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Bears in Five

Make it 15 and 1
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and Friends

One: 15-1 is Still Really, Really Good
It finally happened. The Bears lost. This is too depressing to write about. The Miami Dolphins outplayed them in every facet of the game. The Bears outplayed themselves in every facet of the game as well. The offense looked directionless and put the defense at a disadvantage many times throughout the game. The defense, which normally overcomes those disadvantages, faltered at critical times throughout the game. Special teams? Fumbles and fumbles. Ugh.

Two: Tearing It Up, and Not the Good Way
Brian Urlacher sustained an injury in the fourth quarter. And Bernard Berrian was injured during the first quarter. And Brandon McGowan ruptured his ACL, even further depleting the defensive backfield. Ugh.

Three: If There is an Actual Positive to a Loss to the Dolphins...
Alex Brown was the lone bright spot in an otherwise horrific event, at least from where we were sitting. "Pro Bowl" Alex recorded his second interception of the season. Not bad for a defensive end. But on the other hand, even his play during the course of the game was passable at best. The same could be said for the rest of the defensive line and linebackers. They were able to create pressure and penetrate deep into the pocket at times. But no one was able to close it out on most plays. This is not the defense we've grown accustomed to watching. The killer instinct was there, but it seemed to be napping.

Four: The Next Three Weeks on the Schedule Have a Theme
The New York Giants.
The New York Jets.
The New England Patriots.

Have you picked up on the theme yet? Everything starts with "NEW!" Isn't that great? Sorry. It's hard to write after a Bears loss.

Five: Looking Ahead. Seriously This Time
Next week the Bears travel to The Meadowlands to play the New York football Giants. The Giants looked shaky at the beginning of the 2006 campaign but seem to be headed in the right direction. They are a team that knows how to win close games. They possess one of the more potent offenses in the league and at times have scored in bunches. This should be an interesting, and hopefully, good game. The Bears need to win this game. And in a convincing manner. If they don't it could send them into a tailspin towards mediocrity. The first loss is always the toughest. The team's reaction to it will be the most important one of the season to date. Don't worry. The Bears are going to be just fine. And remember, 15-1 is really good.

Pucks in Five

Stopping the Bleeding, Celebrating Success
by Jeremy Piniak

Following the injury bug that bit the Blackhawks hard two weeks ago, the team's response in the following five games looked like it would dictate the rest of their season's hopes. Unfortunately, the Hawks came out on the losing end of all games, running their losing streak to seven games. More troubling, the offense was non-existent, getting shut out in the first three games of that span.

With a full week off ahead of Thursday's game at New Jersey, coach Trent Yawney promised a week-long return to training camp, in an effort to get back to fundamentals and refocus a team that has looked in disarray. This edition of Pucks in five focuses on three other ways to try and right the ship, along with an update on the AHL Wolves.

One: Shuffling Lines Like a Card Shark
With the entire top line out due to injury, some shuffling of players in an effort to provide offense is necessary, especially on a team as lacking in offensive depth as the Hawks are. But Yawney has a tendency to overmanage his lines, switching players game to game. While arrangements that obviously aren't clicking need to be shaken up, this also prevents many players from developing chemistry and the ability to work together as a unit. And worse, lines that seem to be playing well together never get a chance to continue to develop, as they're shuffled to mix with slumping players in an effort to get some consistency. The return of winger Tuomo Ruutu from his preseason knee injury has helped solidify a temporary top line, with Bryan Smolinki centering Ruutu and Radim Vrbata. With offensive leader Martin Havlat still not skating on his sprained ankle and probably out two more weeks, it's vital this line picks up the scoring until Havlat can take over Vrbata's spot.

Two: If There's a Fire in the Kitchen, Blame the Chef
When teams falter, one of the oldest adages in sports is to make the coach the fall guy, regardless of whether it's his fault. While the injuries have been the main factor in the Hawk's recent 0-7 slide, the team has looked listless and lost in the interim, including the 200-plus minute scoring drought, and some of that has to reflect back on the coaching staff's inability to adapt.

Trent Yawney is in his second year as coach of the Blackhawks, and while last season's failures were largely a result of the team being built for the pre-lockout style NHL, the number of players brought in and the preseason expectations have made Yawney more accountable. Yawney has his issues, and the D's performance so far this year has to irk the former defenseman, but I'm not quite ready to pull the rug from under him yet. Thursday's game will answer a lot of questions as to Yawney's coaching skill — there is no excuse for a team with a week off to come out as clueless as the Hawks have looked the last two weeks. If there's no improvement in the next few games, it might be time to shake things up before a season that's already on life-support is completely lost.

Three: Tallon Tries the Trade Market
One thing the Hawks have been doing is scouring the trade market. It's no secret that defenseman Jassen Cullimore is on the block, having been shopped to at least Philadelphia, Boston and the Rangers. However, with his $1.9 million salary, there are very few takers, no matter how many teams need defensive help. And if GM Dale Tallon is able to move Cullimore, the Hawks will probably be forced to take an equally bad contract back in return. The biggest rumor this past week had the Hawks eyeing young Rangers winger Peter Prucha, with both Cullimore and defenseman Brent Seabrook's names mentioned, though the prospect of Seabrook moving appears to have no legs. Regardless, for a team that is struggling as much as the Blackhawks are, something needs to be done.

The lone bright spot, if you will, has been the play of goalie Brian Boucher in the wake of starter Nicolai Khabibulin's broken finger. It's true that he's 0-7, but none of the losses can truly be attributed to him, and he's kept the team closer in games than they've deserved to be. And with the amount of playing time he's had lately, he'll be worth more on the market now than at any time in the future. Tallon may still not get much for Boucher, but should be able to get more talent now than in two months when Patrick Lalime returns from surgery.

Four: Winning Wolves
Meanwhile, in a happier hockey note, the Wolves have started out their season strong, going 8-3-1 in their first month, including a 10-5 win over Peoria Saturday night. After not making the playoffs for the first time in the team's 12-year history last year, the quick start by the Wolves places them in solid third place in the West Division. Though in third, Chicago's only a point out of the top spot, and has yet to lose on the road, going an impressive 7-0-0.

Leading the Wolves is the AHL's leading scorer Jason Krog, who's put up 25 points in 12 games. Adding to the accolades, Krog was named the AHL player of the week after tallying three goals and seven assists in his last three games. Right-winger Darren Haydar is keeping pace with his teammate, having notched 24 points himself. With NHL parent club Atlanta Thrashers off to a strong start of their own, the Wolves will have a chance to continue to build upon their first month without constant roster shakeups, barring injuries. And if things continue the way they've started, at least one team in Chicago will be sporting some playoff beards.

Five: Golden Jet Lands in Chicago
November 25 will see the return of the Golden Jet to Chicago. Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull, whose number 9 hangs from the rafters from the United Center, will be making a personal appearance before the hockey game that night. Of course, the game he'll be attending is the Wolves game against the Houston Aeros at Allstate Arena. Yes, you read that right. This is actually the second straight year that Hull will be making a promotional appearance for the AHL club.

It's great that the Wolves have such a big part of Chicago hockey history supporting them, and it's a great way for many old Hawks fans to get a chance to meet one of their heroes and bid on signed memorabilia for a charitable cause. But one can't help but wonder if Hull's acrimonious end to his Blackhawks career has something to do with his lack of apparent support for the NHL team. Hull's jump to the upstart WHA for a $1 million dollar contract was the start of team owner Bill Wirtz's habit of letting star players and fan favorites skate away to greener pastures. The relationship between Hull and the Hawks has remained somewhat strained since, though Hull claimed no ill will at his appearance last year, saying life was too short to hold grudges. In any event, it's a great chance over the Thanksgiving holiday to both reminisce on the Blackhawks past and celebrate the Wolves presence and meeting what many consider to be the face of hockey in Chicago.

Bulls in Five

A Season Dawns Anew
by Jason Maslanka

As prefaced this week in Merge, Bulls in Five is back for its sophomore season. The start of every season is a time for optimism around the entire league, and with the Bulls, the optimism is more unbridled than it has been since 23 retired for the second time. After two straight years of making the playoffs, the Curry/Chandler era is finally over and veteran defensive specialists roam the paint instead of inexperienced kids. The draftees are exciting and Kirk Hinrich is here to stay. After the season started with a 42-point destruction of the defending champions, nothing will slow down that optimism.

One: New Faces, Old Guy Edition
General Manager John Paxson knew that he had to make something happen this off-season. This team's talented group of guards and small forwards needed some help in the paint to take the next step. As most know, the biggest acquisition was signing free agent Ben Wallace away from the Pistons. The four-time defensive player of the year brings a defensive and rebounding presence like the Bulls have possibly never seen in their history. Another force in the paint, especially from a defensive standpoint, is P.J. Brown. Traded from the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for the disappointing Tyson Chandler, Brown provides more offense than Wallace, but certainly isn't the post player so many teams desire. The return of Adrian Griffin from his time with Dallas should assist defensively from the guard position.

Two: New Faces, Young Guy Edition
Two of the youngest additions to the team are the two draftees, LSU's Tyrus Thomas, a 6'9" power forward, and Thabo Sefolosha, a 6'7" guard from Switzerland. Thomas is raw, playing only one year at LSU before declaring for the draft, but provides as much energy as possible and a huge wingspan. His recklessness is evident based on the broken nose he's sporting from his very first NBA game. Viktor Khryapa is a third-year forward from Russia who provides strong rebounding, solid defense and a functional 15 foot shot.

Threeeeee: Where's the Scoring?
No one can argue that Paxson's moves didn't improve the interior defense drastically. Wallace is the best defensive player in basketball, Brown is as solid as they come and Thomas is a shot blocking specialist in the making. Even outside the lane, Sefolosha and Griffin are bigger guards who can be called on to attempt to hold down the Kobe Bryants and Vince Carters of the league. The question remains, however: where will the scoring come from? These Bulls can't possibly hold everyone under 80 points this year, but there may be nights where they don't score that many. The beginning of the season hasn't really provided a clue as to the answer, either. Ben Gordon, the leading candidate to put up big numbers, scored only six while the team scored 108 in defeating Miami. Then, in two more bad games for Gordon, the Bulls scored 94 and 88 points in two losses. Last night, in a 110-85 drubbing of Milwaukee, Gordon had his first great game of the season, scoring two shy of his career high at 37.

Four: In Glorious Stereo Sound
Looking for games on the radio on AM-1000? ESPN Radio had been the home of the Bulls for the past few years. If you looked for a game on 670 "The Score," you wouldn't have found it there either. Every Bulls' game can now be found on the new 105.9 FM Free FM talk radio. You may ask what the point of FM talk radio is. I wouldn't know, but I can say that the background crowd noise sounds excellent in stereo sound. Just do your best to avoid the replay of Bill O'Reilly at 11.

Five: Losses?
The Bulls are 2-2. That's right, the team that beat the Heat by 42 to start the season lost their next two and then beat up on Milwaukee to start .500. Lots of fans are upset about losses to Orlando and Sacramento in a season with so much promise. Those fans have to get out of what I call "football mindset." In football, every win and loss matters like in no other sport. In basketball, the 82-game season makes for plenty of ups and downs and any team can beat another on any given night. The Bulls will probably lose to the Bobcats or Trailblazers this year and that really doesn't have any bigger meaning in the scope of the season. To illustrate the point, there are only three undefeated teams left in the league already. They are Utah, Philadelphia and New Orleans/Oklahoma City. Anyone want to proclaim that any of those teams are headed to a World Title? Didn't think so. Stay tuned.

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Comments

Eric / November 8, 2006 11:56 PM

Too bad the new number 1 line for the Blackhawks is gone...when you referred to playing with the lines like a card shark, you weren't kidding.

New #1 line: Holmqvist, Ruutu, Vrbata.

jeremy / November 9, 2006 12:04 PM

Yep, that sure didn't last long. Ruutu at center just shows how thin they are there, and not a big fan of him playing there.

I am pleased to see the Borque-Sharp-Lapointe line back together, as it showed some promise earlier.

Don't have a clue what Holmqvist is doing on that line though.

 

About the Author(s)

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron, as well as the "personalities" behind the Bearscast podcast. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

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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