Blackhawks Confidential

10 Blackhawks games left, 5 reasons to keep sweating playoffs

coyotes2-0.jpgNow you tell me exactly who wouldn't be cheering for a Washington-Blackhawks throwdown in the Stanley Cup finals? Talk about appealing to the casual sports fan, who pays attention more intensely whenever sex, blood, alcohol, hatred, divorce, sex, violence, machismo and personal honor is mixed into the spicy equation, a blend of Red Bull, Grey Goose and Jack Daniels (with just a light dash of Victoria's Secretions) being the perfect concoction to jolt mainstream America into believing hockey matters.

A Brian Campbell-Alex Ovechkin rematch would almost be as sexy as Tiger Woods being quite inventive and having a different mistress caddy for him each day of the Masters. He kills two big birds with one stone here, silencing his critics who say he's a chauvinist pig by pissing on women outside his sex dreams by making his return at a course where women have been less welcome for decades than a dose of clap and confronting his sex demons with the proof that he can play a round with women without dropping his pants or texting them with illicit suggestions that can curl even a porn star's toenails.

See, Elin, I'm cured. It's a miracle. I can walk on two legs again instead of three. The ratings will be through the roof, so hockey masters take note and have the NHL officials just fix it so we have our own alluring tabloid takedown to suck in the many addicts who have yet to follow Tiger into rehab, but will gladly follow him on TV and will switch on with similar bloodlust in their hearts if the Hawks and Capitals offer the promise of no holds barred and some sweet sexy revenge.

I'm not sure Campbell and Ovechkin would get it on quite the same way in front of so many eager onlookers. But I wouldn't be surprised if somebody shed some clothing, blood flowed and there were a few group gropes of male bonding at its finest. And whether we have your average Canadian kicking the shit out of a Russian or your average American doing so, the North American TV audience always loves Boris getting knocked on his ass and planting the flag into Alex's thick, brutish skull would be TMZ-approved fanfare.

This scenario even beats Rocky Wirtz's contention that Ovechkin (fractured backbone) should be sitting out as long as Campbell (fractured clavicle). Throw them both into the snake pit with everything on the line and let's see who bites whom and where?

It certainly will have been worth the wait in Chicago if we can look forward to such high and low drama in the weeks ahead. But in order for us to come down with Stanley Cup fever and begin sweating profusely over winning 12 games to reach the championship round, first there is a matter of organizing our disheveled house a little better in the 10 games left before the playoffs and dusting away some spiderwebs.

So what are the five things you would most like to see happen in our postseason prep? As always, feel free to be the third man and fourth woman in, but here's mine:

1. I don't like the Hawks being the second worst power play on home ice. Their 14.9 ratio from scoring simply 21 of their 141 home power plays is worse than anybody except for the Phoenix Coyotes (14.2, 22-of-155).

There is a big difference, though. The Hawks' 228 goals are fourth best in the NHL, while Phoenix's 189 goals are tied for 18th. Chicago has too many offensive weapons, much more than the Coyotes, not to be effective on the power play.

This area falls on coach Joel Quenneville and his staff. If they can't diagram and get a more productive power-play attack after two seasons of deficiences, somebody has to hold them accountable, especially if it means coming up way short in the playoffs.

They've done a great, except for this glaring pimple.

Yeah, I know, their playoff power play was great last year. Can we depend on that every postseason after a mediocre regular season? Maybe practice doesn't make perfect, just desperate measures for desperate circumstances.

There can be no Madhouse on Madison if the power is out.

2. Dave Bolland has an assist in each of his last two games, giving him one goal and four assists in his last 12 games. But he doesn't appear to be the force he was last year as a second-line center, and without him at his finest, wingers Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp might not do as much consistent damage as will be required in the postseason.

Hossa and Sharp sometimes seem to be independent contractors out there, ad-libbing. Would really be nice for Bolland to pull the unit together.

Having back surgery Nov. 10 isn't anyone's perfect prescription for a strong season. That obviously may well keep Bolland from ever being as energetic and aggressive on his skates until he commits himself to a dedicated offseason of tightening his core.

If there is no championship for the Hawks this year, Bolland's situation will be cited as one major reason for all the pieces not being in place. I would like to see him with more jump and involvement in the next 10 games to put my concerns to rest that we may have too many walking wounded to be surging toward the promised land.

3. Are Nik Hjalmarrson and Dustin Byfuglien a match made in heaven? Far from it. There is already the built-in excuse of the Hawks failing to meet expectations because of Campbell being shelved until perhaps the Western Conference finals if the Hawks are still on their game and moving forward.

While they have been a decent pairing in their forced marriage, a Hjalmarrson-Byfuglien defensive wall during the playoffs could sprout leaks in all directions. Jammer is still inexperienced in pressure situations, better with a Campbell to calm him, and impossible dreamer Byfuglien is scary on his best days, and you only need to refer back to his late turnover in the Hawks zone Tuesday in the waning stages of the 2-0 victory.

He got away with it against Phoenix. Do it in the playoffs against Detroit, Calgary, San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Colorado or whomever and it could be a death knell, and we trudge away from the debacle saying, well, the big stiff shouldn't have been playing out there on defense, anyway, if not for that savage Alex The Assassin--known to his enemies with the abbreviated Alex The Ass.

The best thing I can say about Byfuglien on defense is he looks better than Nick Boynton. I'll run the risk in the playoffs, though, of medical attention for sore fingers, needing them to stay crossed every time Buff's patrolling the blue line and forced to actually be asked to skate with purpose, aggression and agility.

4. Let me get this right. Brent Seabrook actually needed his good buddy James Wisniewski knocking him off his feet and into cuckooland to come back stronger than ever on Tuesday from his second round of concussions this season. Rather than a 8-game suspension we may eventually have to consider Wiz for a playoff share if this keeps up.

Seabrook actually came away with glowing reviews from his return against Phoenix. But how long will that last? While his numbers are all about the same as last season, there isn't quite the confidence in Seabrook that he engendered last year when he and Keith developed into a team where one couldn't be mentioned without the other.

But they were seperated plenty on the Canadian Olympic team, and as Keith surges toward a Norris Trophy recognition this year, Seabrook's reputation ebbs and flows much the way he does in plus-minus. He and Keith seem to gradually be going their seperate ways.

Did you know that Seabrook hasn't had two consecutive games where he was plus-1 or better since Dec. 31-Jan. 7, when he was a plus-9 in five straight games? Since his peak, he has been in minus-territory in 10 games compared to positive results in six games. Up, down, just all around.

Seabrook still has the potential to be a critical factor on the ice, one of the few Hawks capable of dominating with a hit, being a major force in front of the net one moment and moving the puck the next. If he settles into a steady rhythm in the last 10 games, the confidence is back and our heart palpitations drop.

5. Well, we have tromped and trumpeted this far without the season's biggest elephant running the circus parade into the ground.

We're sitting atop the Western Conference with one goal and two goalies. In 10 games, we supposedly will need one goalie to attain the one goal. So far the math has been fuzzy.

Since we haven't answered that question in months of trying, I'm skeptical we have a real good pat answer to offer 10 games from now. You figure it's all going to come clear after all this messiness?

Antti Niemi is the flavor of the day after playing especially well Tuesday for his sixth shtuout. But we have all seen chocolate replaced quickly by tutti-frutti as the flavor of the day, so knowing what to expect is anyone's guess.

If the Hawks fail in the postseason, imagine the goalie crisis the Hawks will have. Can't get rid of one, can't fully commit to the other. What do we do? Problems to be named much later.

Niemi is widely being acknowledged as the probable playoff starter. Cristobal Huet, known some places as tutti-frutti, says he still wants to get on his roll and win the role, but unless Niemi absolutely sucks when he plays, Huet has no time left to suck on anything longer than a Tootsie roll.

Hard to believe Niemi is on very solid footing, however. When you least expect it, Huet could be thrust into playoff action. And if he wins then, he gets to live another day.

As usual, the only roll the goaltending is on is a log roll. You could end up with some beauties such as Niemi turned in against the Coyotes and Huet has sometimes churned out himself or we could all end up soaking wet and dying of pneumonia.

The Hawks still have more positives overall than negatives. It's a team that should be a strong championship contender.

But time is running out to ease our minds on how strong a championship contender.

Give fans a stronger power play, a livelier Bolland, a rock-solid Byfuglien, a consistent Seabrook and a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in the next 10 games and....well, I'm sure we'll be able to find something else to bitch about.

Just give us less bitching material. Put the onus on us to dig for dirt, because we want to rest easy knowing Campbell and Bombshell Ovechkin will meet again this season--and all hell will break loose.

If you thought hockey turned a corner in America with that Olympic sensation, all eyes will be on Soupy versus Stalin for the ultimate prize.

Give us a chance to realize that dream and, in the meanwhile, save hockey in America. It's the least we can do as proud Chicagoans trying to see that Patrick Kane goes home with a little gold to offset his silver.

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24 Comments

borg said:

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"He kills two big birds with one stone here, silencing his critics who say he's a chauvinist pig by pissing on women outside his sex dreams by making his return at a course where women have been less welcome for decades than a dose of clap and confronting his sex demons with the proof that he can play a round with women without dropping his pants or texting them with illicit suggestions that can curl even a porn star's toenails."


Okay, I can't finish the rest of the article yet. Were you a big fan of Dennis Miller's HBO show?


I wanna see an English teacher diagram that sentence...

Mike Kiley said:

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You should have majored in James Joyce. Makes my string of consciousness look like the ABCs. Consider me Kris Versteeg. I go to the toe drag way too much. But what the hell. It's my blog until I get cancelled for loitering.

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, it is now confirmed...you have several things in common with James Joyce. (Besides his passion for hockey AKA hurling.)

And, judging by the saltiness of this particular epistle, Hubert Selby.

BTW, given your linguistic cunning, have you considered doing a rap record? You would teach those whippersnappers a thing. Or two. Or three.

SDSTAN said:

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I will add another key, we need the fourth line to step it up and be the gritty agitator line they were in the playoffs last year. Although Kopecky scores a couple goals here and there, he does not fit in with that line. I would like to see Fraser, Eager and Burish (who has been mostly been invisible since his coming-out party) step it up and be the energy line that we will need in the postseason. If one of them fails, let's bring Dowell or Bickell into the mix.

beaverwarrior said:

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The circus continues, Huet will be in net against the Jackets.

Hostile Hawk said:

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Yeah, I just listened to Q say that Huet will be playing tomorrow and that he deserves another start. So, if Niemi plays badly, he gets sat and if he plays great, he gets sat. Lets not give him a chance to gain some momentum into the playoffs against a struggling team and play Huet who apparently deserves another look. Which will mean nothing when he makes the 13 saves needed to win that game. How bad does a goalie need to be to not deserve another look from Mr. Q?
The game plan should be to get Niemi ready for the playoffs, meaning he should play.
I can understand trying to have Huet feeling better about himself just incase Niemi doesn't show up in the playoffs, but does anyone really think that Huet will have the confidence needed, regardless of the amount of starts he has before the playoffs?
I thought Crawford looked decent.

borg said:

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"Which will mean nothing when he makes the 13 saves needed to win that game."

Columbus has a tendency to get chances and score against the Hawks. I have a feeling Huet will be plenty busy.

If I had to guess, I'd say Niemi has the inside track right now and that it's going to be hard for Huet to snatch it away.

borg said:

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There are no easy nights with Huet in goal.

32 seconds in and it's 1 zip.

Now 2 goals on 9 shots.

borg said:

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5 goals on 20 shots.

For the life of me, i can't figure out how Huet got into the NHL in the first place.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Huet to the minors tomorrow. Niemi plays all games but the last one. Finally Edzo went out on a limb and called for Niemi to "finish" the season.

Coaching is the worst today. Mixing up lines isn't going to do it.

borg said:

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7 goals on 26 shots.

Well, if there was hysteria over losing a bunch of 1-goal games to good teams, I can't wait to see the reaction to this one.

fattybeef said:

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1. Power play as with backchecking will magically not suck when the playoffs start
2. Bolland isnt scoring points but he only had 47 last year, just over half a point a game, and this year hes just under half a point 13 in 30, pretty typical considering the first handfull of games were just getting adjusted to playing nhl hockey again. Bolland is out there to crosscheck, slash and shut down and piss off the other teams counter attack so sharp and hossa do whatever they want and score goals, like havlat did last year only with more punch.
3. The Hammer made up for all of campebells mistakes and at least buff checks people. Really?
4. Seabrook needed a break to recenter, should be good to go for rest of season, now that the playoffs are a lock can we please give keith a day or four off
5. goalie does not matter, theyre the same, neimi showing slightly more upside on most occasions, the other 20 skaters are going to make or break this team

mikeyo said:

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Another great read. Thank you. I've come to realize that everything in life is a metaphor for the puck getting into the net. Any time you can work sex into a hockey blog, I say work it!
I'm starting to believe that this is how a championship run feels in the modern era. No team gets to run the table like The Jordan era Bulls did, at their best. Think of another team in the NHL that honestly thinks they're a lock for this year's cup. We're in as good a place as any, and I'd rather slump now if I had the choice, hoping we come out of it soon. Some other goalies in this league are absolutely falling apart. Some other players are hurt, and there are enough games left for a few other injuries all over the league. This is it, even for the elite, the final grinding games of the regular season. You don't ever really get to feel like you're on top until it's over. I'm pretty sure we're going to make the playoffs.

Mike Kiley said:

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Damn, a voice of reason. How did you get stuck hanging out here?

VegasHawksFan said:

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1. A power play that includes accurate puck movement from left to right with one timers. Catch pass, look, wait, shoot, isn't working.
2. Continued tightening of overall game plan. forwards in the defensive zone taking away point time and space while also keeping an eye on the slot for trailers.
3. Q with some patience for lines and goalies. It's too late for goalie juggling. Pick one and let them find a rhythm.
4.Seabrook to continue to play serviceable defense. Before his latest head scramble, his turnovers were getting brutal.
5. A cup win so Huet can carry the cup with both middle fingers extended after a performance that is hopefully good enough to get someone to trade for him in the offseason. The contempt is too strong here for him to ever be liked even if he wins.

Mike Kiley said:

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Huet definitely would have every right to spit in our faces if he is holding the Cup high. First, of course, he would have to play like he's worth a spit. I don't really have contempt for him. In my case, it's more concern that he doesn't show better body language and a burning desire to be much, much better than he has been his entire career.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Perhaps you don't have contempt Mike, but just glancing around the blogs today doesn't do much to dispel my belief that he has become an object of contempt to most of the fan base. The Chicago Coliseum has given him the thumbs down and there is no reversing that decision. I don't see a lack of heart in him, certainly not any less then the rest of the team whom we have questioned several times this year for seeming lack of effort. Meh, I'm no expert, I just want to see him do well the rest of this year and then find a better place where he can get a fresh start.

Jerry Kayne said:

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I hear the Hawks clinch their playoff spot with their next win.

If we're worried about who the Hawks play 1st, then we must have our doubts about this team. Of course we do.

The best teams don't win a playoff games, the best teams EACH DAY win ... the best teams that survive the playoff heat win the cup.

In the playoffs the best coaching wins. The players have to play over their capabilities and rise to the occasion, but the coaches have to recognize what's happening on the ice and adjust the pawns on the board quickly. Personally, I'm a little unsure about Q doing that if I go by the flippity-flopping of goalies.

There's a reason Buff was switched to forward by Savvy. He can't do the job in the long run. Campbell has not been a superstar for us yet but he's far and away better than Buff at D. Get Hendry back out there and get Buff back blasting guys into the middle of next week and annoying the heck out of goalies.

PS. I'm surprised to see Boynton is so bad out there. I thought he was better than that? What the heck Bowman? we already have better guys than him on D. Hendry is awesome.

Everyone must step up their game form the start of the playoffs all the way to the end, coaches included. Mike, Mark, and all us blog commenters have to step ours up too. I'm calling us all out today, commit to the Native American embroidered logo.

One last thing, Coach Jerry says it's forechecking and backchecking that win games (see Hossa). Both lead to pressure turnovers and goals for the good guys. If the Hawks are better at those 2 elements, the rest will take care of itself.

Mike Kiley said:

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OK, sarge, let me know exactly where we storm the beaches and conquer the heathens. I'll give it my best Churchill from here on and we will never give up and we will never give in, we will never surrender our tiny isle no matter what. Never. Never. Never. (Make sure Huet gets this memo, please). Of course, if I'm going to step up my game, I'd like to renegotiate my contract to reflect some commitment compensation. But we can talk about that after the Stanley Cup parade.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Forechecking and backchecking is key as is adaptability; you have to be able to work with what is being given to you. In the playoffs, it seems like most of the goals come from forced errors rather than sweet puck movement from the D zone to the opposing goal. Even with the strong checking, you need the talent to bury the mistakes you force and I believe that is what will make the Hawks successful this year IF they can commit to the fundamentals each night.

fattybeef said:

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That sums it up perfectly.

borg said:

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The Hawks are going to give up some chances, it's just the way they're built. In return, they usually put mucho pressure on the opposing goalie. But they'll need a goalie who can make a great save or two or three on good chances which is why Niemi seems far more suitable.

beaverwarrior said:

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Leave a comment...

beaverwarrior said:

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Sorry about that, wrong button. I do believe the circus finally ended tonight. 7 goals on 27 shots. Uggh

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