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Last night’s loss by the Chicago Blackhawks against the Winnipeg Jets was less than exciting. The Blackhawks average close to 50 shots on goal a night but only managed to reach 20 after two periods last night and ended with 33 for the evening. There was a lack of energy, urgency, net presence and aggressive offensive play.
When the Blackhawks were able to keep pressure in the Jets’ defensive zone, the puck was passed around the perimeter but very few shots were actually being taken. The shots Chicago did take were well anticipated by Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg’s goalie, and he wasn’t giving up many rebounds or second chance opportunities. That being said, it wasn’t very often the Blackhawks challenged Hutchinson. Patrick Sharp was one of the few to crash the net even though the blue paint was pretty wide open for the majority of the game.
On the opposite end of the ice, the Blackhawks struggled to keep Winnipeg’s large front men from making their presence known in front of Corey Crawford. The Jets were able to strike very early, 20 seconds into the first period early, when former Blackhawk Michael Frolik got Crawford down with a quick fake and flipped the puck over a sprawled out Brent Seabrook and Crawford, into the back of the net.
Although the Blackhawks picked up the pace in the third period, the offensive effort didn’t really improve. Chicago had 13 shots in the third but almost all of them came from the perimeter. The Blackhawks also had 19 turnovers in the game, not the type of number that helps win a hockey game. Passes were soft and sloppy allowing Winnipeg the opportunity for some fast breakaways and quick shots. Luckily for the Blackhawks, aside from the early Frolik goal, Crawford was on point stopping 26 of the Jets’ 27 shots on goal keeping the score to a modest 1-0 loss.
The Blackhawks are 6-5 on the season, fifth in the Central Division. Captain Jonathan Toews is frustrated with the team’s performance feeling they are not giving a full 60 minute effort. “We do play well, it’s just kind of in spurts and it’s not consistent enough. We get good chances…they’re just not going in,” Toews said. Even with his frustration, Toews knows this is something every team goes through. “It’s early in the season, it’s something you have to tell yourself you have to get out of your system now and when we do get out of it we’ll be a better team because of it.”
Head Coach Joel Quenneville added in, “You get what you deserve in this business and it’s a tough game and it’s a hard game and we got a great division and a great conference and they’re all gonna be tough games when we play in our divisional games.”
The loss to the Jets was the Blackhawks second straight shutout at home. The Hawks will be traveling back to Canada for a game Tuesday night in Montreal. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30.
After the previous two games Corey Crawford has taken his spot between the pipes, the Blackhawks unfortunately were unable to walk away with the win but it wasn’t their weak defense that I listened to people complain about. Apparently the only person on the ice who was at fault for the losses was Crawford. So if you were/are one of those people who continues to complain about Crawford, please continue reading because I am going to be talking to you.
First of all, I will not deny Crawford let in at least one weak goal in both the game against St. Louis and the one against Tampa Bay. However, the far bigger issue in both those games as well as THE ONLY OTHER GAME THEY HAVE PLAYED THIS SEASON (before tonight) against Washington is the weak defense. Multiple defenders have made some pretty big contributions on offense so far this season. In the first game of the season against the Capitals, Hjalmarsson had two assists, Rozsival and Keith both had one. In game two of the season against the Lightning, Hjalmarsson and Leddy each had one. Clearly the Blackhawks are finding success when the defensemen are more involved on offense but that leaves a lot of opportunity for fast breaks from opposing teams that leave Crawford, or whoever is in net, far more vulnerable.
Aside from that even when the defenders are in their own zone the play is particularly soft. We have seen this before. The Blackhawks are not an aggressive team but when they do step up and battle for position in front of the net they have found more success. Hopefully the team will recall that success in the next couple games and realize they can not allow opposing teams to set up in front of their goaltender.
Another thing to remember in all this is that Crawford has never been the most consistent goalie. He tends to run on hot and cold streaks but when Crawford is on he can be strong, agile and incredibly difficult to score on. He also tends to warm up as the season goes on. Give him and the rest of the team a chance to reconnect with each other and learn the little intricacies of each others play. There are a few new faces on the ice and Coach Quenneville really enjoys mixing up the lines on a regular basis.
So please cut it out with all the negative talk, stop counting them out of the postseason FOUR games into the season and have a little bit of faith. If you happen to be a newer fan, I’d just like to point out you were spoiled last season. It is not common to open up the season without a regulation loss in 24 games. Settle in and enjoy the season, it is only just starting. A hockey season isn’t like football, there is PLENTY of time to turn things around. Give Q and the rest of the team a chance to work through the minor bumps. If things aren’t better in a couple weeks then please feel free to express your frustrations, especially considering the division the Hawks are playing in but for right now just enjoy hockey and work on seeing the entire game and the way things unfold and look for the weaknesses on other parts of the ice besides the goaltender.
Once again, the Blackhawks defenders had quite an impact on tonight’s game. Chicago came out strong with two goals including Joakim Nordstrom getting his first NHL goal with the assist from a fellow Swed, Niklas Hjalmarsson. Toews had the second goal with the assists coming from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith had a strong night offensively, although not scoring any goals he had two assists and the first two goals were the result of a second chance opportunity from his shots on net.
Unfortunately at the end of the first, the Islanders had two quick goals, one coming from Josh Bailey during a delayed penalty and less than a minute later with about five seconds left in the period Kyle Okposo tied it up on the power play. Giving up back to back goals is dangerously close to becoming a trend for the Blackhawks.
Luckily it didn’t seem to phase the Hawks too much coming into the second period. They came out focused and Handzus scored the go-ahead goal with a strong wrist shot on net about six and a half minutes in with assists from Keith and Ben Smith. The game ended with strong shots on goal from both sides, especially in the last minute when the Islanders pulled their goalie to add the extra man on offense, however with a little bit of luck and some strong defensive plays on Chicago’s end, New York was unable to capitalize and the Hawks secured the victory.
Chicago doesn’t have much time to rest and reflect on this game considering they will be right back on home ice Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo will be looking for their first win of the season and will likely come out strong since they have nothing to lose. They are hungry for a win and will be aggressive and focused. Ryan Miller should be the opposing goaltender and is a pillar for the Sabres team.
The rest of October will be tough for the Hawks playing every game either back to back or with only one day off in between. Hopefully fatigue will not become an issue and the Hawks continue to find success and opportunities to improve upon their weaknesses in all aspects of their game.
Just as the skies opened up in Chicago, the Lightning came alive twelve minutes into the third period. With a strong backhand shot by St. Louis, the Lightning cut the Blackhawks 2-0 lead in half. Less than a minute later Toews puts a stick in the face of Tyler Johnson putting Tampa Bay on the power play. Thirty seconds in the Lightning tie it up with a goal by Teddy Purcell. The Blackhawks had a chance to take back the lead when Valtteri Filppula was called for a high stick on Brent Seabrook. The next two minutes were full of scrambles and rebound opportunities, however Chicago was unable to put the puck in the net. Neither team was able to capitalize in overtime forcing the game to a shootout.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa all had opportunities to help lead the Hawks to the win but Ben Bishop stayed strong between the pipes never allowing the puck to pass him. On the other end Filppula scored against Corey Crawford, the only player to score in the shootout, and lead Tampa Bay to the 3-2 win.
Bishop had a stellar performance with 37 saves, only two allowed, and ended the night with a .949 save percentage. Had it not been for one poor decision midway through the first period, the Lightning may have been able to win the game in regulation. Bishop was caught anticipating to play the puck behind his net while Chicago was on the power play. The puck was dumped into Tampa Bay ice but took a strange bounce off the boards sending it into the blue ice directly in front of the Lightning net. Bishop hustled to try and make it back for the save but was unable to beat an alert Brandon Saad who tapped the puck across the line and gave Chicago the 2-0 lead.
On the other end of the ice, Crawford wasn’t challenged often. Tampa Bay hadn’t had a shot on goal until halfway through the second period. The Lightning only tallied 16 shots on goal for the game but were able to get two past Crawford less than two minutes apart. Martin St. Louis scored first with a strong backhand shot off a Crawford rebound then set up Teddy Purcell who scored the tying goal firing a shot past Crawford on his struggling glove side.
The Blackhawks continued to struggle on the power play only converting on one of five opportunities. The Hawks also seem to be struggling on the penalty kill which looked much stronger last season. In the season opener, Chicago gave up three goals during Washington’s six power play opportunities and last night allowed the game tying goal while on the PK against Tampa Bay.
The Blackhawks will have three days to work out any kinks before their next challenge which comes on Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues, probably the toughest team they will face in their division. Chicago will go into St. Louis with a 1-0-1 record while St. Louis is tied for first in the Central with Colorado and Winnipeg, all with a 2-0-0 record.
We all know by now that with the glory of winning a championship can become slightly bittersweet with fast departures of players who worked to win the Cup. It’s hard to forget what felt like a dismantling of the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup team due to the always looming salary cap. Luckily this past offseason hasn’t been quite so dramatic, and honestly, with a few minor exceptions, seems to have been very successful.
Due to Ray Emery’s success in net this past season, it was no surprise that the Blackhawks would be saying goodbye to him soon after he hoisted the Cup. Emery showed major improvement in net during the regular season and saw quite a few starts due in large part to Corey Crawford’s battle with concussions. However, Emery stepped up in almost every scenario contributing greatly to the Blackhawks’ success with a 17-1 record and a 1.94 goals-against average. It seemed pretty clear Emery would find a starting position with another organization for the start of the 2013-14 season, and in early July the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to a one-year contact.
The Blackhawks will also be losing their Game 6 hero, Dave Bolland. Less than a week after he scored the game winning goal to bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago, Bolland was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two picks and a fourth round selection in 2014. Although Bolland has helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in the past four years, the truth is that his talent can be replaced. Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger are both strong replacements who are actually ahead of him on the depth chart. Not to mention Bolland’s $3.375 million salary would clear out a big chunk of cap space for the Blackhawks.
Other players that the Blackhawks have parted ways with include Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik and Steve Montador. Although Stalberg is known for his speed on the ice, his performance was not very consistent for the Blackhawks. This past season he had 23 points in 47 regular season games and only three assists during the postseason. He again is talent that can be replaced. Stalberg signed a 4-year $12 million contract with the Nashville Predators. Michael Frolik was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for two picks in the 2013 draft. Although Frolik didn’t have the statistics to show much for the 2012-13 season, he was a major influence for the Blackhawks penalty kill and will certainly be missed for his ability to read passes and his active stick. Steve Montador never suited up for the Blackhawks this past season, instead spending his time playing for the Rockford Ice Hogs. Montador had signed a 4-year, $11 million deal with the Blackhawks in 2011 but suffered a season ending concussion shortly after and has since been playing in Rockford. Montador is now headed to the KHL after recently signing with the Russian league team Medvescak Zagreb.
Many thought that Michael Handzus would be let go at the end of the season especially since he was a last minute addition at the trade deadline, however the Blackhawks have decided to sign him to a one year deal. Although Handzus didn’t contribute overwhelmingly with points on the ice, he proved to be a strong veteran presence for the team. With his 15 years of experience in the NHL, there is no doubt he had a strong influence off the ice for this young Blackhawks team.
The Blackhawks also welcomed in another familiar face this offseason signing Nikolai Khabibulin to a one-year contract to back up Crawford in net. Khabibulin played for the Blackhawks from 2005-2009 before being signed by the Edmonton Oilers. Khabibulin is believed to be brought in until Antti Raanta, the newly signed 24-year-old Finnish goaltender, is ready for the NHL. However, with a 82-game season condensed due to the Olympics, Khabibulin could see 20-plus starts. Although he has been troubled with multiple injuries in the last few years, the Blackhawks are hoping he has at least one more solid season left in him.
With the holes left by Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg, the Blackhawks organization has been tossing around names to determine their replacements. At this point, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith have all been the primary candidates, particularly since all three have played in at least 15 NHL games; however, Brandon Pirri is also a name that seems to be on a lot of people’s lips. Pirri is a lefty shooter known for his offensive skills and his ability to distribute the puck. As of now, Pirri is being discussed as possibly filling the second line center position, a spot Brandon Saad is also being considered for. If Pirri were able to find success on the second line, that would leave open the opportunity to keep Saad on the third line with Andrew Shaw which made for a very strong pairing last season.
Probably the most notable offseason decision for the Blackhawks, however, was the re-signing of Bryan Bickell to a 4-year $16 million deal. Bickell had an undeniable break-out postseason for the Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup run. Bickell is a big forward who contributes on the scoring lines. During the regular season he had 9 goals and 14 assists, numbers nearly matched in the postseason where he scored 9 goals and had 8 assists, including the game-tying goal with less than 1:20 left to play in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Much of the cap space made by the Blackhawks this offseason was made in order to secure this deal with Bryan Bickell.
With training camp coming up and the first preseason game only a month away, it will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks come together, especially after such a short offseason. After a summer of celebration it is time to refocus and dedicate themselves to the hope of another successful season. Since the Blackhawks, Bruins and Kings have all struggled after their Stanley Cup winning seasons the last three years, let’s hope this new Blackhawks team can find a way to break that trend and live up to the much anticipated talks of a possible repeat to bring the Cup back to Chicago for a third time in five years.
I found this article really interesting for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest being that it hit really close to home for me. As a lot of people know, I recently graduated from DePaul University with a journalism degree and have been looking for a job ever since. I am also a pretty big Blackhawks fan and it would be a dream of mine to cover the team for a living. However, I have always struggled with the fact that I would have to remove my personal fandom from my work and I wasn’t always confident that was something I could do. I began to think about what that would mean for me. Would I have to completely eliminate my emotional ties I have to the team? Would I just need to work harder to make sure my bias doesn’t come out in my reporting? Or would it depend on who my employer was? I really wasn’t sure.
Once the season began and the excitement grew as the Blackhawks were setting the record for most consecutive games without a regulation loss and the city, actually the country, seemed to be overcome with hockey fever, particularly Blackhawks fever, I began to understand what being a fan versus being a professional journalist and a fan really meant.
Studying journalism all through college, you learn about having a critical eye, seeing the whole picture, removing biases and to always be asking questions. Growing up as a fan of sports it is only natural to create emotional attachments to a team, it’s players and their well-being. Combine those two things and passion for sports journalism is the result. I realized as I was watching the Hawks throughout the season, I was noticing what could be improved on the ice as well as what they are doing well. Over the course of the season, particularly the post season, I have been out watching a lot of games at restaurants and bars and as I listen to how the common fan reacts, the majority of what I hear is either all positive and all the bad things that happen are because of a bad call or bad luck, or they are all negative and it’s all because “Crawford sucks” or “Kane doesn’t pass” or “they’re too slow.” Now I’m not trying to toot my own horn and say because I studied journalism I know more or am a bigger fan but it has taught me to watch the game differently. I’m not just looking at what is happening with the player controlling the puck and I can see where things break down for both teams and where their strengths are. I notice what is causing a momentum shift or when a team looks out of sync. All these things allow me to experience the game in a completely different way from the common fan. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that fan isn’t emotionally invested or feeling the loss the same as I am but I feel I am watching a different game.
Ultimately, the point I am trying to make through all this is that while I know I still have work to do, I feel that being a fan of a sport makes me a better journalist because I can objectively look at the positives and the negatives and come to conclusions. I would never say the Blackhawks lost because “Crawford sucks,” or that they won because of a lucky call. There are so many other factors involved. As a professional journalist or media personality I don’t think wearing a tie with a teams emblem on it or a Toews sweater while reporting on the team is appropriate. You never want to give your audience a reason to question if the information they are receiving is unbiased. If you truly want to feel as though you are representing your team in some way, I think the farthest you should go is what Susannah Collins did in the first round of the playoffs when she wore a black suit with a red shirt underneath. It was subtle yet it showed her allegiance to her favorite team. In that particular case, she also was working for a network that had particularly strong ties to the team she was covering which likely allows for some wiggle room.
The most important thing is that the information is honest, good or bad, and unbiased. The second a journalist is off the clock, feel free to throw on a sweater and a hat and walk down Michigan Ave listening to Chelsea Dagger but when the spotlight is on, don’t give anyone the opportunity to question your reliability or your credibility.