Checking In

No one can accuse the Hawks of ever being boring.

Not even a month into their off-season and the Hawks created quite a stir when they released assistant coach Mike Haviland.  Much to the surprise of just about everyone who follows the Hawks closely, Haviland’s head found the sword before Mike Kitchen’s.  Since he came here in 2010, Kitchen was the whipping boy to Haviland’s Teflon suit.  Surely, a lot of that has to do with Haviland being here longer and plenty of fluff pieces written about him.

The truth is, I have no idea what the inner dynamics of the Hawks coaching staff is.  Haviland was anointed as the Hawks head coach in waiting, yet if he was truly head coaching material, he probably would have been hired as a NHL head coach by now.    Haviland is held in high regard by plenty of people in Chicago but yet he’s likely no closer to a NHL head coaching spot than when he arrived here.

The other thing that has probably gotten out of control lately is the amount of credit and blame people assign to the assistants.  Joel Quenneville is the one calling the shots; he should receive the credit and the blame.  His assistants are merely an extension of his voice.  If there were mixed messages being sent or “dysfunction” as Quenneville said, then obviously he’s going to side with the guy who agrees with him more.

–I’m doing this with great trepidation but I just can’t take seeing certain things being written and said about this.  Patrick Kane made his long awaited return to Deadspin this week.  He apparently had a great time in Madison last weekend and allegedly did some pretty naughty things.

I’m not condoning any of his alleged illegal actions but where I get confused and subsequently annoyed is when people use this to springboard into wild opinions about how now, this time, it’s the right time to trade him.  Maybe it’s just me, but somewhere along my journey from adolescence and adulthood, I stopped caring what athletes were like once they took off their uniform.

If history is any indicator, the Hawks really don’t care either.  Patrick Kane’s intoxicated behavior hasn’t been a secret for some time now and yet, he has continued to be who he is.  If the Hawks were really concerned, there would have been some kind of public statement to embarrass him or some kind of attempt to curb his behavior.  It’s not like the warning signs weren’t there.

It shouldn’t be that surprising either.  This is the same organization that employed a raging alcoholic, wife-beater, and more recently, an advocate of Adolf Hitler.  Yet, one of the first things John McDonough did when he took over was name Bobby Hull an ambassador of the Chicago Blackhawks, which is to say they pay him to get drunk in a skybox and be the same lousy person he’s always been.  Then they built a statue for him this year.

Patrick Kane is a lousy drunk.  There is no debating it.  How that negatively affects what kind of player and teammate he is (by all accounts, a very good one) is where I get lost.

Posted in Random Thoughts | 5 Comments

That’s That: Coyotes 4, Blackhawks 0

In the final three games of the series, the Blackhawks defense allowed 58 shots on goal.  If we take it back to the overtime period of Game 3, they only allowed 60 shots.  Corey Crawford stopped 52 of those shots.

On the other side, Mike Smith faced 113 shots in that same stretch and stopped109.

In other news, the Blackhawks went 1-3 in those final four games.

I said at the beginning of the series that the one matchup where the Hawks couldn’t be significantly outplayed was in goal and sadly, that’s exactly what happened.  And that is why the Hawks season ended quicker than it needed to; more so than an anemic power play, more than a skittish penalty kill, and more than a couple of guys under performing.

If Crawford was able to put up replacement level numbers in these final three games and an overtime period (say a 90% save percentage) the Hawks are probably looking to eliminate Phoenix last night rather than the other way around.

Instead, the Hawks were the ones tasked with winning three straight.  The Coyotes had the ability to sit back and let their goalie bail them out of every dangerous situation while they waited for their opportunity.

Yes, a power play goal or two could have helped and so would a few timely kills.  But what would have helped even more was a goalie bailing out his team just half as much as the opposition did for his teammates.

–So now the Hawks find themselves in nearly the exact same situation as last year.  Without the ability, though, to say they battled back from 0-3 or that they lost to a team nearly half as good as last year’s Canucks squad.  This period of self-evaluation is incredibly important for the Blackhawks.

Defensively, the Hawks will have Steve Montador, Nick Leddy, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith.  Niklas Hjalmarsson should have a very large question mark next to his name to return.  Dylan Olsen will likely have every opportunity to lock down the third pairing.  After that, the Hawks could really use a slick, calming defenseman to help stabilize their corps.  Johnny Oduya looked to be that guy and I wouldn’t be opposed to him being that, but after watching him in this series, the Hawks could do better and they should aim to, as well.

Offensively, the Hawks biggest questions lie in what the hell Marcus Kruger is.  Is he the guy who closed out the regular season by looking like a Swedish demon destined to hold down the Hawks 2nd center position?  Or is he the 165 lb. welterweight that was so easily pushed around during the first round against Phoenix.

This is two playoff series in a row now where Viktor Stalberg disappeared.  At $870,000, he’s still a steal but it might be worth exploring what cheap talent he would be worth.

Other than that, I’m going to venture the Hawks fill the majority of their needs with their own infusion of talent.  Guys like Brandon Saad, Mark McNeil, Brandon Pirri, and Dylan Olsen will be given every opportunity to lock down roster spots rather than aged, expensive veterans.  That appears to be the Blackhawk way, after all, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The other lesson the Hawks should have learned from this season is that just because a player once played for Joel Quenneville, that shouldn’t mean that player take precedent over better available options during free agency.  Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers were both brought under the guise of ‘Joel Quenneville guys’.  Yet Quenneville used Brunette for the majority of this season as though he’d never seen him play before and Mayers was so important that he was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the series.

And in goal, well, I’m not sure that can objectively discussed at the moment.  The truth is, goalie play is so wildly unpredictable from season to season that next year Corey Crawford could challenge for the Vezina and no one would even bat an eye about it.

Until we meet again.

Posted in 2011-2012 Recapts | 18 Comments

The Last Bullet: Coyotes 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)

There’s one thing to count during playoff season and that’s over analyzing.

“The Blackhawks don’t hit enough”,  “The Blackhawks carry too much dead weight”,  “The Blackhawks don’t shoot enough”,  “Mike Smith is in the Hawks’ players heads”, “The Blackhawks can’t handle a scary, complex forecheck”….you get the point.

The truth is, the only thing that’s the difference in this series is one team’s goalie has done everything in his power to extend the game for his team.  Imagine if the roles were reversed or even if the Hawks had split these last two games.  Would everyone be in such a rush to pile on why they’ve been right the whole season about what’s wrong with the Hawks?

The Hawks are never out of any game against Phoenix.  Game 4 proved that.  It also proved that when the Hawks ask their goalie to make the most elementary of saves in a crucial situation, he’s going to crap all over himself.

Yet somehow, this point is glossed over and the Coyotes are such a superior team to the Blackhawks, the Blackhawks have no chance, Stan Bowman screwed them, etc, etc.  This is playoff hockey.  The lines between great and good are often fuzzy and even when there’s an outcome, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right.

The Hawks are still a more talented team than the Coyotes.  The Hawks are still playing just as disciplined, if not more disciplined, of a series as the Coyotes.  The Hawks are just as well coached as the Coyotes.  The only difference is one guy makes routine saves when he has to; the other is not.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are another example to look at.  While they have superior firepower to the Blackhawks, defensively, it’s not even close.  Yet the only person under fire there is Marc-Andre Fleury.  Not because he’s not a brick wall but because he’s been unable to even provide replacement level type numbers.

The playoffs are still the same as they’ve always been.  The team with the most talent and a goalie making saves at a 91-92% clip is going to come out ahead every time.

–I just will not believe this series will conclude without Jonathan Toews or Patrick Sharp heard from.  That’s why I’m fairly confident this series will be extended because these are two proven playoff performers who haven’t made much of a difference thus far.  Toews, obviously, is still getting back into playing shape and after four games, I can’t help but think one of those Conan the Barbarian-type performances is coming from him.

As for Patrick Sharp, there’s a lot to be desired.  He hasn’t really done a whole bunch and maybe some of that has to do with Marcus Kruger who, while he played better in game 4, looks like a guy just recalled from the Swedish Elite League.  But Sharp hasn’t really needed world-class line mates to set the world on fire.  In ’08-09 against Vancouver, he spent the majority of the series on a line with Adam Burish and Ben Eager and had no problem filling up the net.

Posted in 2011-2012 Recapts | 15 Comments

Game 3: Coyotes 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)

The rule, as always, is don’t mess with a team owned by the NHL.

With another twist of the knife, the series between the Coyotes and Blackhawks continued to state its case as one of the worst officiated playoff series in NHL history.  It started a few hours before the game when Brendan Shanahan finally decided to slap a three game suspension on Andrew Shaw.  Nevermind, he could have made the decision on Sunday or Monday.  Rather, he waited until everyone was already at the rink getting ready for the game keeping the Hawks lineup in a state of limbo until the last possible moment.

Then, Raffi Torres murdered Marian Hossa early in the first period.  One of the Hawks team leaders was carried off the ice in a stretcher after Torres…well you know what happened.  Instead of a traditional 5 minute major and game misconduct given normally on such plays, Torres escaped scot-free with Brandon Bollig receiving the only penalty, that of a 2 minute minor and 10 minute misconduct leaving the Hawks with 10 forwards to play against Phoenix’s 12 for the majority of the game.

It caught up to the Hawks in the late stages of the game as the team appeared not only emotionally exhausted, but physically as well.  Phoenix kept coming and it was only a matter of time the game was theirs.  (Of course, if the Hawks had a goalie capable of stealing a game once in a while maybe we’re not having this discussion but alas.)

–Any time the Hawks second defensive pairing wants to become engaged in this series is fine by me.  Johnny Oduya has been a rumor thus far and Nick Leddy is so afraid of contact he makes Brian Campbell look like Larry Robinson.  Meanwhile, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are asked to shoulder incredibly high minutes at the behest of their inadequate teammates.

–Normally, losing a game with the Coyotes missing Martin Hanzal and Lauri Korpokoski would feel like a blown opportunity.  But with the extenuating circumstances leading up to and during the game, it’s not hard to see why the Hawks struggled to find any kind of wind.  Just six hours before puck drop, they were still waiting to hear if their teammate was suspended and still answering questions about the play.  Then once the game began, the moment they started to find their legs, one of their teammates dies on the ice.

I fully expect in Game 4 to see a much different Blackhawks team.  Just about everything has gone against them thus far and yet they’re only down two games to one.  At some point, the cream rises to the top and those shots ticketed over Mike Smith’s shoulder start hitting twine.

Posted in 2011-2012 Recapts | 12 Comments

Is This Not Why You Are Here: Blackhawks 4, Coyotes 3 (OT)

If someone could find a way to bottle up the instant adrenaline rush and pure joy that comes with a playoff overtime celebration, there would be world peace, no starving babies, and a thriving world economy.  A Patrick Sharp re-direction with 6 seconds left in regulation and a Bryan Bickell overtime winner supplied all of Blackhawks nation with a B-12 shot sure to last to Tuesday.

–By the time most of you read this, there will likely be a decision on Andrew Shaw’s interference of Mike Smith.  We should also know soon if Mike Smith will be released from intensive care and be able to live out his days comfortably.

You would think with the ample amount of head shots we’ve seen in the last two years, people (see: referees) would know when a guy truly gets knocked in the head and when a guy acts like a Battle of the Bulge casualty.  David Booth and Dean McAmmond are two hits that come to mind when they were blindsided with hits to the head and laid motionless on the ice.

Mike Smith had the complete opposite reaction of that.  So when he screamed bloody murder as though his insides were laying on the ice, the referees were left no choice but to hand Shaw a 5 minute major and game misconduct.  A 2 minute minor became a game changing penalty and now Shaw faces a possible suspension because of it, all at the hands of a guy milking every ounce of unnecessary contact.

Shaw could have stopped rather than continue his forward motion but it’s not like he raised his elbows or lowered his shoulder on Smith.  Nay, he made contact so he should have been penalized but not to the extent he was.

It’s ironic that the contact made was in the exact same spot as Raffi Torres on Brent Seabrook last year.  Torres, of course, went for the kill shot on a defenseless Seabrook knocking him out of two games.  Torres was given the same penalty as Shaw and avoided any kind of suspension.

Shaw faces the possibility of one even though a) Smith was able to finish the game and b) he didn’t look to end Smith’s life even though he had the same opportunity as Torres.

Of course, goalies are protected differently than skaters, but nevertheless, a suspension to Shaw would be ridiculous in every sense of the word.

–Joel Quenneville continues to search for a stellar top 6 combination that will push more goals past Mike Smith.  The good news is that Dave Bolland’s line is having a terrific series thus far.  Bolland and Bickell have picked up right where they left off after last year’s playoff.

The less encouraging news is Marcus Kruger appears to be struggling with the Coyotes clutch and grab ways among other things.  With Kruger not able to provide any kind of offensive spark for his skilled line mates, it forces Quenneville to do things like move Patrick Kane back to center and split he and Jonathan Toews up.

The key to the Hawks winning this series will be finding a combination other than Bolland’s line, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Brent Seabrook to provide offensive results.

Posted in 2011-2012 Recapts | 15 Comments