Monday, March 29, 2010

Game 76/Chicago: My Take

A tired Columbus Blue Jackets team blew into the Windy City and handed the Chicago Blackhawks their lunch for the second time in a week, this time winning by a score of 4-2.

I have a few disjointed thoughts on this game, so bear with me.

First, Rick Nash is one fascinating captain.  The Dispatch's Aaron Portzline relates the story of the final goal:
A nice touch by the captain late in the game. On a two-on-one with Voracek in the dying seconds, Nash passed the puck to Voracek and then curled way out of the play, leaving Voracek no choice but to score into the empty net. Nash said he wanted Voracek to score the goal because he deserved it, given the way he played. "After I passed it, I was screaming at him to shoot it," Nash said. "He played great. He deserved it." Voracek, when pressed on the matter, admitted he would have passed the puck to Nash if given the chance.

Are the young Blue Jackets intimidated by Rick Nash? Have they been brow-beat into dishing off to their "elders" rather than looking for the shot themselves? If that's the case, there's a lot of attitudinal reprogramming of young minds to work on. Kudos to Nash for recognizing the need to celebrate the team's youth and build some confidence in his junior woodchucks.

Next, the Jackets are 6-2-2 in the last 10 games.  The way in which they got there is fascinating.  They thump one of the top teams in the Western Conference twice in a week, yet they lay an egg in the middle against the struggling Islanders.  (Aren't teams supposed to play like crap on the second game of a two-night string?)  Clearly, the team can now get "up" for big games.  But can they win the games that they're supposed to win?  The ones the allow them to collect points like candy-filled eggs at one of the Dark Blue Onesie's Easter egg hunts?  And what does this say about Interim Head Coach Claude Noel?  Not sure right now...need to think more on that.

Next, I surrendered the TV to Mrs. DBJ so she could watch her shows on the DVR and instead watched the WGN feed.  They do a really nice job in their broadcast, much like Comcast Sports Chicago does, but especially so in their intermission coverage.  Love the arena atmosphere shots and the voices of the fans.  And their announcers, while homers in the purest sense of the word, really kept me interested in and excited by what must've been a painful game for them to call.  And they gave big-time props to Steve Mason, which were deserved.  Fox Sports Ohio could pick up a few tricks by watching these guys.

Lastly, there's the Blackhawks themselves.  Good lord, are they sucking it up right now.  In fact, it's fair to say that their injury-decimated defense and bad BAD BAD goaltending (albeit Niemi is a far sight better than Huet) is in danger of pushing them out of a Stanley Cup.  As they are The Annointed Team in the West this year, I kinda feel for them.  They've gone from world beaters to - well, average at best.  The type of team that could lose on a consistent basis to a .500-quality team like the Columbus Blue Jackets!

Scotty Bowman and his son Stan have built the Blackhawks in the mold of the great recent Detroit Red Wings teams - great forwards, stifling defense and goaltending as an afterthought.  (In the case of Chicago, however, Huet is a $5.625MM afterthought.  Cap management at its finest!)  That formula has worked well over time, but it falls apart like a deck of cheap playing cards when your vaunted defense loses a couple of its stars and you're forced to shuffle a forward back to defense to fill the gap.  Then, your poor goaltending is exposed...and the Columbus Blue Jackets drop 12 goals on you in two games.

Wow, 12 goals in two games.  Savor that, Jackets fans.  Watch Chicago embrace The Suck.  You honestly would have thought that they would have wanted this game - instead, they give up 4 and only score one of their own (Shame, shame, Antoine Vermette!)

There are other opinions on why Chicago is crashing and burning as hard as they are.  For example, a commenter at Blackhawks Confidential suggests:
There's are a lot of expectations riding on this year and I think they're cracking up. Last year there were no expectations and look how loose they played. There was no pressure early in the season when they dominated and put the puck in the net.

Pretty soon there will be a lot of finger pointing and bad feelings for each other creating a real downward turn for the worse at the start of the playoffs.
I won't argue that there's a bit of a mental aspect to this - that a loss can snowball, and a team can choke under intense pressure (and Chicago is one of the worst cities in terms of exerting pressure on its sports teams).  The team was stocked to handle the pressure, though...until their defense got ravaged.  Canada's TSN appears to agree with me:
Back-to-back losses to Columbus, giving the Blackhawks a 5-6-2 record in March (while outshooting opponents in 12 of those 13 games), is showing the vulnerability that ought to be expected with multiple defencemen injured and questionable play between the pipes.
Regardless, the Blackhawks are a once-really good team right now that is in the midst of the long slide into a poor playoff showing.  Without a quality defensive backstop, they can't get the puck out of their own end and might as well not have the scorers on the roster.  For their sake, I hope they turn it around...but I'm Missouri on this one: Show me.  Right now, they're not showing me much.

Why did I hijack my own game thoughts to blast the Blackhawks, you ask?  Because, when your team is getting shellacked with 12 goals over two games, you never insult the team that's in the process of crushing your spirit (note that I can't link directly to this person's Tweet, as they have chosen to hide their commentary since making this statement):
RT @LKThome if we lose to the #cbj again, i'm going to practice and tear the #hawks a collective new a****** [edited]. they're practically the AHL...
We may have had a rough patch this year, but we are NOT an AHL team.  Not even close.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stay humble, lest it come back to bite you, Blackhawks fan.

UPDATE: The self-loathing in Chicago continues, with the aptly-titled "It's Holy Shit Week on Blackhawks' calendar--start praying with passion". I wonder if the author realizes how funny it is to show Mike Commodore outhustling a Blackhawk as the lead photo for the story?

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