Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks give perennial West fav San Jose many reasons to rethink their status

sharksjan28.jpgHere's my favorite stat from Thursday night's immensely satisfying performance against San Jose: Patrick Marleau, 0 shots from 23 minutes, 27 seconds on the ice.

Instead of Marley's Ghost issuing his dire warning to Scrooge, it was those puck-pinching Blackhawks who warned the ghost of Marleau's goal-scoring past that he better think again before believing he and San Jose can really be considered Western Conference favorites as long as Chicago is around to chill their offense.

As often as the Sharks swarmed and threatened to overpower the Blackhawks, how does this happen? How does a top gun become a no-show on that scoresheet in a classic game in which these rattled Sharks fired plenty of ammunition at Cristobal Huet and didn't lose 4-3 for lack of trying and pounding and beseiging the net.

Let me embellish. That would be NHL goal-scoring leader Marleau, who couldn't add to his magnificent 35 goals this year and had managed a barrage of 189 shots in his previous 53 games for one of the top shooting percentages around. Marleau had an assist to avoid being totally shut down, but so what?

That brings us to another quandary. NHL assist leader Joe Thornton didn't have any assists and he was on the ice for almost 23 minutes and ended up a minus-1. How does this happen? (Just teasing ya. I have the answer, but you're going to have to wait a while.)

Thornton did contribute one shot. That damn Blackhawks defense has got to bear down better, doesn't it?

Who was responsible for suffocating one of the league's most prolific lines? Well, center Jonathan Toews' line matched up all night against Marleau-Thornton-Dany Heatley, who did unload six shots by himself.

I guess Patrick Kane, who thankfully plays as hard on ice as off and (I can't help myself here folks with the double entendre) consistently blows by everybody, is a plus-15 for a logical reason and experiencing a significant personal maturation from last season as a player. Really, that's true.

No matter what Patrick says, he's maturing, because Toews won't have it any other way.

Toews can't match the goal scoring of fellow centers Henrik Sedin (24 goals, 76 points), Niklas Backstrom (21 goals, 58 points) or Marleau (35 goals, 58 points).

But even though our Johnny boy comes marching home with a lesser 18 goals, 44 points, his plus-19 carries much more meaning therefore than Sedin's plus-25, Backstrom's plus-23 and Marleau's plus-22.

Toews gets much more out of less point production by being the epitome of a responsible, consistent, determined, no-nonsense workaholic shift after shift.

He has helped the freewheeling Kane develop into a dedicated two-way player. He has helped elevate Troy Brouwer from no one to someone. Brouwer is a plus-8 himself with 17 goals, 29 points. In addition, Brouwer has been on the ice for 17 team power-play scores.

I know some people get sick of us always nominating Toews for sainthood. But unlike Kane, I will never say I gotta grow up. To hell with ya. I like being a juvenile, and if Kane didn't have John McDonough breathing down his neck, he'd tell ya to get stuffed, too.

As good as Toews is, I don't believe it can be emphasized enough. He won't get compared to the top star centers because of lesser stats, but you can argue he does more for the club than those guys do.

Once again, Cristobal Huet answered all his critics with a strong 34-save win. He exuded a competitive spirit, which is sometimes missing from his body language. He challenged. He moved confidently in the crease. He didn't overcommit early to pressure. He reacted at critical moments with that elusive composure that can ebb and flow.

I suppose there is no time like the present to throw up our hands in surrender right now. It's clear the burden is on Huet to win the Stanley Cup, so I don't want to hear any more from coach Q about how Andy Niemi deserves a chance to start a few games.

I don't want to hear any more about Niemi taking over in net. I mean, we really wouldn't dare piss off King David Morris to the point where Morris was actually making sense as Huet's defense attorney.

Niemi ain't going to be a fulltime starter this year, at least not until Huet is down 3 games to 1 in some playoff round. So let's all quit fooling ourselves and there is no bigger fool than me. Huet won't be dislodged as the starter this year, even when he sucks somewhere soon in either the short term or the mid-term elections.

Next time he sucks, we will be forced to pat the little Frenchman on the head and ask him pretty please would he care to do better next time?

As well as Huet played and as much as rising star Brouwer deserves acknowledgement for his pair of goals topped off by the overtime game winner, the No. 1 star to me was our dynamic duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

See, I told you I'd answer the question of how Marleau-Thornton-Heatley got stoned.

Sure, Seabrook and Keith made some mistakes. Impossible not to when Keith plays over 26 minutes and Seabrook just under 26. But criticizing them is like saying Hemingway is an unreadable hack because he missed putting a comma in the right place.

Keith/Seabrook (I suppose we should list this year's Norris Trophy winner first) were also one of the big reasons why the Sharks' ceaseless attack during huge segments of the second and third period, a wave that looked certain at times to wash away the Hawks' blitzkrieg start, didn't eventually bust through the retaining wall.

Seabrook is a surly physical presence who withstands a lot of knocks. He had five blocked shots against San Jose. He now has 108 blocks in 52 games and 136 hits. I wish Kane, John Madden and Kris Versteeg had taken him along for that limo ride, because I'm pretty sure that he would have bitten the broad with the camera and blocked all of those shots, too.

His plus-24 is sixth best in the NHL, just ahead of Keith's plus-21. Washington has defensemen Jeff Schultz and Mike Green in this neighborhood, Vancouver has defenseman Christian Ehrhoff up there and Detroit defenseman Niklas Lidstrom is lurking as always.

But nobody can quite match Seabrook and Keith. If you're going to have a punch, it's preferable to have a left hook and a right jab, not be a one-hit wonder.

There is another important element to their game. Seabrook is a steady plus-12 at home, plus-12 on the road. Keith is a plus-15 in away games when he has risen to challenges and a plus-6 at United Center.

In enemy territory, they tend to get tougher. That's how championships are won, by people who could care less if fans are screaming bloody murder in their ears.

You can look at Seabrook and Keith as a river that just keeps on flowing. Seabrook is the rockbed, Keith the smooth flow that delivers quick outlet passes, uses his speed to start some plays he also finishes by getting into the action faster than most and plays off his partner by knowing when he needs cover.

With two long trips this season, the Blackhawks have proven the same point. They can play whenever, wherever and however you want.

They can also disappear at times. They can also get drunk at times. They can also get laid at times. They can also be goalie-challenged at times. They can also be powerless at times with an 0-for-13 power play against the Sharks nothing to worry about until the postseason comes around and they need to be reminded.

But with Toews, Kane, Brouwer, Keith, Seabrook and (dare I say it) Huet, there is potential for eternal greatness rather than a momentary celebration such as Thursday.

I haven't gotten down to mentioning those big money earners Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell.

How deep is the ocean? Not as deep as the Blackhawks, who just keep on sailing and will be happy even when they awake in the Carolinas for Saturday's 8-game trip finale.

I had a good Columbus, Ohio, joke here to begin with, but Skater Rich ruined it by alerting me to the fact we aren't playing the Blue Jackets, but the Hurricanes. Duh! You expect me to pay attention to all the details.

You know sometimes I write like Dustin Byfuglien plays. Sue us. I'm sticking up for ya, Buff. We're floaters to the end.

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15 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Monsieur Kiley, as the defense attorney for The Count of Monte Cristo in the court of public opinion, please accept my thanks for your frank testimony.

To show his gratitude, Cristo would like to invite you for a weekend at his chateau in Burgundy...the keys to his wine cellar are at your disposal.

What a terrific game last night, eh.

Cheers.

BTW it's Hockey Day in North America tomorrow...hope everyone gets out to play.

Mike Kiley said:

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Be happy to play as long as Kane @ Co. picks me up in the party limo and we bring Huet along. He seldom looks like he's having any fun. Hanging with his homeboy Kaner might perk him up. Or perk something up.

FearlessFreep said:

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They'll be televising a number of Minnesota HS games tomorrow on the satellite. They usually play at least one outdoors up in Baudette or Warroad MN - right on the Canadian border. Very entertaining to see passionate games being played in twenty-below weather.

Mike Kiley said:

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Will there be ice girls?

fattybeef said:

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Im Ron Burgundy? Stay classy San Diego...

Awesome article. You covered it all. High five for sure.

Rich said:

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Hi Mike,
Great read, as always, but don't you mean Raleigh, North Carolina, not Columbus, Ohio. Have another drink on me. Cheers

Mike Kiley said:

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What would I do without ya? Thanks. As my psychiatrist and my bartender keep telling me, you need help. I warn ya, though, correcting me is a fulltime job. Give me credit for knowing the next stop started with a C.

Dave Morris said:

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Father Kiley, you need not equivocate in your canonization of Saint Jonny The Toews. You are fully justified.

As time passes, I get the feeling that JT is a captain cut from the same cloth as the great Jean Beliveau.

Having seen each one play in big games, Jonny and Jean have that same quality: leaders who get it done without much fanfare, and gentlemen whose class matches their skill.

Troy Murray once said part of winning a Stanley Cup is knowing just how much more you need to give, and giving more than you ever thought you could.

I think Toews understands that, and based on this win, I think the rest of these Blackhawks are beginning to understand that.

And I'll drink to that.

Mike Kiley said:

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You know Troy only lives a few blocks from me. But it sounds to me like you and your buddy Troy are neighbors. I might show up at his doorstep one of these nights and scare the hell out of the family, telling them Morris sent me.

Dave Morris said:

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Hey Mike, if you do, say hi to Troy for me.

SouthSideHawkMan said:

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Mike I couldn't have said it better, Keith and Seabrook are amazing they are the yin and yang of the Hawks defense, just like Toews and Kane are for the Hawks offense. I'm enjoying every minute of this ride!

FearlessFreep said:

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I can't take credit for it, but I did read in another blog that Kopecky is the yin to Hossa's wang.

Mike Kiley said:

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Isn't that an Abba song?

Jerry Kayne said:

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Thanks for letting me hang with you guys. I love the comments as much as the commentary. we need to rent a skybox together and watch the game.

Mike Kiley said:

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Sounds good to me, but I think I'm banned from the UC. Smuggle me into the skybox. I'll come dressed as Dale Tallon.

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