by the Bearscast.com Hosts
...will be posted later today.
Where'd the O Go?
by Jeremy Piniak
One: No O is Offensive
After losing a season-high four games the first week of December, the Blackhawks exploded for a 6-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday, before reverting to form in consecutive 3-1 losses against Buffalo and Florida over the weekend. In seasons past, the Blackhawks' offense has been woeful, putting enormous pressure on the defense and netminder Nicolai Khabibulin. The team began this season putting points on the board with consistency behind the emergence of rookies Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane, but as teams have adjusted their defensive schemes, the goal-scoring drought has reappeared, coinciding with the team's slide back down the standings after losing six of their last seven. In those seven games, the team is averaging 2.28 goals per game, and only 1.66 in the six losses.
While the Blackhawks have faced many of the league's top goaltenders this month, the team has often made their jobs far too easy. Despite some high shot totals, including 45 against Florida on Sunday, the majority of those shots were from the perimeter, with little traffic in front to screen the goalie or pick up rebounds. What results is an easy save and control of the puck for the opposition. For the Hawks to score consistently, they need to have forwards wreaking havoc in front of the net. Garbage goals may not always be pretty, but they count the same, and if the team wants to start winning consistently they need to crash the net with more frequency. Overall, of the 32 games the Hawks have played this year, in half of them (including eight of their last 12) the team has scored two goals or less, going 2-13-1. Very few defenses and goaltenders are going to win very many games, especially the Hawks', who are still prone to giveaways and defensive lapses.
Another major issue has been the lack of a potent power play recently. The Blackhawks finished last on the power play the past two seasons, and during the recent seven-game slump the team has gone 3-32 with the man advantage. The loss of Jason Williams to injury has hindered the team's special teams, as the center had notched a team-leading five power play points before his groin injury. However, unlike in year's past, the Hawks have the talent to score even without Williams, and while Chicago is still 15th in power play percentage in the league, the team needs to find a way to be more consistent to keep that ranking.
Something is ailing the Hawks front lines, and whether it's lack of chemistry, intensity or not putting themselves in position to take good shots and garner rebounds, it needs to change in a hurry if the team wants to stay in the race.
Two: Welcome Home, Kane
Despite the loss Saturday to the Sabres, Patrick Kane was treated to a special night in his first game back in his home town of Buffalo. Kane scored the lone goal but was unable to best his boyhood team in the 3-1 loss. Despite the loss, the 19-year-old was given a hero's welcome, with more than 2,000 people showing up for the team's morning skate. The Hawks gave Kane a moment in the spotlight, holding back to let Kane take the ice alone in front of the crowd. Before the game, Kane's father and grandfather dropped the ceremonial first puck, and it's estimated he had nearly 500 family and friends in attendance. Kane's goal on the Hawks' first shot didn't disappoint anyone, but Chicago would have liked to have given themselves two points as well.
Three: Bolland Buries It
One of the lone bright spots in Sunday's disappointing 3-1 loss was Dave Bolland's first period goal, the first of his NHL career. Bolland has had two tours with the parent club this season as an injury call-up, but is regarded as one of the Hawks' stronger prospects after being drafted in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2004 draft. Sunday was Bolland's 16th career game (including a single game last year), and he has picked up five assists this season as well. While Bolland will probably be returned to Rockford once Jason Williams and Rene Bourque come off injured reserve, the goal deserves kudos not only for being his first, but for being a rebound goal in front of the net — exactly the type of play the Hawks need more often.
Four: Bone Crunching Buff
So what happens when 250-pound forward Dustin Byfuglien catches 263-pound Kings tough Raitis Ivanans with his head down in the middle of the ice? Watch the clip below and see a leading candidate for biggest hit of the year.
Five: Wolves Reload and Fire Away
Although the Wolves suffered their own four-game losing streak to begin December, the team snapped out of it by winning two of their three games last week, including a 10-2 drubbing of the Iowa Stars on the road. Kevin Doell set a team record in the rout with a hat trick in only 77 seconds, which let the Wolves pull away.
On top of the resurgence, the Wolves received reinforcements from their parent Atlanta Thrashers, who reassigned Darren Haydar and Bryan Little to the team. Haydar is the reigning AHL MVP, and began the season as the Wolves captain before being called up to Atlanta Oct. 11, where he earned seven assists and eight points in 16 games. Little is a 20-year-old rookie forward who made the Thrashers out of training camp and contributed three goals and six assists in 29 games, but was sent to the Wolves after Atlanta claimed veteran Mark Recchi off waivers. The 12th overall pick in the 2006 draft was also struggling, with only two points in his last 14 games, but picked up two goals and an assist in his first three games in a Wolves jersey. The duo will join last year's AHL Rookie of the Year Brett Sterling, who also spent time with Atlanta before being reassigned Nov. 5 and is currently third on the Wolves with 15 goals. Haydar and Sterling lead the league in points and goals last season, respectively, and with the addition of Little, the Wolves, who are already averaging 3.78 goals per game, will have even more offensive firepower.
Tomorrow the team faces the Peoria Rivermen at the Allstate Arena, who were their lone defeat last week 4-1, before traveling to Grand Rapids Saturday. The Wolves then close out the year with three games in three days, starting next Thursday against the Rockford IceHogs. The team's recent streak let Rockford overtake them for first place in the division, so the Wolves will look to reclaim the top spot against their new rival.
Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
by Dan and Patrick O'Neil
The Bulls are now 8-13 overall and seven and a half games back in the Central Conference. The Bulls showed glimmers of dominance in a 27-point victory over the Seattle Supersonics on Tuesday. They allowed for a 31-point turnaround in Indiana — they were up by 16 in the first half and ending up losing 117-102. They let the struggling Knicks crawl back into the game, but won 101-96. They won two out of three for the week. Two out of three over the rest of the season is good enough to get them into the playoffs, where anything can happen. We just might make this a season — yet Chicago is still the only team in the league scoring less than 90 points per game.
Two: Triple Double for Hinrich
Maybe Kirk Hinrich can turn his season around. He popped a triple-double on Friday night against the Knicks, with 15 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds. It was only the second triple-double of his career. In the last four games, he has averaged 14.3 points and nine assists while shooting 50 percent.
Three: New Blocked Shot Record
The Bulls set a new United Center record with 15 blocked shots against the Knicks. Nocioni claimed a third of that total. Ben Wallace is Chicago's Blocked Shot leader so far, averaging 1.67 per game and tied for 18th in the league.
Four: The Whole World's Watching!
The Iran Daily reports, "Chicago Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas has been suspended for one game for fighting during the game against the Indiana Pacers. Thomas was cited for hitting Indiana forward Troy Murphy in the face late in the second period of Wednesday's 117-102 defeat by the Pacers." Murphy was fined $10,000 for "escalating the incident" by shoving Thomas, the league said in a statement. In unrelated news, Future Bank, a joint Iranian-Bahraini initiative, has been authorized to operate in Kish Island.
Five: The Weak Ahead
It's a four-game week: Lakers at home on Tuesday (Bud Light Luvabulls Poster Night), an East Coast swing to Washington on Wednesday and Boston on Friday, then hustle it home to face Houston (Bud Light Hat Night) on Saturday.