Blackhawks Confidential

Crisis in the heartland for Blackhawks, but we're still Homers

homer_the_scream.jpgFrom this point, with 11 regular season games remaining for the Blackhawks, it's all about heart. Theirs and ours.

What does your heart tell you? That the Hawks' recent slide is indicative of an early exit come the playoffs? That our Stanley Cup hopes were a house of cards without enough aces to trump our burgeoning woes or that Marian Hossa is Slovakian for "hopeless championship wanderer."

Or, in plain Chicago-style English, wait 'til next year.

Or perhaps your brave heart tells you that this team is experiencing a rare letdown at an inopportune juncture, but it is nonetheless a temporary lapse with defensive fundamentals and a benign tumor rather than a fatal, five-alarm lesion.

And you recognize that our fear of falling has been further heightened too keenly by that itchy scar tissue left from the injuries to defensemen Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Kim Johnsson? Raising nightmares of who's next?

Here's what my heart tells me, when I feed it a quarter like a meter to wake it up and be chatty as Edgar Allen Poe's Telltale Heart, where the narrator only thinks he's sane.

The Blackhawks are still good enough to go deep, deep, deep into the playoffs. And with a little luck and some favorable bounces, all the way.

Homers R Us. So I propose our playoff mascot should be Homer Simpson, a man to lean on.

We have not heard the last of goalie Cristobal Huet. Remember, Easter is around the corner and the dead do rise again.

With 14 points in his last 11 games, I haven't totally ruled out that Patrick Kane can find some way to score 20 in his next 11 games to finish the season with 100 points.

If the Hawks won 8 of their last 11 games to end last regular season, doing so again would be helpful for our confidence and theirs.

If the power play went from so-so to so-good transitioning from the season to the playoffs last year, it should be able to rise to the occasion again--even with Campbell watching.

Although watching the power play score twice in just one game since Jan. 16 doesn't exactly warm the cockles of my cold heart, and neither does watching it rumble along at 5-for-37 in the past nine games.

If you face teams that are currently in the bottom eight of the 15-team Western Conference eight times in the next 11 games to close out your regular season, you better win at least five and preferably six.

After playing Phoenix Tuesday night, Detroit, Columbus (twice), Calgary, Dallas, Minnesota and St. Louis (twice) are all left on the dance card and the Hawks must show there isn't a doubt they are still superior to the bottom rung in the conference, many of whom will know these games will represent the only playoff-type atmosphere they will feel this season and will be out to extract blood as badly as serial killer James Wisniewski.

It's a growing cancer when worries about playing badly in the second period grow into even bigger concerns about playing even worse come the third, allowing 11 goals in the third in the last five games.

Johnsson was a plus-7 in his last four games before being injured (his last game March 13 against Philadelphia) and we need him back.

OK, so maybe Dustin Byfuglien is doing OK as a defenseman, but unless teammates pass the puck directly onto his stick (and not an inch wide to either side), the stationary D man isn't going to catch it at the point. So look out for breakaways going the wrong way and before long the sky could be falling, as well, unless Buff returns soon to his regularly scheduled role as our most frustrating forward.

I know I'm greedy, but I would like to see Patrick Sharp have more than three goals, four assists over his last 10 games. Not bad, but...since scoring five goals, four assists with the first six games of the season, he has never really had another sustained hot streak to match his sizzling start.

Maybe you haven't this one. It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Post that above Sharp's locker.

And, lastly, here's words I don't want to read again until next year. So let's throw them out of the UC and start by beating the Coyotes by not gambling recklessly on offense, by paying attention more than usual to defense (like Phoenix) and, if we have to be boring, then be boring in victory by holding Phoenix scoreless in the third.

"It's embarrassing," Duncan Keith said after the giveaway in Phoenix. "There's really no other way to say it or talk about it."

"We've got to play defense," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We know we've got the offense."

Of course, they've only got the offense if they play defense. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Unless the Hawks clean up their house in the next 11 games, and enter the playoffs with a clear conscience, we'll all be playoff bound nervous as Don Knotts.

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22 Comments

borg said:

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I've seen numerous Blackhawk fans proclaiming Byfuglien's greatness on defense and I just don't get it. Sure, he's more consistently noticeable, but that's the case when you're one of six at your position and your teammates keep dumping the puck back to you at the point. He rarely uses his big shot either, choosing instead to fake the slapper and pass off to his right. He's fine as a short-term fill-in, but the Hawks will need him crashing and playing with non-reckless abandon in the offensive zone come playoffs.

I will say that I'm glad to see Brouwer back with Kane and Toews and I hope they stay together.

Perhaps I'm being naive, but I have to think that once the intensity of playoffs being, the Blackhawks will play more consistently hard in their own end. Either way, it's going to be a war because the West is 8 deep. Oh to be in the middling East.

VegasHawksFan said:

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My heart tells me this team will not go all the way despite having everything they need. Right now, I don't think they are imploding at all, certainly not like the Sharks are. But neither are they showing signs that they are ready to prove they deserve to win the cup. To me, they are playing now like they have all year; always competitive enough to win, but seldom dominant enough to just put teams away and never give them a chance to breathe. Ability to do so is not a question at all, why they don't or can't, I really don't know.

Watching how the Coyotes played was fascinating. Their coach has that team playing with enormous pride. Everybody there from the coach on down is carrying themselves with the attitude that they are tired of rejection and being second best. I don't think that they, the Avs or the Kings have enough bullets to get past a second round, but they don't play like they believe that, and I think that's the difference. In the Hawks case, ridiculous depth of talent may be enough to carry them out of the conference, but it's probably not enough to win the cup.

borg said:

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If the Hawks get out of the Conference, I'll take my chances in the Finals. I'm not sure the Caps or Pens are better than the top 5 teams in the West.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Just for perspective sake, I went to the Sharks blog today and it's eerily full of comments that have been made on various Hawks blogs. In particular, read the defense, the coach and goaltending.
http://www.fearthefin.com/2010/3/22/1384555/sharks-struggles-continue-as-the

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, you probably remember better than I do, but the Black Hawks supposedly had a better team in 1962 than they had in 1961. You know, when Joseph Rudolph 'Bronco' Horvath came aboard and Alger Joseph Arbour was bundled off to the Maple Leafs (who promptly fricasseed the Hawks in the Final).

The point being, somehow, with supposedly more talent, the Chi-Men couldn't go all the way, while with less talent, they did.

Now, we won't compare Hossa to Horvath (Hossa being Slovak and Horvath of Hungarian stock) and the residual effect of having added a superstar who allegedly makes it all better; but a little more Arbour-like ardor, or at least some Reggie Fleming, Jack Evans and Eddie Litzenberger DNA in these handsome Hawks of the current crop, might help at this stage.

And of course, Gentle Ben Eager steering clear of dumb stupid penalties like spearing, that only serve to get opponents not only mad, but helps them get even. He probably feels Bickellbreath already.

Ditto for Tomas Kopecky, whose performances evoke "Blades of Glory" more often than not.

Assuming Q-Stache gets the boys to dial in to d-mode for the remaining skein of shinny matches, they might also be lucky enough to draw one of the shakier sets of newbies in the West for the opening round. Say, the Burger Kings or the Denver Yetis.

Not walkovers, but probably better bets for Hawkophiles.

That would also give Bashful Brent time to get over his Excedrin headache and Kapable Kim to recover from that nasty case of ingrown toenail that flared up in the loss to the Philly Creamcheese.

Meanwhile, if Les Hawques manage to barbecue the Desert Dogs at the UC, we can at least resume normal breathing until the next crisis.

Isn't hockey fun?

Mike Kiley said:

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At 12, 13 years of age, I only knew what Lloyd Pettit told me on my trusty black-and-white small screen. While I understand there could be some trepidation building, I think we have enough character in the room to settle ourselves into a nice playoff rhythm and work as a group. I remain optimistic for the future. Although it's never gotten me anywhere in the past.

SDSTAN said:

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I can definitely see the Hawks ending up playing the Kings or Avalanche in the first round, they are retreating some and I think the Wings will pass one or both of them to 7th or 6th. The Hawks have games in hand with Phoenix and San Jose so I think (and hope) they will still finish first. The whole thing with Buff is his conditioning, he probably is more comfortable back on D because he can coast backwards more and use his long reach instead of going hard up and down the wing every shift. I personally don't think he should stay back there after we get Seabrook and Johnnson back though as he is a little scary with his puck handling and passing skills. He is more valuable as a goalie agitator in front of the net, especially come playoff time.

SouthSideHawkMan said:

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I am looking forward to tomorrows game. These Hawks always seem to have a big game when the chips are on the line. I personally think these Hawks are getting bored waiting for the playoffs to start. I am looking forward to a long playoff run.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Even Q won't cop to Buff staying on D for long. He scoffs at those that do.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Has anyone seen Rocky's statement about the Ovechkin hit to Campbell at 9:30 am today? It's almost the same as mine, but I go a step further with the offender should remain out until the injured player returns to the ice.

http://www.chicagobreakingsports.com/2010/03/blackhawks-owner-ovechkin-should-be-suspended-for-season.html

Wirtz: Ovechkin should be suspended for season
March 23, 2010 9:29 AM | 5 Comments
If it were up to Rocky Wirtz, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin would be suspended for the season for his hit from behind on Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

Campbell suffered season-ending injuries -- a broken collar bone and ribs -- when he crashed into the boards as a result of the March 14 hit. Ovechkin drew a two-game suspension from the NHL.

The Blackhawks owner told Crain's Chicago Business' Ed Sherman the punishment should meet the crime.

"If any one of our great players put Ovechkin out for the season, he should be out for the season, too," Wirtz said. "Make it commensurate. If you're really going to hurt a player, knee to knee, make a head hit, and you're out for the season, then let them suspend that player for the rest of the season. I'll tell you, you wouldn't see those knee-to-knee and head hits anymore."

Dave Morris said:

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Jerry, that kind of logic would have seen Todd Bertuzzi banned for life.

This year alone, the application of that logic would have seen Mike Richards suspended for six months, and Matt Cooke indefinitely; Ovechkin for the balance of the season and most, if not all of the playoffs.

The Quebec Major Junior League has taken decisive steps to punish even star players with suspensions commensurate with their actions.

It's doubtful if the NHL will, simply because of the box office value of players like Ovechkin and Richards.

Rocky Wirtz is saying what needs to be said. Whether Jeremy Jacobs, and other owners who have lost star players, steps up and supports him, remains to be seen.

One day, a hockey player will be killed or permanently disabled by a questionable hit.

But if the NHL didn't learn back in the day when Eddie Shore ended Ace Bailey's career, there's little reason to believe they are ready to learn now.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Dave, I'm of the mind that Bertuzzi should be banned for life. So does Steve Moore and his family. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time!

There's always can be an appeal process. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Moore

Dave Morris said:

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Jerry, as you know, Steve Moore is still awaiting satisfaction of his lawsuit.

You remember Jack Tatum's hit on Darryl Stingley?

There are people who will defend to the death--someone else's of course--the idea that the men who play violent sports know the risks they are taking.

There will be those who make arguments that these hits are 'part of the game'.

Change will not come easily to the NHL.

Not many nowadays remember when Bill Masterton was killed as a result of his unhelmeted head hitting the ice. The resistance to wearing helmets, even after that incident, was remarkable.

Old habits die hard.

Jerry Kayne said:

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I hear you Dave. I'm not old enough to know those guys unless I read about them, and I have about Masterson. I understand old habits and change is slow to happen. But this is a new era of hockey. Faster, bigger, and more devastating crashes. But there's a ton more skill and control now. I bet the league makes a bunch of changes now and more next year.

The dinosaur players are falling away now. It's the kids taking over.

By the way, all those other incidents happened before the lockout.

The NHL changed the times 5 years ago, now they're changing with them after realizing there were consequences due to those changes.

Change is a good thing for this great game, Dave. It's better then it ever was.

PS. I'm sickened every time I see Bertuzzi on the ice. He doesn't deserve to be there. He's lucky he's not in jail. (too far?)

HawksRule said:

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Jerry - I hear what you're saying, and all things being equal in a black-and-white world, your notion makes a whole lot of sense. Problem is, all things are not equal. Players come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are more prone to injury. Some heal and rehab faster than others. Some wear more protective equipment than others. Some are in better shape than others. Point being, that a hit worthy of suspension may yield entirely different results depending on the situation and player, so the punishment won't always fit the crime.

The Campbell and Seabrook incidents are a perfect example. I think the hit on Seabrook was far worse than the Ovechkin play as far as being dirty, illegal, and with intent to injure. Yet, Seabrook is back in 2 games, and Campbell is out for weeks. In this case, using your rule, Wisniewski would have gotten off more easily and would already be back on the ice after a few days, but Ovechkin would still be out for 2 months.

Jerry Kayne said:

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You're right aout that HawkRule. The Jerry rule is applied as an addition to the supplementary discipline handed out. Wiz would get his 8 games plus the 2 Seabs was out if extended past the 8 games. Or heck, give him an even 10.

It's the threat of the consequences that should keep the head hunters at bay.

HawksRule said:

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Wiz still gets off easier than Ovie even in that scenario.

Problem with the Campbell injury is that it wasn't so much a vicious hit, but the speed Campbell himself was originally traveling at that caused the injury. Now you're looking at introducing a whole new category of rules on "high speed dangerous pushes" or whatever. Trust me, I think your idea, in theory, is great, and I'm not sticking up for Ovechkin here at all. Just think there are way too many variables involved from every angle for a rule like that to ever work properly.

Jerry Kayne said:

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We'll have to get together in Boca and iron out the details.

HawksRule said:

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Agreed. And truly, I have thought in the past that their must be some way a rule like that could work... at least in a proportional sense. There's no way it's fair the Soup sits out while Ovie plays right now.

blkhawk11 said:

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My sentiments exactly, Jerry and hopefully down the road these rules will apply. Also, hats off to Rocky for his statements in this regard...perhaps it will have some considerably impact with the NHL brass.

Meanwhile, let us focus on some much needed wins, Hawks!!

Hostile Hawk said:

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The Hawks have what it takes, they just have to find it. I feel that they will when the games become more important. The time away for Seabs might just give him back the intensity he seems to have lost and Q needs to find a way to give to everyone. They have to find the fire.
Sharp is the 60 goal scorer that never was. He has the talent and opportunities to be one, but he rarely finishes. It would be nice to see Kane at 100, he should have done it this year.
Sometimes getting a few losses out of the system is a good thing before the playoffs. As long as they can use these faults as something to build upon rather than get lost in, they should be in good shape.

fattybeef said:

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Pretty sure they dont care about the next few games. They may say they do but theyre "saving" that extra push that harder back check for in a few weeks becuase they are under the impression that they are so good and talented and deep that they can just flip a switch and domination will ensue.

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