By Rich Lindbloom
“To go boldly, where no man has gone before.” –Captain Kirk, Commander of the Starship Enterprise
It was sometime around 15 years ago when I worked up the courage to get my first body massage. It was sort of a Captain Kirk moment.
My better half, Nathalie and I were at the American Club in Wisconsin for a two day get away after Thanksgiving. It was a super deal, about half the price one would pay in high season at this first class resort. We went with a few friends and had a wonderful time. Before we headed for dinner on the first night, Nathalie suggested we schedule a massage after our workout the next morning.
Despite being a bit nervous about the whole massage thing, I sheepishly consented. Nathalie called the front desk and they put us in touch with the massage room to make an appointment. At one point she turned to me and asked, “Do you want a woman or man masseuse?” Without hesitation I said “a woman!” While I enjoyed Lou Reed’s song, “Take a walk on the Wild Side,” there was no way I was going to have a man touch me for an hour! As The Beaver would say, “Gosh Wally, that’s creepy.”
The following morning we got in an hour workout, before heading to the massage room. The waiting area was somewhat dimly lit with some sort of soft new age sound piped around us. I think there was the scent of incense permeating the air, which also contributed to the very relaxing atmosphere. Regardless, I was still as tight as a bull’s ass. While I sat waiting for my personal masseuse, I noticed a middle age man approaching us. “Hmmm, I wonder if that’s Nathalie’s masseuse,” I thought. I was pretty sure she had requested a woman also.
When he walked by her and said, “Are you Rich?” I began to have a mild panic attack. I gave a quick glance to my wife who was doing her best not to start rolling on the floor with laughter. I think she was actually biting her lip. Even the masseuse, sensing my discomfort, appeared to have a little grin on his face. I recall thinking that this was not what I signed up for. Something was terribly wrong here…
While nothing is terribly wrong with the Blackhawks thus far this season, needless to say they all have us a bit on edge. Let’s just say there is a bit of apprehension among the Hawk faithful.
When you win 24 games in a row and a Stanley Cup, well, let’s just say the benchmark is ridiculously high. This certainly is being exacerbated by the success of the scoundrels on the western bank of the muddy Mississippi. Perhaps a silver lining in the St. Louis’s two triumphs over us is that, with a “hustle here or a hustle there,” (RIP Lou Reed), we could have emerged triumphant in either game. The dark cloud is, there is no team in the NHL I hate losing more to than the bellicose Blues, their nozzle laden team and their insufferable fans.
Compounding matters, several teams in the Western Conference are off to races, most notably the Sharks, Blues, Ducks, Avalanche, Wild and Canucks. Lurking in the shadows are the Kings, Coyote’s, and Predators. Only two teams in the Western Conference are below .500. As I type this I just watched the Sharks improve their record to 10-1-1, with a 5-2 trouncing of the Senators in Ottawa. (I wonder if the pundits will start claiming the Sharks are peaking too early. It was a common refrain as the Hawks entered the post season last year.) Anyone who expects the Hawks to get by on their considerable press clippings is sadly mistaken.
Obviously, the third period has been our “massage moment” this season. I think most of us are feeling a little queasy as we head into the final period. Several two goal leads have been squandered during this time frame when the game appeared to be in our hands. There has been a chronic dearth of lamp lighting in the frame in almost all our games this season; although I think that is in part bad luck and also good goaltending from the opposition. Although, teams that we have pretty much dominated in the first two periods this year, seem to press the attack for the first 10 minutes of the third. I know I’m not the only one thinking, “Boy, I hope we can hold on here.” Some of it has been bad luck; it sure looked like Brandon Pirri was tripped in the Florida game before the Panthers second tally.
Far be it from me to complain about the refs, but Hossa’s spurious interference call in the Wild game was a classic example of the refs helping to determine the outcome of a game. First off, it’s only the third check Hossa has thrown in the last two years – we really don’t need a referee dissuading him from this practice. Both Scandella and Big Hoss were fighting for position to corral the puck and Hossa won the battle. Unfortunately, Marion was sent away to do time, although his sentence was commuted for good behavior four seconds later when Zach Parise banged home some loose change. Which brings me to another glaring difference between this year and last…
We currently rank dead last in penalty killing in the NHL. Unless things change the Hawks have three options.
1. Stay out of the penalty box. (highly recommended)
2. Reacquire Michal Frolik. (I miss the eye brows that ate Chicago)
3. Have the forward playing with Kruger immediately skate like a bat out of hell to the other team’s point where the puck ends up 90% of the time. Have Kruger immediately head for the other point. He can save time by not trying to win the faceoff.
Oddly, one of our strong points last year has rapidly turned into a hazardous waste situation. It wouldn’t hurt if we had a few Olga’s, (more on that later), clearing out loiterers on Corey’s front porch. Perhaps all that’s needed to turn the tides of misfortune around is that Crow once again becomes our best penalty killer. A little aggression might help also – I’m not a big fan of giving the opposition time to set up shop.
There have been notable bright spots this season. The biggest one in my opinion has been the continued stellar net minding of Crawford. He even made a glove save the other night against Koivu I believe – as the saying goes Call Ripley’s. Although he was outplayed by Backstrom on Saturday, Cor-dawg has more than held his own this season. Khabibulin had a rough outing against Tampa Bay, yet there are a lot of goalies who get victimized by Stamkos. For those of you wishing we still had Ray Emery, (count me in that group), he is not exactly battening down the hatches in Philadelphia. To be fair, he hasn’t been given many starts and the Flyers are not exactly one of the hottest teams in the league at the moment. All in all, the position of net minder certainly does not seem to be a question mark for the Hawks this year. When’s the last time we could say that?
I really like the way Marcus Kruger is playing. He’s been playing very aggressive, even playing with a little attitude out there. While I thought the facial he gave one of the Wild players might have been a penalty, it goes uncalled about 90% of the time. It will be interesting to see how he fares on the second line between Sharp and Kane if Coach Q has a little patience. Actually a second line I’d love to see is Smith/Sharp/Kane. I won’t be holding my breath on that scenario. Both Smith and Sharpie are pretty good finishers and Kaner has been known to set the table on occasion!
Bryan Bickell seems to have developed chemistry with Andrew Shaw and whoever their right winger is on a given night. While I’m not sure being on the same wave length as Andrew Shaw is beneficial for one’s health, those two play well together. Jeremy Morin looked pretty comfortable out there last Saturday on the right side. Although I thought Bickell has been playing well all season, he has four goals in his last four games, temporarily silencing critics of his huge payday in the off season. In addition to his scoring potential, Bicks has been clobbering opposing players with regularity lately.
In what would be considered as a sacrilege to many Hawk fans, I have to say the play of Brandon Bollig seems to be improved. He brings physicality to the fourth line that often results in the puck being locked deep in our opponent’s zone. He currently is on pace to shatter his own scoring stats. Thank goodness he seems to realize he doesn’t need to engage in the first period “goon battle” to satisfy the cravings of the blood thirsty fans. If you go up and down the Hawk line up, you’d be hard pressed to find another enforcer on the Hawk bench. A goal, assist and a +2 with limited time is not exactly the end of the world for a fourth line contributor.
By the way, anyone besides me starting to like Nick Leddy’s forays into the offensive zone? I believe he should be on the #1 PP unit. I also really like the way Seabs is playing this season. He’s been a wrecking ball in our zone and seems to be quicker than last year. In the St. Louis game, I believe he hammered David Backes three times with thundering checks. (Damn, it’s hard to knock that guy down.)
The last positive I’d like to touch on is our shot total vs. the enemies. We’re out shooting our opponents 34.7 to 25.8. Although the lamp is not turning on as much as we’d like, the opportunities are there. Besides, as Tazer noted, you don’t need to score a lot of goals if you’re playing good team defense. As Jerry McP has noted on many occasions, think defense first and the offense will take care of itself. Eventually, one or two of Patrick Sharp’s shots are going to tickle the twine – trust me, it’s only a matter of time. Although I tend to cringe every time Coach Q taps him on the shoulder in a shootout, he has gone 2 for three in his last three attempts. Will miracles never cease?!
Despite a 6-2-3 record thus far, it seems there is an underlying uneasiness among many Hawk fans this season. It probably isn’t as uneasy as I felt when my masseuse greeted me at the American Club. Hopefully, the Hawk season will have as good an ending as that massage. My masseuse, again sensing my terror, immediately told me he was married with two children before he even started. That put my mind a little more at ease, although I made a concerted effort to not doze off! The bottom line is, it was the second best massage I’ve ever had. The guy was good. So are the 2013/14 Hawks.
Nathalie’s masseuse appeared to be an East German side of the ledger. Her name was Olga, and she beat the hell out the knots in Nathalie’s upper back. I actually envisioned Olga picking Nathalie up and body slamming her a few times. The image of Gene Wilder stretched out on a torture rack, telling his torturer, “My back hasn’t felt this good in years, please, give it one more turn,” comes to mind. Some like it rough I guess. If there is one area I think the Hawks could improve on it’s we need a few Olga’s clearing out the crease!
So we pay a visit to Minnesota tonight. The Wild seem to be emerging into the difficult team I thought they might be last season. A name I heard Foley mention a lot last Saturday was Granlund, the 9th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Watch out for that kid. I think it’s very important that we send the Wild a message tonight – a confidant Wild team could make life miserable for a lot of hockey teams. They could become as irritating as Captain Kirk once noted about Spock –
“Spock, you play a very irritating game of chess.”
While nothing is terribly wrong this year, something tells me, it’s going to be that type of season.