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Week In Chicago: Blackhawks 11/8 – 11/14

 

I’ll be putting together updates on the defending champs each week, tracking them as they go for their third Stanley Cup in five seasons.
I’m just a fan and a writer. I have opinions and I share them here. Not trying to rustle any jimmies. Enjoy.

 

Have a question or thought about the Hawks? A comment on something I wrote? Email me at ssarcu3@gmail.com to share what’s on your mind. I’ll throw some of your thoughts or questions and my response to them at the end of each weekly update (starting next week).

 

Game thoughts

11/9/13 @ Dallas: I came away from this game pretty impressed. Early on this season, Chicago has been winning without looking particularly dominant (although the advanced stats suggest they have been). In the past few weeks, though, things have been looking a good deal better. A few easy wins over a flawed Winnipeg team are nice enough, but a blowout victory in Minnesota and a solid, controlling three-goal victory in Dallas are a good deal better. Crawford continued his solid play as he stopped 31 of 33.

Speaking of Dallas, if you weren’t paying attention last night, you missed Jamie Benn’s 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) and Tyler Seguin’s 5 (4 goals, 1 helper).

Yeah, that was my reaction too.

The Stars have talent. They’ll likely miss the playoffs, but that’s only because the West is comically deep. A 5-2 win on the road against a good team is always really nice.

So is this: http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/99/files/2013/11/STARSKane.gif

 

11/10/13 vs. Edmonton: The backup goalie will almost always get one of the games in a back-to-back situation. I thought Khabibulin would be in for this one, but I can’t say I’m surprised that Quenneville elected to go with Crawford again (more on this later).

This game unceremoniously razed whatever positive feelings the solid night in Dallas engendered in me less than 24 hours prior. Yes, a win is a win, but you can’t blithely ignore how the team got there. A 5-4 barnburner against the worst offensive team in the West and worst defensive team in the league leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth regardless of the 2 points.

 

11/14/13 vs. Phoenix: Now this 5-4 win is much easier to be content with. For one, Phoenix is one of the better teams in the West with a great (albeit whiny) goalie and a surprisingly effective offense. But more importantly, Chicago dominated the game from start to finish save a 6 or 7 minute stretch in the second half of the first period. Phoenix was lucky to get a point, with Mike Smith essentially earning it himself with a fantastic performance in net. He’s been doing that a lot this season, actually – Phoenix’s forwards have been playing well, but their defense has been alarmingly bad. 

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Phoenix has a good offense and terrible defense. Recheck your Mayan Long Counts – it’s the apocalypse.

 

In other Phoenix game-related news, I’m a little upset at BPIKU right now. I talk him up for the first time ever in my column last week, and then he goes out and does one of the dumbest things of his career not even a week later. 2 minutes for who-the-hell-cares-what-the-original-2-minutes-were-for and 2 extra minutes for mouthing off to the referee.

Can I ask… why do players complain when they get penalties? Has any hockey ref EVER thrown his hands in the air and exclaimed “Crap, bro, you’re totally right. No penalty!” in response? Even once??

Just shut up and get in the box. Even if it’s a bad call.

Bad BPIKU. Bad.

 

Some things Hawks fans should be concerned about.

The penalty kill: Why? Because it is horrifically bad. Chicago’s PK is operating at a ghastly 74.1%.

Here’s a stat: Chicago has given up as many powerplay goals this season as they did in all 48 games last year.

 

The team defense: Teams that aren’t elite defensively don’t go far in the spring. Some recent Cup winners and their GA ranking: Blackhawks (1st), Los Angeles (2nd), Boston (2nd), Blackhawks (6th), Pittsburgh (17th), Detroit (1st), and Anaheim (7th). Pittsburgh is the one outlier, and that’d be because they have these guys named Crosby and Malkin. The Blackhawks have the highest goals against average of any playoff team in the West that doesn’t employ Paul Bissonnette. It’s worrying.

 

And there’s one more concern…

 

The Hawks Don’t Have a Backup Goalie

Well, technically they do. He has a legitimately fantastic, flat-out fun middle name, “Ivanovich.” Sounds like a pasta dish. (Say it a few times out loud. You’ll see it).

Anyway, Khabibulin’s been anything but fun this season, and Patrick Kane’s +/- really hates him.

Ivanovich is rocking a pristine 4.74 GAA and 81.8 save percentage in three games of action. The numbers are bad, but he probably grades out even worse on the eye test. Ivano’s been letting in some high-grade clunkers, and was more or less solely responsible for a loss in Tampa Bay in late October.

 

In fairness, it has been only 3 games. Ray Emery – perhaps the best backup in the NHL last season (statistically, anyway) - started the year with a very weak showing in Phoenix. Of course, he did follow that up with a ludicrous, outlandishly awesome game against Calgary – a performance that would probably be considered legendary if it wasn’t against… well, Calgary.

 

At any rate, it seems clear that Quenneville shares my wariness over Ivanovich. Since Khabibulin last played (October 29th), Crawford has started and finished every game for Chicago – and that includes two back-to-backs. Early signs point to Khabibulin getting another chance this weekend against either Nashville or San Jose, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.

 

Joel Quenneville is Doing Weird Things Again

This is made moot by the Versteeg trade, but I want to talk about it anyway.

Can somebody explain to me why Sheldon Brookbank – a defenseman, and not a particularly good one - was playing right wing on the third line instead of Jeremy Morin?

 

Let me go ahead and eliminate two wrong answers.

 

“Quenneville thinks Morin needs to improve defensively. He’s sitting him because of that.”

Y’know, it’s funny… I called Morin “responsible defensively” in last week’s article. I’ve watched a ton of this guy’s games in Rockford and seen every NHL game he’s ever played, and that’s the conclusion I came to. He’s not some elite shutdown presence, but he holds his own – his defensive positioning is fine, he hustles hard on the backcheck, he’s pretty strong for his size on the boards…

But whether or not he’s “good” defensively doesn’t really matter here – it’s mostly subjective anyway, since Morin hasn’t played enough NHL games for me to use statistics to prove he’s adequate. Sample sizes, huh? Unfortunately for the Blues, Alex Steen is not the best goalscorer since Gretzky.

So let’s just assume Morin is a below-average defensive player, for the sake of argument.

There are three problems with the italicized answer.

1. How is Morin going to learn how to be a good defensive player at the NHL level without playing in NHL games? Practice alone is nowhere near enough – games move much faster, are much more physical, and are also far less structured and predictable. You can teach the guy defensive schemes all day long whether he’s playing or not, but he won’t really internalize them unless he puts them into action in game play.

2. If Morin – a young, still-developing player – is going to be a healthy scratch in Chicago, then he needs to be sent back down to Rockford to continue that development (and he was sent down Thursday night, but not for this reason).

3. Sheldon Brookbank? Seriously? He was an anchor on the third line in each game he dressed, and that’s me being kind. If you don’t want Morin, fine – but call up someone who actually plays wing and scratch Brookbank.

(Note: Morin played last night because Roszival was out with an injury. Brookbank slid back to defense, which moved Morin back into the lineup).

 

“Quenneville said Morin isn’t giving enough effort.”

Then Joel Quenneville is blind. Effort is the last of Morin’s deficiencies. Frankly, that’s glaringly obvious to anyone who’s watched him play even a little bit.

 

Quenneville is a two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach. That does not preclude him from making bad decisions. Not giving Pirri a genuine chance (which, fortunately, Pirri ultimately earned anyway) and inexplicably dressing a defenseman at #3RW instead of Morin are certainly two of them.

 

Hawks acquire Versteeg from Florida

(Versteeg + Philippe Lefebvre for Jimmy Hayes + Dylan Olsen)

This has the potential to be Bowman’s second-best move as the GM in Chicago (pretty hard to beat acquiring Nick Leddy for nothing).

Versteeg struggled in Florida this year. He’s coming off surgery on a torn ACL and was playing with one of the worst teams in the league, so a rough start is understandable. Panthers fans and coaches have directly and indirectly accused him of lazy play this season. I don’t anticipate this being a problem in Chicago; Versteeg is re-entering a city that – by all accounts – he loved and took pride in playing for. Laziness was never a problem in his first stint in Chicago.

He should fit very nicely with Bickell and Shaw, creating what has the potential to be the best third line in the NHL.

On a team that was already having no trouble scoring, Bowman has added a three-time 20-goal scorer.

 

Jimmy Hayes is a vanilla prospect with minimal upside, and Dylan Olsen is stuck behind Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Leddy (who are all signed for multiple years beyond this season). The Hawks didn’t give up very much. Low-risk, high-reward. I like this trade a lot.

 

General State of the Blackhawks

I feel like my tone in this article has been almost uniformly negative aside from the review of the trade. That’s probably just the way I write more than an indication of how I feel the Blackhawks are doing.

Because they’re playing very well. The defense has looked pretty horrible lately, but it seems unlikely that a team that was so tremendous in that respect last season would outright lose any semblance of defensive responsibility the next year. It’ll come.

 

The offense, meanwhile, has been incredible. After a slow-ish start to the season, the Hawks have scored 36 goals in their last 8 games (that number is discounting shootout “goals for”). I don’t need to tell you how good a 4.5 GF average is, but I will put it in perspective because stats are fun: a team that averages 3.0 goals per game is generally considered elite offensively.

 

The Blackhawks have won four in a row and have picked up 15 of 16 possible points in their last 8 games.

We have high expectations in Chicago these days, but it’s hard not to be very happy with results like that.

 

Moving on…

 

Most Ridiculous Thing A Blackhawks Fan Said This Week

I wouldn't trade Toews for both Malkin and Crosby if I was Bowman and the offer came to me.”

 

What.

Disclaimer: This hypothetical trade was taking place with the understanding that we were to disregard the salary cap.

So – even under the stipulation that the salary cap didn’t exist – this person wouldn’t Toews for two of the top-three best players in the world.

 

Needless to say, Pittsburgh fans would laugh hysterically at this hypothetical swap of players. And they should.

 

Let’s get into some of the arguments this person made to support this… interesting… opinion. (Note: I’m paraphrasing the person from this point forward, although what is italicized are the exact arguments that were put forth – they’re simply reworded).

 

“The Hawks are winning Cups with Toews. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”

Oh dear.

Something may not be broken – and it may even be working very, very well, as the Hawks are – but that hardly means you cannot make that thing better.

Crosby with Hossa and Sharp. Malkin with Saad and Kane. That team would be putting up 6 goals a game. And with the defensive core the Hawks have? They’d be absurdly difficult to beat.

 

“Trading Toews for Crosby and Malkin would destroy team chemistry.”

I can’t stand arguments where people resort to those good old incredibly vague hockey clichés to justify points. But I’ll be charitable and address this one anyway.

Team chemistry is made. Sure, if you trade Toews, you’re giving away your captain and best center. But you are getting back the two best centers on the planet – both with 50-goal seasons to their names in addition to transcendent playmaking ability. I don’t think Crosby and Malkin would have much trouble developing chemistry with their new linemates – who, I might add, comprise a better set of top-6 wingers than Crosby and Malkin have ever had in Pittsburgh.

As for locker room chemistry? This team still has the defense of last year’s dominant Hawks, and now would have the (more or less) indisputably best offense the NHL has seen since Gretzky’s Oilers. This team would win a ton of games. And winning breeds chemistry.

 

“All-Star teams don’t win in the NHL.”

How do we know this?

The last time any team had the financial freedom to put together a roster that at least somewhat measured up to the talent level of an NHL all-star team was before the salary cap was instituted in 2004. So the only evidence we can really draw on is from the years before that.

Those stacked teams from back then, man… they just never seemed to win. All-star teams don’t work! Colorado didn’t win any C- err, wait…. Well, Detroit wasn’t winning very m- ummm…. Hm.

Yeah. Pretty sure the Hawks would just be fine with a core of Crosby, Malkin, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Saad, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Leddy, and Crawford.

I mean…

Seriously?

Out of words at this point.

 

See ya. Go Hawks.

 

By Sean Sarcu
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

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