With all the attention on the NHL trade deadline today (when the Blackhawks picked up defenseman Chris Campoli from the Ottawa Senators for pathetic minor-league flame-out Ryan Potulny and an exchange of draft picks) it was easy to forget that the ‘Hawks have a game tonight. The Men of Four Feathers are in Minnesota to take on the Wild, a team with an identical record but by virtue of the screwy tie-breaking system sit just ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
This is a must-win game, the fourth in a stretch of 22 must-win games for the Blackhawks. But we’ll add another requirement to the Blackhawks’ job tonight: win in REGULATION.
A two-point game is a zero-sum proposition. You either get two points, or you don’t. By sending a game into overtime, you create a third point out of thin air that you essentially give away as a prize to the team you’re playing. “Here, we appreciated you coming out tonight, here’s an extra point for being such good sports.” In games against Eastern Conference opponents, the Blackhawks can do this as much as they want. Against Western Conference teams in a tight race for a playoff spot, it’s suicide.
Additionally, sending the game to a shootout is a lose-lose proposition. If we lose, we lose the extra point. But even if we win, that win is actually a tie-break factor for Conference standings — and it works against us. Shootout wins are subtracted from overall wins, and the team with the higher win total has the advantage. It’s a win, but it’s not a win when it really counts.
So this absolutely has to fucking stop. The Blackhawks have gone into overtime four times in the last eight games, three of those against Western Conference opponents. We need regulation wins from this point forward, to the extent that I would be in favor of pulling the goalie for the extra attacker in a tie game and risking the two points. Honestly, at this point, in this tight a race, there’s little benefit in any OT games down the stretch regardless of the outcome. Any point given to a Western Conference team on any night could be the one that causes early tee times. Head Coach Joel Quenneville needs to get more aggressive about how the ‘Hawks win these games.
Now to the matter at hand. The Minnesota Wild have been playing essentially .500 hockey over their last 10 games, which include a 3 – 1 defeat at the hands of the Blackhawks. That night was a shooting gallery on both ends of the ice, with the Blackhawks firing 37 shots on goaltender Jose Theodore while surrendering 34 shots against Corey Crawford. Dave Bolland was the difference in that tilt, assisting on all three Chicago goals. All three of our top scorers in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane were silent that night: something that can’t happen if we expect to win.
Allowing 34 shots per game is no way to treat your goaltender either. Corey Crawford does his best work when facing under 30 shots a night, and really that total should be below 25. The Wild are a stingy team defensively, but we seem to have solved that problem. Now we need to shut them down offensively. The key to that appears to be keeping Mikko Koivu, former Blackhawk Martin Havlat and defenseman Brent Burns in check. The three of them combined for 10 of Minnesota’s 34 shots in our last meeting.
Administrative nonsense: the shootout victory over the Coyotes was not without its down side: defenseman Jordan Hendry left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury and did not return. No official announcement on his condition has been made as of this writing, however it seems doubtful that we would see him in uniform tonight. With Hendry out and Nick Boynton claimed off waivers by the Flyers, that means we must suffer the uselessness of John Scott on the blue line. Make sure you have Maalox before the puck drops.
7:00pm start tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. TV bonanza tonight, as we are going out live over TSN2 in Canada, Versus in the U.S. and that includes Chicago — no blackout today. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will find the game on channel 204.
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