At some point yesterday afternoon against the New York Islanders, the United Center ceased providing a home ice advantage. Frustration due to a late season losing streak, the power play’s relative ineffectiveness, poor goaltending and an inability to score caused the normally positive UC crowd to rain “boos” and negativity down on their Blackhawks, surely creating a mood the home ‘Hawks aren’t used to feeling.
(This isn’t a “Don’t Boo the ‘Hawks” article. Indeed, I believe you can do whatever you want after you pay your price of admission. So long as it doesn’t offend the children in the building, go for it. (And, I don’t have kids, so I’m not sure how much I care about the children anyway.) Just keep your pants on, if possible. Yes, NHL players make a lot of money to put on entertainment exhibitions, and I think you can do nearly anything you’d like while attending said exhibitions.)
But, the results of negativity and instructions from the masses seemed to have a negative impact yesterday afternoon, and I think it provides the perfect backdrop for a lesson of fandom to be learned from the contest.
First and foremost – and this one can’t be stressed enough – do not, under any circumstances, yell, “Shoot!” while the Blackhawks are on the power play. While this one is a problem in nearly every NHL arena – and likely always will be – it’s also an oft-covered lesson to hockey fans everywhere, and it seemed to have a negative effect on the ‘Hawks yesterday.
I’ll put it this way: I’ll take – for example – Cam Barker’s on-ice judgment over yours any day of the week. Yes, Barker’s a fairly young hockey player who is, at times, not worthy of fans’ trust, and, yes, he could absolutely benefit from good hockey instruction. Yes, you watch games on Versus twice a week; you saw Wayne Gretzky in the “Old Barn”; and, you played club high school hockey for two years in the 80s. Doesn’t matter. Be quiet. And, put your pants back on.
Cam Barker was the third overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft; he’s twice won gold with Canada in World Junior Championships; he played parts of five seasons of major junior hockey in the WHL; and, he’s currently an NHL defensemen. He’s been the power play quarterback at each of his career stops, and he knows – I promise you – his team needs to “shoot” to score goals on the power play. No one needs to tell him; he’s aware.
The only possible impact 12,000 people screaming “Shoot!” could have is a negative one, and we witnessed it yesterday. Players – I’m sure – typically tune those pleas out. Why listen to Dave from Oak Lawn when you’re an NHL player, and you have Joel Quenneville coaching your every move? Wouldn’t. Shouldn’t. But, when things are going badly and 20,000+ turn on you, I’d guess players would do anything to appease the masses, and I believe it changed the gameplan on the late 5-on-3 against the Islanders.
Typically, the 5-on-3 is where the attacking team passes the puck from side-to-side, looking for a shot that catches the goaltender moving in the wrong direction. Not yesterday afternoon. Not when half the crowd was pleading with the ‘Hawks to “Shoot!” like their first borns’ lives were at stake. In a must-score situation, the ‘Hawks turned into a firing squad, launching shots from every which direction in an effort to hush their own crowd. Then, when Patrick Kane’s long range missle resulted in a turnover and an Islander dump-out, the same 12,000 folks “booed,” apparently voicing their outrage that one of the ‘Hawks would ever listen to them. Rather than working the puck around, looking for a can’t-miss opportunity, the ‘Hawks panicked, throwing bad pucks on net and surrendering what should have been grand scoring chances.
All because of us.
So, while I know this problem will never go away, perhaps the best thing for the ‘Hawks right now is to get away from home. Yes, this week will feature two difficult road games in New Jersey and Columbus, but if a 42-19 shot differential doesn’t at least subdue the ‘Hawk faithful, only a road game could.
Bottom line: Let’s all settle down. Cam Barker and his power play partners know they must shoot to score. (And, before yesterday afternoon, I thought they knew to find a decent shot before shooting). The power play will be fine, and the ‘Hawks will be fine. We just need to act like it.
I know many of us haven’t, but let’s act like we’ve been here before.
It could go a long way.
According to Tim Sassone, Sammy Pahlsson will play Wednesday at Columbus, and Patrick Sharp should be ready to go next week. As I’ve said previously, I see Pascal Pelletier and Adam Burish taking the fall. Burish, who scored a handful of goals upon his return in January, has been absolutely ineffective on the fourth line, shying away from contact at every turn. His penalty kill time has been nonexistent of late, and the only person he’s agitated is me. As wild as it sounds, I think Byfuglien will move to the fourth line, and, so long as he uses his size and speed as necessary, I think he’ll have a very positive impact down the stretch and into the playoffs.