If there ever was a game that could exemplify the current era Chicago Blackhawks, Monday’s 5-2 victory over the visiting New Jersey Devils is just it.
The Hawks patented style of suffocating much of the opposition’s attempts at advancing the puck through the neutral zone was in full force. And even when the Blackhawks let up temporarily and give an opponent a glimmer of hope, the Hawks are much too talented, and their opponent knows the fatal gut-punch is always potentially just around the next corner.
With the three-day Christmas break looming, the Chicago Blackhawks took to the United Center ice on Monday night to face off with a New Jersey Devils team that entered the contest with a .500 record (15-15-7).
Antti Raanta made his seventh consecutive start in the Hawks net since Corey Crawford suffered his injury during the first period of the December 8th game against the Florida Panthers. Raanta made 10 saves against a grand total of 12 New Jersey shots on Monday in improving his overall NHL record to 8-1-2 (2.20 GAA, 91.6 sv%) and 5-1-1 as Chicago’s interim number one goalie. Read more »
Phoenix closed out their first round series win over the Chicago Blackhawks in front of a 39-save shutout by Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith. The ‘Hawks out-shot the visiting Coyotes 39-20 in the game but fell by a final score of 4-0. Rookie defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson opened the scoring in the second and assisted on another goal to help Phoenix pull away with three third period goals.
The Blackhawks dominated play in the opening period but came up empty on the scoreboard. They out-shot Phoenix 16-2 in the opening 20 minutes, winning foot races and board battles with consistency. Andrew Shaw, back in the line-up after serving a three-game suspension, had one of the best chances of the period by driving to the net and redirecting a pinpoint saucer pass from Patrick Kane.
Despite the one-sided opening frame, the teams dropped the puck for the second period scoreless. The ‘Hawks again carried play with prime scoring opportunities by Jonathan Toews on a strong drive to the net, Brendan Morrison with a weak one-time opportunity, and Niklas Hjalmarsson sending a heavy blast that Smith had trouble controlling. The Coyotes’ goaltender managed to snuff out each chance and soak up the rebounds. Read more »
The Chicago Blackhawks finished their California weekend road swing in Anaheim versus the Ducks Sunday evening. The night earlier saw Los Angeles King, Dustin Brown bury three goals and a helper, as the Hawks were shutout 4-0. The Ducks are looking to make a strong run to fight for a tight Western Conference playoff spot. Hawk’s Captain Jonathan Toews remained in Chicago for this trip and missed his 3rd consecutive game with an upper body injury. Niklas Hjalmarsson was also held back. With two leaders off the ice, the road team needed to fight hard to beat a talented Ducks squad.
Ray Emery got the coach Q nod for the start with Jonas Hiller getting his 21st straight start for the Ducks. Marcus Kruger played on the top line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Brendan Morrison centered Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg. Dave Bolland was with Andrew Brunette and Bryan Bickell. Finally, Jamal Mayers had Michael Frolik and Jimmy Hayes on either side. Read more »
Tim Sassone this afternoon on Twitter hinted of “whispers” he’s hearing out of Montreal on a potential trade involving the Blackhawks and Canadiens. Sassone suggested Habs’ winger, and former Chicago Blackhawk, Travis Moen could be part of the deal. Moen skated for the Hawks in the season prior to the 2004-05 lockout and was then dealt by GM Dale Tallon to Anaheim for Swedish utility forward Michael Holmqvist. In all, Moen was a part of the Blackhawks organization for three years, playing in Norfolk in 02-03 and 04-05.
Sassone also intimated one “or more” of the Blackhawks restricted free agents would be headed to the Canadiens as part of the rumored talks. My guess is the player would be Viktor Stalberg, who in college at the University of Vermont was nicknamed the “Swedish Rocket.”
Moen, 29, would give the Hawks some added size (6-2, 216) and grit they’re missing with Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky now gone. Andrew Brunnette has a great knack for the puck around the net but he’s not overly big (6-1, 215) and he’s not a banger. Jamal Mayers may not play much if he even makes the team. Daniel Carcillo is not big and doesn’t intimidate anyone, just annoys them. John Scott is pushed further and further away from the ice with each Stan Bowman move, despite the GM’s comments of wanting to get Scott more ice time. Sean O’Donnell (as a part-timer) and Steve Montador have addressed the team’s need for muscle and toughness on the blue line, but it’s still a work in progress at forward.
Travis Moen is entering the final year of a 3-year contract and has a cap hit of $1.5M. The expiring deal fits in mold Stan Bowman is setting with his free agent transactions, save Montador. Chicago is wisely apprehensive to committing any more long-term dollars in looking ahead to the next collective bargaining agreement. Patrick Sharp will get his, but outside of him I can’t see the Hawks taking another big contract on without moving one they already have or another of today’s RFAs.
As far as the Blackhawks are concerned, Stalberg would be a nice luxury to have as a fourth liner. With his speed and modest skill, Stalberg gives the Hawks a threat on that line. There aren’t many teams who can throw the kind of speed Stalberg has on their fourth lines, and since coaches typically match fourth lines against the other, having Stalberg’s size (6-3, 210) and wheels would give the Hawks an advantage against most other teams in that respect. And Stalberg has enough skill to fill in on scoring lines when injuries warrant or Joel Quenneville is treating his line up card like a Rubik’s cube.
Moen has never been a scorer (career high is 11 goals, with ANA in 2006-07), but is a tough, consistent forechecker and best utilized in a checking line role. He won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 in that checking role with Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson.
There are still moves to be made and free agents to sign, and Moen is at this point just an interesting rumor, so we won’t get into where he’d fit in the Hawks’ line up. But, again, (I guess I am doing it anyway) he’s best in that third line checking role, which would mean breaking up the Bolland-Frolik-Bickell trio Bowman was been so fond of. Possibly moving Bickell up to a scoring line, with Brunette being the other scoring line left winger if Sharp’s staying at center. If there’s another plan in store for center and Sharp is making a permanent home at left win, then Moen or Bickell drop to the fourth line and one or more of the July 1st acquisitions would be in the press box or sent packing. Regardless, Moen could be a nice depth acquisition, with an affordable expiring contract.
– In other news, Chris Kuc has a Q&A up today with the Blackhawks Chairman. Rocky Wirtz has been elected to the NHL Board of Directors. Just in time for a CBA overhaul. Rocky also tells Kuc that his team is still losing money.
Before anyone freaks about over the chairman’s claim (he also did this last year), the team is still reimbursing years of loans from Wirtz Corp. In the interview Wirtz claimed it would take another four years before the team could operate on its own in the black. Even then, with the NHL economy and national television rights fees locked in for the next ten years, and also money his team spends, it’s doubtful they’ll ever turn huge profits.
Rocky Wirtz also talks to Kuc about raising ticket prices, looking back at bad deals and signing Cristobal Huet’s paycheck.
You can listen to tonight’s show live at 8pm central over at BlogTalk, or on ITunes, this site or in the archives later tonight.
We’ll also discuss Niklas Hjalmarsson’s violent, illegal check on Buffalo Sabres’ winger Jason Pominville from last night’s first period in Buffalo.
I’m sure most have either heard or seen the play, but if not ….
It’s extremely frustrating to read and hear people attempting to defend Hjalmarsson for this hit, or absolve Hjalmarsson because “Pominville saw him coming.” And I’m having a hard time understanding how individuals, and some who I usually respect, can come away from that hit saying it was anything other than a hit from behind. If you’re one of those people, you’re really embarrassing yourself.
Sassone is right in regards to this hit on Pominville not being comparable, fairly, to the hit James Wisniewski (more on this goof later today) laid on Brent Seabrook last season. There was clear intent to do damage to Seabrook where Wisniewski’s hit was concerned. I don’t think anyone’s saying Hjalmarsson had similar intentions in mind at all. He was simply careless. And careless when it comes to another player’s well being should be taken very seriously.
Last night’s hit was reckless. Considering Pominville’s positioning along the wall with his hands down, not in a position to be hit, vulnerable, with Hjalmarsson attacking from a blind spot, it is clearly too dangerous of a hit for the league to overlook.
Whether Pominville saw Hjalmarsson coming or not is irrelevant. He’s not expecting to be hit before the puck gets to him, because that would be an illegal hit. As this hit was illegal.
At the point before the collision that Pominville looks over his shoulder, he already sees the puck coming towards him. With Hjalmarsson oncoming, he’s in no-man’s land. He could surrender the puck because he suspects he’s about to be hit illegally and dangerously, or he can trust Hjalmarsson won’t act recklessly.
Ultimately the responsibility lies completely in Hjalmarsson’s hands. I’ve been in his position before and I’ve done the same thing. The idea is to time the contact at the exact moment the puck arrives because that’s when the puck carrier is at his most vulnerable (within the rules). We see this attempted all the time. Hjalmarsson’s looking for a big collision. One that knocks Pominville off the puck and temporarily out of the play. Because that’s the sexier play, and the easier one if you time it right and have the balance and strength to pull it off.
To suggest Hjalmarsson was looking to injure Pominville is absurd. Hjalmarsson’s pulled this very maneuver off, probably 100 times as a Blackhawk, but he screwed up this time. He was looking to put a big-time hit on Pominville. In playing a guessing-game with the timing of the collision, Hjalmarsson was playing a game of risk with Pominville’s well-being.
And that’s what is most-concerning and ultimately suspendable. In the position Pominville is in, there along the wall; he’s at Hjalmarsson’s mercy. Niklas could have simply attempted to stick-check Pominville at the moment the puck arrived, or waited until the puck got to Pominville before committing to the hit. It’s not as if running Pominville into the boards and glass was his only option there. Instead, he saw Pominville on the train tracks and chose to run him down.
Joel Quenneville’s defense of Hjalmarsson post-game is predictable, still dumbfounding. You can say “well, if Hjalmarsson gets there a half second later….” – But he didn’t. And that’s Hjalmarsson’s responsibility. Not Pominville’s. If the shoe was on the other foot, you can guarantee Quenneville wouldn’t be suggesting that hit didn’t even warrant a minor penalty.
Further, Quenneville suggesting Hjalmarsson was playing the puck and didn’t see the stationary Pominville, is more ridiculous than someone insinuating Pominville share some culpability in the collision because he looked over his shoulder shortly before and noticed the Blackhawk defenseman’s presence. Pominville is at least in Hjalmarsson’s field of vision, not bringing the impact from a blind area. Plus, when you watch the replay, Hjalmarsson turns his shoulder into the 9 on the back of Pominville’s sweater before the moment of impact while Pominville is still waiting for the puck.
There’s an entire larger issue here as it pertains to the lack of respect players seem to have for one another at times. As in the case of Wisniewski and Ovechkin’s hit on Brian Campbell.
But when it comes to head injuries, the league needs to do more than give lip service.
I wouldn’t argue there was intention on Hjalmarsson’s part to strike the head. However, when you hit a player along the wall, who has his hands down and at that moment, isn’t expecting to be hit, and can’t see the hit coming, what do you think is going to happen? The force of the hit will drive the vulnerable player into the boards and glass, with the head being at a high risk to strike one of those violently.
It’ll be interesting to see how the league handles this. Because Hjalmarsson doesn’t have a record of this, you shouldn’t expect the league to be hard on him. However, considering Pominville did sustain a concussion and will likely miss at least a few games, the league office will undoubtedly be hitting Hjalmarsson will some kind of discipline.
Two games would be fair and hopefully send a message that hits like these won’t be tolerated.
The good news is Pominville was well enough that the medical attendants did not transport him to hospital and treated him at the arena.
Any head injury, be it “slight” or “severe” is serious. Head trauma is nothing to glance over, or treat as an understood hazard of the game. There must be some accountability in situations such as these. The next player who sees an opportunity like the one Hjalmarsson saw last night, must understand there will be ramifications if he doesn’t time that hit right.