Blackhawks Confidential

Niemi takes control of the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie job, dousing the Flames 3-1

Andy Niemi hasn't surged ahead quite yet in your initial google search for Andys. He is no match so far for Andy Griffith, Andy Warhol, Andy Hardy, Andy Rooney, Andy Williams or even that madcap drinker Andy Capp for that matter.

But give him time, and time is apparently on his side from what coach Joel Quenneville is saying. Niemi is going to get an opportunity to prove he should be the Blackhawks No. 1 goaltender for a long time and a Stanley Cup championship winner this year.

The Americanization of Andy began Thursday night in Calgary in Chicago's 3-1 victory. It certainly seemed appropriate that number 31 made sure the 8-game trip has stretched closer and closer to stupendous with a 3-1 record so far.

"He's playing well," Q said afterward. "Tough to take that away."

Down the stretch, Niemi was calm and composed and in position, stopping a Jay Boumeester shot through traffic by just being in the right place at the right time. Earlier, he also threw in a bit of luck with a puck glancing off his mask and off the post and away from trouble.

But a Hawks goalie both good and lucky would be just fine with me. You make your own luck and Niemi has forced his way to the top after some preferred Corey Crawford when they did battle to decide the backup in preseason. Those Crawford supporters now can't be found, because Niemi makes any other decision seem dumber than dumb.

Niemi is virtually certain to be back in net in Vancouver Saturday. Cristobal Huet is likely to get another chance before the trip concludes, but Niemi has his fate in his hands now and those hands usually allow a minimum of rebounds and are complimented by a head that appears steady and solid rather than fragile and frenetic, like the Frenchman.

If this Finn continues to finish the way he did with his teammates' help against the Flames, there may be no stopping him or them. The best team in the NHL may have gotten better as long as Niemi holds onto the No. 1 role with all his might. Imagine that.

In seven games this season, Niemi has permitted one or fewer goals. His numbers are better than anything this recession-proof team has seen in some time.

The Hawks slipped in front 2-1 by the narrowest of margins. Not long after Tomas Kopecky slipped away from a Mark Giordano check in which the Calgary player had eyes on pinning Kopecky to the glass like a swatted fly, Kopecky reacted in the best possible way.

He got control of a puck coming across the high slot and flung it at the goal. Luckily for him, the puck pinballed off Ben Eager and swerved past goalie Mikka Kiprusoff. Again, luck was captured the right way--by busting your ass.

Whenever the fourth line scores in that manner, a team should win. Since returning from his injury, Eager has shown why every man on this roster is important from top to bottom. That's why we eagerly await the returns of Dave Bolland and Adam Burish, as well.

Duncan Keith added an empty-net goal with 37 seconds to tick. It was a seventh straight victory against Calgary, which is coming apart at the seams and not close to equalling the Hawks in any category.

The teams swapped power-play goals in the second period to go to the third period deadlocked at 1. But the Hawks had a few chances to make a much bigger impact in the middle period that has been so important for them taking command so often this season.

John Madden, who also had a solid scoring chance late first period, had a couple threats on net against Kiprusoff in the second period. On his first, he created a turnover, taking it from underachieving Jarome Iginla (who was again a no-show) and later shooting off a Kris Versteeg helper that just couldn't connect.

Madden tried to pierce the goal with a redirect later in the period. Again, no luck for Madden, who was lucky nonetheless by being a constant presence in this game once again. The Hawks put solid scoring pressure on Kiprusoff all period. Hossa blocked a pass at the Flames net, almost converting that into a goal, too.

But a Hossa penalty was responsible for Calgary being able to tie with a rare power-play success. With just one power-play score in their previous seven games, the Flames were able to beat Niemi when a shot went off his pad in right crease and slid over to where it was most vulnerable in the open left crease.

Jamie Lundmark slammed it home from there with 36 seconds to go with the man advantage.

Chicago's power play in the second was a thing of beauty. Jonathan Toews worked hard as always along the left boards to strip the puck away and slid a backhanded pass across ice to Patrick Kane, who was set up right of the crease. He hammered it by Kiprusoff.

It could have been Kane's second goal. He had a penalty shot in the first period when Mark Giordano committed the infraction with Kane trying to break loose. But Kane stayed on the forehand with his shot and Kiprusoff was able to knock it aside.

There was surprise in Chicago's locker room that the slumping Flames didn't come out and start the game with more energy. Expectations were they would turn their desperation into intense desire.

But there were only four hits apiece in the first period as both teams played a conservative style that tested both goalies a few times, although Kiprusoff had more chances than Niemi did and assured that Calgary would not fall behind based on being out-chanced.

The play that summed up how dumb the Flames have been playing for a while was an icing with 2.6 seconds to go before the second intermission. Rather than skate out the period, a faceoff in the Flames zone almost led to a crushing goal from the Hawks.

Patrick Sharp won the faceoff, but rather than send it back to the point, he slid it across the front of the net to pick up Versteeg bearing down right of the crease. But Versteeg couldn't finish what would have been a stunning play and evidence Sharp is a versatile force.

No matter. The Hawks overwhelmed Calgary even in a game that was a close affair right to the finish.

That's what the Hawks do best. They dominate close games when not everything is going right, because of a strong goalie such as Kiprusoff or whatever.

Everyone suspects the Canucks will put a hurt on the Hawks Saturday. Maybe. But Andy certainly is out to prove something to a lot of people, Canucks and otherwise.

Perhaps Niemi can be a spur that makes the difference against the top opponents. He'll make the trip more interesting than ever. Not to mention the season.



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Dave Morris said:


Mike, let's not forget the Blackhawks played an infinitely better game than they did in Ottawa.

For whatever reason.

In any case, Scotty Bowman made it clear last season that he felt Niemi had the potential to become the number one netminder in Chicago.

But there's no reason to rush things...which is why management has been taking its time.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

If Andy and Cristo can get it done, and the Hawks play smart defensive hockey, there are plenty of reasons why this team should get back to the Final Four.

And now, let's all have drinks to celebrate a terrific win.

3-1 so far on the killer road trip. Make mine a double.

VegasHawksFan said:


I think the mechanics of how Huet sits on the bench are really bad. Crawford hasn't had a lot of work on the bench here lately, but he did look good there a couple of times pre season. Maybe we SHOULD waive Huet and send him down.

Niemi looked really good to me tonight while in front of him, the defense no longer looked stoned out of their minds. Cal-Gary had some good scoring chances, but I thought the Hawks had a lot more and that score could have been way lopsided. That ending was pretty tense, glad to see they could pull that out.

iplagitr said:


George Johnson of the Calgary Herald has some pretty high praise for the Hawks in his story, "No shame for Flames against gifted Blackhawks"

fattybeef said:

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Neimi was solid. Just physically he looks like he takes up way more of the net. He's a pretty big dude? On the player Bios it says theres only an inch difference between him and Huet but I dont buy that. Or hes got a pair of boots from KISS with skates on the bottom and real big pads.

I was on the TSN website and man oh man do those fans in Calgary want blood. They think everyone should be traded, or fired and reload for the future. We treat our players like cup cakes compared to that.

I know there was all that Kaner talk for MVP but what about Dunks?

FearlessFreep said:


That was a very telling game as far as the heart and determination of this team. Surely the Sens game proved to be the inevitable letdown that all teams go thru from time to time - that was the game to do it at (although, David, it sucked for you given you had to see it in person).

Now with the obligatory goaltender debate...

I supported Huet earlier this year because I believed he still was the guy who gave us the best chance to succeed in net. A few months later, and although Huet hasn't played poorly, I think that Niemi's play has earned him the opportunity to at least play more. At this point, I'm not sure it's worth calling either one of these guys #1. I'm not about to shit all over Huet as others seem to enjoy doing. You can't blame the expensive contract on him - blame that on the front office. After seeing 50 games or so though, I think that this is a great time to see how Niemi handles playing more thru a tough schedule. I, for one, am looking forward to that.

In the meantime, there is no need to abandon Huet - maybe he plays better as a backup? An expensive one, sure, but that's the reality of the situation.

Guitar, great link to that Calgary recap. I've been reading a lot of those kinds of stories from other teams' writers. The Hawks ARE a joy to watch, and we fans are fortunate to have a front row seat every time they go out.

Dave Morris said:


Freep, lemme tell ya, sitting at center ice in a section bursting with Hawks fans, it bit the big one to see Les Hawques offer up a flaccid flopperoo in Canada's Capital.

But such is life, eh.

On the other hand, the Flames paid lotsa loonies for JayBo, who is actually Conan O'Brien.

To support your stance on the matter of rotating pipe patrollers, I have no problem with that. The Wings won a Cup flipping Dom and Oz, why can't the Hawks do the same with Andy and Cris?

Mike Kiley said:


Well, I just accepted a $32 million buyout to turn over Blackhawks Confidential to Morris. I just want everyone to know I have the greatest respect for Morris, who is as funny as Jay Leno or Edzo. I just hope everyone learns how to speak French or whatever the hell it is Morris speaks. I'm sure I will be picked up by Kukla's Corner or at least be appearing in Kukla's neighborhood somewhere, perhaps doing toilets. It's been a great 8 months and I will have Loudon Wainwright singing at my funeral.

mikeyo said:

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Go Hawks! Nice game and win. I thought Niemi looked good, but a mannequin (sp?) could look good in the crease when the hawks are on. I'm shocked that nobody has mentioned the biggest change for the last two games: Steve Konroyd doing color instead of Edzo.
I personally liked the Foley/Konroyd pairing. All you young hockey players who aren't keeping your sticks on the ice might feel differently. I wish we hadn't lost to The Sens, I'm glad we beat the Flames, but I REALLY REALLY want to beat the 'nucks on Saturday.

iplagitr said:


I agree this wasn't necessarily a super-tough game to be in goal for the Hawks, but I was still impressed with Niemi. He's played in a lot of games that are tight down to the wire, and appears to have a very composed air about him in tense situations. His fluid, floating movement from side to side is also something that sticks out to me. Almost kind of magical to watch at times. He brought his sparkling 1.90 GAA down even further last night to 1.85. Let's hope he can keep it going. He certainly knows the situation that's brewing, and knows he has to keep winning to get more starts, so he's gotta be extremely motivated right now.

As Dave noted, the Hawks did obviously play a much stronger game in comparison to the Ottawa nightmare. However, I thought the Flames were a better offensive opponent than the Senators were as well. Credit the Hawks for an unbelievable show of blocking shots and clogging the passing lanes to keep the Flames big scoring chances to a minimum. It was sweet to see the Hawks back to their A-game last night. If it wasn't for Kipper it could have easily been another laugher.

Dean Youngblood said:


Hey All, Why "Andy"?

Anyway, A good game after what I thought was Blackhawks worst performance. A strong effort by the entire team. I bet Niemi will play next and then probably one more on this trip.

SpawnOfDitka said:


I'm not sure why everyone "suspects the Canucks will put a hurt on the Hawks Saturday". They played them tough last time they were in Vancouver and I see no reason why they shouldn't win this game. They match up well against the 'meh' defensive pairings of the Canucks, and Buff can easily get in the head of Luongo. Most of all, I would like to see someone put a hurt on Alice(the hair puller)Burrows and the Sedin sisters.

barry said:

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the problem for the hawks if i got it right is huet is 5 mil cap hit that nobody wants and niemi is a free agent next year and we dont have money for both so the hawks brass wants huet to succeed or they will have big problems next year .

SouthSideHawkMan said:


I'm going to guess that Coach Q starts Huet tonight and the Hawks win. On a side note TSN is reporting that Kovalchuk will be traded and Chicago is the favorite destination. Just something to take your mind off of the Huet/Niemi conversation...cheers

VegasHawksFan said:


Hearing Niemi tonight. Nucks missing a few people. I agree with Spawn, Nucks fans seem to love the dream their team will come out and beat the fragile Hawks into submission. The Hawks have shown they can be beaten by less talented teams, but they aren't going to be beaten by a team whose only game plan is to try and ass kick their way to victory. Shut down the Sedin bitches and you take a lot of threat out of that team.

SpawnOfDitka said:


Interesting...Kovalchuk to the Hawks. So long Steeger and Buff at least. That would put a damper on the room for sure. But..Hoss and Kovy on the same line? And, the second line at that?? That's enough to give the WC coaches reason for life support.

Dean Youngblood said:


Yeah, I have also heard for Versteeg and Barker.

I think Kovalchuk is a bad idea at this point. The current lineup is a winning combination. They have enough offense. The lines are gelling fine.

The players themselves are content with their teammates and hope for no changes. I hear this a lot in interviews.

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