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Posts Tagged ‘Western Conference’

Do The Chicago Blackhawks Keep Both Khabibulin And Huet?

Posted by sportsmaven on February 9, 2009

The most pressing question that the Chicago Blackhawks face in the near short term is whether to keep a pair of goalies, mainly Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet.  The goalie position for the Blackhawks has been an ongoing sticky issue since Huet was signed as a free agent in the off-season.  Many thought the signing was the end of the line for Khabibulin in Chicago.  The Blackhawks were close to the salary cap and had over 20% of their budget wrapped up in goaltenders.

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

I believe the Blackhawks intention was to trade Khabibulin before the season began, but there were no takers and the Hawks were not going to give Khabibulin away just to get rid of him.  The pre-season and early regular season was a showcase for Khabibulin and he did not disappoint.  Khabibulin was incredible in comparison to the last 3 previous lackluster seasons , starting out hot, mixing in the occasional cool game.  He had a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.  He was not going to go down without a fight.

Huet, on the other hand, started out a bit slower, with the team winning only 3 of his 10 games in goal.  Huet gave up 6 goals to the San Jose Sharks on 11/26 in a loss.  Huet spent the bulk of the early season on the bench watching Khabibulin.  In December, Huet made the most of his playing time, at one stretch, winning 7 of 9 games to close the calendar year on a hot streak, but that ended abruptly in the Blackhawks 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the New Year’s Day 2009 NHL Winter Classic.

Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville has been playing the hot hand in goal and that strategy seems to be working well for a very young team that is navigating it’s way through the unfamiliar waters of competing for a playoff spot in a tough NHL Western Conference.

The questions of late have focused on the possible trade intentions of Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon and the rapidly approaching March 4th NHL trade deadline.  Tallon wanted to move Khabibulin since the pre-season, but at this point,  does he look to move Khabibulin again?  With the way the Blackhawks have been playing, the last thing Tallon wants to do is upset the delicate balance of a team that is steaming towards what could be the second post-season appearance since 1997-98 season. Khabibulin can ride a playoff hot streak about as good as anyone out there and veteran goaltending is a huge plus for going deep in the playoffs.

Look for Tallon to make a trade elsewhere, maybe picking up a veteran scorer or a second line center, as the Blackhawks start focusing in on moving to the third seed in the NHL Western Conference playoff race.

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Chicago Blackhawks Better Gear Up For The Muscle

Posted by sportsmaven on January 4, 2009

Indications from the last 3 games (the two Detroit games and tonight’s 5-2 victory against the Calgary Flames) appear that teams are now trying to take the Chicago Blackhawks out of their game by muscling them around on the ice.  Coming off their recent 9 game winning streak, the Detroit Red Wings were unbelievably physical in blanking the Hawks 4-0 on Tuesday.  The Wings came hard at young Hawks RW Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews, injuring Kane and clearly disturbing Toews on many occasions.  The Hawks enforcers were silent in protecting their stars, something that will need to change for the Hawks to keep moving forward.

Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano, left, fights with Chicago Blackhawks' Colin Fraser during the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano, left, fights with Chicago Blackhawks' Colin Fraser during the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Red Wings continually sent ex-Hawk and RW Daniel Cleary after Kane, eventually forcing Kane out of the game.  This will become the new strategy of teams taking on the Blackhawks, as teams used to be able to beat the Hawks on talent alone, but now the times have changed.

With the emergence of RW Patrick Sharp and D Duncan Keith, along with the rapid development of youngsters Toews and Kane, the steady play of a surprising healthy RW Martin Havlat and the addition of now three time All-Star D Brian Campbell, the level of talent on the Hawks has shot through the roof of the United Center.  The addition of Calder Trophy contender LW Pat Versteeg has made the Hawks the youngest, most dynamic new team and propelling them into the top non-division leader in the Western Conference with 49 points, but 8 points behind the Central Division leading Red Wings but 9 points ahead of the team directly below them, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The good news for the Blackhawks are that teams can no longer just show up and beat them any longer.  The gap of talent that has existed over the last few seasons has been closed, virtually eliminated through very shrewd work by Hawks GM Dale Tallon, assisted by assistant GM Stan Bowman and new special advisor Scotty Bowman, as well as the addition of veteran coach Joel Quenneville.  When the gap of talent is non-existent, teams like the Red Wings often resort to physical intimidation, imposing their will on their opponents.  For a young team such as the Blackhawks, this tactic is quite effective, displayed by home and home victories and the 0-4 record against the Red Wings for which the Blackhawks are proud owners.

The next step for the Blackhawks is to begin learining how to match physical play with physical play without taking themselves out of their game plan.  Tonight’s victory over the Calgary Flames was a start.  Hawks D Colin Fraser, RW Ben Eager, D Matt Walker, and RW Dustin Byfuglien set the tone tonight with 5:00 fighting penalties (Byfuglien with a 10:00 game misconduct penalty at the end of the game).  With the success of the 2009 NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s day, the 3 Hawks starters on the All-Star team, and the overall rise of an Original Six team deep in the ashes of despair, the young Hawks are now a target for teams to take their shots.  How the Hawks respond to that challenge is what will determine if their success will continue.

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Chicago Bulls Absorb Yet Another Terrible Loss

Posted by sportsmaven on March 21, 2007

Tonight, I was able to watch most of the Chicago Bulls game versus the Los Angeles Clippers and at the end, I was not sure exactly what happened or why the Bulls lost to this sub-.500 team that is barely in playoff contention in the NBA’s Western Conference. All after the previous day, Scott Skiles lit into this team for potentially being too young not to recognize that good playoff teams that have title aspirations need to win games like this game and the Memphis game on Saturday night.

Bulls Absorb Yet Another Terrible Loss
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

The Bulls team that I watch mystified me in many ways tonight. First off, G Ben Gordon had an off night, which happens to players over the course of an 6-8 pre-season games, 82 regular season games, and if you’re lucky, more than a few playoff games. What I didn’t see is Ben Gordon adjusting his game, contributing in other significant ways, attacking the basket when his jump shot left him. Ben Gordon didn’t step up tonight and that was one of the reasons the Bulls are sitting at home wondering what happened.

Another reason to look back upon is the sloppy play, too many turnovers once again, and virtually no defense played, especially in the 4th quarter. Coach Scott Skiles virtually implied that the Bulls didn’t follow the game plan, which is absolutely amazing to me at this point in the season. The Bulls are a talented team, but will only go as far as their defense takes them. The lapses in these past two games, including losing at home tonight to a Clippers team that won only 9 road games all season, is inexcusible. Was it only 3 days ago that F Luol Deng made his now infamous proclamation that the Bulls could win every remaining game on their schedule? I believe since that comment was made, the Bulls haven’t won a SINGLE game, losing to the dregs of the NBA. The Bulls goal of a 50-win season seems far fetched. They wil have to finish 11-2 to do that. Avoid double digit losses at home? The Bulls will have to go 7-0 in their remaining home games to accomplish that.

My suggestion for the Bulls is tighten up that defense and play hard for 48 minutes. The Bulls looked like they tried to turn it on and off in this game and they are not nearly good enough a team to do that. The Bulls were terribly dominated in the 4th quarter of this game. They gave up 20+ points to three different players on the Clippers. They lost a chance to pick up a game on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the standings in the quest for home court advantage. Now they face a dangerous Denver Nuggets team on Thursday at the United Center. The end of this season gets tougher and tougher….

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NBA Courts The Pretty People To Las Vegas

Posted by sportsmaven on February 18, 2007

One of the best things about the 2007 NBA All-Star weekend is that the pretty people love to see incredible athletes do their thing. The fact that this year’s All-Star game is in Las Vegas gives the pretty people even more incentive to show up to the NBA’s biggest party of the season. The NBA is all about entertainment and they are, by far, the best at doing it. The NFL certainly gives them a run for their money with the Super Bowl, especially this season in Miami, but the NBA definitely writes the playbook for high octane, luscious, sexy in your face entertainment surrounding what amounts to an athletic exhibition.

The ring leader for this year’s party is one of my favorite guys associated with the NBA, Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas.

Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas
NBAE/Getty Images

Mayor Goodman has been working the NBA for years to not only get this event to Sin City, but to eventually get an NBA team to call Las Vegas home. I believe that Las Vegas shouldn’t have any professional sports teams due to the betting issues, but for the NBA in particular, I believe that Las Vegas should be the PERMANENT home of the NBA All-Star game. The city and the NBA are a perfect match in this arena and if the powers that be in the NBA have any vision, they should make this so and do it now.

The other thing I love about the NBA is that it knows how to do cheerleaders. It’s great to be able to go to a basketball game to see the world’s best athletes, but now we get to see the world’s best cheerleaders (or dancers, or whatever you want to call them) and the NBA is doing an All-Star roster of cheerleaders, one from each team. This is fabulous. In Chicago, our all-star entry is Shanon from the Luvabulls and DePaul University.

Shanon from the chicago bullsErin from the detriot pistonsHeidi from the sacramento kings

By the way, my favorite Eastern Conference dancer is Erin from the Detroit Pistons and my favorite Western Conference dancer is Heidi from the Sacramento Kings (love her eyes!) Tell me who your favorite dancer for each conference is in the comments section of this post and I will do a post featuring your winners.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a complete NBA All Star weekend blog post without some of the pretty celebrities:

Eva Longoria at 2007 NBA All Star WeekendCarrot Top At 2007 NBA All Star WeekendDiddy At 2007 NBA All Star Game
NBAE/Getty Images

Eva is game, Carrot Top has game, and Diddy owns the game….only in Vegas, baby!

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Chicago Bulls Limp Into All-Star Break

Posted by sportsmaven on February 15, 2007

I wanted to write this post last night immediately after the Chicago Bulls game ended last night, but I decided to wait before expressing what I thought about the Bulls performance and the loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, 100-85. The Bobcats are one of the league’s worst teams, entering the game with an 18-33 record. Again, I note that this is a team that the Bulls should beat 9 times out of 10, but the problem is that when the Bulls plays these teams, they tend to play them on the 10th time, typically getting saddled with a loss.

Bulls Lose to Bobcats, 100-85
(AP Photo/Rick Havner)

The Chicago Bulls are not playing with a lot of confidence at this point and are limping into the all-star break on a low ebb. Even teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, on any given day when your confidence is low, can take the wood to you. Now, I know that the Bulls flight was delayed due to weather in Chicago and they didn’t get to their hotel until 3am, but that is how life in the NBA works. Life poses situations where it’s not always ideal and cozy. It’s called adversity and the Bulls are getting it in large doses. Yes, it would have been nice to get into town earlier, especially after coming off a the first night of a back to back situation. It would have been nice for the Bulls to get their rest, do their shoot around and be mentally and physically in peak performance for a game against a weak opponent like the Bobcats, but the Bulls again, came out sluggish and forgot how to play defense and gave less than maximum effort, from all appearances.

The margin of error for the Bulls is very small. They cannot afford to take nights off, even against weak teams. They are simply not that good that they can turn it on and off and cruise to victory after victory, yet this is how they approach key games in their season. The Bulls need to win as many games as they can against the weaker opponents in the league and yet they don’t. Their record against quality opponents is actually pretty good, as I outlined in an earlier post at the beginning of the week. It’s games like the Bobcats loss that could make or break a season, especially in a weak Eastern Conference. This is very reminiscent of the NFC vs. AFC in the NFL. The Bulls could emerge from the weak Eastern Conference and to face any number of stronger teams from the Western Conference and get swept out of the NBA Finals, like the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. (Although, unlike the Bears, the Bulls are not the class of the conference)

Another thing to note, the Bulls were snubbed once again when G Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks was named as a replacement for injured G Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets for the 2007 All Star Game this Sunday in Las Vegas. Not to discount Joe Johnson’s production or resume (he is scoring 25.1 ppg this season, but for a team with a 21-31 record.) This should be a wake up call for the Bulls, who have some decent talent on their team, but no real breakout talent (although I believe Luol Deng is developing into breakout talent. He must develop more consistency, but he beginning to do that on a nightly basis now.) Whatever is ailing this team needs to be fixed immediately and the All-Star Break is a good place to start that deep reflecting.

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