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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Redwings at Blackhawks - Preseason Recap

Almost October and the Hawks were back at the United Center, for the first time since winning game 6 against Vancouver in dramatic fashion. What better way to open it up than with the Red Wings in town? Factor in that the Hawks were finally presenting the equivalent of an NHL lineup, and you have a winning combination. What better way to get the home fans fired up?

The Blackhawks came out blazing in the first half of the opening period, but could only manage one powerplay goal. The Wings came roaring back after getting a 5-on-3 and finished the first with two goals to end the period up 2-1. The second started the same way the first ended. The Hawks looked sloppy in their own zone and gave up yet another pitiful coverage goal. This might have woken them up a bit, because they came back a few minutes later, to get their second powerplay goal of the night, and that's how the second finished. A one goal third period is how the night was going to wrap up. The third period turned ugly with a vicious hit after the Hawks tied it up. The end result was a 4-3 Hawks win, but it was not without a price.

The Good

  • The line of Hossa and Brunette with Kaner at center looked really hot right out of the gates, as Kane went right up the middle of the ice, and dished to Hoss, who tried to go 5-hole on Conklin. This was just a little preview of what was to come, as the game went on.
  • It certainly didn't take long for the powerplay line of Brunette/Tazer/Kaner to score. They pretty much toyed with the Wings for about 45 seconds, and Toews decided it was time to take it to the net, like a boss. Just when everyone was thinking shot, he dropped it to Kaner, who put it 5-hole.
  • After surrendering a second awful goal, the Hawks took advantage of their next powerplay chance. Keith fed Seabrook in the high slot for an absolute cannon of a one timer that Conklin had no chance on, nor should he want to. A shot like that could kill a man. Time to buckle down, gents.
  • A minute and a half into the third period, Ben Smith got a gift wrapped goal when the puck took an insane bounce off the partition and shot out in front of the net. With Conklin fully into "no mans land", Smith still had to fight the ridiculously obnoxious hook of former Blackhawk, Ryan Johnson. We'll certainly take that one.
  • After Smith went down, Tazer drew another silly penalty to end up with a 5-on-3. The Hawks eventually took advantage, as Kaner fed Hoss for a one timer that snuck through Conklin, to finally take the lead.
  • If Kaner had just scored on MOST of the great chances he had, he would have EASILY had a hat-trick. He was all over the ice, but clearly a little gassed, at times. The breakaway he had might have been the slowest I've ever seen him skate. Not only that, but he was 67% on faceoffs. Nothing wrong with that, and maybe Quenneville is onto something.
  • Sami Lepisto looks like he's going to be the "under the radar" signing of the year, for Stanbo. While he gets as little "foggy" in his own end, while carrying the puck the other way, he's looked very good. Let's hope he learns a little of that defensive stuff from his talented teammates.
The Bad

  • Just when the Hawks were looking really good, the Hawks take two penalties and end up trying to kill a 5-on-3. Crawford and the rest of the PK line were playing very tight and the Hawks got an unfortunate bounce, with the Red Wings Nyquist banking it off Brunnstrom's skate and into the net.
  • Shortly after giving up the powerplay goal, Toews decided that chasing a player behind the net was a great idea, and the combination of Seabrook/Hammer got completely mesmerized by the puck. With three players following the puck, Drew Miller slid right into the open area, which was literally the entire front of the net. He took a nice pass from Conner and buried it past Crawford. It was really an awful defensive play from players that should know better. Playing down to their competition?
  • Hoss, Rusty, and Bolly on the powerplay is...curious, to say the least. Can we please not see any more of that?
  • Things just went from bad to worse after the Hawks failed on a second period powerplay, as Corey Emmerton beat two Hawks behind the net for the puck and unloaded it out in front of the net to Brunnstrom, who had all day to whack away at it. Lepisto and O'Donnell were out there for this one, and, again, I can't say it was a stellar display from two veterans. For the second time in the game a Detroit player was left in front of the Hawks net wide open.

The Ugly

  • Ben Smith took a BRUTAL hit to the head from Brendan Smith about halfway through the third. Benny had a break and Brendan came across with a shoulder to Benny's cabeza. Ben Smith went down in a HEAP and was residing somewhere between Mars and Pluto. He's going to miss some time because his egg was seriously scrambled. I've seen certain writers say things like, "What was he suppose to do? Let Smith skate in?". The answer is no. What he could have done is any assortment of other things, like maybe bend his knees and get under Smith, for a clean hit. Instead he had his knees practically locked and threw his shoulder and elbow into Ben's head. It's illegal no matter how you filet it.
  • If the Smith news wasn't bad enough, Viktor Stalberg quietly disappeared between the first and second periods, and never returned after sustaining what Q called a knee injury that was "not good". This will change the dynamic of the final cuts pretty significantly, if both players are ruled out for extended time.

Here are the video highlights for your viewing pleasure:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Razor vs The Alligator

While the media and fans should be more concerned with who will open up at the #2 Center slot, because Patrick Sharp hasn't played and will undoubtedly be out of shape and still tender from his surgery, the media is having a field day with this Alexander Salak vs Ray Emery "controversy". The Center questions worry me MUCH more than the backup goaltender situation. Teams can sneak by with questionable backup netminders, hell, the Blackhawks themselves did it with Huet. Veteran or not, the guy would have had a difficult time stopping the Hindenburg, and his ego was as fragile as wet paper mache. But I digress; I'm not here to bash Huet for the ten thousandth time, because he's been out of our lives for over a year, and we must be thankful for that. The matter at hand is Older, Broke-Hip Veteran vs. Younger, Spastic Kid. I'll refrain from calling myself a goaltender, because some nights I'm the furthest thing from it, but I've played the position for years and understand it, which is more than I can say for 99% of the "journalists" weighing in.

Razor Emery

I would like to point out that I've always liked him, and pulled for his success. Before he was ever signed to his tryout, I was suggesting that if they were nervous about Salak, they should bring in Emery. He would be cheap, and still has potential. Many weeks later, and here he is, donning the #30 for our Fearless Feathered Warriors. I like his fire, which is generally perceived as misguided anger. The facts remain that he had a bit of an issue in the KHL, with a team trainer, as well as some fisticuffs in his previous NHL stops. Good, bad, or indifferent, the guy hasn't had the easiest road, and I'm not saying that most of it wasn't his fault. I'm just saying, I understand. He has had his flashes of solid play, but nothing has really stood out, to pull him ahead of Salak. We know what we're going to get from Emery, barring another serious injury. He's no worse than Turco last year, and Huet the year before. As a backup, I can deal with that, FOR THE RIGHT PRICE. I guess we will see what happens in Emery's first full game, against Pittsburgh.

Nevertheless, we're here splitting hairs over guys that may or may not play 20 games this year and, if things go well (or horribly wrong), no playoff games. Emery has sensitive hips, and requires a little more care than your average goalie. There are times when I sensed him playing gingerly when having to make extreme side to side motions. This would be my biggest concern. Other than that, he's not going to dominate or singlehandedly win you games, nor should he be expected to. Backup goalies main objective is to give the usual starter a rest. Break up the long season, so your money guy can recover. If he can keep the Hawks in a game, like he did for Anaheim last season, he has done his job.

Alexander Salak

Again, this is a kid that I really like, and have been on his bandwagon since his rights were acquired from Florida. He's young, talented and has good size. He hit a point in his career where Europe and the AHL weren't enough competition for him, and here he sits, sharing a stool with Emery, trying to get his NHL chance. At a glance, Salak shows the skills to make it in the NHL, and may develop into a solid NHL starter someday. The problem here, is that he needs more NHL caliber seasoning. He's a relative unknown, and still getting use to NHL snipers. It's clear to anyone with a brain that the Hawks would love to end up with two, young, talented goaltenders. Not one young goalie and one older question mark. Emery would be a single season fill in, a lot like Turco was, and Salak would be the 1B to Crawford's 1A. It's a great problem to have, and the Hawks would undoubtedly love to start that scenario this season. If Salak had lit the world on fire, that would be the case, but he's done nothing to set himself apart from Emery.

What worries me about Salak is his rather unorthodox stance. It is very wide at the base, almost cartoonishly wide. When you watch him get ready for faceoffs you can see him adjusting his feet very wide, to get in a comfortable stance, but it takes away some of his height. On top of that, he holds his glove and left elbow VERY low. All of this is fine if you're and upright goalie, but Salak plays a very aggressive butterfly style, which has him down on his knees sometimes before the shot is even taken. Dare I say that this is what we saw Huet do? It's the truth, as much as it pains me to say that. This is a fairly accurate representation of his stance, even though you can't see how wide his feet are:

You can see how low his glove is

The Verdict
By all accounts, if the price is right, Emery will get the backup spot. He's done nothing to lose it, even though he has done nothing to win it outright. Salak has played his preseason complete game and played solid for 2/3 of that game, so if Emery can just perform the same or better, he should be offered a contract. Salak can go to Rockford and compete with Richards and Hutton, whom he will beat out for the starting job. If the Razor Experiment goes terribly bad, they can bring Salak back up. One should expect Salak to dominate in the AHL like he did 2 years ago, and be the outright backup next season, while Emery will be shopping for a possible starting gig somewhere else. Barring an extreme decision, The management will make the safe play, and stockpile their talent.

Blackhawks at Redwings - Preseason Recap

Here the Hawks were, playing the Wings in Detroit for preseason game, in a 80% empty Joe Louis Arena. While the Hawks were still playing with a mostly minor league roster, and the Wings had most of their big guns on the ice. The baby Hawks still put up a valiant effort, and came storming back. The first period was NOT a good one at all. Two failed powerplays, two pretty weak goals against (one on a bad penalty), and the Hawks couldn't muster up much pressure at all. Trying to chase a 0-2 deficit was going to be a tough task, after just 20 minutes. The Hawks rebounded nicely in the second twenty minutes, winning the period 2-1. Penalties were still their Achilles Heel, though. The third period would hold the key, and the Hawks answered the call by tying up the game, sending it to overtime, and eventually a shootout. Unfortunately, they weren't able to pull it out in the shootout. We can write it up as a character builder. The lines for the game were as follows:



The Good
  • Even though he was relegated to playing with the forth line slugs, Vik Stalberg looked like he was carrying his confidence with him into this game, at least in the first period, after his 2 goal performance Friday.
  • Each time I see Dylan Olsen, I can't believe how big he looks out there. For a 20 year old kid, it's remarkable. He's got a rocket of a shot too. He's going to be a pretty good one, unfortunately he still looks pretty slow, especially being that big and all.
  • Rookie Brandon Pirri continued to impress with a snipe of a shorthanded goal. I'm always happy to see talented kids do well, and he deserved some recognition. Conklin must have underestimated him, but it's an important goal nonetheless.
  • Frodo had a 20 foot lead on anyone in the building after Bickell fed him for a break-a-way, and Conklin made a nice save. Glad to see him with chances in the offensive zone.
  • Nice to see Jimmy Hayes make an appearance this preseason, with some excellent composure. He was fed in front, all alone, by Ben Smith. Hayes pulled it to his backhand and beat Conklin.
  • I like what I see on the penalty kill from Megamind Mayers. He is going to turn out to be a very good "under the radar" signing, and for a forth liner, I'll take it.
  • Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes continued to play exceptional hockey tying up the game about halfway through the third period. Ben Smith started the play by forcing a turnover, and Hayes composure showed again, as he held it long enough for Pirri to get into position. Hayes then dumped it off to Pirri, who buried it.

The Bad
  • After being the center of attention Friday night, Brandon Saad faded into the background. Expect to see him send back to Saginaw in the next few days.
  • The Hawks were lucky early when a shot that beat Salak was negated by a penalty. Salak is going to need to play standing up more, if he expects to be successful in the NHL.
  • Well, Well, Well. Tell me how long it's going to take for THIS sideshow to get old. Dan Carcillo takes a bad offensive zone penalty (he also took another stupid one, later) and then the Wings score on the ensuing faceoff. Johan Frazen screened the HELL out of Salak and he was beaten again, high, by Filppula. Atta boy, Carbomb, right on queue. Preseason or not, stupidity calls for
  • With 46 seconds left in the first Zetterberg beat Salak high once again. This was just an awful play. If I were Quenneville, I would have taken him out. He didn't make one solid save all period and only faced 7 shots. He was on his knees before the PASS was even made.
  • Lidstrom put the Hawks down 3-1 with another powerplay goal after Marcus Kruger lost the initial faceoff. Even though we have to realize that the Hawks team was playing an NHL roster compared to their AHL roster, no one wants to see this.

The Ugly
  • The Wings were CLEARLY shooting high early on Salak, and he was beaten just about every time. He needs to get that glove up, because these NHLers are going to snipe him at will. He evened out the rest of the game, but still looked a little panicky, which caught him out of position a few times.

The Shootout
  • Franzen stopped by Salak.
  • Pirri scored on Conklin
  • Bertuzzi scored on a fancypants move.
  • Frolik was stopped by Conklin
  • Zetterberg scored 5-hole on Salak
  • Saad was stopped by Conklin, never getting a shot off

Here are the video highlights for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blackhawks vs Capitals - Preseaon Recap...Sort of

Since the game wasn't on TV and I had to listen to the Caps radio feed, here is all I could come up with based on the radio and limited video highlights:

-The Ward goal was fairly average. Long shot from very high in the slot by Ovechkin that he tipped in. Crawford was probably screened, and doesn't have much help on tipped shots.

-I'm not really sure who pissed in his corn flakes, but Pick-to-Click Vik was an absolute BEAST. Two goals, even more chances, and he was, should I say, DOMINANT?. Could he be hitting his stride?

-First Hawks fight of the season: Megamind Mayers, against Chicagoan, and Former Hawks Prospect, Danny Richmond.

-First Hawks goal: Nice feed from Saad, who drew the defender to him, and then dumped it off to Stalberg on the back door. Put it on the board.

-Second Hawks goal: Vik blazed around the Caps defender Sean Collins, and Vokoun was drawn down and out of the net. Wraparounds are always bad goals for a goalie to give up.

-Second Caps goal was a BRUTAL giveaway by The Matador in the Hawks zone. Hendricks picked it up and did what and NHL player SHOULD do, given the opportunity.

-The game winner by Saad was a snipefest. Tazer drew two Washington defenders and dumped it off to Saad who sniped Vokoun top shelf. The kid had a hell of a game.

-Jimmy Hayes had 5 shots on net to lead the Hawks. At least he's getting it on net.

-Agent Smith lead all Hawks Forwards in ice time, and Duncs lead all Defensemen.

-No powerplay goals either way. Some powerhouses, eh?

-Nice comeback, and the line of Vik, Tazer, and Saad was obviously dominant

Here are the video highlights:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Blackhawks vs Penguins - Preseason Recap

The first period started very slow in this game, but the teams picked it up in the later minutes of the period. Powerplays for both teams yielded no goals, and they were held scoreless after one period. The Hawks managed a goal in the second, and held the Pens scoreless once again, heading into the third. Things fell completely apart in the third period, as the Hawks gave up 4 straight goals. You really can't put much into a game where MAYBE 3 regulars were playing. Way to work with that lead, gents. Seriously, though, This is a nothing game that is more about seeing what the young players can do individually, rather than the team outcome.

The Good
  • My pick to click, Brandon Saad, was all over the place, especially in the second period. His play is going to really put some heat on other players in the organization like, say, Kyle Beach. He's not the same kind of player, but that doesn't mean much. The organization can adjust. This kid is going to be an absolute STUD, and the Blackhawks are going to be forced to play him in the very near future. He's THAT good.
  • Brandon Pirri was very noticeable, all game long. His speed and forechecking made a big difference. At one point, he took the puck right through the middle of the ice and went end to end. He's a keeper.
  • Even though he can get out muscled at times, Nick Leddy seemed to be everywhere, as well. His confidence has grown considerably, and he's going to be fun to watch this year.
  • "Standing him up nicely is John Scott" - That is a comment that NONE of us thought we'd ever hear, especially while defending against a player the caliber of Jordan Staal. Every dog has his day, I guess.
  • Frolik opened up the scoring with a nice little deke that caught the defender reaching. Frodo cut into the slot and snapped one that slipped through Brent Johnson. It was clear that Frodo was one of the better players on the ice last night, and skated with Bryan Bickell, and Brett McLean. If we can get this kind of play all year, we could see the kid get 30 goals.
  • Alex Salak played a period and a half of shutout hockey, which can only help his chances of becoming the backup. He was the more composed of the two netminders, but Emery really didn't have much help.

The Bad
  • Enduring John Scott for 2 full games on defense is PAINFULLY annoying. The guy skates like he's wearing a full diaper. If he's not tenderizing someone's face, I have no use for him. Give some more of the kids time, PLEASE. We know what the Big Slow is going to give us, which isn't much.
  • Bickell, Frolik, McLean with LaLonde and Lepisto on the powerplay had a few chances, but nothing got to show for it. It's not really worth complaining about the powerplay with guys that won't be seeing the NHL, much less the powerplay, in a few weeks.
  • Two minutes into the third, the Pens tied up the game after a shot that was redirected off the post popped out to, of all people, Jordan Staal. Brett McLean was mesmerized by the loose puck and failed to tie up Staal, who easily put the puck in the back of the net. Emery had no chance.
  • Emery gave up his second goal of the game on a deflection that ended up in the top corner of the net. It's really hard to expect him to be able to made that adjustment, so close. The part that bothers me is that Matt Cooke is the person that got the goal.
  • Tyler Kennedy put the Pens up 3-1 after picking up a pass that went through the slot untouched, as Brian Connelly fell asleep, letting Kennedy in behind him. That's all she wrote, folks.
  • Razor's rebound control left a bit to be desired, especially on the third goal. Granted, Brian Connelly just stood there and watched the rebound slide right past him, and be put in the net by Tyler Kennedy, but that was a pretty lazy shot in the first place.

The Ugly
  • Listening to the announcers stick their tongues up Matt Cooke's hind end for a good two minutes made me want to regurgitate my Taco Bell. The guy has made a mockery of the NHL with his douchebag plays, and they are trying to tell us that the reason that the Pens didn't get past Tampa was that they were missing Cooke. Really, boys? That conversation ends after you mention Crosby and Malkin.
  • Jordan Staal finished the night by making Lalonde fall on his ass from sheer fear, and maneuvered right around him. Not really sure what angle Emery was going for, but it was a bad one. With only 8 seconds left, it was really a moot point, but still ugly

Here are the video highlights of the game:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#Blackawks vs Oilers - Preseason Recap

The day has finally come, where we are finally able to watch NHL hockey again. GRANTED, most of the team on the ice will be collecting paychecks from someplace like Rockford, but it's Blackhawks hockey nonetheless. My apologies for the late recap, but I had some technical difficulties with my game notes (i.e. deleted them). ANYWHO lets begin...

First of all, I want to point out what idiots the Blackhawks web team are for the way they presented the game to the fans. The put a link up that pointed to a list of directions to get to the feed. The problem is that they obviously don't understand that a heavy majority of the people on the interweb can barely figure out how to wipe their own asses. There should have been a direct link to the feed on the splash page. THAT'S ALL!. With each step you add another point of failure, which will cause confusion. Maybe failure was the goal, and if it was, you achieved that. Get your act straight, guys!

Secondly, in the day and age of HD and 3D televisions, we have to watch a game from a PC with a low def feed? Really? We can produce 3D porn, and we can't get a professional NHL team's preseason game on television? That's absolutely ridiculous. This is not 1940 where people needed to sit around one radio to listen to their favorite programs. We're not asking for Rockford Icehogs or Chicago Express games. These are the CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. We can see every meaningless MLB and NFL preaseaon game, but Hawks fans are huddled around their PCs trying to follow a tiny little fuzzy puck? Yeah, right, thanks guys! There aren't as many people as you might guess that can hook their PCs up to a TV, and it's not like that even helps, because the feed is so fuzzy and grainy that we can't even read the numbers on the players backs. Don't even get me STARTED on the idiotic "50/50 raffle" box that took up damn near a quarter of the screen. So, the twatterverse can tongue the bungs of the Blackhawks about the stream all they want, but the fact of the matter is that there wasn't much effort put in at all, and we're not talking about some team that never wins, in the middle of rural USA. It's one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, one of the biggest markets in the NHL, and recent Stanley Cup champs.

Now, onto the actual hockey:

The first period was generally pretty boring, even though the Oilers had a majority of the scoring chances, and neither team could manage to put anything up on the board. The second period was another story. The Oilers jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead after the Hawks gave up a powerplay goal, and then gave up a generally soft one, but they were not to be outdone. The Hawks came storming back, jumping on some Oilers mistakes and turnovers, to tied the game up at 2-2 going into the intermission. The third period didn't go as well, for our heroes. They gave up a late third period goal, and then an empty netter to finish off their first preseason game a 4-2 loser.

The Good
  • Ray Emery played a very solid first period, but followed it up with a couple of "tweeners" in the second. Overall, he had a passing grade, though, in my eyes.
  • Those of you that picked Rusty Olesz to be the best Blackhawks player last night are going to Las Vegas with me, to help daddy get his little girl's college fund rolling. He had a solid game skating with Captain Serious and Viktor Stalberg and scored the first Hawks goal. When it came time for him to take advantage of his chance, he buried it. This is a good way to shut the whiners up, and earn that salary. It helps a little that the puck was put on his stick, wide open, by an Oilers defender. He needs to buy that guy dinner.
  • Jamal "Megamind" Mayers was the second most surprising player, as he took a feed from Rookie Mark NcNeill and roofed it over the Oilers goalie to score the second preseason goal for the Hawks. That's a good way to get the fans of your new team to warm up to you.
  • Brandon Saad didn't show up on the score sheet, but the kid can play. Along with Joe Lavin and Jimmy Hayes, the Hawks clearly have some promising rookies. All of them could play at the NHL level and probably deserve to, but it's not going to happen right away with the roster the Hawks have. Jimmy Hayes is fast and huge, when you watch him out there. The kid is going to be a very good player someday, and we can thank Toronto for basically giving him to us.
  • Salak looked pretty good before the Eberle goal, but that one cost him and the Hawks.
The Bad
  • The Oilers opened up the scoring with a powerplay goal that Ryan Smyth poked in after Razor Emery couldn't handle the long shot by rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that went through him like a slot machine, and laid in the crease. It is, what it is. First game of the preseason, sloppy goal, first point for the first overall pick.
  • The second Oilers goal could be put squarely on Razor's shoulders. He over pursued Josh Green coming into the zone and left his blocker side wide open. Most NHL players will hit that spot, and Green did.
  • Edmonton's third goal was a result of the Hawks getting lazy after yet another failed powerplay, and letting two Oilers behind them in on a 2-on-1. Jordan Eberle just picked Alex Salak apart, and the Hawks weren't able to recover.
  • 0-5 on the powerplay guys? I understand the manpower isn't there, but lets generate SOMETHING. There IS talent out there, and the Oiler were playing with a split squad too.
  • Kyle Beach anyone? Didn't think so.
The Ugly
  • I hate to go back to the feed of the game, but they are cutting back to the penalty box for 5 seconds at a clip, while a powerplay is going on, so we can watch David Toews pick his nose, something isn't right. We're not idiots, and we know where the players go when they get a penalty.
  • John Scott got beat so bad, in a foot race for an icing call that John Wiedeman couldn't gather the words to describe it. It was really embarassing, and just showed that he is NOT an NHL player. Can someone please bite the bullet and set this walking calamity loose? Enough, PLEASE
Here are the video highlights for your viewing pleasure:

Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 Blackhawks Training Camp Festival

Pictures like this never get old to me

Happy Hockey Hangover Monday, folks. The first sign of hockey life came and went this weekend, with the annual Training Camp Festival. This was my first one, because last year I had to pay the bills and bring home the bacon. It really IS amazing that a team can sell out their building for a PRACTICE. I didn't partake in all the outdoor hoopla, because I'm above the age of 10 and I'm really just interested in actual HOCKEY being played. I was able to snap some in action shots of the festival, so feel free to check them out on the Puckin Hostile Facebook Page. Please be patient with me, as my mind is still in preseason form, as well.

-The day inside the UC began with some youth players doing drill as Eddie O barked out "encouragement" to them. Cute, yes, and awesome for those kids to be able to skate on the UC ice, but not quite the level I was there to see, unless I was there watching John Scott.

-The initial practice had the white team and red team doing drills, with Quenneville wearing a mic. That mic didn't make it all the way through practice. Kaner was included in the group, but wore a black helmet as opposed to everyone elses white lids. It was joked that he wore it just to be different, by Sharpie, but one can assume that it was to indicate "no contact". Following that was two 50 minute practice scrimmages, first with the Jonathan Toews white team against the red squad, and them the black team against the red team. There were 5-on-5 shootouts after both scrimmages to add a little excitement.

-Sharpie, Hossa, Dylan Olsen, and Jeremy Morin did not skate at all. Sharpie, of course, was nursing a sore side from having his emergency appendectomy. Hossa was not back from attending one of the funerals from the Lokomotiv tragedy, Olsen was nursing some injury, and Morin was still feeling effects of a concussion he sustained in Rockford, last season.

-The big event INSIDE the UC was Patrick Kane skating the practice and then coming out as the "surprise" participant in the Black/Red shootout. He ended up scoring on Mattsson to tie up the shootout, and the crowd went bananas. It was nice to see him out there dominating.

-Captain Serious was in midseason form. As hard as I can be on players, does this guy do ANYTHING wrong? He was far and away the best player on the ice, and even gave rookie Mark NcNeill a little "how do ya do", picking his pocket from behind, while the kid was lollygagging through the neutral zone. Lets not forget the 5-hole break-a-way goal he scored on Emery, either. Effortless.

-Rostislav Olesz made HIS Blackhawks debut in unspectacular fashion. I'd like nothing more than to see this kid be a steal, but I really saw NOTHING special about him, especially nothing that would command $3-plus million dollars. Just another skater out there, and could have been easily mistaken for one of the European prospects.

-Speaking of people that were unspectacular, Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger played together on the black team. Still nothing there that's screaming "next level" at me. If Kruger plays anywhere but Rockford, he will be overmatched. He doesn't have enough raw talent to overcome his small stature.

-Dan Carcillo is going to be QUITE the circus this year. In his second shift, he laid a heavy hit on a red team player and Rockford Icehog Brandon Bollig proceeded to take exception and jaw with him. They didn't throw down, but there were a few moments from it. In the same shift Carcillo and Bolland had an exchange as both were returning to the bench. On Sunday, Carcillo and new draft pick/yapping chihuahua Andrew Shaw dropped the gloves. Carbomb has a high RPM mouth and a short fuse, which is pretty much what we all expected. I hope the Hawks penalty kill is up to par, because there is NO WAY Carbomb doesn't cost them a few needless powerplays against. He ALWAYS skates with a chip on his shoulder, and is always looking to put someone onto their ass, legal or not, Floyd Mayweather style.

-Brandon Saad and David Toews both showed some serious speed, at different points in the day. This Saad kid is going to end up a steal, and bringing in little Toews certainly didn't hurt.

-Invisi-Bolly looked like he was ready to play. He made a sweet move through two defenders, and looks like he may have taken a little weight off.

-Kyle Beach has to be counting down to the day when he becomes a former Blackhawk. I was quietly hoping to see Carbomb and Beach go at it. THAT is entertainment.

-Keith and Seabrook both looked like themselves, and by that I mean, Keith looked more like the Norris Trophy winner than the basket case we saw last season.

-Hammer was also in his usual zone. Unspectacular, but solid.

-Leddy looks more comfortable out there, and is skating very smooth.

-Montador, and O'Donnell weren't very noticeable, which means they were doing their jobs. Lepisto was decent, but gave up a godawful turnover to Rob Klinkhammer, who buried it on the break-a-way.

-To NO ONE'S surprise, John Scott is still awful. Joe Lavin is a much better option and much less of a liability.

-Corey Crawford did nothing to make me think he was any less of the player we saw last year. He was composed and looks to be in great shape. Sophomore slump, my ass.

-This was the first chance most Hawks fans have had to see Alex Salak. He only gave up one goal, and looked smooth in net. His stance is a little unorthodox, and he holds his glove REALLY low, but he seemed to be able to compensate. After seeing Saturday's skate, I would rate him above Emery, but we didn't get to see him in either of the shootouts.

-Of all the goaltenders, Ray Emery logged the most ice time. I would like to preface this by saying I like Ray Emery, and I have been pulling for him to make it. He skated the entire practice and the whole first period of the first scrimmage. I have been reading where people have been claiming he looked solid, but I didn't see it that way. He made quite a few of the expected stops, but he was also lit up a couple of times. He looks a little tight, and moved post to post as I would call it, "gingerly". As a goalie who has played MANY games favoring injuries, I can recognize when another goalie is favoring something. Ray Emery was. He may work through it, and it may just be preseason tightness, but I saw something. His post-to-post movement was slow.

-Half of last year's Rockford tandem was next as far as netminders go. Alec Richards is a decent goalie. He did nothing to play himself out of an emergency #3-#4 position, depending on what happens with Emery. Nothing spectacular, but didn't make any huge gaffes.

-Kent Simpson is clearly the tops, of the prospect goalies. He looks more composed and calm, compared to Mac Carruth and Johan Mattsson. None of them were awful, so that's another positive.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Keep That Bandwagon Parked, For Now, Ben Smith Fans

Last season, when the Hawks were doing their best to blow their playoff chances, and injuries were all but swallowing up the team, an unlikely hero emerged. Let me take you on a trip back in the Matrix to April 24th:

His name was plainly enough, Ben Smith. Agent Smith, to you folks in the Matrix. Smith tallied just one goal in the regular season, and then had a great Vancouver series with 3 goals in 7 games, including that game winner in OT of game 6. Chicago fans, and the media, fell in love with the kid. There were plans of parades, and men giving up their first born daughters to this young man, but was this a case of a "flash in the pan"? I tend to think all the praise and head petting is a little premature, and we should be careful to put too much stock into his potential. Granted, I think the kid is going to be a good solid 30-40 point NHL guy some day and I like him a lot, but the next Jeremy Roenick he is not. We're talking about a guy that only has 4 career NHL points (all of which are goals). People are going to have to back down off the Ben Smith Bus a bit, because if they expect too much of him, they may be blaming him for the JFK assassination and the Billy Goat Curse in the very near future. For those of you not familiar with the brief solid but unspectacular career of Agent Smith, here are his vitals:

Smith is a slightly smallish, but strong, forward that has some grit and a nose for the puck. He's played wing AND center in college, but has yet to get any work at center at the pro level. So, lets start by not entertaining any CRAZY notions of him stepping in at the #2 center spot, over Bolly or Sharpie, to slide Sharpie over to his more comfortable position at wing. It's not that easy to adjust from playing part time college center to full time NHL center. He found a nice little niche as a forgotten role player who took advantage of a glorious situation, and was successful. One can bet that the NHL scouting teams will have plenty of intel on him, for the upcoming season, so don't expect him to be able to sneak under the radar yet again, this year.

A safe bet would have Smith start the season in a serious top 6 role at Rockford, and be one of the prime call ups, when injury or lack of production hits the lineup. He is a pretty good bet to push a few of the veterans in camp, but he'd have to absolutely dominate to show up in the opening day lineup. As insignificant as it may seem, his cap hit is $812K a year, and the Hawks have players like Bryan Bickell, Jamal Mayer, Dan Carcillo and, Brandon "Don't call me Steven" Segal, that make less money. Of those players, Bickell is the only one signed for next season, so you figure they will try and get their money out of the other guys. I just don't see Smith as a 4th line player, but then again, Jack Skille was for a good portion of last year, and Smith can do all the things Skille did, if not better. I just don't think it really benefits the Hawks OR Smith any, by burying him on the 4th line. They have plenty of guys that can fill that role.

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