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Pucks in Five

Leveling Out
by Jeremy Piniak

While recuperating from a double-dose of drinking from New Year's and a wedding, Pucks in Five catches you up on the past two weeks, in a somewhat abbreviated format.

One: Make It Powerful
As the honeymoon of coach Denis Savard's hiring wears off, the Blackhawks' strong play the last month has leveled off as well, as the team went 2-4 the past two weeks. Their charge the first half of December has placed them squarely in playoff contention in the new year, something that is not often said about Blackhawks teams in January. I'm beginning to feel like a broken record, but for the Hawks to play in the postseason, the power play has to improve from its league-worst 11.6 percent. The power play has been shut out in five of the past six games, and the team is often unable to even get off a shot in the two-minute advantage as poor passing and an inability to carry the zone continue to foil their chances.

Two: Restoring the Roar
The past two Fridays the Hawks battled two Original Six rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. It was the first time each team has visited the United Center since 2003 and 2004, respectively. The classic battles also drew the two largest crowds so far this season — 17,950 saw the Hawks take on the Leafs and 19,315 attended the Bruins battle. While Chicago played a frenzied and powerful game against Toronto, beating them 3-1, the same team looked completely lost for the first two periods against Boston, then mounted a furious comeback in the third before falling 5-3. Regardless of the outcome of the games, the electricity during the anthem and atmosphere of near-capacity crowds was a thrilling sight to see.

Three: Bravo for Bondra
Also of note during the Maple Leafs game, winger Peter Bondra scored his 500th career goal, which also was the game-winner. Although it was only Bondra's sixth game as a Blackhawk, the crowd responded with a well-deserved standing ovation for the career achievement. Bondra is one of only 37 players in NHL history to record the feat, and became the fourth to do so while wearing the Indianhead sweater, along with Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Michel Goulet. Pucks in Five passes along its congratulations as well, and here's hoping that every future goal is just as meaningful for the Blackhawks as number 500 was.

Four: Minor League Moves
With both Anaheim goalies struggling with injuries, the Ducks acquired Sebastian Caron from the Hawks, along with forwards Matt Keith and Chris Durno, in return for minor leaguers Pierre Parenteau and Bruno St. Jacques. The trade does little to impact the Blackhawks in 2007, as neither minor-leaguer is a highly-regarded prospect. Parenteau was the second-leading scorer for Portland in the AHL, but the number of prospects the Hawks already have in Norfolk means the competition to make the NHL roster the next few years will already be fierce. Expect the Hawks to make future deals in the next few months, as although they sent off Caron, they still will have an extra goaltender once Patrick Lalime returns from his impending rehab stint in the minors.

Five: Wolves Player Sets Record, Earns Reward
Chicago Wolves right-winger Darren Haydar is having a monster of a season. In 36 games this year, Haydar is leading the AHL with 53 assists and 75 points. Even more impressive, Haydar has notched at least a point in all 36 of those games, setting a franchise and AHL record for points streaks, and is the sixth-longest streak in professional hockey history. Haydar's dynamo play has pushed the Wolves to the top of the Western Conference standings with 53 points. On New Year's Day, Haydar was called up to the Atlanta Thrashers in the hopes he can continue his remarkable outburst at the NHL level. The streak is an amazing achievement at any level of play, and while it's unfortunate his presence will be missing as the Wolves start 2007, hopefully Haydar can nail down a full-time job with the Thrashers.

Bulls in Five

Bulls' Resolutions
by Jason Maslanka

Resolutions are the sort of thing that have become a bit cliché. Everyone makes them for the New Year and everyone quickly forgets or gives up. While that may be true for most of America, the Bulls aren't hoping to quit smoking or get to the gym more. As of this moment, the Bulls are a first place team, and looking to stick there. The following should be the Bulls' resolutions heading into the final 51 games of the 2006-2007 NBA Season.

One: Stick the Landing
After a dismal circus trip that had fans expecting another letdown of a Bulls' season, the team has rebounded in a big way. Starting the New Year, the Bulls find themselves in first place in the Central Division, only percentage points behind Detroit, who have played two less games. That also makes them first place in the entire Eastern Conference. While the Central Division is probably the best in the NBA, and definitely the East, no one team is incredibly scary. The Bulls most important resolution should be to maintain first place until the last day of the season. Home court advantage could work wonders in the playoffs.

Two: Rotate
I know Scott Skiles likes to play the hot hand. During his Bulls' tenure, it's been well documented that he'll play Adrian Peterson or Malik Allen in crunch time if they've shown, during that game, that they're playing well. Part of me really likes that strategy. Some teams get overwhelmed with playing the same players at the exact same times each game and don't react to what's happening in that specific game. With that said, there has to be a little more consistency in his substitution pattern. If Michael Sweetney really can score, let him get minutes in every game. To expect players to play at their highest level every third game is a difficult proposition. Tyrus Thomas needs to play in every game. Malik Allen does not.

Threeeeee: Take the Free Ones
The Bulls are 25th in the NBA in free throw shooting with 72 percent. A team that lacks inside scoring or a superstar scorer needs to take advantage from the line. Ben Gordon shoots 88 percent. Andres Nocioni shoots 84 percent. After that, the other major minute players are shooting in the mid-70s. That's simply not good enough. Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon should be shooting in the high 80s. Luol Deng shot 15-19 on long jump shots last game, but doesn't shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line. If the Bulls continue to look for consistent scoring, hitting free throws will help.

Four: Bunker Down
Do you think the league would mind if the Bulls just played every game at the United Center? The answer is most certainly they would. That's too bad, because the Bulls are a blistering 14-2 at home and a disappointing 5-10 on the road. The team can't continue to win at an 88 percent clip at home all year, so they'll need to pick up the road record. The mark of a true championship contender is not only to defend the home court, but to steal a few games on the road.

Five: Resolve
Let's just call it Bulls in Four this week. It's almost January 2nd and I haven't even thought about my own resolutions. Happy New Year, Chicago!

Bears in Five

...is still crying. Back next week.
by the Bearscast.com staff

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Comments

Betty / January 2, 2007 10:38 AM

Crying?! There's no crying in football! This is BS. I want my Bears in Five!

Jason / January 2, 2007 11:21 AM

Betty, while there is no Bears in Five, I can say that if I wrote it, it would be 5 points about how fans who boo the Bears or Rex during the most meaningless game of all time are lacking in any sort of real football knowledge.

If anyone thinks this silly game against GB will have any impact on whether or not the Bears win 0 playoff games or the Superbowl, they're being short-sighted. Even Favre said it after the game...it was clear to him the team was thinking about the playoffs, which they should be.

Why can't fans just enjoy the ride? Really, all playoffs are just a crapshoot anway.

 

About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he executes a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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