Gameday Preview: Bête Noire, still?


Chicago Blackhawks' Viktor Stalberg (L), Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (R) celebrate a goal as Edmonton Oilers' Ales Hemsky skates by during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Edmonton November 17, 2010.  REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



The Flames, fresh off another blah outing on Wednesday, have an opportunity to enjoy the company of the defending champs this evening. Enjoy is a relative term, of course, since the Blackhawks have spent the last couple of years treating the Flames in roughly the same manner that a band saw treats a side of beef.


Or at least it’s certainly seemed as if the Flames were nothing but inert slabs of former life hanging from hooks, chilling while the Hawks went about their business. No team has exposed Calgary’s every weakness as cruelly as Chicago, and after a shaky start, the champs have found a bit of form in the last couple of outings.


For all the Strum und Drang of the off-season, Chicago managed to keep a very nice core in place. Their top players are, with the possible exception of Marian Hossa, likely to be proper contributors for another decade or more. Nice problem, isn’t it? They haven’t really looked quite themselves, though, and I do think that stripping some of their depth, along with a few injuries and a bit of poor EV shooting luck, has kept Chicago in the pack so far. That, and maybe a small dose of understandable ennui. 



NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 01: Patrick Sharp  of the Chicago Blackhawks is stopped by Henrik Lundqvist  of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 1, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)



Joel Quennville is pretty consistent in terms of utilization for his forwards, routinely asking David Bolland and Fernando Pisani to play the other team’s best so that Kane, Sharp and Toews might get the softer matchups. It’s a pattern he used with Bolland and Madden last year to great effect, and in terms of out-shooting, his approach is still largely working, as the Hawks have a healthy differential at EV. The numbers aren’t quite to last season’s standard, though, and no matter how good your team may be, flushing Ladd, Versteeg and Byfuglien has meant that the Hawks don’t outplay every team’s third and fourth lines as a matter of routine. Andrew Ladd is a very good player outright, and the other two torched most bottom-sixers most evenings. The Hawks don’t quite have that happening this year with Kopecky and Skille in those sort of roles.


Teams still win with their best, though, and while most of us where watching the latest Flames’ abomination, young Mr. Toews had a very productive Wednesday evening at the Pharmaceum. At EV his on-ice shots for/against read as follows: 19 SOG for, 0 against. I know that was tallied against the Oilers, who might have a hard time giving a ringette team a game at the moment, but that’s still a trouncing by any description, and it was the third best effort by the members of his line, as Kane and Stalberg both went went 21/0. Good thing the Flames have Tom Kostopoulos in town to quell that sort of nonsense.



NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13:  Patric Hornqvist  of the Nashville Predators tries to defend Duncan Keith  of the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bridgestone Arena on November 13, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)



On the blue, Brian Campbell is back from injury, so Chicago’s top four are in harness again. The best of those men is the player who’s development first gave me an inkling of the Hawks’ likely ascension to the summit. I’ve mentioned this before elsewhere, but the Flames lost a game at the ‘Dome in February of 2008 to the Hawks where the signs of all that Chicago was becoming started to make themselves clear. That night, Duncan Keith was excellent at attacking Jarome Iginla in the neutral zone, taking away any space or chance of generating speed. Jarome, like every other Flame that evening, looked as if he was stuck in a bog, and the club has looked that way in the collective against the Hawks pretty much ever since.


The Hawks aren’t quite the same bunch of killers we’ve witnessed over the last two years for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but they still have the ability on any night to make a team look like chumps, and the Flames are slightly unsettled at the moment, to be kind. If the Flames have any hope, staying out of the box is paramount, since Chicago’s PP is north of 26% at the moment. That, and maybe there’s some addition by subtraction with Joker on the shelf. At least we won’t have to hear Chelsea Dagger half a dozen times or more if things go to hell. Small comfort, I know.


  • I’m predicting that the Flames dominate the first period but find new ways not to score.

    They play a lazy second period and end up down by a goal due to a stupid penalty by either Glencross or Staios. Jokinenen is safe because he is suspended.

    The 3rd period will be dominated by the Hawks until the 15 minute mark, when the Flames wake up and pour it on. Too little, too late and the Hawks seal it with an empty netter.

    Sound familiar?

  • Heard Kane say something to the effect of ‘we have to play these guys tough they are still a good NHL team and will break out any game now’

    That’s what teams get told by their coach before trap games. Maybe we can win this one now that teams take games off against the Flames.

    • I caught myself thinking along these lines earlier today. Then it occurred to me that I’ve been saying the same thing since January…

      They came out in October like gangbusters. Scoring was not an issue. Now they can’t put it in the net regardless of the number of scoring chances. I sometimes wonder if we could trade for Ovechkin and Crosby and turn them into a 20 goal scorers?

  • Backburner

    Sutter 2010-2012 Team Plan to be approved by the ownership:

    “let’s take talent and trade it away for older, more useless players who provide little-to-no offence

    THEN… after they score 30 points lets sign them with a no-movement claus for at least $4 million per year.”

    When did this plan ever get acceptable for Calgary? Sutter is garbage!!

  • PrairieStew

    Pharmaceum – Like that. Wonder if the players get complimentary Clearsil from the owner.

    Adopt the Cherry technique – throw the puck in Campbell’s corner and pound him. Keep your elbows down though – he may only be a shirt tail relative of the league disciplinarian, but we shouldn’t take chances.

    Kent – I beleive he should be Tommy the Greek.

    Kane’s comment reminds of one Kevin Lowe made in 1982 or 83, after sweeping the Jets in the first round, after having an 8 – 0 record v Winnipeg in the regular season, at the prospect of facing the Flames in the second round, against whom the Oil had a 7-0-1 regular season record: ” We have to take them seriously, they had a better record against us.” Puuh–lease.