Grading Every Chicago Bears Starter's 2013 Regular Season » The Chicago Bears were sent on early vacation after a crushing loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The Bears finished with an 8-8 record in what is considered an underachieving season.  Changes to the roster will come, but before the Bears can move forward they must evaluate the team. The ... Packers vs. Bears: Takeaways from Chicago's 33-28 Loss to Green Bay » The NFC North division crown and a trip to the playoffs were laid out before them, but the Chicago Bears could not capitalize and lost to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 33-28 on Sunday afternoon. The offense sputtered in the first half but was able to stay in check due to the defense. Unfortuna... Jay Cutler More Than Deserves to Be Bears' QB of the Future » The disappointment of once again falling short of the postseason should not cloud the decision-making process that lies ahead of the Chicago Bears on soon-to-be free agent quarterback Jay Cutler.  While the Bears were unable to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, Cutle... Referee Error Aids Green Bay Packers in Win over Chicago Bears » The Green Bay Packers, now NFC North champs and playoff bound after their 33-28 win over the Chicago Bears, converted on fourth down three times on their final drive, culminating with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb on 4th-and-8. However, one of those fourth-down con... Packers vs. Bears: Final Game Grades and Analysis for Chicago » Aaron Rodgers throws a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to eliminate the Chicago Bears from playoff contention.     Final Score Green Bay Packers: 33 Chicago Bears: 28 Final Analysis for the Chicago Bears Passing Offense: Jay Cutler did everything he could to keep his team in t...
Friday, 28 November 2014
Chicago Blackhawks News
Chicago Blackhawks: An O-for-April Power Play Is Cause for at Least Some Concern
Sunday, 21 April 2013 22:27    PDF Print E-mail

The Chicago Blackhawks are flying high as the regular season winds down, but there are still areas of concern with this hockey team. I may be getting older but I don't think my memory is working against me just yet when it comes to the 'Hawks' ineptitude on the man advantage.

It would be understandable for me to question my recall. After all, the Blackhawks possess a team with enough offensive firepower to lead the NHL's Western Conference in goals scored. Only Pittsburgh has scored more than Chicago's 139 goals.

The 'Hawks struck twine five times in what was a 5-2 victory over Dallas Monday night. None of those goals came on the power play. Chicago won its sixth straight despite whiffing on four power-play attempts.

The Blackhawks have won six straight despite not having posted a power-play goal since a March 29 loss to Anaheim. Chicago is 8-1 since that loss to the Ducks and is averaging 3.5 goals per contest over that span.

Coach Joel Quenneville was tossing out almost random collections of skaters on the power-play unit as Monday night wore on in an attempt to break the 0-for-April slump. Some prime opportunities came the 'Hawks' way but none of his combinations struck gold.

That's really the rub.

Should we be worried about a power-play unit that has plummeted to 21st in the league at 15.44 percent when Chicago is in line to finish the 2013 season as the league's top team?

If the 'Hawks continue to throw the puck on goal, eventually they are going to convert. A top-five penalty kill helps mask what some teams would consider a huge issue heading into the playoffs.

Last year, the anemic power play led in part to the dismissal of assistant Mike Haviland. Jamie Kompon is the assistant assigned to that area, and right now, there is barely a change in the conversion rate. Is it the players or is the system to blame?

If the Blackhawks are hoisting a Stanley Cup in a couple of months, will anyone care how few of the goals Chicago scored came with a man advantage?

I doubt it.

However, with all cylinders firing down the stretch there should be at least some measure of concern in an area that obviously could use a boost before the postseason starts.

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Report: Chicago Blackhawks to Play Penguins at Soldier Field in March 2014
Sunday, 21 April 2013 22:27    PDF Print E-mail

Pull the knit hats out again, Blackhawks fans.

According to Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Blackhawks are scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, on March 1, 2014.

The game is part of the NHL's new format for the "Winter Classic."  Instead of playing one outdoor game on New Year's Day, the NHL has scheduled six outdoor games throughout the season.  The typical Winter Classic will go on as scheduled on New Year's Day between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.

The other reported games are as follows:

Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks; Dodger Stadium, Jan. 25

New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers; Yankee Stadium, Jan. 26

New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders; Yankee Stadium, Jan. 29

Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks; BC Place, Vancouver, Canada, March 2

BC Place is an outdoor stadium located in Vancouver.  The facility played host to the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The game will be the first outdoor match for the Chicago Blackhawks since their appearance in the 2009 Winter Classic, which saw the Blackhawks fall to the Red Wings, 6-4.

Earlier in 2013, Soldier Field hosted the inaugural "Hockey City Classic," a doubleheader matchup between four college teams.  The Chicago Tribune deemed the Classic "a hit at Soldier Field."

The Blackhawks also skated on the Soldier Field ice and participated in a friendly scrimmage with disabled veterans before the Hockey City Classic.

The NHL has already approved a radical conference realignment for next season, although the Blackhawks and Penguins will remain in separate conferences.

Conditions could have an enormous impact on the proposed game.  According to Weather.com, the average high on March 1 in Chicago is 41 degrees Fahrenheit.  In 1992, Chicago set a record high on that date with a temperature of 73 degrees.  The record low is five-below, set in 1962.

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Chicago Blackhawks: Carter Hutton Deserves a Start Saturday
Sunday, 21 April 2013 22:27    PDF Print E-mail

The Chicago Blackhawks have sewn up the top seed in the Western Conference. Last night's overtime win over Nashville gave them eight straight wins. The 'Hawks honored longtime announcer Pat Foley Friday night.

How about throwing a bone to a journeyman goalie Saturday?

Carter Hutton was recalled Thursday to replace an injured Ray Emery. The 27-year-old was up with the team briefly last season and backed up Antti Niemi in San Jose for a few games in 2010-11. He has never appeared in an NHL contest.

Hutton hasn't been as sharp for the IceHogs as he was last season, when he earned a two-way deal with the Blackhawks. He has, however, been a fan favorite in Rockford and the team's starter in net for 51 games.

He sports a 2.72 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and has Rockford's only two shutouts on the season. He is a big reason that the team has fought for a playoff spot in the final games of the AHL schedule.

We all know that this isn't a charity organization that Rocky Wirtz is running in Chicago. However, this is an organization that has continuously made an effort to reward hard-working players with the occasional start.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I follow the IceHogs and that Hutts is my son's favorite player. From a sentimental standpoint, it would be great to see Hutton get the net Saturday.

Do the 'Hawks still have something to play for? Of course. The Presidents' Trophy is still within their grasp, as they lead Pittsburgh by six points for that honor with five games to play.

If Razor were healthy, there is little doubt that coach Joel Quenneville would have him in the crease against the Coyotes. Crawford wasn't terrible, but he certainly wasn't especially sharp in the 5-4 win over Nashville.

I would think Hutton would benefit from the Blackhawks defense just as Emery has for the bulk of the season. Tell me the players wouldn't play hard in front of a guy making his first NHL start.

Quenneville may elect to put Crawford back in net Saturday and that wouldn't shock me in the least. It's hard to project Hutton as an NHL backup after a season that wasn't as stellar as 2011-12. He is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and may not be in Chicago's plans after that.

However, with little to lose in getting some new faces into the lineup (Drew LeBlanc, anyone?), it would be pretty cool to see Hutton patrolling the net for the Blackhawks Saturday night. 

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Chicago Blackhawks: 3rd Line Is an Odd Combination That Has Clicked
Sunday, 03 February 2013 21:02    PDF Print E-mail

The Chicago Blackhawks third line is certainly made up of some strange bedfellows. I certainly wouldn't have figured to see a Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg trio entering the 2013 season.

The funny thing is that it's worked so far. Pretty well, actually.

Bickell split time between the checking line and the doghouse a season ago. Shaw has an energy-line game and Stalberg is a top-six player without a spot in the top six. There is little to suggest that these three refugees from the land of misfit lines would enjoy such success when cast together.

They are, though.

This group has consistently been tough on the forecheck and created scoring opportunities. Case in point—Chicago's second goal in their 3-2 shootout loss Wednesday night.

Bickell took a pass from Patrick Kane in the opening period, came out of the corner and headed toward the net. As he approached the left goal post, he got the puck out in front of the crease. Shaw was waiting and tied the score 1-1 with a shot over Josh Harding's stick side.

The third line had numerous other chances that, like the Blackhawks, it couldn't quite convert. However, this combination has played well in the first seven games.

Bickell has three assists on the season to go with his goal back on Jan. 26. Stalberg provided the assist to Nick Leddy that won last Sunday's overtime game with the Red Wings.

If Bickell can stay on the aggressive side, the three present some interesting wrinkles. Stalberg's speed opens the ice for his linemates. From the right side, the left-shooting Swede is in good position to find open skaters in front of the net. Shaw is capable of tapping in any rebounds created by his wing men.

Getting some contributions from the teaming of Bickell, Stalberg and Shaw is going to benefit coach Joel Quenneville as he attempts to roll four lines this season. This may not be a traditional grouping, but it's hard to argue with the results.

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Chicago Blackhawks: Many Positives as Winning Streak Comes to an End
Sunday, 03 February 2013 21:02    PDF Print E-mail

The Chicago Blackhawks' perfect season has come to an end.

It took a shootout, and one final ping off the crossbar from Patrick Sharp's shootout attempt, to end the best start in Blackhawks' history.

The Minnesota Wild handed the 'Hawks their first loss of the season—though it was in overtime, so Chicago still garners one point in the standings. That one point brings the 'Hawks to a total of 13, which leads the NHL—the San Jose Sharks stand alone in second with 12 points.

It was another strong night for the penalty kill, which faced four power plays—including a 1:23 5-on-3, which required a spectacular save by Corey Crawford.

Crawford also has a great game once again turning away 23 shots and shining when the Blackhawks lacked energy.

Defenseman Duncan Keith remained positive about the team after losing in a shootout.

"We played a lot better the second half of the game," Keith said. "If we had won we probably would be saying we played a great game and we're happy, but we lost in a shootout so we're not going to get down and get negative" (via Chris Kuc Chicago Tribune).

A shootout loss is unlikely to deter this team as it heads to Vancouver to take on the Canucks on Friday night.

Despite the loss, the Blackhawks won't dwell too much on what went wrong Wednesday night. Instead, they'll focus on the other five games of the road trip, according to Jonathan Toews (via Scott Powers ESPNChicago):

That’s a great start. The best thing about that is we’re doing a great job of putting the last game behind us and getting ready for the next one. That’s what we got to keep doing: Keep it one game at a time. We’re on a long road trip now. Can’t look too far ahead. We especially can’t get satisfied if we win a game or two. 

With the Canucks, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks next on the Blackhawks' schedule, Toews is right, the best game plan is to forget the loss and move on.

As easy as that can be, coach Joel Quenneville must stress how flat the 'Hawks came out to start the game. 

Minnesota's first goal came due to a defensive breakdown in the Blackhawks defensive zone. Crawford was unable to handle the rebound, and the defense failed to clear the puck before Matt Cullen put it in the net.

Sloppy offensive play held the 'Hawks back in the first half of the game

Patrick Sharp had an unusually bad game, often turning the puck over and failing to produce on the second line. The same could be said of Patrick Kane, who was forcing the cross-ice pass a little too much.

It's easy to get a little lazy in the defensive zone when a team is on a six-game winning streak. The shootout loss may be used by Quenneville as a wake-up call to stress the importance of playing hard every shift.

But even though some areas need to be worked on, the Blackhawks showed encouraging signs that they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Nick Leddy continued to improve and prove that he is an elite top-four NHL defenseman; Crawford remained solid in net and special teams shined during the penalty kill.

But one of best things to come from this loss is the electrifying play of the Blackhawks' third line. Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg were aggressive whenever their line hit the ice—often generating energy and momentum for the team.

Shaw had the Blackhawks' first goal after Bickell rushed to the front of Minnesota's net to cause a little chaos.

Depth scoring is great to see, especially in a shortened season that is sure to test even the deepest NHL roster.

However the Blackhawks choose to look at this, one thing is for sure: Their road trip is unlikely to get any easier after the loss.

"Going to a shootout, anything can happen," Coach Quenneville said. "We had the play in the last part of the game. It's disappointing, obviously, when you don't win but at least let's get excited about getting back in the 'W' column" (via Chris Kuc Chicago Tribune).

 

Follow James Maahs on Twitter for all the latest on the NHL and Chicago Blackhawks:

Follow @Jmaz90

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