Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks run into a blip that hopefully doesn't lead to a BLEEP!

sharpblues.jpgMake sure you get to the United Center Friday night to see the hottest team in hockey.

Those Phoenix Coyotes are really something, aren't they?

The Yotes have won five straight games, a streak that started with a thrilling 5-4 overtime win 5-4 in Detroit. Since shedding that albatross in Gretzky and being scared out of their lethargy by threats they might end up living in Hamilton, Ontario, the Yotes have become great ones themselves.

The Blackhawks? Yesterday's news. Losers of two straight, and from the looks of things in Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to St. Louis, the UC concession stands Friday will feature the latest marketing tie-ins from the club: apple turnovers, blueberry turnovers and shitty turnovers. Take your pick.

I forgot how we can get grumpy once a couple losses start to make our underwear itch. That so seldom happens in Chicago, where the daily forecast is winning with a chance of whining about Huet.

But don't be concerned. While Atlanta is rumored to be near a deal to move top scorer Ilya Kovalchuk in the next few days to possibly New Jersey, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Boston if reports can be believed, you should know Chicago hasn't made the final round of sources peddling Kovalchuk speculation after being a first-round contestant in the auction.

No sweat. Blackhawks assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told AOL Fanhouse's Christopher Botta that even with their tight salary cap squeeze, look for GM Stan Bowman to add more than he subtracts. He must have quite a calculator. Excuse me, that would be BOLD Stan Bowman, who must have majored in chemistry.

"When your team has developed the high level of chemistry our club has, you want to keep it together," Cheveldayoff explained to Botta. "If anything, you hope to add--not subtract.

"One thing we know for certain is that you put your team in the best position to succeed in April, May and June by having depth. And in Stan Bowman, we have a GM who has already proven he is not afraid to make the bold move to make our team better."

Ever feel like you've just awakened and missed a few years while napping. The story didn't go on to detail all the BOLD moves Bowman has made in his many months as Hawks GM. I guess they didn't have room for that laundry list, having to rummage all the way back to last summer.

Botta did note that while the Hawks have no vacancy among their talented forward grouping before next month's trade deadline, they might add either a defenseman or a goalie--pause and wait a few seconds for it--"if Cristobal Huet or Antti Niemi are injured."

OK, stop cheering. Pretty mean of you Huet haters to react like that. And as far as I know Niemi's sickness is temporary. I think that he showed good sense getting ill before the St. Louis game he was suppose to start when the rest of us had to get sick during and after.

I do wonder sometimes about whether the Hawks have enough offense. They are blessed alright with considerable forward talent, and guys like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa can do things with the puck on the move that few players can.

Their team offense can explode at times. I grant you all that. But can it consistently produce? Playoff round after playoff round.

Strange as it sounds, I wonder if they do have enough offense to go against the likes in the playoffs of high-powered Vancouver, San Jose or Washington. I guess if we match up with the Capitals in the championship, we'll be happy to argue the point at that time.

And yet, do we have a line that truly matches the overwhelming offense of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows with their 179 points combined, or the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble with their 175 points or the Sharks' Dany Heatley-Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau with 192 points.

I fully understand the Hawks shut down Heatley-Thornton-Marleau just the other day, and have fared well all season against the Sharks, but is the combined 136 points from the top line of Troy Brouwer-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane with help from their friends enough juice to propel the Hawks through the postseason?

When the defense is average, the offense stands out sometimes as less than stellar. If the Hawks defense is good as usual, the offense is often enough of a complement to win most of the time. But that offense at its best crashes the net and cleans up the leftovers. It can fall short with relentless firepower not really a team strength you can rely on.

As long as they hold opponents to 61 goals in 28 home games, they only need to have scored 89 themselves to have played so well in Chicago. But you thread a fine line, one the Hawks slipped from against the Blues by being what Brian Campbell called sloppy and too cute.

The Hawks have 17 power-play goals on home ice. The Caps have 29 power-play goals in 27 games, San Jose 21 from 31 games and the Canucks 29 in 31.

But since the Hawks have held the opposition to 8 power-play goals at the UC, the best penalty kill at home in the NHL, 17 power-play goals have been enough. Just as long as the defense doesn't let down.

As has been mentioned countless times, the Hawks exceed expectations by being a unit of talented individuals, but not a team that counts on one, two or three guys to carry the burden of being the saviors month-in, month-out.

As we also know, postseason is a time when certain individuals take over and make their mark. Record books are full of these guys. Does that favor some of the other elite teams rather than the Hawks when we get to that point, and the Chicago team possibly snubs its toes with some rocky play?

See how two straight losses can get you stewing and overthinking? Since the Coyotes have scored just 62 times in 26 road games, lowest offensive road totals of any NHL team, the Hawks defense and offense should get back on track Friday night.

Then we can go back to wondering if Kane can put on a stretch run that allows him to score 100 points and whether Duncan Keith even has serious competition for the Norris Trophy and when the next BOLD move by Bowman will be coming down the pike.

No way we could be entering our first prolonged slump of the season, is there? No, I will show some discipline for a change and wait for a three-game losing streak to fall upon us before I start bitching about that.

And another possible loss Saturday in St. Louis? I'm going to have to get my panic button out of the closet and dust it off. Just to be safe.

The Hawks are 6-4 in their last 10, the Yotes 8-2. Phoenix's 21-8-2 home record is almost good enough to match Chicago's 21-6-1. The Yotes' 13-10-3 road mark not that far from the Hawk road record of 16-9-3.

The Yotes are climbing in the latest rankings, the Hawks either stagnant or slipping just minutely.

My underwear's itching again.

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17 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Michael, doesn't the Tribune issue all hockey writers with Teflon-coated underwear?

Anyway, the Hawks' recent miasma of mental miscues may be mollified, even mitigated shortly, as Stanley The Bold (assisted by his dad, Scotty The Surly Sage) breaks out The Blueprint and brings better boys on board.

Until then, let's drink. Four-martini lunches make it all better.

Cheers.


Dean Youngblood said:

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Kane has said that Bowman is known as a salary cap genius. But let us not be greedy. This current team is a winner. They play very well together. Throwing new arrivals into the game or juggling lines or positions could disrupt the team gel factor.

SDSTAN said:

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Next time the Hawks need to scratch the player when it is their bobblehead "giveaway" night. In all seriousness, I expect a strong effort Friday and a win as they have been doing it all year when they have had a couple of these mini-slumps.

Hostile Hawk said:

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The Hawks lost two games in a row in which they outshot the opposition 75-43. While this presents a prime opportunity to bash on Huet again, for the millionth time, I would like to take another avenue.
But first, loosing two games in a row is no big deal. Right? Happens all of the time. I am sure the Hawks will come back and start another dominant winning streak. Still, what went wrong these past games. I am seriously tired of pointing at Huet, that story is old news. Time to move on to other things.

First, the Hawks gave up goals on turn-overs. Plain and simply. Keith even made a bad play that ended in a goal last game. For the most part, all of the goals weren’t completely Huet’s fault (thats me being nice to Huet). They could have been saved, but I accept the pucks ability to find the holes in these ones. The bigger problem I agree with you Mike, is in the offense

Toews' assist to Hossa was so fucking beautiful. It highlights what a good offense can do. Wait until the right moment, force the defense to commit and control the play. The Hawks do a good job of keeping other teams on their toe’s, but for the most part, the opposing defense is still able to keep a good formation and stay in position.

There is this great thing about the game of hockey. No matter how good you might play, you still have to get that damn puck behind that damn goalie, and somedays it is way harder than others.

All that hard work with no pay. Well, the Hawks need to take a good look at their offense. Why are they not scoring more often? It’s timing, movement, speed, awareness, and other things as well as luck. A big part of it might be that the Hawks are facing every other teams best on most nights. Good, because that will help build them for the playoffs.

I am not worried yet, but I feel a sense of urgency for the Hawks to develop a more consistently productive offense. With all of that talent, what is the problem? The Hawks are amazing at cycling, but maybe they are committing it too high. There haven’t been enough quality shots produced from offense that dominates so much in puck possession.

Mike Kiley said:

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Thanks for pointing out when you are being nice to Huet. It makes it easier.

Nick Berinti said:

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First of all Mike, i have just started getting involved in these blogs, but i got to tell you,you are never at a loss for words and a very entertaining writer....maybe you can get Roesenblogs column? great job. I'm stuck in Detroit, but i have Center Ice! Aside from our defensive breakdowns and miscues, i think we are playing a little bit to fancy. Yeah Towes pass to Hossa was incredible, but how many times did Kane try and beat 3 guys buy himself last night? Steeger is famous for that, and he along with a few others need to focus on playing simple hockey versus trying to make a highlight reel. I have been able to watch a lot of other teams play and one thing i noticed about the Caps, is they play simple hard hockey. My fear is that these guys are starting to believe what they read about themselves. Another thing, is our latest challenges are also a result of average goaltending. When we were on our last tear, our goalies were making big saves, and in some cases winning games for us. When was the last time that happened? Circus road trip maybe?

mikeyo said:

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Nice rant. Good luck with the incipient coronary. I guess I'm speaking to both of us, because I agreed with the whole shebang. The Hawks could use some focus. That 7-1 Sharks blowout felt like a peak, and this 5-4 record in the last 9 games feels like a trough. Or at least a flat spot. I really did want to beat Vancouver, and I still don't like the Blues, but hopefully we can crush them later this weekend. Crush them with a newly renewed focus.

fattybeef said:

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This is when an allstar break would be nice to give everyone a rest. Good thing half the team is playing in the olympics. Will be great experience until they go back to their jobs 2 days later.

Dave Morris said:

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We can all breathe easy now because Kovalchuk is a Devil.

fattybeef said:

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could have been worse

Jerry Kayne said:

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Niedermayer to the Hawks? That's the scuttlebutt now. As Flounder said: "Oooo this is getting good." I'll leave the "Neidermeyer dead" to anyone else who wants it.

Dave Morris said:

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Careful, Jerry, you'll start Mike's underwear itching with that kind of scuttlebutt.

Jerry Kayne said:

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This post is interesting but just another opinion. Hockeybuzz.com (http://bit.ly/baMxI2) reported:

"Scott Niedermayer is the #1 target of one of the teams who pulled out of this Kovalchuk race. A team that is hell bent on a Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks pulled out of the Kovalchuk sweeps because they are holding onto certain chips to try and land Scott Niedermayer.."

VegasHawksFan said:

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I see the defense and offense as very closely linked, if the D isn't playing well, offense takes a hit. The Hawks have been missing a lot of really good chances lately, and I do think that stuff will come back their way, at least they are still getting good chances. I'd like to be really optimistic for tonight and Saturday, but I'm not given the likely trap the Hawks will see from both. Didn't we go through this last year where the Hawks had a great run until midseason and then had some let down before the playoffs? Just wonderin.

Dave Morris said:

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Nuckle, as the old song goes, "de knee bone connected to de thigh bone, and dass de word o' de Lawd."

Which means, as Monsieur Kiley's eminent colleague Stan LeCoupe posited in his pungent Tribune piece, The Bow Man has heard your cry of anguish, and will deliver a stout defenseperson forthwith.

6-5-1 since the meltdown in Minny is the type of recent run won't pass muster in the playoff cluster.

SharpKane said:

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They need to hit this wall, if that is what you want to call it. If they just kept going on 10 game win streaks and rolling over every team, they wouldn't know what to do when guys start sacrificing in playoff mode. I like this. I think they call it adversity. Makes you stronger, right?

That being said, we better kick the crap out of the Yotes tonight.

TonyO said:

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I agree, Sharp. Better now with a very comfortable division lead than late March. I know this is stating the obvious but tonight is a really big game for this club. Back on the horse, boys and ride it like you stole it.

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