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Reclaiming Home Ice: Predators @ Blackhawks Game 5 Preview

Written by ChiBlackhawks on .

Game Time: 2:00 pm CT
TV/Radio: NBC, TSN, RDS / WGN 720
Don’t, It’s a Trap! On the Forecheck

Game 1: 4-1 loss
Game 2: Shutout win
Game 3: 4-1 loss
Game 4: Shutout win

That doesn't look good, if the assumption is we'll be following the same pattern, so let's hope we don't have to go there. We're down to a best of three now. The Blackhawks return to the United Center and attempt to win the next 2 games. The series win record of a team that wins Game 5 after a tied series is pretty high, and all the favorites (Detroit over Phoenix in this one, as I go with popular opinion) in the West have used the opportunity to grab a hold of their respective series. The Blackhawks will do well to do the same.

As it stands, the Predators:

  • May be playing with Hornqvist today. Hornqvist has been practicing but Trotz has been mum with regard to getting him back in the lineup. Like Quenneville, he's only saying Hornqvist might be ready by Game 5.
  • Will probably hold off getting Grebeshkov back. Though the official substitute for Grebeshskov is Cody Franson (aka the guy who sent a puck to take out Jordin Tootoo's face), Klein has been skating with Hamhuis in place of Grebeshkov, and Preds fans believe this needs to stop right away. It's interesting how, after Quenneville shook up lines heading into game 4, that Barry Trotz now faces the same decisions. We'll see how it turns out.
  • Still haven't gotten rid of Tootoo, despite their own players' best efforts. Jordin Tootoo had to get 45 stitches and plastic surgery to fix his face after he took a puck to the face (thanks, Cody Franson!) last Thursday. He is playing today. Between this, Doug Weight's "It's okay, I'm a hockey player" after getting hit by a car, and Eric Belanger's DIY dentistry, hockey players are badass.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks:

  • Have called up Corey Crawford from Rockford after their series ended with a sweep by the Texas Stars. It is common practice for a team to carry plenty of extra guys on their roster (though not to dress them) since salaries don't count in the postseason. A team can carry up to 3 goaltenders. Expect a few other skaters to get called up in the next few days (as they were last year) but no need to think of this as more than anything at the moment.
  • Will probably stick with the same lines as they did from Game 4. There was a lot to like about how that game played out. Ben Eager was apparently ill, so he's definitely gonna stay scratched tonight.
  • Are apparently practicing how to get out of their zone now. It's interesting to see that they're working on specifics, and I do hope they execute today.
You know the rest. Let's go Hawks!

Duncan Keith, Norris Trophy Finalist

Written by ChiBlackhawks on .

Duncan Norris

The NHL revealed the finalists for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best over-all defenseman, and the Blackhawks' own Duncan Keith shares that honor with Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. The finalists don't really surprise me, considering all the talk of Keith as a Norris-caliber defenseman, of Drew Doughty as the future of Canada's blue line, and of Mike Green's impressive offensive numbers.

The Norris Trophy is voted upon by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, who submit a ballot of their top 5 choices for the award, ranked accordingly. The votes are then tallied, with more weight given to first-place votes, and the top three are announced as finalists. The winners will be announced at the annual NHL awards, which will be held in Las Vegas on June 23 this year. Voting is done after the regular season ends and before the playoffs begin, and Olympic performance should not be a factor.

It's a huge honor as well as a testament to the season the Blackhawks have had, that Duncan Keith made it as a finalist. Last year, he wasn't even in the radar for most of the voters. And just think: we have this guy locked up for years to come.

I Like To Move It Move It: Blackhawks 3 - Preds 0

Written by Andrew Bernier on .

Patrick Sharp: So sexy the puck stops right in its tracks to stare. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune / April 22, 2010)
Patrick Sharp: So sexy the puck stops right in its tracks to stare. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune / April 22, 2010)

Gotta make this one quick. Super busy with school today.
Well THAT was the team we were all hoping to see.  The Hawks came out playing pretty well from the start.  Bickell was playing with the first line (we'll call it the 2010-11 first line).  Burish looked great on the 4th line.  He was like an ADD kid who was in a cage for a week.  I think I was most impressed by his actions after the whistle.  He always seemed to make his way to the front of the net after the play was blown dead, and I'm sure his smack talk is much better than hearing "EAGER SMASH" all night.

Patrick Sharp, as shown above, is indeed so sexy that he controls the puck with his mind.  He got two great goals that really personified him as a player.  The first was a gritty rebound in front of the net.  The other was a flashy move followed by an absolute snipe over the shoulder of Rinne.

Toews picked up a rebound goal after the Preds defense turned into a Chinese fire drill.  Hossa and Toews came in 2-on-1, Hossa took a shot from the circle and Toews finished the rebound while 2 Pred defensemen were on the ice trying to block shots.

It was good to see a bit of flare on the goal from Sharp.  The Hawks haven't gotten and won't get many goals like that this series.  Most of them are going to be like the other two we saw.  The biggest difference last night was Rinne getting a face full of Blackhawk ass all game long.

Again, I need to praise Brent Sopel.  I figured out why he is such a slow skater.  Its because he has huge balls of steel.  There is no other explanation for putting any body part in front of a Shea Weber slapshot when killing a 5-on-3 chance.

Campbell looked alright in his first game back.  There was definitely a noticeable difference moving the puck out of the zone when he was on the ice.  He had 14:04 of ice time in 17 shifts.  Working him back in slowly is the best thing for the Hawks.  He'll be a difference maker when he's on the ice in helping the Hawks break out.  His style of play has always shied away from contact so I'm not really worried about him taking a big hit unless he gets into a position where he can't skate out of trouble.

Antti-Goal's shutout looked a whole lot like game 2.  He wasn't really challenged too much, but when he was, he was able to bail out his defensemen.  He made a great stop on the breakaway from Sullivan, who got off a good chance despite Buff's pestering from behind.

Overall, a great game from the Hawks that should have everyone in the locker room taking a deep sigh of relief.  The key to this is to follow it up with the same effort instead of reverting back to game 3 form.  I'm sure the Madhouse will be nuts coming into game 5, so that'll provide a good spark.  Can't wait to get it rockin' again tomorrow.

Will the Real Blackhawks Please Stand Up? Blackhawks @ Predators Game 4 Preview

Written by ChiBlackhawks on .

Game Time: 7:30 pm CT
TV/Radio: VERSUS, RIS, TSN, CSN+ / WIND-AM 560
Don’t, It’s a Trap! On the Forecheck

Before this series started, I felt that the key to winning was simple: the Blackhawks need to be their very best selves. They can't coast on talent alone, because the Predators can stifle that, but if they put in the same effort, then we'd be fine.

This post's title is an allusion to that sentiment, but at the same time, with the way things are shaping up tonight, it can also be taken quite literally.

I wish I could give you an honest preview for tonight, but I'd have an easier time telling you what to expect out of the Predators:

  • No Hornqvist? No problem. The line of Dumont, Legwand, and Ward, much maligned for their lack of visibility in the first two games, have had a much more dominant showing in the third game.
  • They are a confident bunch and they do draw off the energy of their crowd. They benefit from consistency and stability both of their coaching and their players' performances.
  • This despite an ineffective power play (granted, now that I've called that out, watch them break out of their PP rut tonight) and less disciplined play.

As for the Hawks, what is there to say? Any praise or criticism for one line or all may not matter--we don't even know for sure who we'll see on the ice tonight. Literally. As far as lines during yesterday's practice were concerned, at least, we can expect to see Bickell and Burish in the lineup, and Eager and Fraser out. Campbell may even be quarterbacking the power play. And don't believe for a second that whoever starts the game will end up in the same position--if there's an over/under on the chances that Byfuglien switches from defense to forward, or forward to defense, in tonight's game, take the over.

For what it's worth, yesterday we saw these lines:

Toews-Kane-Bickell
Sharp-Hossa-Kopecky
Bolland-Versteeg-Ladd
Madden-Brouwer-Burish

Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Feel free to guess what the lines will look like at the end of the first, or the second, or the third. Better yet, play a game of "One Degree" with your drinking buddies--which two guys on the team have never played on a line together? Set a parameter for "January onward" but I'll guarantee still that it'll be a short game, but hey, that's something fun to do to pass the time when the Blackhawks get a power play opportunity. (Zing!)

I don't say this to sound cynical or wary of Quenneville's line-a-palooza. Really, I don't. There is something obviously missing with the way the Hawks have just been playing, and only so much that a coach can say in the locker room to try and get his point across. Line-juggling may be the only thing that works--hey, if the boys are unfamiliar with their linemates, maybe they'd think twice about those no-look drop passes and be more careful before they do defensively challenged plays. All I know is, the Blackhawks need to wake up, and this shake-up may or may not be just the thing to do that.

When you do tune in to watch tonight, remember this: the Blackhawks can only win a game if they show up--figuratively speaking, this time--to play it.

Movin' on Up: The New Home for Blackhawks Down Low

Written by Andrew Bernier on .

After a little bit of hinting, a little bit of secrecy, and a little bit of hard work, I'm happy to announce the opening of the new home for Blackhawks Down Low.  We have been added to the Bloguin Network, which is pretty awesome.  Bloguin is a big community of sports and entertainment blogs that is growing every week.  We are very pleased to become a part of this community.

Uhhh, so what?

Well if you've been reading us for the last few months on Wordpress, this means we'll be able to improve the site and a lot of the things that we can do with it.  I don't want to knock Wordpress, but it was pretty frustrating a lot of times with what it allowed us to do.  So not only do we have this new awesome design, but we're hoping to add some stuff in the future.  Our goal here is to create a community of Blackhawks fans where you can come to have some smart conversations about hockey (and crack some jokes too).  Bloguin increases our reach beyond Hawks fans too, so we'll be able to get a better grasp of whats happening in the NHL and get insight from fans and writers in other cities.

If you're just finding us now through Bloguin, welcome to the site.  We want to give the best Blackhawks analysis possible and are always looking to improve.  Comments from fans of other teams are always welcome (as long as they aren't trolling against the Hawks).

So take a look around and let us know what you think of the new digs.  Feedback is highly encouraged.  You can even use that neat little Contact form up on the menu bar up there.

Backs to the Walls, Underdogs Once More? Predators take Series Lead 2-1

Written by ChiBlackhawks on .

The tragedy of a weeknight loss is that I can't actually drink myself to a stupor following tonight's game. There will be recaps and there will be recaps, but I don't really feel like recounting all 4 Nashville goals, and I'm pretty sure none of you feel like reading about them either, so let's move on, shall we?

Here's What You Should Know:

  • The Predators played their game tonight, and then some. Not a lot of the trap, but they backchecked aggressively and that smothered the Hawks' puck possession game, almost putting it out entirely. Hawks couldn't get anything going long enough in the Preds' zone, and when they did, either the shooting lanes were clogged or Rinne had an answer.
  • The Predators have also seemed to key in on Patrick Kane. He only had 1 shot on goal in tonight's game and the Preds seemed to collapse on him whenever he entered the zone. He'll need support to generate chances there.
  • The power play converted on 1 chance tonight, but didn't look all that impressive in the next chances.
  • The penalty kill, however, continues to be solid. In fact, I'd estimate (roughly) that 70% of the Hawks' dominant play tonight came off of shorthanded opportunities. I can't figure out why.
  • Quite honestly, I don't know what I would have done, but I can't think of very many good things to say about Quenneville's line-juggling in the third period. Watching a grainy feed has its disadvantages, and one of them is that I couldn't tell who was out for certain periods of time--I could almost swear, however, that towards the end of the 3rd Byfuglien was thrown back out as a forward. Um, what? Kopecky also started skating with Sharp and Hossa, and Versteeg was thrown in with Toews and Kane. They got a couple of chances going, but mostly one-and-dones. Nothing too substantive to warrant a second look.

So About those Keys to the Game...

  • Score Two Early. Tie It Up and then Fall Back By Three. If there's any team that knows how to play with a lead, it's Nashville. They didn't play as conservatively with the lead as I expected they would, either, and Erat had that penalty shot that converted into goal #4 as well.
  • Shoot Low and Crash the Net. One and Done. Rinse. Repeat. Let Rinne Stand on His Head. Still not enough net presence for my liking, and too many missed chances as well. It'll take a quality player to beat Rinne flat-out, so those breakaway opportunities and odd-man rushes, which the Hawks had quite a few of, won't be very easy to get past him. Unfortunately.
  • Simplify and Stay Safe. Well, We Never Got a Lead, so This Point is Kind of Moot. But the Hawks failed to do the little things, the simple things--they didn't win board battles, they couldn't get the puck out of their zone, and it just felt like they forgot the basics. They were at times careless with the puck and slow to react when the Predators pounced on those mistakes. This loss is still, at heart, a case of being outworked, not outskilled. The Blackhawks can't make any excuses--they need to show up and play, because that's the only way they can win any more games.

Down to a Best of Five: Blackhawks @ Predators Game 3 Preview

Written by ChiBlackhawks on .

Game Time: 8:00 pm CT
TV/Radio: VERSUS, RIS, TSN / WIND-AM 560
Don’t, It’s a Trap! On the Forecheck

The thing with playoff series is that when you’re facing the same team day in and day out for a best of seven round, there won’t be much more left to say after a while–and we’re just in game 3. But the series is now a best-of-5, with the Predators earning home ice advantage.

Here’s What You Need to Know:

  • Hornqvist, the Predators’ leading goal scorer, is a game-time decision. He didn’t play in the second game of the series either though he was hardly a factor in the first. Patrick Kane has factored in all 3 Blackhawks goals so far this series.
  • The Blackhawks have converted 1 of 7 (14.28%) power play chances.
  • The Predators have converted 0 of 7.
  • Antti Niemi has a 1.01 GAA and a SV% of 0.957
  • Pekka Rinne isn’t far behind with a 1.53 GAA and a 0.949 SV%

Keys to the Game:

  • Score Two Early. With games as tight as this series is turning out to be, the Blackhawks can’t afford to give the Predators room to play their game, and they’re very good at playing tied, up 1, or down 1. In those cases they are more than comfortable in sitting back and allowing the Blackhawks to make mistakes that they can capitalize on. Take those scenarios away from them and they’ll be forced to play the up-tempo game that the Hawks are so skilled at. Plus, scoring early takes the Bridgestone Arena crowd out of the game fast.
  • Shoot Low and Crash the Net. Pekka Rinne is the Preds’ MVP in this series. He absorbs rebounds like nobody’s business. Scrums need to happen in front of him. Someone’s ass needs to be blocking his view. Tip-ins, deflections, dirty rebounds are the way to go. Anything fancy won’t go in if he can see it, unless you’re Patrick Kane’s 6th shot on goal.
  • Simplify and Stay Safe. Niemi’s rebound control still sometimes borders on the line of juicy, so the Hawks need to be ready to clear the puck out of the zone and collapse in front of the net if need be. They’ve done a great job covering shooting lanes and making it hard for the Preds to do anything against Niemi–more of that, please. But at the same time, when they’re down by a few the Preds can become pretty aggressive on the forecheck and when they’re pressuring in the Hawks’ zone, the safe play (icing the puck or dumping it) could be the right one.

UPDATE: Looks like Horqvist is out tonight. Good news for the Hawks.

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