion much more significance than others, just like an expensive perfume.

Heading into Friday's game against Nashville in Chicago, the Hawks presently smell as comely as that $215,000 bottle of designer Clive Christian's "Imperial Majesty," which I'm sure you are buying your wife, girlfriend or mistress this Christmas.

Maybe all three. Gotta keep up with Tiger, all you party animals out there. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith can buy "Imperial Majesty" for every female Blackhawks fan sniffing their snoot on the sideboard glass and have plenty left over.

As the $60 million dollar men of the NHL, the Hawks are shaking their moneymakers and kicking ass, too, just like the song recommends you do. Only depends on if you've heard it from Ludacris, Fleetwood Mac, the Black Crowes, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the...well, never mind.

The Hawks didn't simply beat the Sharks last month, either. They smashed San Jose into little tiny fish sticks.

That gave pause for thought to the big-picture guys, instilling doubts in those annual and misguided believers who contend that this will be the Sharks' year to finally rule that roost, rather than drowning again in their own gurgling disillusions.

Another potential "shake your moneymaker" occasion arises for Chicago come Saturday night in Pittsburgh against Sidney Crosby, Inc. Time again for them to get a tight death grip on those hearts and minds.

Not only do the Penguins top the NHL heading into Friday night's action with most wins (20), but beating the defending Stanley Cup champions would symbolize again the Blackhawks are on a steady progression to being recognized as unstoppable.

When you are making a statement in sports, you are asked to do so repeatedly. The mark of a champion team is one that rises to the occasion over and over and over and..and, yeah, I'll be quiet now.

Crosby had two goals in Thursday night's 4-1 win over Colorado in Pittsburgh, giving him 11 points in his last three games and 19 goals for the season. Everybody knows the Blackhawks' trademark is defense, and if they can thwart a streaking Crosby, their reputation will be further amplified leaguewide.

Just like Kane, Crosby is considered a player who will look to pass first. But Evgeni Malkin claimed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Crosby's focus has changed. The Hawks would be advised to pay attention to Malkin's view.

"He's playing every shift 100 per cent and shooting more now, great shots and more goals," Malkin said about Crosby. "I hope he wins the scoring title."

Kane/Crosby is just one of the dynamics that makes this game extremely interesting. It also marks the return to Pittsburgh of former Penguin Marian Hossa, who will be motivated by his championship loss to the Penguins last season in the Cup finals when he decided to wear the Red Wings uniform in '08-'09 after being a Penguin in '07-'08.

Of course, '08 is the year Detroit beat Pittsburgh and Hossa for the title. Hossa hasn't been too lucky at picking the champs beforehand, but let's hope he has chosen right this time by coming to Chicago. As a prognosticator, Hossa is a pretty good hockey player.

An important factor in Saturday's game will be making sure Pittsburgh continues to struggle on the power play after special teams play helped them beat the Avalanche. Pittsburgh is an embarrassing 18-for-125 on the PP. The Hawks need to keep the Penguins PP chasing its tail.

That 14.4 per cent success ratio is third worst in the NHL. The Hawks' overall PP is much better at 22.3 per cent and their road success ratio of 27.3 (12-for-44) is second only to the Sharks' 29.2 road PP.

Here's what would make the Chicago PP being a factor in this game even more impressive.

The Penguins rank 8th in penalty killing in the league, not as good as the Hawks' 5th ranking, but certainly high enough that cracking through Pittsburgh's PK on their own ice while holding down their PP would be another sign the Hawks are one of the NHL's elite.

In 14 home games, Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 49-32, helping them to its current 5-game home winning streak. That's far different from what the Penguins have done on the road, allowing 46 goals in 15 games away from Mellon Arena.

The Hawks, in contrast, have a solid goal differential home and away. While outscoring the other guys 45-35 at United Center in 14 games is good, the Hawks have stood out with a 34-21 goal differential in 12 road games.

If coach Joel Quenneville's team can continue to allow 1.75 goals per game on the road this season, I think it's safe to say it's going to be one hell of a year.

So it sounds simple. The Hawks defense has to hold the Penguins in check in a building where Pittsburgh has found a way to easily outscore some opponents, even though the Penguins have an inconsistent PP.

One thing that the Hawks don't want to have happen Saturday is an overtime or shootout. The Penguins are 6-0 in overtime/shootout this season. The Hawks are 5-3, 0-2 in road shootouts.

Plus, I'm sick of shootouts. Let's win it clean.

That'll capture a lot more hearts and minds throughout the league. The Hawks might lead the NHL in that elusive category come Sunday.

It won't show in the standings. But it's what you can't see in black-and-white that's often most important.

We just have an indescribable feeling in Chicago that this is the year, and a Saturday night killing in Pittsburgh would surely make Marian Hossa feel better that he won't go 0-for-3 in picking the champion.

That'll make us all feel better.

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3 Comments

jdudhead said:

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Great article! A win against the Pens would be huge, even an OT win would be a bigger statement game for the hawks than the 7-2 pounding on the sharks. I do agree though, too many shootouts so far this season (league wide actually) How bout 3 minutes of 4-4 in OT, followed by 2 minutes of 3-3? THEN a shootout? Games wouldnt go any longer than they do now and there would be (at least a few)less shootouts?

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, I loved the 'little tiny fish sticks' metaphor.

Hey, last year Adam Burish said "I don't know who Sidney Crosby is" and then the Hawks went out and got beaked by the Pens.

Mr. Burish's absence this year will NOT be a detriment to the Blackhawks' performance.

Nothing like playing the Cup champs for motivation...and how about having the kids watch replays of the '92 Finals?

If that don't get the juices flowin'...

Mike Kiley said:

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Huet might be as mental as Eddie, but what Cris needs to understand, is that mentally tough is something he can attain. Eddie considered crazy his birthright. Cris isn't quite there.

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