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Wednesday, November 14

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Pucks in Five


by Jeremy Piniak

One: Fifty-Fifty a Failure
After running off a three-game winning streak last week, the Blackhawks needed to continue to run hot in order to fully interject themselves back into the playoff race. Unfortunately, their wins against Minnesota and an overtime squeaker against Los Angeles were book ended by half-hearted losses to St. Louis and Anaheim.

The losses to the Blues and Ducks saw the team come out flat and overmatched, and Patrick Lalime looking shaky in net. In contrast, the Hawks played one of their best games of the season in shutting out the Wild 3-0 Wednesday, and Saturday against the Kings the team was dominant in jumping out to a 5-1 lead until a lazy third period pushed the game to overtime, before Patrick Sharp netted the game-winner for a 6-5 victory.

The team’s 29-27-6 record exemplifies the inconsistency the Hawks have shown throughout the season, playing strong one game before struggling the next. A number of injuries the past two months forced many of the young players on the team to grow and contribute quickly, and while finishing the season with above .500 will be a success, it won’t be enough for a playoff berth without a multi-game win streak. With the team most likely a seller at today’s trade deadline, it’s possible some vets like Robert Lang, Tuomo Ruutu and Andrei Zyuzin may draw some interest. GM Dale Tallon has said he expects to be busy, but only in terms of building the team. Any deals that come down the pipeline will be dissected in next week’s Pucks in Five.

Two: Finally, a Shutout
Last Wednesday saw the return of Nicolai Khabibulin after missing a week with a sprained knee, and he turned in one of his best performances of the year. Habby made 38 saves to defeat the Minnesota Wild 3-0 for his first shutout of the season, and just his second as a Hawk. After struggling through a 10-game winless streak in January, Khabibulin had been playing well before the injury, earning points in his previous four games, with two wins.

Khabibulin has struggled since joining the Hawks two seasons ago, being fronted by a porous, young defense initially and having inconsistent games more recently, Wednesday is an example of the quality of goalie Khabibulin can be when he’s on top of his game. Unfortunately, after Wednesday’s win, Khabi suffered back spasms Friday and was scratched from this weekend’s games. An MRI today showed no major damage, but the spasms are expected to keep him out for the next few games. There have been some rumblings that Tallon is shopping Khabibulin as well, so if a deal is made; the shutout could be his last in the Indianhead sweater. However, with a $6 million contract and the aforementioned injuries, a trade that benefits the team long-term may be difficult to make.

Three: Frozen Friendly Confines?
If there’s ice on Wrigley Field in the next few years, it won’t just be because hell has frozen over after a Cubs World Series victory. In a radio interview last week, Hawks president John McDonough mentioned he has talked to the NHL about staging an outdoor game in Chicago in the near future. Conventional wisdom had any outdoor game taking place at Soldier Field, as previous Winter Classics in Buffalo and Edmonton were at football stadiums, but Wrigley presents an intriguing proposition.

In terms of TV exposure, seeing two teams skating in front of the iconic scoreboard and brick outfield wall would be a sight to behold, and the Wrigleyville atmosphere would be great to translate over to a Hawks game. On the other hand, while Wrigley would be picturesque on TV screens, those attending the theoretical game at the Friendly Confines may find more negatives. The sightlines of many of the lower-level seats would be horrible, due to the boards and benches, not to mention the TV equipment. There’s also the matter of the obstructed view seats from the support columns, which could block half the ice to those sitting behind them. Also, for all the vintage charm of the park in summer, its antiquated plumbing and lack of amenities could be a disaster in winter.

There’s no guarantee that Chicago will even be chosen to host any outdoor game, as the NHL has the final say in the matter and many other teams have also expressed interest after seeing the success of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh battle on New Year’s Day. But if Chicago is selected to host the prized game, McDonough needs to cut his Cubs ties and realize the game is better served at the larger, more layout-friendly Soldier Field.

Four: Fluke for the Moose
In a truly bizarre ending to a game, the Wolves' seven-game win streak was snapped with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Manitoba Moose, via a goal credited to Moose goaltender Drew MacIntyre. With 56 seconds left in overtime and a delayed penalty being called against Manitoba, Wolves netminder Ondrej Pavelec rushed to the bench to give Chicago an extra attacker. Unfortunately, a pass from behind the Moose net eluded the Wolves, coasted the length of the ice and into the empty net for the game-winner.

MacIntyre was the last Manitoba player to have touched the puck, earning him the goal on the scoresheet. This was just the ninth time in AHL history a goalie has scored, and the first time I can ever remember a goaltender earning a game-winning goal in any league. With the way the Wolves have been playing in February, it figures it would take a crazy play to put them in the loss column for the first time since the first of the month.

Five: Falling Stars
Rebounding from Wednesday’s freak loss, the Wolves posted a pair of 3-1 victories over the Iowa Stars in a home and home series. The victories pushed the Wolves’ total on the season to 40 in 55 games, and their 82 points gives them the Western Conference lead, while continuing the team’s dominance over Iowa. Chicago has beaten the Stars six out of seven this season, and never trailed in either game.

Alexandre Giroux netted a goal in each game, along with Brett Sterling and Bryan Little on Friday and Darren Haydar and Jesse Schultz on Sunday. Defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski continued his strong play with a pair of assists Friday, and center Jason Krog picked up a goal and two assists in the weekend series as well. In net, Pavelec turned in a pair of one-goal games to give him his 22nd and 23rd wins of the season, leading all AHL rookies and second overall.

The Wolves just keep steamrolling through the season, with nine wins in their last 10 games, and the team shows few signs of letting up. However, as clichés go, regular season’s don’t mean much without a championship. Just ask the Patriots.

Bulls in Five

The Cavs Got Scammed
by Dan & Patrick O'Neil

One: Trading Ben and Joey
We got the better end of it says Mike Downey. I think this is the best game we've played in a long time. Wonder what the Cav's were thinking?

Two: Crazy But True
Says Sam Smith, we could make the playoffs even if we're 18-1/2 games back in the Central Division. John Hollinger predicts the Bulls have a 29 percent chance of making the playoffs. If the Bull's perform strongly this week, I might bump it up to 33 percent.

Three: Are We Any Better?
The tough week coming could tell a great deal about the coming season. We have two teams (Indy, Washington) that are relatively equal — showing we win gives confidence. The other two teams (Dallas, Cleveland) are superior and any valiant effort will be appreciated and add confidence.

Four: Drop in the Bucket
Luol Deng will donate $50 a basket (including free throws) to his birthplace, Sudan, through the UNHCR's ninemillion.org, which will help provide education and schools for refugee children in Southern Sudan. The CharitaBulls will donate $10,000. Deng's salary this year is $4,452,474, which is equal to 89,050 baskets.

Five: Coming Up
Tonight; Chicago at Dallas, 7:30pm. Unlikely to win.

Wednesday, Chicago at Indianapolis, 6pm. We could win — and should.

Friday; Washington at Chicago, 7pm. We could win — and should.

Sunday; Chicago at Cleveland. Unlikely to win.

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About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium, is committed to the Indian. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, whenever possible, the minor-league Wolves.) Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Patrick O'Neil is a Chicago designer and software developer. His second Bull's championship celebration was marred by a cordon of riot police at North, Milwaukee and Damen. Daniel X. O'Neil is Chicago writer and old skool Bulls fan. See more of him here. Send comments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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