Frustrations boil over for Duncan Keith and the 11th place Chicago Blackhawks

1 Comment

If you ask me, the Chicago Blackhawks front office made a clear decision heading into the 2009-10 season that reverberates today and may continue to do so for some time. Rather than giving themselves future breathing room, the team decided to bring in Marian Hossa and (briefly) retain Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker, a gamble that absolutely paid off in the short term with a Stanley Cup victory.

Of course, you probably know what happened last summer. Barker was already traded during the 09-10 season while the Blackhawks were forced to part with valuable commodities such as Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi.

The Blackhawks won their Cup thanks to two big picture reasons: 1) the high-end players who remain on their roster and 2) the staggering depth that no other NHL team could match.

Removing reason number two seemingly took away the Blackhawks’ ability to overwhelm opponents and store easy wins over the cold winter. They now find themselves in a scary place (11th in the West, to be exact) and face the disturbing reality that even their still-potent power play is beginning to falter. Jesse Rogers captured the frustrations of Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

“[Expletive] the power play,” Keith said after the game. “Nobody goes to the net to score goals. That’s why we don’t win.”

Keith played on both power-play units Monday, as Joel Quenneville changed personnel when the poor attempts piled up. But given the chance again to comment on their man-advantage play, Keith went back to even-strength.

“The other team had power plays, too,” he said. “They didn’t score. They got it 5-on-5. If we start relying on 5-on-5, we might win, instead of relying on the power play and blaming the power play or the penalty kill. We start doing better 5-on-5, we’ll win hockey games then.”

Quenneville didn’t like just about anything the Hawks did in the game and certainly didn’t disagree with his defenseman’s assessment.

Of course, the team’s need to get someone in front of the net probably makes the loss of a crease clogging and goalie-maddening presence like Byfuglien stand out that much more. It’s unfair to assume that Byfuglien would achieve the same results in Chicago as he is producing in Atlanta – after all, he is given a longer leash with the Thrashers since they possess far less options than the Hawks – but it’s tough to dispute the notion that his absence is glaring.

The Hawks most find improvement from within considering the fact that they only possess about $354K of cap space (according to CapGeek.com), less than one minimum NHL contract.

Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were able to make themselves league darlings last season as the team’s depth made life much easier for their stars. Now the Blackhawks are a lot like many other top-heavy NHL teams and the results haven’t been flattering.

That being said, the team still possesses a talented group at its core, so you can’t totally count them out. We cannot help but ask: do you think the Blackhawks are a playoff team? Let us know in this poll.

Mario Lemieux is ‘fine’ with Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66

Getty
3 Comments

Believe it or not, many people have an issue with Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66, but it sounds like former Penguins great Mario Lemieux isn’t one of them.

On Thursday, Lemieux made it clear that Ho-Sang using his number wasn’t an issue.

“I’m fine with it,” Lemieux said via a spokesperson, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s just a number. Number 4 and number 9 were worn by great players (Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, respectively), and they are not retired forever. Players can choose whatever number they want.”

 Unlike the number 99, the NHL hasn’t retired 66, which means any player can still use it.

Some see it as a sign of disrespect, but Ho-Sang has made it clear that that’s the last thing on his mind when he decided he wanted to wear Lemieux’s old number.

“It’s honoring [Lemieux] and just, I think a lot more people remember who he is now because they’re yelling at me about wearing the number, right? I think that’s cool too,” he told Newsday earlier this month. “There’s a lot of light being shined on an amazing player. By no means am I trying to be better than or trying to prove anything. For me, it’s definitely a tribute to a great player. If he asked me not to wear it, I’d definitely consider it, but I haven’t gotten any phone calls or anything. So for now I’m gonna wear it.”

Even though Lemieux has now given his blessing, don’t be surprised if Penguins fan are all over Ho-Sang during Friday’s game between the two teams at PPG Paints Arena.

PHT Morning Skate: Matt Duchene helps fan land a prom date

1 Comment

Matt Duchene may be having a tough season, but he picked up a terrific assist on Thursday night, as he flipped a puck to a fan and helped her get a prom date in the process. (Top)

–Sportsnet breaks down the five longest individual playoff streaks. Henrik Zetteberg has the longest active streak, but that’s about to come to an end in the next few weeks. After the Red Wings are officially eliminated from the playoffs, Sharks defenseman Paul Martin will own the longest streak. (Sportsnet)

–As you may have seen, yesterday was National Puppy Day. Several NHL players shared pictures of themselves with their dogs. BarDown has accumulated some of the best ones. (BarDown)

–The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell thinks the NHL could improve the World Cup by taking some ideas from the World Baseball Classic. Campbell writes: “Not only was the World Cup in one country, heck it was in one city, in one arena. The World Baseball Classic, on the other hand, was played in four countries – South Korea, Japan, Mexico and USA, with three different American cities hosting games. If you want to capitalize on the unique passion that many European fans have for the game, you have to bring it to them and make them feel a part of the experience.” (The Hockey News)

Al Montoya is the first Cuban-American player to make it to the NHL, and he spoke to the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan about his heritage. “I’m a first-generation Cuban-American. You don’t really hear that a lot. A lot of these (Cuban) people have been here for a while, so it’s something that’s special to me. Where my grandparents came from … they passed away a few years ago, but for me it was always a sense of pride the way that my grandparents carried themselves. The traditions that we had during the holidays … whatever it might be. (Montreal Gazette)

–The Vegas Golden Knights and Cirque du Soleil have become strategic entertainment partners. This partnership should make in-game entertainment pretty interesting. “Cirque du Soleil has had a significant presence in Las Vegas since 1992 and continues to be one of the most popular entertainment options in town. We are always looking for creative ways to enhance the overall fan experience at our home games and this partnership certainly helps advance that objective.” (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

Getty
5 Comments

William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

Getty
1 Comment

WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”