Saturday, October 6, 2012

NHL Lockout & CBA negotiations

Despite NHL owners essentially dictating the terms of the last CBA which included a hard cap & a 24% salary rollback after locking out the players for an entire season, they have again locked out the players, this time for refusing to accept further salary rollbacks as a starting point to negotiations.

It is no surprise that the players have rejected the owners' "starting point" for negotiations - especially given that the NHL's revenues have increased at a rate of about 7% per year (and about 50% in total) since the last CBA during a time when the US economy has suffered a serious downturn and after owners spent this past summer signing numerous players to mega deals for mega term.  If signing players to contracts they never had intention of honoring isn't bad faith negotiations, I'm not sure what is.

Nevertheless, the players did make a counter-proposal, which called for the honoring of existing contracts, but gradually reduced their share of the revenue pie to close to 50% over the term of the CBA, as well as increasing revenue sharing among owners to support struggling franchises in small, non-traditional markets.

The owners rejected the players' proposal, insisting instead that immediate rollbacks were necessary to "fix" the business side of the game and subsequently locked out the players (& fans) to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

On reflection, it appears that Bettman & the owners may have miscalculated on a number of fronts this time around.

Perhaps figuring that the players would be very reluctant to lose salary from lost games, especially since they ended up better off under the last "dictated" CBA despite losing an entire season's worth of pay fighting against it, the owners appear to have employed the same "hard line" strategy as last time - the message to the players has been - accept immediate rollbacks to salary or face a lockout if they don't & no negotiations until they do...

The owners also appear to be taking the fans' loyalty for granted at least a bit, exemplified when Bettman commented that the NHL has the best fans anywhere in response to whether they may be alienated by yet another work stoppage.   Fans understood the reasons for the last lockout & were generally sympathetic to money-losing owners, but there is less support now for owners who essentially dictated terms of the last CBA, spent huge sums over the summer & now want the players to give back.

Its been suggested that owners in smaller, non-traditional hockey markets are more prepared for a long lockout than those owners who were doing well, since the smaller markets were perennial money losers under the just expired CBA.   The problem with that one-dimensional thinking however is that if fans tire of this lockout, especially the longer it goes, they may lose interest altogether & find other places to spend their money...and may not be as receptive to coming back when things get settled - that would result in lower revenues & hurt small markets comparatively more than markets where there are current waiting lists for seasons tickets...and put the NHL right back into the same money-losing markets situation they are in now...presumably requiring further salary rollbacks & lockouts...

Although most current players weren't around for the last lockout, they certainly appear to be prepared to hold out rather than accept any rollback to current contracts, and actually seem to have been galvanized by Bettman & the owners rejection to negotiate off their proposal to gradually reduce their share of HRR. 

Bettman needs to be mindful that just as the owners were united in their mission to oust their nemesis Goodenow last time round, he may become, if he isn't already, the players' target this time round & make things much more difficult for himself & the owners if he overplays his hand, like he appears to be doing.   He may ultimately win the war, but whatever is left afterwards may be unrecognizable & worth a whole lot less than if he had worked with the NHLPA towards a common ground as actual "partners".  If this lockout drags on much longer, I suspect internal dissension among owners will grow and put more conflicting pressure on Bettman to "fix" things asap - in such a scenario, where emotions start to run high, it is very likely that a sub-optimal deal will result and ultimately the seeds for Bettman's removal will have been sown.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bowman bows out of trying to improve team through trade(s)

Despite the Blackhawks losing 9 straight and 12 of 16 in the stretch immediately prior to the trade deadline, Stan Bowman decided to stan(d) pat for the most part, adding Johnny Oduya, Winnipeg's 5th defenseman (in terms of minutes played) and dealing big John Scott to the Cup contending New York Rangers as the only roster moves at the trade deadline.

Earlier last month, he had added often scratched Brendan Morrison from Calgary to supposedly "plug" the hole at 2nd line C...which unfortunately is still leaking badly, especially with Jonathan Toews now out of the lineup due to an "upper body injury".

The trade for Oduya is particularly strange, considering his UFA status and current $3.5M salary despite being at the bottom end of Winnipeg's defensive depth chart and considering Bowman's unwillingness to pay Chris Campoli, last year's deadline UFA defenseman acquisition.  The price to a acquire Oduya, a 2nd & 3rd round pick in 2013, makes absolutely no sense for a mere 5th Dman rental...and to pay a 5th Dman double the salary what Campoli is making just to re-sign him (& avoid the appearance of wasting two draft picks) makes even less sense.

The conclusion?  This trade was simply cosmetic and on the verge of panic so that Bowman could say to the media that he actually made a deal to add defensive depth that he said he was trying to do.

Compared to the moves division rival Nashville made, adding Gill, Gaustad & Kostitsyn, Bowman looks like the small market operator.

The hawks now find themselves relying on their farm team for support for a playoff push that is anything but certain.  After playing strong, disciplined games at home vs. St. Louis & Detroit last week, where their priority finally focused on preventing goals rather than scoring them, they came out against Dallas with an inexplicable anemic effort.   Facing a rookie NHL goalie Richard Bachman and a team missing Jamie Benn, its top scorer, the hawks went through the motions, managing only 6 shots on net in a scoreless 1st period, and allowing Bachman to settle in, get comfortable and gain confidence.

After Hossa feasted again on a teammate's hard work, picking up a rebound after Frolik drove hard to the net in the 2nd period to put the hawks up 1-0, he once again was directly responsible for the play that led to Dallas' equalizer midway in the 3rd.   Having the puck along the right boards in his own zone, he tried to knock it past the Dallas defenseman, hoping for a breakaway or odd man rush.  Instead, his offense-first thinking predictably backfired again, with the Stars defenseman holding the puck in the hawk zone as Hossa failed to take the body but simply glided by him, as the defenseman easily sidestepped him.

Hossa made his usual wide turn back (after all, a hard stop & restart requires a lot of effort) and actually had a chance to block the point shot from the other defenseman, but in his usual style, he made himself as small as possible so he wouldn't be hit, but nevertheless still made for an effective screen, and the shot was tipped in behind Crawford and Dallas had life.

The hawks on the other hand, failed to respond but continued to play lethargic and not surprisingly gave away an important 2 points at home to a team not far behind them in the standings. 

They failed to respond to such a devastating loss in their next game in LA, another team not far behind them in the standings - getting shut out yet again (8th or 9th time? this season) 4-0 to the Kings, with Dustin Brown registering a hat trick after his name had come up in trade rumours.   The hawks unfortunately, had no one's name come up in trade rumours, aside from the not credible Patrick Kane for Ryan Miller suggestions and consequently, they had no one who responded.   The next day in Anaheim, the hawks finally managed to score their 1st powerplay goal in 40 (FORTY!) chances, but when the Ducks were awarded a goal after video review late in the 1st, the hawks simply folded their tents and enjoyed the laid back California lifestyle for the next two periods.

Of course, the wonderful excuses for the team's demise are built-in - injuries to Toews, Sharp, Hjalmarsson, Montador, etc., contributed to the decline - though these excuses require that you don't look too closely at the 9 game losing streak & realize almost all of the above players were in the lineup for that awful streak.  And you certainly don't want to compare the hawks troubles coping with injuries to their major stars with a real team like Pittsburgh which has been without Crosby, Staal and Letang for major stretches of the entire season, yet their record is much better than the hawks despite playing in the Atlantic, a division even tougher than the Central.

And then there is the excuse of bad goaltending - Crawford & Emery to a lesser extent, simply have not provided good enough goaltending, which has sapped the team of confidence.

This certainly is a great excuse since it shifts focus off the skaters (& coaches) onto just one simple position.  The problem with that excuse is that it masks the real problems with the team - the players "offense-first" thinking leftover from their Cup win simply doesn't work unless you have 4 good lines you can roll (and who can threaten offensively) and you have good, smart, puck moving defensemen to provide the quick transition (either outlet passes or skating with the puck).

The loss of Campbell has hurt that game plan - Leddy is good, but by no means at 20 yrs old, ready yet to fill Campbell's skates, yet that is what he has been asked to do all year.  Montador, O'Donnell & Lepisto aren't up to that job either.

At forward, the hawks 3rd line has been a bust most of the year - Frolik & Bickell & even Bolland have not performed up to expectations.   Stalberg has set career highs in production, and has great wheels, but he is too inconsistent to be counted among the top 6 forwards.  Kane has not scored goals as in previous seasons, though his playmaking still is as good as ever - it makes one wonder if the move to center (and wrist injury) to start the season may still be having lingering effects on his game.

The hawks forwards as a group have a decided lack of toughness - Mayers is about the only one who is able to stand up for teammates - but by himself, he is simply overmatched.  It was not more evident than the recent game vs. San Jose, where Toews was made a frequent physical target of the Sharks, at one point taking shots to the head from opposing captain Joe Thornton, including one after his helmet was knocked off.     When Keith and a few other hawk players moved in to protect their captain, Ryan Clowe, the man publicly called out by Marian Hossa as a "coward" in an earlier season game in Chicago, jumped into the melee, while Hossa stood by & watched.  Needless to say, that image called into question just who the real coward was.

While the hawks have since called up rookies Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw & Brandon Bollig to beef up the forwards, it is a bit rich to expect raw rookies to somehow step up and assume leadership roles on a recent Cup team.

The fact is the hawks core has been overused for the first part of the season, which saw the team competing for 1st overall in the league, though they were also benefited by an easy early schedule against weaker teams with a disproportionate number of them at home.

As the season ground on, it became clear that the heavy workload was taking its toll, especially on Keith & Seabrook, and on Toews, Sharp & Kane, and if those players aren't at their best, the hawks are in trouble.  In fact, early season losses to Edmonton (9-2) and later back to back home shutout losses to LA & Colorado were signals that not all was right with this hawk team, yet Bowman continued to say he was happy with the roster.

Perhaps there are deeper issues to explain the apathetic play in the second half, but aside from legitimate cup contending depth,  it seems obvious that the hawks also lack toughness - they are soft in front of both nets and too often are unwilling to pay the price at both ends to score & prevent goals.  The need for real reinforcements at defense and center were obvious (except apparently to Stan) and with the dealing of Gill, Vermette & Gaustad to western rivals the message that has been sent to  players and fans alike is a very disappointing one where management is ok with settling for mediocrity.

That message sounds very familiar to long time hawk fans who lived through the old William Wirtz/Bob Pulford era - the team was content to just make the playoffs - not do all it could to seriously compete & contend for championships.  It is a message that discourages players who hunger for more - Bobby Hull perhaps being the most notable.  

I've mentioned before, that Bowman's hands may have been tied regarding trade acquistions by Wirtz & McDonough's internal cap - that includes the salaries of Huet & Olesz unreduced by escrow (which coincidentally would put the hawks at or near the real cap if those players were playing in the NHL).   Bowman's tepid moves at the deadline do nothing to dissuade such thinking.

Could Jonathan Toews, when he grows older & more wiser (of the historic business side of the Blackhawks), tire of a management that is content to live off its latest Cup win (maybe for the next 50 years) and content with cutting costs & counting cash instead of celebrating another Cup, especially seeing how he is giving his all on the ice (exposing himself to potentially life-altering concussions), while management fails to give their all off the ice?  The team is still owned by a Wirtz, just as it was in the mid 60's heyday of Bobby Hull & Stan Mikita....and the apple never falls far from the tree...

Unless Stan makes a splash in the off-season with Huet's $5M coming off the books (and buys out Olesz's $3M+) and uses those dollars to land a name free agent (like Suter or Parise) and utilize his cap room & prospect depth to reload & reinforce the core of the team to serious contender status, I suspect the Toews to Winnipeg rumours will start surfacing in another year or two...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trading activity picking up....Bowman watches from sidelines

With 3 trades consummated within the past 24 hours, including two involving defensemen as the principals, the hawks biggest need, it is getting down to crunch time for teams with aspirations of solidifying their playoff position and preparing for a post-season run.  Niklas Grossman, Dominic Moore & Hal Gill clearly aren't the biggest names out there, but at least in Gill's case, he provides excellent help for a pk (something the hawks clearly could use), excellent size to clear bodies from in front of his net (also something the hawks clearly need) and has significant playoff experience, including a Cup with Pittsburgh, something the hawks have, but could always use more of.

In the case of Groosman, its quite possible that Dallas wasn't really looking to appear to be helping the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year by giving them a player off their current roster for draft picks in return...wouldn't sell very well to the fans in Dallas...that is likely why they apparently asked for Saad, who tho a 2nd round pick, was ranked as high as 8th overall at mid-season last year...and is probably the hawks top junior prospect...and also remember, the Stars got to see him play in the 1st two games this NHL season...

So Stan gets a pass there...but letting Gill go to a key rival despite the high price makes me question his thinking and what else might be going on...

Nashville isn't exactly a big market in terms of the NHL & not a cap team, mainly because of their limited revenue & resulting self-imposed cap.  For them to pay the price they did for Gill sends their existing roster as well as fans a loud & clear message, namely they are prepared to pay the price to bulk up for a deep playoff run this year.

The hawks meanwhile, just coming off a 9 game losing streak that included 3 regulation losses to Nashville which has put them closer to 9th place in the west than 5th place Nashville, have acquired Brendan Morrison to fill the 2nd line center position, tho he has been scratched for several recent games.  Essentially his acquisition has used up a roster spot that previously belonged to promising rookie Jimmy Hayes who had to be sent down to Rockford (while Andrew Shaw was kept up in Chicago.

The failure to land Gill could be due to a number of reasons - Stan wasn't prepared to pay the asking price, or he doesn't particularly value the player as highly as others do, or he is in the midst of acquiring another player to address his team's needs.

The first possible reason, not prepared to pay a high price, seems pretty hollow given the cap room and prospect depth he has available to help improve the current roster, and considering the size of the Chicago market and fans' expectations that the team will do whatever it takes to put together a strong contender and given the team's struggles of late.

Perhaps Stan is being constrained by an internal team cap installed by Rocky/McDonough, who are perhaps for good reason getting a bit tired of paying NHL salaries to players who aren't playing in the NHL just so Stan has more available NHL cap space.  Rusty Olesz should have been bought out when he was acquired in exchange for Bryan Campbell (which would have cost a bit of money & cap room, but much less than what it is costing Rocky now & in future). And if reports are to be believed that the hawks are in fact looking for goaltending help despite their public denials, it would provide more fuel to McDonough's concerns about Bowman's maneuvering...since it was Bowman who decided to match defenseman Hjalmarsson's offer sheet he signed with San Jose, and let Stanley Cup winning goaltender Anti Niemi walk.  In hindsight, that appears to have been the wrong move, and leads to the question of why should anyone expect Bowman to get a trade for a replacement goaltender right this time.  (Bowman gets a pass on Huet's salary since he was signed by Tallon, but it is doubtful that fact makes McDonough feel any better about Bowman's handling of the goaltending).

The coaching staff is also probably not doing much to alleviate Rocky/McDonough's fears about how the hockey side of things are being run - it is difficult to imagine that Mike Kitchen did not have any input on both the Frolik & Olesz acquisitions (& whether to buy out the latter on acquiring him), since he coached both players while head coach in Florida.  Clearly those acquisitions have not panned out as expected, with Olesz buried in Rockford but collecting his NHL salary (without any escrow deduction) and Frolik sitting in the pressbox for several recent games.  The situation may also be causing some friction between GM & coaching staff, since Kitchen is clearly Quenneville's man (he was assistant to Q going back to their St. Louis days & long before that (1979-82), they played together for the old Colorado Rockies & New Jersey Devils in 82/83), yet Quenneville is sitting out Frolik, perhaps to Stan's (& Kitchen's) chagrin.  And this latest 9 game losing streak probably tested ownership & senior management faith in the coaching staff, especially given how poorly the hawks were outplayed in several losses, many to teams lower in the standings, who are now within striking distance of the hawks and legitimately threaten the hawks playoff chances.

In such circumstances, and given that Rocky is still a Wirtz, it would not be surprising that he may have put his GM on a short leash when it comes to utilizing the "available" cap room and instructed him to get it done without adding more net salary.

For Stan not to have highly valued what Gill would have provided is a major error in judgement since his size and ability to be physical, his pk ability and playoff experience would have perfectly complemented the hawks.  It was up to Stan to pay the premium, especially given the turmoil the club has been in, to give the defense a boost (reduce the pk burden on & overall minutes of Keith & Seabrook).  He may have to have given up several prospects & a couple of draft picks, but most will not be able to displace current hawk top 6 players in any case.

The only other acceptable scenario (from a fan's standpoint) is that Stan actually is working on something bigger...perhaps even a blockbuster...  The odds of that seem long, given that his superiors' confidence levels in his performance may be lower now than ever.  He failed to leverage early season success to address roster holes that were obvious from the start, (i.e., top 4 Dman & 2nd line C) and trying to do it now, as the deadline approaches from a position of weakness, if not desperation...well, even if he is working on a blockbuster, the odds of it working out seem small.

One interesting, if not curious  tidbit reported yesterday by Toronto media indicated that Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller would waive his No Trade Clause (NTC) to go to Chicago in a trade.  It would seem unusual for Miller to make something like that public if there were not some consideration already on the part of Buffalo management of moving him and that there was already interest by some folks in the Windy City in his services...

Of course, Buffalo management, and in particular the new owner, Terry Pegula, may have his sights set on local Buffalo hero Patrick Kane...and by announcing that Miller has no objections to moving to Chicago, he is sending a strong signal that Buffalo is ready to do some business...

If Bowman for a second entertains thoughts about moving 23 yr old Kane in return for 32 yr old Miller as the two principals, it would seem he is acting in sheer panic & desperation.  Kane has his faults - he sometimes doesn't go all out defensively, and sometimes will make poor decisions with the puck leading to turnovers and scoring chances against, and his scoring especially but also overall production is down this season (perhaps due to not having fully recovered from wrist surgery before training camp), but his skill set is unique and rare.

Even if he is still suffering from a bad wrist, he has made plays that only a handful of players are able to and he poses a threat every time he is on the ice with his speed, shiftiness and hands.  Buffalo would be getting the best player in the deal by far and would win any trade with the hawks were Kane involved.

If Buffalo is interested in moving Miller, it is Stan's job to make it clear that Kane is unavailable but at the same time  provide an appealing, alternative return....

This is where it would get interesting...the Sabres are clearly sellers at the deadline and looking to move dollars to make cap room for retooling their roster in the offseason.  They have a couple of other players that the hawks might have interest in, besides Miller.  In particular, 31 yr old Robyn Regehr who hasn't really panned out as expected this year (is 6th in ice time/game for Buffalo defensemen, having been surpassed by younger Dmen) He has 1 more year left on his contract at $4M, but provides size and ruggedness the hawks lack and has some deep playoff experience, losing the finals with Calgary in 2004.

Buffalo also happens to have a big 6'4 229lb, 30 yr old UFA center available in Paul Gaustad, who is good on draws, can obviously handle himself physically, tho his production is down and he may be more of a 3rd line C than 2nd line.  (On the downside, there are reports that Miller was not happy with Gaustad failing to challenge Lucic after the Boston player ran Miller over earlier this year, which apparently lead to some team dissension and a falling out between Miller & Gaustad in particular, so bringing both over together may also bring some issues with them).  Another alternative could be 28 yr old Derek Roy, who would fit in much better as a 2nd line center, even tho he is having a poor season in terms of production, but he is small, and not as good as Gaustad on faceoffs.  He has 1 yr left on his deal at $5M salary & $4M cap hit.  I would take Gaustad over Roy simply because I think he would provide the better physical presence that is lacking on the hawks otherwise skilled top 6 forwards.

It would appear then that Buffalo has potential solutions to most if not all of the hawks perceived roster holes...and dealing with only 1 team instead of several to acquire the missing pieces may in some respects be simpler this close to the deadline.

What then would Buffalo want in return for Miller, Regehr & Gaustad?

The obvious answer is local kid made good Patrick Kane....tho that should immediately be put to rest as not happening by the hawks.

Stan does have some other interesting pieces to offer a team that is otherwise obviously looking to rebuild/reload and clear some cap room so they can move out any malcontents and bring in some new players.  It would appear they have little interest in resigning Gaustad and Regehr has disappointed with their younger, lower salary defensemen Mike Weber & Marc-Andre Gragnani stepping up in their defensive depth chart, so the return for these players may not have to be that great, tho with Miller included, the entire offer would have to be enticing enough to do the deal without landing their prime target, Patrick Kane.

To start, the Sabres would obviously want a starting goaltender back as replacement for Miller - Enroth has played reasonably well for them this season as a backup with a .917 save percentage, but he is small (only 5'10) and not really a #1. Crawford is the obvious choice going back to Buffalo.  The Sabres gain 4.5 years and $3M in cap space in the goalie position, tho Miller's resume is clearly superior.  That said, Crawford as a rookie, was stellar in the playoffs last year and the only reason game 7 got to overtime (much like Miller's Olympic performance in the Gold Medal game also in Vancouver).

The hawks could additionally offer a good prospect, former Atlanta 2nd round pick Jeremy Morin who is still only 20, and while clearly he isn't Patrick Kane, he has decent offensive upside and hails from upstate NY.  A third player the hawks could offer in return might be 19 yr old Niagara Falls, NY native Adam Clendening, a defenseman taken in the 2nd round 36th overall in last year's draft (ahead of hawks top prospect Brandon Saad).  So those two would each offer a combination of decent upside and local connections that are especially important for smaller markets and they would replenish the depth lost with the moving of Gaustad & Regehr.

To clinch the deal, I'd also offer the hawks top prospect at C, Brandon Pirri, 20 yr old taken in the 2nd rd (59th overall) of the 2009 draft and who happens to be in the top 10 in the AHL in scoring this season, who could help replenish Buffalo's depth at center (while the hawks still have 2011 1st rd picks Phillip Danault and Mark McNeil in their system to make up for Pirri's departure).  Finally, I'd throw in Michael Frolik, who while disappointing in Chicago, just turned 24 and as a 10th overall pick from 2006 had back to back 20 goal seasons in his 1st 2 years in the NHL and presumably has some upside left, plus his salary declines over each of the next 2 seasons after which he is still an RFA, making his contract fairly friendly from a small market team.

The hawks have the cap room to make the deal fit this year, and in net terms would add an approximate $5M cap hit next year with Miller & Regehr, before any consideration to Gaustad who is a UFA.

It would certainly be a blockbuster deal, but one that might be doable, depending on the Sabres willingness
to move 32 yr old Miller & not get 23 yr old Kane back.  If the hawks sweeten the pot with enough good young players & prospects, it might sway the Sabres enough to move players that are no longer happy or welcome in Buffalo in any case.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

9 games & counting...

The Blackhawks find themselves in a frightening nosedive in the Western conference that could actually see them fall out of a playoff spot, after they were challenging for 1st overall in the entire NHL mere weeks ago.

The dismaying part is the way they have lost many of these games - there seems to be a general lack of willingness to pay the price, defensively in particular, to prevent easy goals against. Even worse was the lack of response to ANOTHER complete humiliation by the 29th place team in Edmonton, where Sam Gagner got his name alongside a guy named Gretzky in the Oilers' record book.

The hawks weaknesses as a team have finally caught up to them, tho they were masked the first half of the season thanks to a very favorable schedule that included many home games & weaker teams.  Even while winning, they were near the bottom in goals against, which should have created more urgency with the GM to add a physical top 4 defenseman, to help take some of the workload off Keith & Seabrook.

It appears Bowman has overrated his team and instead of leveraging the advantage of a fast start to the season to make a deal with a struggling team in November/December to fill the hawks obvious holes, he said he was happy with the team & did nothing.

Now, I'm sure there is considerable angst as the team spirals downward with a distinct possibility of missing the playoffs altogether, given the difficulty of their remaining schedule.

There is now even speculation that hawks are looking for a goaltender, as well as talk of firing the coach - two extreme moves that would reflect absolute panic on the part of management and which would make things actually worse instead of better.

The hawks weaknesses haven't changed since the start of the season.

Expecting a 20 yr old to fill the top 4 skates of departed Bryan Campbell was & is simply unrealistic, and it should have been obvious early on, if not before, that Montador, O'Donnell & Lepisto were at best 5/6 defensemen not capable of playing top 4 minutes on a regular basis and replacing the departed Campbell & Campoli.   Leddy has played well, perhaps even better than expected, but he still is inexperienced and subject to stretches of inconsistency.  His pairing partner Hjalmarsson, clearly misses his former partner Campbell' steadying influence in puck possession and quick transition, which helped to neutralize opponent's forecheck.  Now, Hjalmarsson seems to have lost his confidence and too often simply gets rid of the puck when pressured without looking or thinking..resulting in turnovers and sustained zone pressure.

In terms of forwards, the hawks have an excellent core, but rely too much on finesse and the complementary cast has not served to take any pressure off them.  Now, it is apparent the core simply can't carry the team offensively and defensively they have been exposed by focusing too much on offense.

The personnel has changed considerably from the 2010 cup team & not for the better - yet the hawks have failed to adjust to this reality.  They still focus on offense first, at the expense of defense and their goaltending.  Crawford had an excellent rookie year, but the hawks are even weaker defensively this year and given up too many excellent chances against - which eventually undermines the confidence of any goalie, especially one in only their 2nd year in the NHL.

The hawks simply haven't committed enough to team defense - whether it is taking the body in front of their goaltender, blocking shots, hitting players to eliminate them from the play.  It seems they challenge teams on speed & skill alone as they did in 2010, but are now learning that simply isn't enough.  And as the losing grows, there is an apparent attempt by players to make unrealistic individual efforts to beat 2 or 3 opposing players at the same time that result in turnovers & more good chances against (& create more frustration when it results in a goal) rather than making smart, simple plays and relying on linemates for support.

Perhaps the most disconcerting part of all this is that these weaknesses should not be a be a revelation to anyone who has regularly watched the team this season (or even last season), yet the GM, despite having the leverage of early season success, cap room & prospect depth, has failed to act to address those weaknesses. Now there is apparent panic setting in.  Deals made in desperation generally aren't good deals that work out...

The game tomorrow night in New York vs. the Rangers is the biggest game of the season.  The hawks need to look at this as an opportunity to not only put an end to the losing streak, but more importantly, to re-create the belief within themselves that they can compete with & even beat top teams.  A win helps their mental state and changes their outlook from negative to positive, which is certainly needed if they wish to put their season back on track.

A loss on the other hand,  may be devastating, especially if they get blown out ala Edmonton style and may result in a panic move by management to try to right the ship, which will likely only make things worse. They need to show more urgency and willingness as a team to pay the price at both ends of the ice and support each other & especially their goaltender more.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Potential Acquisition Targets as Trade Deadline approaches

Despite the Blackhawks struggles of late that have seen them finally beat lowly 30th overall Columbus at home to halt a 4 game home losing streak and their slide to 5th in the Western Conference standings, the hawks have shown they are in the mix for a top seed and to seriously contend for one.  They also have shown that they have some glaring holes to fill if they want to gain an edge on the top teams in the league and make a deep playoff run.

With a 9 game road trip coming up at the end of the month prior to the deadline, and missing sniper Patrick Sharp for about a month due to injury, it would figure that Bowman may look to do his dealing sooner rather than later - in fact, he's publicly stated he would prefer to bring in new players before the deadline to give them more time to adjust.


Forwards - the hawks offense is blessed with 4 of the top 25 scorers in the NHL.  The problem is their offense relies excessively on these 4 players - Toews, Kane, Sharp & Hossa.  Among those 4, there is only 1 full-time center.  Kane & to a lesser extent Sharp, have been tried in the middle with a number of different line combinations with varying degrees of success, but so far they haven't provided a permanent solution.  Rookie center Marcus Kruger was moved up to 2nd line but was hurt before he had a chance to prove he could handle the job. 

The 3rd line of Bickell, Bolland & Frolik has been a bust in terms of production - they don't come close to the Ladd Bolland Versteeg line that was so effective for the hawks in 2010.  Bolland's role seems to be primarily viewed as defensive, playing to shut down the other team's top line(s), which overlooks his underrated  offensive capability.

Possible Internal Solutions

Move Bolland to 2nd line C

I think moving Bolland up to 2nd line center, paired with Hossa and Stalberg is worth a try,  putting them up against the top line(s) of the other team - Bolland & Hossa are both noted for their strong defensive games and Stalberg has good speed.  Hossa obviously has offensive credentials...putting them together with Stalberg would allow Sharp to rejoin Toews & Kane giving the hawks a strong top line and a pretty decent 2nd line.  In addition it would leave Kruger to better handle a 3rd line center position, with Frolik & Bickell as his wingers.  Carcillo, Mayers & Brunette finish out the 4th line.

Kruger as 2nd line C

While Kruger has impressed in his 1st full NHL season, the jury is out regarding 1) his health & endurance and 2) how he'll handle the responsibility of a #2 center position & whether his offensive game will allow Hossa and other linemate to achieve their potential.  I think its too early to move Kruger into a pivotal 2nd line center job and rely on him permanently given his limited experience.

Longer-term Brandon Pirri

Longer term, Brandon Pirri who is currently top center in Rockford has shown glimpses that he has offensive potential to fill the 2nd line center spot, though as with most young players, his defensive game needs work.  The hawks seem to be high on him, but it is possible that in an effort to better contend this season, Pirri could be dealt for more immediate help at center if the right deal comes along.

Possible acquisition candidates

1. Antoine Vermette - Columbus is clearly going to be an active seller, looking to move UFAs Pahlsson, Prospal, Huselius, etc.  Given that they are nearly at the cap and the contract structure of their top players (Nash, Carter & Wizniewski are each signed for 5 more years at least (& Carter for the next 10!) all with restrictions on their movement), it is very likely that Columbus will be looking to shed some longer term contracts where possible, to lower their cap hit and maximize flexibility going in to next season.  Vermette is potentially one of those players - he's been a 2nd line center, who is very good on faceoffs, and has good career numbers at the UC and may be the odd man out in Columbus with the emergence of rookie center Ryan Johansen and another younger center Derrick Brossard, also signed for 3 more years.

It seems plausible that Columbus will look to dump longer term salary where they can & Vermette appears to be a prime candidate, assuming they can get a suitable return.  Columbus needs help in all areas, and would likely take a good young player or prospect (with lower salary) back - the hawks do have several good young players, some whom they likely don't want to part with, including Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, and Brandon Saad, however, not all of these young prospects will find room with Chicago given how young Toews & Kane are & how long Hossa & Sharp are signed for.   I'd offer Columbus Bryan Bickell, who has been a disappointment for the hawks this season after a promising rookie campaign including playoffs last year.  He's only 25, has size, great wrist shot and comes with a low cap hit, with a $541K cap hit this year & next.  Jimmy Hayes has shown in his brief stint that his upside appears quite high & his size, speed & hands, make Bickell expendable.  If push came to shove, the hawks might have to give up one of their up & coming young prospects, like center Brandon Pirri to get Vermette.

2. Saku Koivu - Anaheim, like Columbus, is essentially out of the playoff race and looking to get a return for their UFAs (& perhaps make bigger changes).  The two most prominent UFAs for the Ducks are Saku Koivu & Teemu Selanne, who are 37 & 41 yrs old respectively.  Despite their age, Selanne leads the Ducks in scoring and Koivu is a +10 on the 29th overall team.  The biggest question surrounding both players is their willingness to waive their no-movement clauses for a chance to win a cup before the end of their career.  Selanne already has his name on the Cup, and may decide to stay put with is family in Anaheim & participate in the World Championships hosted by his native Finland this year as his career swan swong.

Koivu T 37 has yet to win a Cup, and arguably may still have a couple of more productive years left in him.   Former hawk & current Anaheim GM Bob Murray has indicated he is not looking to move either player, tho you can bet he'd love to get something in return now for two assets that may be gone in any case next season.  It may come down to whether the hawks (or other team) can entice Koivu with a contract extension to convince him it is worth the move.  Tho it is quite likely that Anaheim may be happy with a mid round (i.e. 3rd rd) pick (as opposed to a prospect or player), given the uncertainty with a new CBA and the fact that Koivu is over 36 and any contract given to players his age count against the cap in full for the length of the contract even if he were later bought out, the hawks may favor a simpler deal for Vermette, tho Koivu certainly provides more intangibles of character & leadership.

3. Tuomo Ruutu - the former hawk has played a lot of wing in Carolina alongside Eric Staal, and been fairly productive, though his natural position is center.  As a UFA with a $3.8M price tag and young Jeff Skinner clearly slotted for 2nd line center in Carolina, they likely won't be looking to resign Ruutu as a 3rd line center or winger for that matter, for the kind of money he is currently making so he probably is available for the right return.  In Chicago, he was noted for his rambunctious style, never shying away from a hit when it was there, along with putting up some points on some very bad hawk teams.  The hawks could certainly use more hitting up front, but Ruutu is weak on draws and would probably be more of a 3rd than 2nd line center with the hawks, though is versatile enough to play wing as a top 6 forward.  Still, a return to Chicago, with a chance to win a cup along with lowered expectations for him than his first stint in Chicago may provide just the impetus needed for him to thrive - giving up a 2nd or 3rd rd pick would be a reasonable deal.

Other candidates -
Sami Pahlsson - Columbus 3rd line center UFA, decent on draws & pk but doesn't have offensive skill to produce on a 2nd line
Olie Jokinen - UFA with Calgary - has the offensive ability to play on a 2nd line, tho not good on draws & the Flames are still in the playoff hunt and likely won't be looking to move him unless & until they are out of it.
Dominic Moore - Tampa 3rd line center UFA - good on draws, pk and overall utility player, tho questionable in 2nd line role and may not be available as Tampa is still in the hunt.

Defense - The additions of Steve Montador, Shawn O'Donnell & Sami Lepisto in the off-season were supposed to provide the hawks with more grit and toughness at the blueline (as well as make up for the loss of Bryan Campbell & Chris Campoli), however, Montador, O'Donnell & Lepisto are #5, 6 & 7 defensemen who don't get much regular playing time, leaving the hawks with only one physical type Dman in their top 4 - Brent Seabrook.  The hawks clearly miss Bryan Campbell's puck possession & transition game, tho Nick Leddy has shown as a 20 year old playing top 4 minutes mainly with Nick Hjalmarsson, that he has a bright future ahead of him, where he could very well eventually make hawk fans forget Campbell.   While Leddy has done an admirable job, he has had stretches where he's struggled (as any 20 yr old would), leaving the hawks exposed in their own zone.   In addition, Nik Hjalmarsson's game hasn't really progressed and in some ways has actually regressed - he doesn't hit nearly as much as he did in his first year, and in fact, he takes much more punishment blocking shots & on the receiving end of big hits, you wonder how long he can go before breaking down physically.  Hjalmarsson also appears much more conscious of forecheck pressure & getting hit, which too often results in poor clear attempts and turnovers in the hawks zone.

Montador & O'Donnell have done as much as could be reasonably expected from them, but they aren't capable of playing regular #3/4 defensive minutes, especially for an extended number of games.  Besides depth needs, the hawks current 3/4 defensemen have question marks about their ability to handle the workload at crunch time.

The hawks could definitely use a big defenseman who can play top 4 minutes and be physical and clear the front of the net.  Internally, Dylan Olsen appears to be the only prospect in Rockford who has the ability to possibly crack the hawks defensive corps who possesses the size & physicality needed, however, it is unrealistic to expect him to upgrade the defense for the playoff push this year.

Possible acquisition candidates

1.  Tim Gleason - a young 28 yr old UFA, top 4 dman with Carolina that is likely attracting interest from several teams, including Philadelphia looking to replace Pronger, tho he is not overly big, but does have a physical edge to his game.  The asking price may be high, given his age and experience and the demand for top 4 defensemen, tho it could be complicated by his contract status - some teams will be reluctant to pay a high asking price if he is a rental only, and thus will likely want to negotiate a new contract before agreeing to a trade, which may in turn increase the asking price. 

2. Francois Beauchemin - Anaheim's veteran 31 yr old UFA top 4 defenseman who despite not being overly big can be physical and has Cup winning experience which will likely mean he'll be in high demand given his credentials. 

3. Corey Sarich - He was a healthy scratch earlier in the season for Calgary, though has been in the lineup lately, playing regular minutes as a 6/7 defenseman.   He is an older UFA at 33, but has good size at 6'4", can be physical and fight if necessary, is a right hand shot and won a Cup with Tampa.  No longer the 4/5 defensemen the hawks could use now, but would provide good depth and capable of playing top 4 minutes to fill in.

Other candidates - Ryan Suter - tho it is very likely that the 26 yr old potential UFA will re-sign in Nashville, if  contract negotiations hit a snag, Poile will want to get a decent return for their top 2 defensman (unlike when they lost Timonen & Hamhuis to UFA with little or nothing back).   There would be plenty of contending teams with cap room lining up to bid on him, including Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Tampa, Dallas, Colorado, etc., and give Poile several offers difficult to refuse.   One aspect that could potentially play a role in the Suter negotiations is the emergence of rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis - if the playmaking Ellis is judged to be ready to take that next step into a top 4 role, Poile may decide the return of several good young players/prospects he could get in return for Suter could position the Preds better than putting too many money eggs in Suter's basket.

The hawks may have an advantage if Suter becomes available - 1) they have good young players/prospects to offer Nashville in return & 2) they have cap room to sign him longer term & 3) Chicago is an attractive cup contender with the city offering one of the best places to live with great supportive hockey fans (as his uncle Gary could vouch for), not far from his hometown in Madison, Wis.   Nashville might be reluctant to deal him within their own division, however, if he doesn't re-sign with them, they have little control over where he ultimately ends up and future realignment may make it a moot point in any case. 

Bryan Allen, another Carolina UFA defensman, is a bit older than Gleason at 31, but also bigger at 6'5, 226 and plays as a #6. The asking price for the former Canuck would be lower (3rd or 4th rd pick) than for Gleason, but he would not be the top 4 dman needed but would add to the hawks blueline physicality & depth.
Jaroslav Spacek - already had two previous stints with the hawks & at 37 the pending Carolina UFA would come fairly cheap (likely a mid to late i.e., 5th or 6th round pick), tho it is questionable whether he could be a regular top 4 contributor, tho would add experience & depth, tho not exactly the big physical Dman the hawks could use, tho he is solidly built.

I expect the hawks to pick up Vermette as well as Beauchemin and/or Sarich (unless Suter becomes available, in which case, I expect they'll make a serious pitch for the top 2 Nashville blueliner)

Other potential moves

Frolik has been a disappointment this season after seemingly coming on in the playoffs last year - He's still young at 23, (compared to a young Jaromir Jagr back in his native Czech when he was drafted  10th overall in 2006) and has two 20 goal seasons to his credit with Florida, but has not produced commensurate with his new contract in his first full year in Chicago.   It might be premature to give up on him, but the hawks do have some promising young talent coming up that is pushing for ice time in the likes of Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith and Brandon Saad that may make Frolik expendable.   If the right deal came along, I'd move Frolik.

Nik Hjalmarsson has plateaued and while I admire his willingness to take abuse blocking shots & often taking a pounding from opposing forwards who seem to delight in targeting him for big hits, he has become more susceptible to forecheck pressure & prone to turnovers, partly since he doesn't have an experienced Bryan Campbell on his other side to bail him out and skate away from pressure and out of trouble with the puck.  The loss of his former veteran D partner has exposed Hjalmarsson more to the forecheck and his new defensive partner, 20 yr old Nick Leddy, is still adjusting to the league and his own increased responsibilities as a top 4 dman playing the right side as a left handed shot, to provide much support to the more experienced Hjalmarsson.

Hjalmarsson himself is only 24 - still has his prime years ahead of him, but he has stopped progressing from his solid play in 2010 and is no longer making regular big hits for whatever reason.

If the hawks get the right deal, eg. if Suter or perhaps Iginla became available, Hjalmarsson & Frolik are two players I would not be reluctant to move in such deals.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hawks finally score in shoot-out, come back to beat Ducks 3-2

Joel Quenneville switched things up in the shootout, electing as home coach to shoot second, and moving Dave Bolland into the shooting mix and the hawks managed to score their first two shoot-out goals of the year, the one by Patrick Kane the clincher as Chicago edged Anaheim 3-2.

Kane helped the hawks get to the shoot-out, assisting on both hawk goals in regulation, both times erasing a deficit.

1st Period - Fast start

The game opened up quickly with an early chance for Ducks newcomer Pat Maroon, who skated down the left side with Getzlaff on a 2 on 2.  Maroon took Getzlaff's pass and fired a shot that tested Crawford.  The hawks came right back after recovering the rebound and Carcillo made a nice pass to Kane at the Ducks line to send him in on the left side, taking a huge hit in the process.  Kane didn't get all of the shot & Hiller stopped the fluttering puck.

The teams continued trading possession in a fast moving first, and just over five minutes in, Carcillo was involved in the next good chance, keeping the puck in the Anaheim zone on a line change, then finding Toews open in the high slot.  Toews moved down the left boards and was headed behind the net but dumped off a centering pass to Carcillo who had moved to the front of the net and he fired a point blank shot high & wide.
The hawks recovered the rebound and continued to press with an O'Donnell point shot coming close.  Moments later, Sharp jumped off the bench and moved into the zone and took a Toews pass but blasted a shot from the right point that whistled wide & out of the zone.

From the ensuing face-off, the Ducks moved up ice, catching the hawks on a bad line change with Cogliano taking a lead pass at center, then dropping back for Gordon who had an open shot which Crawford stopped & held.   The hawks moved it back to the Ducks zone after the face-off, where Perry cleared it over the glass to give the hawks the game's first powerplay.

The hawks had zone time, but failed to get a shot on goal with the man advantage.  The ducks seemed to gain some momentum from the kill, and had some zone time of their own following, where they eventually drew a penalty on O'Donnell who tripped Ryan as he tried to come out from behind the hawk net in a stuff attempt.

The hawks penalty kill managed to get a good chance when Frolik chased down a loose puck at center with one man back and got off a backhand on Hiller who made the save.  The Ducks came back and threatened when Selanne redirected a Getzlaff wrister from the point where Crawford had to be sharp.  Near the end of the penalty kill, Mayers took a big blindside hit from Sbisa as he cleared the zone.

Late in the first, the hawks had another good chance as Brunette moved behind the ducks net and back out front on the other side, evading his check and got a sweeping wrap-around shot off that Hiller stopped with Beauchemin clearing the rebound before Toews could get to it.  A minute or so later, off a face-off win in the ducks zone, Hossa took a nice dump-off pass from Leddy at the point and moved in before firing a low wrister that tested Hiller.  Moments later, Frolik managed to negate an icing call, and then found Carcillo along the left half boards, who centered it to Bolland driving the net.  Bolland deflected the pass on net, but Hiller again was sharp.  In the dying seconds of the period, Bolland slashed Beachemin's stick out of his hands, and was called for slashing.

Hawks outshot Anaheim 11-5 in a scoreless first.

2nd period -Kane spinorama

Anaheim breaks ice, scores on early pp, Anaheim 1, Hawks 0

The hawks were on the penalty kill to start the second, and looked in control, even creating an offensive chance when Hossa picked up a loose puck in front of his own crease and moved all the way up ice as the ducks changed and tried to stuff one past Hiller who covered the short side.  Toews then won possession in the ducks zone and managed to kill off the first minute of the penalty.  The following shift, with the play again in the ducks zone, O'Donnell decided to pinch at the left point to try to check Selanne off the puck.  He failed and was caught when Selanne turned away from him and then fed Perry at center who, once he had gained the hawk line, found a streaking Getzlaff, being chased by O'Donnell.  Getzlaff took the pass on his tape and from 15 feet fired a high wrist shot that beat Crawford cleanly and the ducks were up 1-0, the hawks having given up only their second powerplay goal of the season.

The ducks got another chance a few minutes later after O'Donnell's clear attempt of a dump-in from behind his net was blocked by Gordon the first time and then tried kicking the puck ahead toward Kane in the left circle.  Kane tried to poke it away from the oncoming Cogliano, however the puck deflected right back in front to an open McMillan, with Hossa skating past him looking to breakout, however, fortunately for the hawks, the puck got caught up in McMillan's skates and he was only able to get off a weak backhand that was stopped by Crawford, who also stopped Cogliano's close in rebound attempt. The puck remained loose for a moment in Gordon's skates before Montador finally cleared the zone for the hawks.

A minute or so later, Brookbank too exception to Stalberg taking a swipe at Hiller's glove as he was covering it up for a stoppage and went after him.  Mayers immediately intervened and took on Brookbank, with both players exchanging a couple of rights before Mayers took him down to the ice, before Brookbank rolled over on top of him.  No damage done, as both received fighting majors.  Less than a minute later, the ducks looked dangerous again, this time on the rush as both Keith and Sharp (who was covering the point for Keith) were caught after failing to keep the puck in front of them, with the ducks breaking out on a 2 on 1.  Kane hustled back to support Leddy and ended up deflecting a pass by Ryan intended for a wide open Selanne that prevented a sure goal.  Leddy took a penalty on the play, holding Koivu as he was dishing off to Ryan.

The hawks did a good job killing the penalty with Crawford making a good save at the end of it on a clear shot by Beauchemin from the left faceoff dot, and then stopped Ryan on a rebound stuff attempt before covering up.

The hawks tied it up on a highlight reel goal set up brilliantly by Patrick Kane.  He took a pass at his own line from Hossa who had skated a loose puck in the hawk zone, with Kane moving down the right wing.  As he crossed the duck line, he cut towards the slot, backing off Lydman, then did a 360 degree turn before making a backhand pass across the ice to a streaking Hossa who had a simple tap in to an open net to tie it at 1.

The game then opened up, as moments later the hawks moved in 4 on 2, with Seabrook jumping up to join the rush, and Bickell found him wide open in the slot with the ducks defenders backing in.  Seabrook took another stride before blasting one from 25 feet out that Hiller kicked out past a driving Brunette & Bickell with the puck ending up with Getzlaff who with Belesky, found themselves 2 on 1 against Leddy, however Seabrook managed to recover enough to allow Leddy to take his man and neutralize the rush.

Frolik later got a chance as he tried to cut in from the right side and managed to get a weak backhand on net before being shoved off-balance by Lydman, and crashed heavily into the end boards.  He was slow to get up, having a few words for the referee, however, was able to skate off, tho no penalty called.

The fourth lines then got into the act, first with Parros picking up a loose puck at center and taking a long wrist shot as he crossed the line which Crawford kicked out, leaving a big rebound which Parros managed to get to, beating both Keith & Leddy to it, and testing Crawford a second time.   Once the hawks recovered, Keith sent a long pass from his own left corner up to Mayers who shoveled it ahead on the left side to a streaking Brunette who shot it wide.

Selanne steal - Anaheim 2, Chicago 1

The ducks broke through again late in the second after some sloppy play by the hawks in their own zone.  After Montador recovered a loose puck in his own right corner, he fed it off to Kane in the right circle, who was being watched by Cogliano.  Montador continued moving up the right side, while Hossa headed up ice, leaving Kane with no outlet support, other than Keith, who was already near the blueline, apparently looking to change.   Kane fed it up towards Keith who was facing Kane and didn't see Selanne, who had just come off the ducks bench.  Selanne was able to strip the puck away from Keith, which ended up right on Cogliano's stick.  Cogliano managed to slide the puck back over to Selanne with Kane just failing to get his stick on it to break it up and Selanne moved in alone on Crawford and with a little deke, lifted a backhand off the post and in behind Crawford to make it 2-1 Anaheim.

Selanne on his next shift had another good chance where he was in on a 2 on 1, but Toews managed to get back to knock the puck off his stick.

In the final minute, Kane fed Toews who was cutting down the right wing in the ducks zone and as he tried to move past Maroon, he was tripped up,  giving the hawks their second powerplay of the game.

The ducks outshot the hawks 13-9 in the second, outscoring them 2-1.

3rd period - Hawks tie it up

The hawks powerplay to start the 3rd, was unable to create any dangerous chances and in fact lost possession trying to enter the zone on a couple of occasions and losing puck battles after gaining the zone a couple of other times.

The hawks best early chance came from the fourth line which had a 3 on 2 rush.  Kruger passed it to Frolik down the right side whose shot was kicked out right to an open Stalberg who had an open net to shoot at but the puck bounced over his stick.  The ducks responded with some offensive zone pressure, helped by the hawks sloppy and soft defensive coverage and inability to take control of the puck.  There was little to no attempt to take the body, just stick checks that when they connected, merely moved the puck away, often from their own teammates.  Finally, it ended up costing them when O'Donnell tried to clear and sent it over the glass for a delay of game penalty.

Kane  again, Anaheim 2, Chicago 2

The hawks managed to kill off the penalty, tho the ducks did have a couple of decent chances that missed the target.  Shortly afterwards, Quenneville reunited Kane, Toews and Sharp after an icing and a face-off win in the ducks zone, Kane's shot from the point was deflected high and wide, however, the ducks couldn't clear thanks to a pinch by Leddy, with Kane picking up the loose puck.  He turned and moved forward while sliding the puck across to a waiting Sharp, who blasted a one-timer high into the top corner past Hiller and the game was tied.

On the next shift, Maroon nailed Seabrook up against the glass in the hawk corner, knocking a pane out, causing a slight delay.  However, the hawks continued their momentum, getting a bit of a break that led to another great chance, this time when Brookbank's attempted pass off the end boards hit the referee and went right to Kane, who saw Hossa in the slot and quickly fed him.  Hossa one-timed it off the post to the left of Hiller with the puck bouncing back to Kane who tried lifting a backhander over a sprawled duck defenseman and Hiller, but the puck bounced off Brookbank.

The ducks responded a minute or so later, after Getzlaff won a puck battle with Leddy and fed Selanne alone in front, however Crawford reading the play came out and didn't give Selanne much room.  Moments later, Visnovsky had trouble controlling a loose puck, giving Frolik an opening.  Frolik poked it past Visknovsky, who was caught flat footed and Frolik moved in all alone on Hiller, but was thwarted by the ducks goaltender, unable to get it high enough over Hiller.   Kane then took a high sticking penalty midway through the 3rd, on Bobby Ryan and the hawks had taken their 5th penalty of the game.

The ducks created a good chance with some nifty passing in the hawks zone, Getzlaff on the right half boards feeding Fowler at the right point while Getzlaff moved to the high slot.  Fowler fed Selanne in the right corner, and Selanne then fed Getlaff who had a clear shot with Perry in front of Crawford, but failed to connect on the shot/pass attempt with the puck going wide.  The hawks otherwise did a good job of blocking shots and intercepting passes and were able to kill off the penalty.

The ducks got another good chance after McMillan beat Sharp in the right boards, creating a 2 on 1 with Cogliano against O'Donnell.  O'Donnell went down along the ice to prevent the pass, so McMillan cut into the crease from the right side however, Crawford was able to hold his ground, though McMillan fell over him while Sharp picked up the loose puck to clear.

Moments later, Carcillo attempted to corral a Kane bounce pass off the boards at center with one hand and failed allowing Selanne to pick up the loose puck with Kane & Hossa moving towards him.  Selanne effectively trapped all three hawk forwards with a lead pass to a wide open Koivu on right wing who cut back into the circle and forced Crawford to make a good right leg pad save, however, Leddy was caught looking at the puck and failed to cover Ryan whose good chance was also turned aside by Crawford.  Carcillo then nailed Selanne hard in the corner as the hawks finally were able to clear, however, the ducks came right back into the hawk zone, creating more good chances, with Perry redirecting a pass just wide of the hawk net.

The Toews line responded for the hawks, getting some good offensive zone time on their next shift to turn the momentum around and that was followed by a great chance for Hossa.  Beachemin lost his stick and as he was retrieving it, Kane found Carcillo at the ducks line with a long stretch pass from deep in his own zone, which drew Fowler over to Carcillo, and leaving the slot wide open for Hossa.  Carcillo led Hossa with a nice pass sending him in alone but Hiller made a great save to stone Hossa.  Later that same shift, Hossa set a pick to try to give more room for Kane as he was moving into the slot and was called for interference, taking the hawks 6th penalty of the night.

The hawks did a good job on the penalty kill as the ducks failed to really threaten, sending the game into overtime.  The ducks outshot the hawks in the 3rd, 11-9, having three powerplays in the 3rd.


In the overtime, good chances were at a premium, however Toews managed to beat Beauchemin with a nice fake inside out move giving him an opening down the left side however his high shot hit the crossbar and went out of play.  The hawks threatened again a minute later when Bickell picked up a loose puck in his own zone and turned up ice and cutting into the slot as he moved over the line with Stalberg driving the net and causing the ducks defenders to back in.  Bickell moved into the vacated space and fired a low wrister that Hiller stopped, but gave a rebound that Stalberg kicked up to his stick but was in too close to lift it over Hiller's leg pad.  Seabrook was the beneficiary of some good work by Montador, who pinched in to retrieve a loose puck then sent it to Sharp covering at the point who quickly moved it across to Seabrook who was moving into the right circle.  Seabrook fired a low wrist shot with Toews driving the net, however Hiller kicked it out. That sequence was followed up with Toews feeding Sharp at the left point, then heading toward the net as Sharp shot, however, he was unable to do anything with the rebound. 

In the dying seconds of overtime, Hjalmarsson was high sticked by Ryan as both were attempting to retrieve a loose puck at center, but there was only three seconds remaining.  On the ensuring face-off with only 2.4 seconds left, Toews won the draw straight back to a waiting Hossa who fired a one-timer that clung off the post to end the overtime.  The hawks outshot the ducks 6-2 in the overtime.


With the hawks failing to score a single goal in their previous two shootouts, Quenneville decided to switch things up, electing to shoot second and giving Bolland a chance as the second shooter.

Crawford, who had been the hawks best shootout performer giving up only 1 goal in each shootout loss, faced Corey Perry first.  Perry swung out wide right and tried to shoot five hole as he cut back to the front, but Crawford closed his pads and made the save.

Toews followed for the hawks and made several head fakes, patiently waiting as Hiller went down, with Toews going to his left and shooting up high, knocking the water bottle off the net for the hawks first shootout goal, putting them up 1-0

Selanne followed for the ducks, and with a fake that seemed to freeze Crawford, fired a shot high that beat Crawford cleanly to square it at 1.

Bolland followed, faking a slap shot, then trying to slip it through five hole, but Hiller stayed with him to keep it tied.

Getzlaff followed up for the ducks, going left to right and tried low five hole, but Crawford made a left leg pad stop.

Kane then moved in with speed, making several dekes, opening up Hiller, and then calmly slid the puck between the duck's goaltender's legs to give the hawks the win.

Overall, it was Patrick Kane who won this game for the hawks - assisting on both regulation goals and scoring the shootout winner.  He also made a goal saving play defensively, tho his pass to Keith led to the ducks second goal.

The hawks penalty kill was strong, killing off 5 of 6 chances, though the lack of discipline after taking only 2 penalties in their last two games was a concern.

They managed to create some good chances with Frolik & Hossa both failing to convert breakways in the 3rd, but also played better defensively, however this was clearly a game that Patrick Kane led the hawks to victory.

Next up is Carolina on the road.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hawks come back from 3-1 deficit, then blow a 4-3 3rd period lead and lose 5-4 in SO

The night started with great anticipation as the Blackhawks' two biggest legends were honored on Saturday night, having their statues unveiled in front of the United Center, however the hawks couldn't build on the momentum from their solid win in Denver on Thursday or the atmosphere of a memorable night and looked flatfooted to start the game compared to Thursday night.

1st Period - Sleepy Start

Some loose play by Dave Bolland on his first shift resulted in a turnover at center and allowed the Avs to enter the zone, then he was stripped of the puck again in the right corner after trying to put it between his legs, resulting in a good point blank opportunity for the Avs that was only thwarted by Michael Frolik lifting Hejduk's stick just as he was about to shoot. Frolik and Bickell then moved up ice and combined behind the Avs net to set up Bolland at the side, however, Varlamov moved across to cover.

The Kane line followed that with Hossa promptly being stripped of the puck at center, and the Avs quickly transitioned into a 3 on 2, with the puck eventually cleared around to the halfboards where O'Brien beat Carcillo to the puck and centered to Lindstrom open in the slot and he got a good shot off to test Crawford.

The Toews line came out and on the ensuing rush up ice, O'Brien seemed to tug on Patrick Sharp's jersey which apparently was enough for the referee to whistle him for holding and the hawks had an early man advantage.

The hawks powerplay got a couple of good point shots through, first Seabrook with a low drive that Varlamov steered to the corner, then Sharp one-timed another set-up by Kane from the left point and this time Varlamov covered and gave no rebound. The 2nd powerplay unit continued to work it to the points, with Keith blasting from the right point that Varlamov stopped, though the puck trickled in behind him, however, play was called as the referee lost sight of the puck, before a hawk could get to it. On the ensuing faceoff, the 1st unit was back out and Kane danced in from the right side and fired a wrister that Varlamov stopped, leaving a rebound but he covered up before Toews could get to it. Near the end of the powerplay, Toews from behind the net tried to hit Sharp who had sneaked unchecked into the slot from the point, but a good stick by O'Byrne deflected the pass away from Sharp & out of danger. Jay McClement picked up the loose puck at the halfboards and dumped it ahead to Winnick who was moving up with speed and he cut around Toews, the first hawk player back in his own zone, and in on Crawford but Seabrook was able to recover enough to stick check him & prevent a shot on goal with Crawford scrambling across his crease.

After an Avs offside, they again moved it deep into the hawk zone, with two Avs battling Montador behind the net and finally Duchene emerged with the puck and skated right out in front untouched but he shot it wide, with O'Donnell & Landeskog battling in front of Crawford for position.

The hawks attempted breakout was stopped at center and in fact they didn't get it into the Colorado zone until Kane beat Quincey to the puck on an icing in the left corner. Moments later, Kane tried to catch Varlamov by surprise, attempting to bank it off him from a sharp angle while almost even with the goal line which the Avs goaltender managed to handle. Later, Landeskog with a strong backcheck simply stripped Hossa of the puck along the right halfboards and cleared around to Hejda behind his own goal. Hejda fired a pass to Winnik beyond the red line at center who turned and headed away from the hawk zone back towards the red line, drawing Keith with him, then slid it over to the onrushing O'Reilly who with full speed blew past Keith & Sharp and in on a 2 on 1 with Leddy the lone hawk back. O'Reilly was on his backhand with Leddy cutting off his angle, so he stopped and turned, trying to pass to Landeskog alone in the slot, thanks to beating Sharp back, however the pass hit Leddy and a good chance was for the Avs went by the wayside.

The teams exchanged rushes, however were denied good chances by some tighter checking until Erik Johnson got caught on a pinch deep in the corner of the hawks zone when he backhanded a pass to the slot that was knocked away. The hawks broke out 3 on 1, with Montador recognizing the situation and jumping up into the play. Sharp carried in deep and made a perfect saucer pass to Montador wide open in the slot, however he shot it wide.

A few minutes later, Bickell just failed to connect with a pass to Bolland alone at the side of the Avs net as Varlamov stopped it, then later on the same shift, Frolik intercepted a pass attempt at center by Hejda and moved in alone on the Avs netminder but Hejduk was able to knock the puck off his stick with a diving stick check before he could get a shot off.

Colorado 1, Chicago 0  - replica of Av goal in Denver

With just over 5 minutes left in the first, the hawks 4th line created a chance on a nice 3 way passing play from Mayers to Kruger to Stalberg who batted the puck out of mid air but he missed the net. About a minute later, an Avs dump in was cleared by Crawford up the left boards, however, Jones beat Bolland to the puck and played it back to O'Brien at the right point, then headed to the front of the net along with Stastny. O'Brien fed it to Quincey at the left point who fired a shot that Stastny tipped past Crawford, very similar to the goal the Avs scored in Denver, but unlike Thursday's game, it was the Avs who had struck first to make it 1-0 late in the first. Both Jones & Stastny were alone in front and in behind both Bolland and Keith, with Leddy also out of position on the play.

Then with just under two minutes left in the period, the hawks were caught again on an odd man rush as Hejduk recovered a hawk's clear at his own line and he threw it up to Winnick at the hawk line and Winnick moved in and fired a low shot that Crawford handled. Moments later, the Avs beat the hawks to another dump-in as Landeskog knocked Mayers stick out of his hands and recovered the loose puck in the corner and fed O'Reilly in the circle who got another good shot that Crawford stopped.

That was it for the good chances in the 1st period as the Avs outshot the hawks 7-6, despite taking the only penalty.

2nd Period - Strange sawoff

The hawks started the second with some good zone time by the Toews line, with Brunette setting up Leddy who had drifted into the slot from his point position, but his backhand was stopped. A scrum ensued after the whistle with O'Brien & Toews pushing and shoving, tho no penalties were called.

Frolik freebie - Colorado 1, Chicago 1

After a zone clear from the faceoff, Hjalmarsson fired the puck from his own line, and it was deflected into the zone by Carcillo to negate any potential icing. Carcillo proceeded to go after the puck deep in the Av zone, but was cutoff by Hejda, who appeared to make contact with Carcillo's head, as #13 spun down to the ice and around several times tho no penalty was called on the play. Hejda recovered the puck and passed behind the net to his partner Erik Johnson who inexplicably sent the puck right up the slot and straight onto Frolik's stick and the puck was behind Varlamov before he could react and the game was tied less than a minute into the 2nd.

The Avs didn't seem deflated by the goal, however, as they went back to work in the hawk zone off a dump-in where Crawford behind his own net again passed it to the corner where Galliardi beat Montador to the puck and passed it back to Kobasew who got a good shot off.

Later in the shift, Lindstrom's cross-ice pass in the hawk zone for Kobasew went to Hossa, who mishandled it, and instead of stopping to block it, continued to skate by it after failing to control it and Kobasew then easily recovered the puck in the slot and fired a shot that fortunately was deflected just wide in front. Kyle Quincey was the first player in the corner to recover the puck and noticing that Crawford was still scrambling trying to get back in net after Kobasew's shot, and fired a hard pass/shot right across the crease, presumably hoping for a deflection. The puck ended up with Lindstrom at the side of the net, but before he could do anything with it, he was bodied by Carcillo. Kane finally got control, but was obviously tired and his zone clear attempt was intercepted at the blue line and dumped right back deep into the hawk zone. He eventually succeeded in lifting the puck out to center for Carcillo, but the pass was intercepted and the Avs moved right back up ice on a 3 on 2 with Duchene in the slot just failing to connect with McClement who was wide open cutting in on the left side. The hawks cleared the zone again but not for long, tho Hossa did manage to get off for his change. Keith's attempt to clear off the glass appeared to hit a stanchion and went right to McClement in the high slot. He passed to Duchene who eventually worked it back to Johnson at the point who tested Crawford again.

The hawks finally entered the Avs zone with the Toews line, with good movement by Sharp, who took a short dump pass from Brunette in the left corner and skated back to the line where suddenly the slot opened up for him, and he proceeded to move in deeper, tho apparently too far to the right side for a good shooting angle, so he decided to pass - only there was no hawk anywhere near where he passed it. The Avs gladly took the turnover and again moved quickly to the attack with another odd man rush, this time with defenseman Wilson's centering pass hitting O'Donnell's skate and the danger was over for that rush.

The hawks finally tested Varlamov again with Seabrook moving up the right side which had been vacated by the Avs on a change and he got a low hard shot on Varlamov who made the save.

On the ensuing faceoff, the Avs turned up ice again and the hawks once again failed to clear a dump-in out of the zone, with Hossa yet again failing to control and clear the puck after Hjalmarsson moved it to the right half boards. His attempted pass hit Winnick, and the loose puck was quickly taken by Jones, who then left it for Hejduk who was skating towards the point. He fed it to Stastny who was moving in from the point and Stastny easily evaded Hossa's feeble stick check, and he just missed connecting with Jones on a redirect attempt. O'Brien pinched deep into the corner from his point position and kept the puck in, feeding Stastny behind the net. Stastny's stuff attempt on Crawford's left didn't work so he then moved to the other side of the net & set up pinching Quincey for a one-timer that Crawford stopped with the blocker. The hawks Seabrook finally recovered the puck and as he moved up the right boards, appeared to be cross-checked by Stastny from behind, resulting in a turnover but no penalty was called and Crawford finally got a stoppage after stopping Stastny's shot.

Colorado 2, Chicago 1 - bad bounce

The hawks fourth line managed to get the puck into the Avs zone, however, they couldn't sustain any zone time. The Avs were finally rewarded for not allowing the hawks to clear their own zone on a dump in as Hjalmarsson's hard around went past Bickell to the point, where it was kept in and moved to Stastny on the right half boards. He passed it to Hejduk behind the goal line who smartly moved to the right corner drawing Hjalmarsson over and opening up space behind the net for Jones, who moved in to the open area taking Hejduk's pass. Jones moved out from behind the net on Crawford's right and his attempted centering pass deflected in off Seabrook and the Avs had the lead once again, 2-1.

The hawks tried to respond the next shift with Stalberg replacing Carcillo on Kane's line, providing more speed and quickness, with Stalberg picking up a loose puck just inside the Av line caused by Kane's quick hands, however his shot was fired wide. Toews's line then tried to carry the next shift and had some offensive zone time, tho late in the shift O'Donnell's deep pinch almost cost the hawks as they failed to control and the Avs had another odd man rush, tho they were at the end of a shift and opted for a change instead.

Colorado 3, Chicago 1

The good fortune for the hawks didn't last however, as a minute or so later, O'Donnell's clear attempt out of the zone was intercepted by McClement who quickly countered, skating behind the hawk net all the way to the left half boards with three hawks in pursuit. McClement passed it to the right point and headed off for a change after the puck was sent back into the right corner where MacLeod won the puck battle, beating both Toews & O'Donnell. He moved towards the back of the net for O'Reilly, who sent it back to MacLeod along the right boards, drawing O'Donnell and Toews back toward Macleod, who then reversed the puck again to O'Reilly behind the net, who saw Landeskog, just off the bench, driving toward the net past Brunette. O'Reilly then slid the puck into the crease and Landeskog simply beat Montador and shoveled it past Crawford to put the Avs up by two, 3-1. There were a lot of hawk mistakes on that sequence, to the point where every single hawk on the ice earned the minus 1 for the goal against.

With five minutes left, after a TV timeout, the crowd, which had been silenced, responded to the announcement of Bobby Hull & Stan Mikita's statue-unveiling and the presence of the two hawk legends at the game. Quenneville sensed the moment and put out the 4th line with Carcillo replacing Stalberg, to try to generate some energy and emotion.

While they weren't able to accomplish much, shortly afterwards Jonathan Toews did, when he took the puck behind his own net and headed up ice, and after skating past one Av at center, he proceeded to turn Shane O'Brien inside out, going between the two Avs defensmen and skating in all alone on Varlamov but the puck seemed to slide off his stick just as he was getting on top of Varlamov, after O'Reilly seemed to just barely get his stick on Toews right glove. Varlamov froze the loose puck, ending play, while Toews looked at the referee, waving his hand in a manner that suggested that he thought he was fouled. That seemed to provide the hawks with some spark as they finally got some zone time, though didn't really test the Av netminder.

Kane, Hossa and Sharp followed up that shift with more zone time with Hossa getting two clear, point blank shots on Varlamov who was equal to the task. The hawks pressing almost backfired though when Keith was caught pinching after his shot attempt didn't get through and the Avs turned up ice with yet another odd man rush and this time Winnick hit the post to the left of Crawford with a shot from the right faceoff dot. Moments later, Sharp was hauled down by Winnick at center and the hawks had their 2nd powerplay.

Toews to the rescue - Colorado 3, Chicago 2

From the faceoff, the hawks wasted little time, with Keith doing a nice job of keeping the puck in the zone, firing a shot on goal that Varlamov stopped with Brunette parked on his doorstep, but he left a rebound that Toews promptly deposited into the net with Varlamov down & out of position and the hawks were back in it, 3-2. It appeared on the replay that Brunette made contact with Varlamov just after Keith's initial shot, but he was actually pushed in by Hejda so the goal stood without the need for replay.

The hawks actually outshot Colorado 15 to 10 in the 2nd, even though it seemed that the Av had more good chances.

3rd period - Come from behind - blow from ahead

The 3rd period started off slow, with numerous stoppages in the first few minutes. The flow picked up as the Avs got a chance when Winnick, after picking up a loose puck from a failed clear attempt by Montador, tried to stuff a wrap-around that presented some danger with Landeskog in front to distract Crawford, however, the puck went wide.

The hawks got a good chance moments later when Bickell won a board battle behind the Av net and backhanded a centering pass which Bolland pounced on and he fired a point blank shot on Varlamov who was alert and made a good save.

Leddy leads hawks back - Colorado 3, Chicago 3

Less than a minute later, Leddy skated back to pick up an errant Av pass in the hawk zone, then accelerated as he went behind the net, using it to essentially evade the oncoming Lindstrom and he flew up the ice, gaining speed leaving all three Av forwards in his wake as he crossed the blueline, then found Mayers with a pass on right wing, as he continued to drive toward the net. Mayers timed his hard shot to give Leddy a chance at a possible rebound, however, Varlamov's right leg pad save caused the puck to go to the slot. O'Byrne, who was covering Leddy, ended up deflecting the puck into his own net with his skate as he turned to try to prevent Leddy from getting to the rebound and the game was tied. Kruger & Carcillo didn't receive assists on the play, however they both drove hard to the net and were in position to perhaps capitalize on the rebound if it hadn't hit O'Byrne's skate. Less than 5 minutes into the 3rd, the hawks had tied it at 3.

The Avs came close to restoring their lead about a minute later, all stemming from another failed zone clear attempt by the hawks on a dump-in. Hjalmarsson blindly fired the puck from behind the net hard around the boards up the left side, however Bolland, the closest hawk couldn't get there before Stastny, who kept it in at the line, dumping it back into the corner. The puck came to Seabrook behind the hawk net and instead of moving the puck away from the forecheck pressure he dumped it on his forehand back towards the corner, where Jones picked it up. His centering pass attempt was partially blocked by Hjalmarsson with the loose puck going to Bolland, who then fired off the back boards toward the other side, however Frolik was high and not on the half boards, allowing Matt Hunwick to move up and keep it in. The puck then went to Stastny, who returned to Hunwick for a hard point shot that was blocked in front and ended up going to the right point where O'Brien dumped it back behind the hawk net again.

Hjalmarsson again tried to clear, but right into traffic and his clear attempt was blocked, ending up on Stastny's stick who moved to the side of the net unchecked and fed a centering pass to Jones who failed to connect, the puck hitting his skates. Stastny tried to pounce on the loose puck at the side of the crease, and took a couple of wacks at it along with Jones, however Crawford had the the lower post covered with his left leg pad and the puck bounced high and wide. Stastny picked up the loose puck behind the net and his centering pass failed to connect, however, 6'4 Bickell, apparently feeling in giving mood, decided to poke the puck ahead with one hand to Frolik on his right instead of moving up to actually try to take possession. That allowed Hunwick to keep it in, with the puck going to the right halfboards where Seabrook, under pressure from Jones, tried to golf the puck out, with Jones getting a piece of it.

Frolik had a chance to gain control of the puck as it eluded Hunwick for a moment, but he fanned on his attempt to swipe it forward as he skated by it (in the hopes he would have a breakaway) and instead Hunwick who fired a shot wide. Stastny picked up the loose puck in the open corner, turned and centered it but just failed to connect for a redirect with Hejduk in front. The puck went to the far boards where Frolik tried to clear yet again, but failed, with the puck kept in at the line. Fortunately for the hawks, tho, the Avs were in need of a change and the hawks were finally able to move the puck out to center and eventually into the Av zone to allow themselves to change.

TJ Galiardi then picked up the dump in behind his own net and a la Leddy moments earlier blew past the hawks three forwards and went around Leddy before Keith moved over and poked the puck away. The puck went to Duchene, whose centering pass ended up going to Hejda, who tested Crawford with a shot from the left boards.

The hawks finally got another chance at about the halfway mark of the 3rd, when Kane retrieved a loose puck deep in his own zone and lifted a long backhand pass right up the middle of the ice to Hossa at center. Hossa was covered by Hejda, but managed to poke the puck ahead to Sharp who, joined by Kane who flew up the right side, was in on a 2 on 1. Sharp fed Kane who moved in and fired a wrist shot high over a sprawling Johnson that Varlamov made a good left arm save on.

The hawks fourth line almost clicked again a minute or so later, when they broke in 3 on 2, with Mayers timing his shot on net to coincide with Carcillo's arrival there. Carcillo appeared to get a stick on it, but Varlamov stopped it, tho he couldn't control the puck and gave a rebound that the hard driving Kruger missed after he fell, unable to get his stick on it, and instead crashing into the net behind Varlamov.

They threatened again with Kane picking up the puck at center from Hossa and drove up the right side, causing the Av defenders to back in. Kane, sensing the open space behind him, dropped it for the trailing Hossa, who instead of moving into the open slot area for some reason turned back to the right into coverage, before passing it back to Kane behind the net. Hossa took a return pass and then made a cross-ice feed to Leddy who had moved in from his point position, but Varlamov had enough time to move across and cover to make the save. Sharp picked up the rebound at the side of the net, but with his back to the net, took it to the corner to try and reset, rather than attempt to stuff it in.

The Toews line followed-up by maintaining some offensive zone time, but failed to create a dangerous chance. The following shift, the hawks did manage to get a good opportunity when Seabrook jumped into the rush and actually drove to the net as Bolland gained the zone and delayed, dropping the puck for Frolik, who fired a screened shot that hit Varlamov on the blocker.

Hurray for Hossa, the other Slovak - Chicago 4, Colorado 3

The next shift, Kane won the draw outside the Av line back to Leddy who dumped it in to the far corner. Sharp managed to beat O'Brien to the loose puck and passed it back to the point, where Keith fired a low one-timer that Hossa, moving into the slot area, managed to get a stick on and deflect it high past Varlamov and the hawks had come all the way back to take a 4-3 lead with just over 5 minutes left in the 3rd. It seemed fitting that the current high-profile Slovak on the hawks put them in front on a night when his countryman was honored with the unveiling of a statue, but the game, unfortunately for the hawks was not yet over.

Bolland's line followed up Hossa's goal with a strong shift, and the hawks seemed in control. The Avs however, continued to press forward when they got an opportunity and one came on a hawk line change when Duchene took a pass at center in his skates and kicked it up to his stick without slowing down and with his speed cut around O'Donnell as he drove toward the net, but shot it wide.

The hawks had a couple of opportunities as the Avs opened up, with Keith stepping into a point shot that Varlamov stopped and later Bolland had a partial break when Hejda overskated the puck but instead of shooting, he turned and tried a blind backhand pass in front that failed to connect with Bickell.

Boo Brunette - blown coverage leads to tying goal, Colorado 4, Chicago 4

With under two to play, the Avs moved the puck up ice, with Winnick trying to cut to the middle, however Keith jumped up and challenged him, getting a stick on the puck but unable to control it and the puck headed to O'Reilly at the hawk line. Leddy had moved back deeper to cover for Keith, while Brunette, who was the hawk forward back, peeled off his left side, when the puck escaped Keith, leaving the left wing wide open. Landeskog saw the space vacated by Brunette and jumped into it as the puck came to O'Reilly, who quickly moved it over the blueline with his stick and then fed Landeskog with a perfect lead pass and he beat Crawford high on the blocker side and the game was suddenly tied, 4-4.

On replay, it was clear that Brunette failed to make the proper read - he should have recognized when Keith moved across to take Winnick, that he needed to stay on the left side to cover as the only forward back and with both defensemen now on the right side. Perhaps he thought Stalberg with his speed would be able to cover Landeskog, tho it was clear Brunette didn't look over his shoulder to even see Landeskog moving past Stalberg who was caught flatfooted, watching the play instead of reading and reacting to it. In fact Stalberg simply glided at center, away from Landeskog even after Brunette had turned leaving the left side completely open for the highly touted Avs rookie.

Keith can't be faulted for challenging Winnick, as he saw the veteran Brunette in position to provide support, and Leddy properly moved back into a defensive position when he saw Keith move over from his left side to challenge. The goal was primarily on Brunette with Stalberg also responsible to a lesser extent.

The hawks tried to respond on the next shift, with Bickell picking off O'Brien's pass at center and moving it past O'Brien and ahead to Bolland who moving down the left wing now had a 2 on 1 with Frolik on his right. Bolland moved to the top of the crease, but his backhand centering pass failed to get through as the puck rolled wide. In the dying seconds, Toews moved down the left boards and his stick was slashed by Hejduk - it didn't separate right away, but when Toews tried to stickhandle with it and put pressure on it moments later, his shaft gave way and the referee signaled a delayed penalty.  Toews went down to his knees after his stick broke and gloved the puck around to the right half boards where Seabrook touched it, however the play was not whistled down as it should have been and the hawks got one final chance in regulation as Hossa picked up the puck from Seabrook along the boards and fed Hjalmarsson at the point who fired a screened shot which Varlamov made a good glove save on to send it to overtime.

The hawks outshot the Avs 13-6 in the 3rd and 34-23 in regulation, but that did not reflect the run of play.

OT - Opportunity squandered

In the overtime, Quenneville put his top four forwards on the ice together with no defensemen to start the powerplay. Sharp had a couple of chances, one from the point after passing back and forth with Hossa who seemed not to want to even look for a shot, the other on nice setup by Kane who moved into the slot and faked a slap shot before passing to Sharp who had moved into the left circle for a one-timer that Varlamov also stopped. Late in the powerplay, Seabrook moved into the slot from the left point and passed it to Brunette parked alone right in front of the net, but lost control when his attempt to draw it left from his backhand to his forehand and that was it for the hawk powerplay.

The Avs got a good chance when Hossa, after making a good play to strip the puck from Johnson after a faceoff loss in the Av zone, gave it away to Duchene who headed up ice on a 2 on 1. Duchene's attempted centering pass to the trailer Hejda was broken up, but Hejda recovered the loose puck and then round O'Reilly alone in the slot and he forced Crawford to make a good blocker save. From the ensuing faceoff, Frolik made a good play to tie up the Av point man while Bolland picked up the loose puck at the blueline and skated up ice with Seabrook joining the rush to make it a 2 on 1, however, Bolland's pass attempt was broken up and the puck went harmlessly into the corner.

The Avs got one last good chance of their own when Hejduk took a pass at center from Wilson and made an inside out move on Keith to gain an angle, tho Keith stayed with him, causing him to go around the net where he tried to stuff a wraparound that somehow missed and went through the crease.

The hawks outshot the Avs 4-1 in the overtime, but failed to convert their powerplay chance and were headed for a shootout.

Shootout Colorado 1, Chicago 0

Viktor Stalberg, who had gone 3 for 3 in a practice shootout drill earlier in the week was chosen to go first for the hawks, but his backhand went high and wide.

Hejduk then tried to go five hole, but was stopped by Crawford.

Toews, 19 for 38 on his career, tried to shoot, but Varlamov made a good blocker save.

Duchene moved in and tried a high leg kick, then cut to his left and had Crawford down but he couldn't lift it over him and Crawford stopped the low shot.

Kane attempted to deke backhand to forehand, but couldn't get it under Varlamov's right leg pad which took away the bottom part of the net.

Lindstrom the 3rd Av shooter moved into the slot, faked a shot, then moved hard to his right with a deke which Crawford bit on hard, leaving the net exposed and when Lindstrom moved back to his left, he had an open cage slam dunk to give the Avs the win.

Game Summary

Overall, while the hawks came back from a 3-1 deficit to put themselves in a position to win in regulation, it was sloppy defensive play that plagued them, not just on the tying goal, but throughout the game. For whatever reason, they failed to create any momentum from their Thursday win or from the atmosphere surrounding the unveiling of Hull & Mikita's statues before the game and instead at times seemed not to have their heads in the game for most of the first two periods.

Jonathan Toews again led the team back, with a dazzling end to end rush that he just failed to finish, but followed that up shortly afterwards with a powerplay goal late in the 2nd that got the hawks within one.

The hawks had some good fortune on their other goals - with Frolik being gifted a wide open point blank chance on a startled Varlamov, a Mayers rebound that bounced in off a Colorado skate, and a Hossa deflection of a point shot. They also had some bounces go against them, when Jones attempted pass bounced off Seabrook's stick & in behind Crawford. But mostly, it was shoddy defensive zone clearing and coverage that cost the hawks this game.

As much as the Thursday win reminded one of the 2010 Hawks, blowing another 3rd period lead late and losing in a SO reminds one of how the hawks played at home much of last season. This one hurt a bit more than the one to Boston in that they could have had gained two full points in the standings on their western rival Avs, but instead lost 1.

Some positives to take from the game - Toews again was the one to lead his team back with a dazzling end to end rush, with some great moves that while not ultimately getting a goal, marked a turning point in the game. He also rebounded on faceoffs winning 12 of 20.

Leddy seems to be gaining confidence and his end to end rush showed some top end speed that led directly to the tying goal. He still needs more experience with defensive zone reads, but could not be at all faulted on the tying goal.

Frolik finally got on the board - hopefully that takes some pressure off and gives him more confidence.

Kane continues to be dangerous everytime with the puck - the move to center so far hasn't stifled his offensive creativity and appears to have made him more responsible defensively, tho the fact he hasn't gotten a point in the last couple of games is a bit concerning.

The fourth line with Carcillo on it looked good - they created some good chances and contributed a goal with their hard driving, straight ahead style.

The not so positives - Stalberg moved up to Toews line, replacing Sharp, however, he did little offensively and worse was watching the tying goal instead of reading and reacting to try to prevent it. His failed to force Varlamov to make a save on his shootout attempt.

Sharp moved to Kane and Hossa's line - they did combine for a goal, tho with three top offensive players, I expect more.

Defensive zone coverage - aside from Brunette's misread on the tying goal, the poor defensive play isn't just one or two defensmen or forwards - the whole team is struggling. Colorado deserves some credit for having good skating forwards that can match (or exceed) the hawks stride for stride, but the hawks also made some unforced errors that need to be corrected.

They also need to be more willing to take the man all over the ice rather than simply play the puck - that is one part of being more difficult to play against. The hawks are a fast, skilled team but as Boston showed in the playoffs, having size and being physical with speed and skill is the ultimate combination and it looks as though the hawks still lack the necessary physicality.

Next up for the hawks are the Ducks on Tuesday at the UC.