Week In Chicago: Blackhawks 11/1 – 11/7
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.
11/2/13: The Hawks picked apart a turnover-prone Jets team en route to a 5-1 win. It was a fairly dominant game for Chicago, as they controlled possession and had an evident edge in scoring chances despite the shot totals being relatively even. Brandon Bollig (more on him later) picked up the second goal of his season and career, and Patrick Sharp continued to break out of a personal scoring slump with his 3 rd of the year.
Watching the Jets makes me unhappy. Winnipeg got back its team that never should have left, their crowd is nuts, they have a few beloved ex-Blackhawks on the roster… but the Jets are dreadful. It’d be great to see this team in the playoffs, but it’s not happening this year (again); their team is significantly flawed in all three phases. Ondrej Pavelec is overpaid and inconsistent, the defensive core is great on paper but is currently banged up and features a defensive turnstile on the first pairing (Byfuglien), and the offense offers very little outside of Bryan Little (ha ha), Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, and Blake Wheeler. It’s too bad.
11/3/13: Chicago suffered a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to a Calgary team that will almost surely be picking in the top three come June 2014. The Hawks were stymied by Flames goaltender Reto Berra, who made his first career NHL start. Pat Foley (Chicago’s play-by-play man) remarked early in the game that he disagreed with Calgary’s decision to start the 26-year-old rookie against a Blackhawks team that had scored 16 goals in its prior three games. I imagine Foley changed his mind fairly quickly as Berra turned away all 18 shots he saw in the first period on his way to 42 of 44 overall.
Is Berra for real? That’s a tough question to answer definitively. He was drafted in 2006 by St. Louis but didn’t play a game in North America until 2013 with Calgary (Berra was a tertiary piece in the Jay Bouwmeester trade). His numbers with Abbotsford in the AHL this season are rather pedestrian despite the team leading its conference in points. He has struggled in 2 starts (both losses) since the game on the 3 rd, allowing 8 goals on 51 shots. Time will tell if his great performance in Chicago was a fluke or not, but the early signs aren’t positive.
11/6: Chicago fans would love it if they got to play Winnipeg for all 82 games. Another was added to the win column in a breezy 4-1 victory.
Look at this Toews goal: http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/99/files/2013/11/JETSToews.gif
Byfuglien (33) and Matt Halischuk with an embarrassingly uninspired defensive effort. Brutal.
Now look at (Patrick) Kane’s goal: http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/99/files/2013/11/JETSKane.gif
Another Byfuglien appearance!
Even my youth hockey coaches always made it clear that you never willingly allow the other team’s best players a ton of space. Kane could have left the arena for one of his classic benders and still had enough time to score when he came back on the ice afterwards.
Let’s move on to Pirri: http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/99/files/2013/11/JETSPirri.gif
Sigh. No defenseman was within 30 feet of Pirri when he was sent in on that breakaway by a Ben Smith pass in the neutral zone. This play reminded me of the hole – err, well, let’s be honest, “chasm” would be more appropriate – in the Bears’ defense on that James Starks run on Monday night.
But hey, they won, so who cares.
Disclaimer: I want to like the Jets. I really do. And I do love Byfuglien – I’ll never forget what he did for that 2010 championship team. But terrible defense and blasé effort irritate me. Now I realize why the 2011-12 Blackhawks season felt so frustrating in spite of my somewhat limited expectations. Introspection’s great.
The Development of Brandon Bollig
Prior to the start of the season, I was about as down on Bollig as you can possibly get. It was warranted. He was almost deplorably bad last season and added absolutely nothing to the roster besides a few useless staged fights and a couple dumb penalties. Joel Quenneville also lost his mind during the Cup Final last year and decided that Bollig would be more helpful against Boston than Viktor Stalberg. The ultimate result was a pathetic Bollig misplay on the boards that led directly to Daniel Paille’s game-winning overtime goal.
So prior to this season, I didn’t think Bollig belonged in the NHL, let alone on the roster of the defending Cup champions. It especially irked me that he was playing ahead of a guy like Brandon Pirri (sent down and playing in Rockford at the time), who seemed like the offensive-oriented #2 center the Chicago roster has been missing for years. Or Jeremy Morin, a hard-nosed winger with a reasonably good defensive game and a scoring touch.
Yeah, so if it’s not clear already, I wasn’t Bollig’s #1 fan.
But he’s made me eat all my words, and I love every minute of it. Bollig is never going to put up huge numbers and win Selkes, but he’s very evidently (and rapidly) turning into the ideal fourth-liner: gritty, smart, capable, and with a bit of offensive punch to boot. For as ineffective as he was in the NHL prior to this season, Bollig’s always had a good shot. I remember him surprising Phoenix and Chicago fans alike when he wristed a shot past Mike Smith in the Coyotes/Blackhawks series (that is the first and last time I will ever mention the 2012 playoffs. We do not speak of the 2012 playoffs).
The goal he scored in Winnipeg this week was just nasty. http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/99/files/2013/11/Bolligjets.gif
More important than his newfound offense, though, is that he’s developed a nice cycling game with Kruger (and the two of them fit well with the revolving door of wingers that has occupied the other slot on the fourth line – classic Quenneville), has improved his defensive positioning, and is just a much more responsible player than he used to be. It’s obvious that Bollig put in a ton of work this past summer. It’s paying off. Kudos to him.
Because I can’t heap praise on Bollig with being at least a little mordant (chalk it up to some residual negativity), he shall hereby be referred to only as BPIKU, or the Best Player in the Known Universe.
On that note…
Adam Pardy Definitely Hates Chicago
Poor Pardy. He gets hit hard by BPIKU, has his momentum break the glass, gets his helmet jacked by some (awesome) fan, and then gets beer poured on him by some (idiotic) other fan.
Per Chris Kuc, Pardy had this to say of the encounter: “I definitely smelled a little booze for about six minutes. I guess somebody reached around (and took the helmet). I don’t know what happened to my stick, either -- that got lost in the crowd too. A little insult to injury there. It was tough enough to get put through the glass but then to get a beer thrown on my head, too, was not a good thing.” To Pardy’s credit, he was reportedly good-natured about the situation.
I don’t believe it, though, and neither should you. Because Adam Pardy now houses a destructive, fiery rage in his dark, dark heart.
What happened to Pardy brings up an interesting topic, actually. After last Saturday’s game in Winnipeg, a rather large amount of Blackhawk fans were complaining about the Winnipeg crowd’s behavior; namely, their “Crawford… Crawford…” taunt as the Hawks’ goalie was being attended to by the Chicago training staff for an apparent injury. Naturally, the erroneous fanbase generalizations followed.
“Jets fans are the worst in the league.”
“Winnipeg fans obviously don’t deserve to have a team back in their city.”
Inevitably, because karma is hilarious or the hockey gods have a sense of humor or for the actual reason (which I will get to), some Blackhawk fans do something stupid to a Jets player at the UC just 5 days later.
Now, I will grant that a hell of a lot more than just two fans were involved in taunting Crawford while he was seemingly injured. And I have to admit that I find the stolen helmet gag to be much more “funny” than “bad,” for lack of a better term. But at the end of the day, fans at sporting events do stupid things. This is true in Winnipeg, this is true in Chicago, this is true in Philadelphia (duh), this is true everywhere.
Every fanbase has its share of disrespectful idiots just as every fanbase has its share of respectful and well-meaning diehards. This is undeniable.
As a Bears fan, I’ve had more engaging, entertaining football conversations with Packers fans than I can count. Yet I still hear “Packers fans are the worst” every other day. And I hear the equivalent and opposite sentiment echoed by Packers fans regularly. Every fanbase in every sport is guilty of this senseless and baseless generalizing, and every fanbase is wrong. Notice a theme here?
Every fanbase is, on the whole, exactly the same.
Yeah, yeah, I’ll step off the podium now.
Quick predictions for this week’s games:
Blackhawks @ Stars, 11/9 : Previously-struggling Dallas team has won three in a row. Kari Lehtonen plays well and the Stars take it 3-2 in regulation.
Oilers @ Blackhawks, 11/10 : Khabibulin will start this one, I imagine. He has a rough game in net – again – but the Hawks give him plenty of goal support against the worst defensive team in the league (Edmonton = 66 GA in 17 games) and win 6-4.
Coyotes @ Blackhawks, 11/14 : Good old mind-numbingly boring home game against Phoenix. Love these. Chicago grabs a 2-1 win.
I’ll leave you this week with a glorious picture.
By Sean Sarcu
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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