Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks need to clean up their act on trip's tail end with focus and heart

If the Blackhawks lose Thursday night to San Jose in California, and I don't believe we need to take a poll to know the Sharks are the big favorites, the general consensus will chalk it up to the tail end of an 8-game trip. And I do mean tail end in all its plumed, imaginative glory.

I think you know what I'm talking about, you sly dog Patrick Kane, who often can never be neutralized on ice and certainly will never be in danger of being neutered off skates. But listen up here cheese whiz kid (whiz-bam-than-you-mam, say cheese and look right into that camera), I'm calling you and the boys out.

If the Hawks go down to the Sharks, sports cliches win again. And damn, do I hate those hard-to-kill sports cliches after living with them so long--and writing more than a few million. They haunt my sleep, pursued by adjectives, adverbs, and nouns that could have saved the day.

To me, the Hawks have to batter the Sharks again to unsettle San Jose's pacific plan of superiority.

And, just as importantly to me, so I don't have to hear it had to happen this way, the boys on the bus being bushed and all. What with laying around limos, laying around hotel rooms, hounded unmercilessly by bartenders, being chased to the ends of the earth (or to the far reaches of Stanley Park in Vancouver) by hordes of admirers, the road is hell.

Personally, I consider that a weak-assed excuse. The Blackhawks in the last two seasons have often played better on the road than at United Center. So while I'm fully aware of all those wear-and-tear factors and physical tolls paid for a trip, especially when John Madden has to phone home and emphasize to his wife he was holding a glass and not cupping a breast in that viewable hand when the amateur National Enquirer photos were snapped in Vancouver, home is where the heart is.

And after some games on this trip--even in some victories--when the Hawks' heart has been in need of a pacemaker to revive some lax concentration, I see no reason not to expect the best efforts of the trip so far against the Sharks and again Saturday in Carolina. Bring' er on home, boys, don't come slouching back.

I think the Hawks' heart is solid gold when they put their minds to playing for a full three periods (or more). There should be nothing better than being doubted against the Sharks to get their blood pumping.

Because, fellas, not too many people are taking you seriously tonight. Not after Limogate. Not after you have faded in and out on defense and focus of late. They think you have taken your eyes off the goal.

In fact, I think the overall feeling leaguewide is the Hawks are about to have their asses handed to them by the Sharks. There is one stark difference between them. The Sharks have acknowledged stars lighting up the NHL stats wherever you look. Experts like that. These Hawks have a distinct team unity, but that asset is now considered in disarray.

Joe Thornton is 4th in points at 67 and first in assists at 54. Dany Heatley is 5th in goals with 30 and goalie Evgeni Nabokov is 2d in wins at 30, 3d in save percentage at .928 and 4th in goals-against average at 2.17 (behind leader Antti Niemi, who's second best in Chicago in spite of that).

Not that it means anything, but Barry Melrose and E. J. Hradek both pick San Jose to win on It is interesting that Melrose cited distractions going on with the Hawks right now as an added reason to believe they will lose this game. I also think that's a bogus analysis.

Whether or not the Hawks lose, it won't be because the Vancouver Province posted photos of Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg and Madden doing what a hell of a lot of pro athletes do in off hours, chase some perfumed tails so they won't be chasing their own stinky tails in boredom in some room.

In 11 years covering the Cubs, I think Rick Aguilera (and maybe Kevin Tapani) were the only two players I encountered in a bookstore on the road, one of my regular haunts other than a bar stool, a vantage point where it's far easier to encounter players. During my six years covering the Hawks, the only occasion I saw someone get booked was when Chris Chelios was arrested for peeing in an alley.

These guys aren't looking to hustle the local librarian.

Athletes getting in trouble with women and its fallout in locker rooms is common and their teammates seldom give a shit, beyond getting a good laugh. I remember when one Cub told the other Cub's wife a story that was directly opposite of what the Cub had told his wife about their whereabouts on a suspicious evening in question where ladies were obviously involved.

"Sorry," the one Cub told the Cub in hot water. "I thought I was doing the right thing."

Not long after the other Cub was sitting on the locker room stairs speaking sternly into a cell phone to his wife and saying: "I'm telling you he was wrong. Are you going to believe him or me?"

There are about 10 million more stories like that in the naked city. The point is, and I've got to believe Melrose knows better, that the Blackhawks aren't experiencing a moral crisis right now because some guys were trying to get an oil change and a lube job after hours.

They have not flown Rev. Jesse Jackson to San Jose to hold a prayer session and extract the spiritual essence from this moment of trial on whether this team will be shattered now that leader Madden followed Kane exactly where Kane likes to go: into the frying pan as long as there's a woman somewhere sizzling on the griddle.

"Honey, I was just along for the ride to make sure Patrick didn't get in real trouble," I can hear Madden saying long distance. "Honey, I had a couple drinks with the guys and they asked me to come along and meet their cousins and the next thing you know we're saying how we look better with out shirts off and...Honey, hello, you still there?"

San Jose has scored 94 goals in 28 home games, third most behind Vancouver and Washington. The Hawks have allowed 60 goals in 26 road games, one better than the Sharks' 61 goals permitted in 25 road games. Something's gotta give.

San Jose has given up just 61 goals in their home arena in 28 games, three more than Chicago has at the UC over 27 games. But the Hawks have scored 82 road goals, which is one of the stronger offenses of any NHL club in opposing rinks. Something's gotta give.

You can go back-and-forth for a while with stats. The Sharks are a team with quality talent who have a reputation for falling short of expectations in the postseason. I guess the technical term is chokers.

The Hawks are a puck-possession, defense-over-offense system that arrived on the scene just last year and whose reputation is being formed as we speak. They also will be considered no more than underachievers, like the Sharks, if a Stanley Cup championship berth isn't theirs this year.

I imagine someone might revert to calling them chokers, too.

Both sides are trying to cope with expectations. They are both neck-and-neck in many varied estimations and categories.

So don't tell me the Hawks lost Thursday night because of road weariness. Tell me they won by showing more heart. Tell me Marian Hossa got that hat trick he has been showing signs of notching with several strong performances. Then we'll know what to expect come postseason.

And don't think it's the last time Versteeg will be holding hands with a woman or Kane will be grinning like a curly pumpkin with his belt loosened, his teeth numb from alcohol, and a pair of pants saluting at half mast. Or Madden will be...well, Madden might be under house arrest when he returns to Chicago.

Or at least have to wear an ankle monitor so his wife knows where she can find him if she needs him. Dragging it around will toughen him up for the playoffs.



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SharpKane said:


Amen. We have way more talent than the Sharks.

Let's bring it home.


Dave Morris said:


Doctor Kiley, as always, a prescient prognosis.

However, Hawks are 4-6-1 against Pacific Division teams so far.

That says a lot more than their stick squeezing in the back seat of a limo, eh.

And they'll have to pre-empt their powderpuff approach to the play (just six hits in the last game, and being outhit in each of the last three contests), if they want to avoid being fish food in the Shark Tank.

Keep those adult beverages handy tonight.

SharpKane said:


Anyone else hear anything about this going down at practice today?

"Forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Duncan Keith had to be separated by assistant coach John Torchetti after they collided hard against the boards, then exchanged words and a couple of blows. "


Dean Youngblood said:


Hi, That is not a current story.

Dave Morris said:


Geezzus...that story is TWO years old. Better clear out your Internet cookies, SharpKane.

VegasHawksFan said:


After the unexpected run last spring, this summer was an absolute disaster for the Hawks in terms of PR. Coming into the season they needed to make a statement, and they have, especially Kane. I hate that cliche about statement games, but yeah, tonight they need to make one and win by at least two goals. A well played and spirited contest where they win or lose by one goal will shut up the sky is falling crowd, but only a solid two goals or better win will send the hacks comparing the Hawks to boy bands in search of other stories. I think some very reasonable questions have been raised recently about perceived weaknesses. A solid win tonight will at least shake off the absolute bullshit questions and leave the Hawks in a position to finish the trip very strong.

Dave Morris said:


Yeah, and after The Count of Monte Cristo stopped 37 shots in this win, I hope the BS about Huet stops right now.

LordStanleyOfPreston said:


I'd say the tired sports cliché was buried with tonight's win, eh Mr. K?

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