Hawks Roll On and Jake Dowell Deserves A Promotion

The game at the United Center on Sunday wasn’t a barn burner but the Blackhawks did what they needed and came away with two points. The Blue Jackets were highly motivated after getting humiliated at the hands of the Canucks in their previous game, but they couldn’t sustain a top effort throughout sixty minutes.

I won’t be so critical as to say the Jackets have only one scorer, Rick Nash. But on many nights they have trouble generating offense when Nash is on the bench. Last night, thanks mostly due to the fine effort from the Bickell-Bolland-Pisani line, Nash wasn’t a factor. 

It took the Hawks awhile to get going and they weren’t as crisp as they have been lately. But they stayed together and drew some penalties in the final period and converted on the power play. They might not have won this type of game back in October or November. 

Unless the injury bug keeps biting the Hawks will be healthy soon and additional lineup adjustments will be needed. 

The Hawks have shown they can win a few games in a row on home ice. They have been able to defeat teams which have trouble scoring and really can’t ice three solid lines. Now they will have an opportunity to bring their new found sense of responsibility to the road and do battle with the St. Louis Blues. The Hawks will then return home to face a team that can ice three solid lines, the San Jose Sharks. 

Can the renewed work ethic keep on and points continue to accumulate? 

I think so, but Joel Quenneville will need to do some tweaking.  Quenneville will have to decide on a center to play alongside Marian Hossa. The fourth line will have to provide more to the mix. Minutes need to be spread out amongst the forwards as they have been with the top four defensemen.  It’s a long season and the dog days are coming. To beat the better teams and finish with a top four playoff slot the Hawks will need to stay sharp and continue to improve. 

There is reason for optimism as it appears everyone is buying into their role. Hossa was the best player on the ice and he made his mark by going straight to the net. 

There haven’t been too many high cycles these days. Now playing north and south is the preferred way to score for the Hawks. Hossa led the charge and didn’t seem to miss a beat as he makes everyone better. 

The word from those who watch the team practice everyday is Patrick Kane appears close to returning. 

Maybe the Hawks wait until the Sharks’ game on Thursday to bring back Kane. It isn’t so much Kane has trouble doing the drills at practice, but there still must be soreness, and rushing won’t help. Kane’s eagerness to return from injury probably needs to be tempered. He may have cost himself additional time off by trying to rush back before Christmas. 

Tomas Kopecky played center alongside Hossa on Sunday. 

Hossa likes to play with a left handed center. The Blackhawks would love Kopecky to be that left handed center to feed Hossa the puck, but I have my doubts. He falls short in many of the qualifications needed to be a center. 

Kopecky is not a playmaker, although he can dish off to Hossa and get out of the way. But his defensive shortcomings are probably the reason he won’t cut it as a second line center. Also Kopecky has been awful in the faceoff circle. 

That really leaves only one other choice for second line center, unless someone is acquired through trade.  

Center Jake Dowell shoots left, can win faceoffs and has been defensively responsible. Dowell has 14 points on the season, seven less than Kopecky, but there is no real comparison. Kopecky often plays top six minutes and gets power play time. Dowell plays many shifts alongside an anchor, John Scott. He also gets far less ice time than Kopecky and is never used on the power play. 

As far as I’m concerned Dowell has the potential to score as much or more than Kopecky. Dowell is stronger on his skates than Kopecky and will be able to crash the net and look for rebounds.  

Kopecky probably will be given a longer audition at center than just one night. He did score a goal against the Jackets, but Hossa was the show. Kopecky had his typical game in the faceoff circle. He was 2 of 7 for 29%, as Dowell won 4 of 5 for 80%. Dowell deserves a chance for more ice time, but Quenneville might be reluctant to change. 

Fire sales in New Jersey and in other non-playoff cities should begin soon. 

Stan Bowman doesn’t have much wiggle room even though players which could help the Hawks will be available. Maybe Bowman can add a defender but to trade for a top six center might not be possible. The Hawks currently have only a small amount of cap space. 

The other choice to center for Hossa would be Jonathan Toews. That could work but I can’t see Kopecky centering Kane and Patrick Sharp. If Sharp is to stay at wing, which now appears to be the choice of management, the Hawks could still give Dowell a chance. 

Dave Bolland is starting to round into form. Bolland, Ferando Pisani and Bryan Bickell are playing well together and that line should be left alone. When everyone is healthy Ryan Johnson should center the fourth line as Scott needs to take a seat. 

I understand why Scott dressed last night and he will most likely play against St. Louis as well. But for the most part Scott has to be used only in special situations, if at all. Scott can’t find a player to fight on most nights. Just ask Dowell, as he recorded his seventh fighting major versus the Jackets. 

Scott’s presence in the lineup didn’t deter Columbus rookie Tom Sisto from pasting Duncan Keith late in the game. Scott played four shifts in the third period, about two or three more than usual, as the Hawks were winning by more than on goal. But he isn’t on the ice often enough to change the behavior of most. Plus with the instigator rule Scott can’t just take matters into his own hands. Dowell will still be fighting as many teams don’t have a heavyweight for Scott. 

For one of the few times this season Scott made a nice pass, which sprung Jack Skille just before his penalty shot. But really Scott is too slow to contribute and is only good for one thing. He is a luxury item the Hawks can’t afford to use as much in the second half of the season, if everyone is healthy. 

Quenneville could really roll twelve forwards if he could find the right mix for the fourth line.  If Johnson is in at center, Skille and Viktor Stalberg may fight it out for a lineup spot. Pisani is experienced and versatile, he will proabbly continue to dress. The competition for playing time will be fierce.

Marty Turco played well, he looked prepared and wasn’t too rusty. But Turco, like a lot of small goal tenders, makes things interesting around his crease. By Turco not securing loose pucks the Jackets took more shots than they should have and had more chances to score. 

It sounds too simplistic to say smaller goal keepers no longer have a place in the NHL, but they are at a disadvantage. 

Some of Turco’s difficulties last night came as a result of the Hawks defensemen not being physical enough. Only Brent Seabrook can consistently knock an opponent off his skates. Give Turco credit, he didn’t allow a score because of a goal mouth scramble, although the opportunity was there. 

Hannu Toivonen has been sent back to Rockford, so Corey Crawford is probably feeling well enough to play against the Blues. 

Quenneville may go right back to Crawford although Turco was good against the Jackets. Either way Crawford will probably face the Sharks if he doesn’t start in St. Louis. 

Cam Janssen will likely give Scott another try. Janssen is a very good fighter and he has a head like a cement block. The longer the fight goes the more problems for Scott. Janssen might be able to last, so Scott needs to be ready. 

To beat the Blues the Hawks will have to be in defense first mode. They need to get bodies to the St. Louis net as Jaroslav Halak is not a giant. The Hawks have stayed disciplined, avoided bad penalties and they must do the same versus the Blues. The Hawks have the depth to beat St. Louis five on five. 

The Blues won’t be easy, they never are. 

Al’s Shots 

It has been reported Jeremy Morin has suffered a significant shoulder injury during an opening round WJHC game on Sunday night.

No other details are available, but supposedly Morin’s injury will keep him out for the rest of the tourney.

Hopefully Morin has not suffered a rotator cuff injury which could require surgery and keep him out for the rest of the year.

It was reported locally on Monday night that Kane will play and Turco will start in goal versus the Blues.

As we quickly approach the halfway point of the season a couple of stats jump out.

The Hawks lost a total 220 man games last season due to injury. So far they have lost only 56 man games…It seems like the number of games lost should be higher.

Certainly the injuries have happened to key players this season.  But the Hawks are well behind last year’s mark. The depth of the Cup winning team was amazing.

One important stat which can be a sign of a good team is goals scored while playing five on five.

Before Sunday, the Hawks scored 74 goals while giving up 67 when skating five on five.

For the Hawks to continue to roll toward a top spot in the playoffs that margin should keep widening.

Maybe because of injuries the Hawks haven’t been vey good while playing four on four.

Not including Sunday, they have scored only three times while giving up five goals when skating four on four.

With the amount of skill that ratio should be slanted in favor of the Hawks.

The Hawks are the least penalized team in the Western Conference, which is a significant accomplishment.

On Sunday, the NFL was quick to call off a game on the East Coast becasue of a snow storm.

The NHL chose to play games in front of sparse crowds of 3,000 or so….Go figure.

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  1. Dave Morris says:

    Al, obviously you are showing no rust from the Christmas break…another first rate article.

    I don’t know whether moving Jake Dowell up is the solution…maybe it is. Q seems to want to achieve an overall balance and an interchangeability so he can move players around depending on the opponent and sometimes the ingame situation. Scotty Bowman used to do this constantly, and that one was of the reasons his teams were so successful.

    Kopecky has his evident flaws, but he is more productive when playing with Hossa…so does the end justify the means?

    We can assume the second half of the season is going to be a series of contests against increasingly desperate adversaries. The Blackhawks need to keep winning just to stay in the playoff pack, and they need to try to put *some* separation between them and other clubs in the Division.

    No doubt the Blues will come out with a purpose.

    STL’s weakness appears to be in their general defensive play, and Halak, as we have seen from his time in Montreal, needs to get beaten early, as he quickly gains confidence, and once into a rhythm, is very strong.

    Looking back at this season so far, the Blues lost 3-2 in OT at the UC and then won 4-2 in STL, both with Halak (the Hawks coughing up two scores in the second half of the 3rd period); and the Blackhawks escaped next time with a nailbiting 7-5 win in CHI (Conklin being in net) after squandering a seemingly dominant 5-1 lead.

    If CHI can get that first goal, ideally two, and apply that ‘check-first’ approach Patrick Sharp has been talking about as the key to their recent success–instead of the showboating they did in that late November slugfest, and the porous play they exhibited in the October loss–they might just steal a win at ScotTrade.

    On another, related note, with Dan Cleary now lost to DET for at least a month, it’s the Red Wings’ turn to play without two scoring leaders. High time for the Hawks to try and gain some ground.

    Unfortunately, Jeremy Morin also suffered a tournament-ending shoulder injury at the WJC.

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    I just added the Morin injury…Thanks.

    I don’t know for sure if Dowell can be a good second line center…With the addition of Johnson he deserves a chance is my take.

    Kopecky has to prove to me he belongs on the PP and skating second line minutes.

    So far Kopecky hasn’t proved he deserves the ice time…and except for one or two games he doesn’t look like a center.

  3. Sav says:

    Bob McKenzie now saying Morin’s day-to-day although no specific details are being released about Morin’s injury. So, perhaps some good news there.

    The past 4 games have given me more optimism than at any time this season. However, the Hawks are still in a pretty big hole considering the extra games they’ve played. It’s hard to make up points on other teams when just about every night one is assured of two points in inter-conference matchups.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      I hope there is cause for optimism…

      But not releasing details is standard protocol…It does not mean his injury isn’t severe.

      • Sav says:

        “It does not mean his injury isn’t severe.”

        No, but if it was, they certainly wouldn’t say he’s day-to-day.

        They don’t release details is the injury is manageable. If it’s a torn or broken something or other, there’s no reason not to make it public.

        • Sav says:

          Here are some snippets from the Buffalo News on Monday’s practice.

          *

          >> Top offensive threat and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Jeremy Morin also is ailing.

          Both skaters took the ice briefly prior to the start of practice Monday afternoon at HSBC Arena, however they were only there for a Kodak moment. The U.S. had its official team photo taken before it began preparation for tonight’s clash at the arena against Slovakia (8 p.m., NHL Network). Morin and Nelson scooted off the ice immediately after the photo shoot.

          Neither was made available to the media after practice as a Team USA spokesman said they were receiving treatment.

          Nelson was hurt late in the third period after being crushed by center Joonas Nattinen, but it’s unclear when Morin — who scored a goal that was disallowed in the third period due to a man being in the Finns’ goal crease — got hurt.

          “I don’t know what happened,” team captain John Ramage said. “I think it might just be a bruise or something, something that happened in the game or something.” <> It should be noted that Jeremy Morin and Brock Nelson both were on the ice for the photo shoot but then scurried off to the dressing room (where media is not allowed)….

          However, Morin did appear to be skating with extra care — seemingly favoring a shoulder (his right arm was hanging lower than his left) — as he left the ice and scurried to the dressing room (which is off limits to reporters). <<

        • Al Cimaglia says:

          Sav….I hear what you are saying but if the injury was severe they wouldn’t release details either….That would be up to the Hawks if they chose to get specific.

          Maybe it is a bruise.

          • Sav says:

            Morin is on the ice for today’s (Thursday’s) practice.

            Not entirely sure what that means, but his injury must not be significant.

  4. Living the Cup says:

    Nice write up as always Al.

    I had been pushing for Bolland to be given a shot centreing Hossa – however I can understand the reluctance to move him from his 3rd line role which admittedly he can do exceptionally well.

    I think Bolland could play 2nd centre but perhaps Dowell could too – I’ve seen some evidence that that could work.

    Either way I think the Hawks will eventually settle on Toews, Bolland, Dowell and Johnson as their 4 centres keeping both Sharp and Kopecky as wingers, the latter probably as a 4th liner.

    Johnson, Kopecky and Skille/Stalberg is an interesting 4th line.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      They have tried Bolland with Hossa a number of times…It hasn’t worked very well but they may try again.

      Also Bolland shoots right.

      • Living the Cup says:

        Good point Al.

        Who plays 2nd line centre will likely be an ongoing issue – even last it was an issue yet look what happened…

  5. Adam F says:

    Happy Holidays Al. Great insight as usual.

    Can I rattle on about Thomas “Nine lives” Kopecky? Pretty please…. Every time you think “Ha ha, now he’ll get the Jack Skille treatment and get a whole 6-7 minutes of ice time he not only returns to the second line, he centers the second line. And of course Viktor sits. I am not a detractor of #82. I actually kind of like him. But to me he’s at his most useful when he channels his inner Esa Tikkanen and becomes a Europest. Like he did against Carcillo in the finals last year. Grate on people. get them off their game. Especially on a Burish-less and Eager-less Blackhawk team. But I guess Q sees extra versatility that I don’t see and he’s on scoring lines pretending to be a sniper. Seems pointless.

    I understand there’s kind of an audition for forward #6 and you can’t rotate people into that role without rotating other lines as well. But doesn’t the fourth line need continuity more than anything else? There was a stretch there where Skille-Dowell-Stalberg was our most consistent line. We try and erase the time from our minds because it involved losses to Devils and Oilers and other horiffic images but that line DID have chemistry. We can’t say okay Skille-Dowell-Stalberg is my fourth line the way Bolland-Bickell-Pisani is my third line? Why not?

    I turn to Al for answers.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Q. is a very good coach but he gives the benefit of the doubt to “veterans”.

      He is still scrambling a bit to find the correct combinations.

      Kopecky has an intangible…that is the perceived notion he plays well with Hossa.

      I say there are a few Hawks who could match his numbers if they got his minutes and played with Hossa…Dowell for one.

      They are kind of hooked on Kopecky because he is probably worth more here than he woul fetch in any trade.

  6. Dave Morris says:

    PS Monday lines at practice per Tim Sassone:

    Brouwer – Toews – Kane

    Sharp – Kopecky – Hossa

    Bickell – Bolland –Pisani

    Johnson – Dowell – Skille

    http://blogs.dailyherald.com/node/5014

    • Living the Cup says:

      Interesting that the healthy scratches seem to include Scott against the team you’d think Q would most want him in.

      We’ll see – maybe they’re trying to see how the team without Scott responds to the toughness of St. Louis in anticipation of a roster move.

      With Kane back there is 23 on the roster – 3 guys not playing and counting against the cap every game. The Hawks may want to get that roster # to 22.

      • Al Cimaglia says:

        Unless Scott is injured…Not dressing him tonight says to me ….He should never see action when everyone is healthy….I could agree.

        I probably would have waited to play Kane until Thursday and dressed Scott tonight….and then I would put Scott away for a long time.

  7. rock says:

    I don’t understand Kopecky playing center or anywhere near Sharp but apparently someone does. As long as they keep winning it is probably a non-issue but can be frustrating to watch at times.

    Also, do you guys agree with the Great Troy Murray (who wins at talking hockey and not BS-ing) that the instigator rule has invited more “cheap shots” since the players cant police themselves and the NHL sucks at discipline.

    And with that rule doesn’t it make a guy like Scott totally and completely unnecessary to dress since he cant skate well at all or at the very least seek vengeance with out risking a major?

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      It really isn’t a non issue until the Hawks climb firmly into a top playoff slot and defeat the better teams.

      Troy is correct and has the guts to speak the truth.

      I know a lot of Hawk Kool Aid drinkers don’t like when I question or criticize players…

      Signing Scott was, and still is a mistake.

        • Al Cimaglia says:

          I’m out of Kool Aid Dave and I would need a lot to listen ….But Scott probably is a good interview.

          I would rather hear an interview by his agent….So he can explain to me how the Hawks rushed to sign his client as soon as July 1 came and how he got them to agree to a two year -one way deal.

          Now that would be good listening!

          • Dave Morris says:

            Al, John Scott *is* a good interview…he comes across as an unassuming guy who knows why he gets paid to do what he does…and has no qualms about being a reserve player.

            The John Scott Debate will probably continue…and the views will probably be divided.

            FWIW Scott has an engineering degree; he’s clearly smart enough to have gotten a good agent. ;-) And you’re right, his agent *would* be a good interview.

  8. Al Cimaglia says:

    Interesting that many brawlers are well educated…Stu Grimson and George Parros come to mind…Parros is a Princeton grad.

  9. Al Cimaglia says:

    FOR TONIGHT…

    Kane is in….Looks like Pisani is out…sick?

    Morin not playing tonight.

    All from Chris Kuc Tweets…

  10. Dave Morris says:

    Al, Jahns reports these as line combos from morning skate:

    Brouwer — Toews — Kane

    Sharp — Kopecky — Hossa

    Bickell — Bolland — Skille

    Scott — Dowell — Stalberg

    BTW Conklin starts for STL.

    • QStache says:

      I don’t see those lines lasting long. My bet is that sooner or later you see something along these lines:

      Brouwer – Toews – Hossa
      Stalberg – Sharp – Kane
      Bickell – Bolland – Pisani
      Johnson – Dowell – Skille (Kopecky)

      While Dowell deserves that chance to center a line with some talent, I don’t think he is ready for second line minutes. Which will require Sharp to play second line center, but pairing him with Kane will free him up to play a lot of sniper time. I could also see Bickell potentially playing on the second with Sharp and Kane, giving a big body to lay some wood.

      But I just don’t see Kopecky playing top 2 line minutes for too long. Especially because he can’t win a face off to save his life.

      • Al Cimaglia says:

        The only difference I would have is giving Dowell a shot at 2nd-3rd line center and then letting Johnson center the 4th line.

        • Dave Morris says:

          Al, if Q was working with these combos at practice before Pisani got the flu…

          Brouwer – Toews – Kane

          Sharp – Kopecky – Hossa

          Bickell – Bolland –Pisani

          Johnson – Dowell – Skille

          …it might be because he wants to see how Johnson is with Dowell and Skille, as that’s a potentially strong ’4th’ line (or ‘energy’ line, or whatever one wants to call it)…with two tough defensive-minded guys who can take faceoffs. If one sees Johnson as a Kenny Wharram-type (he does, after all, wear Wharram’s number), maybe Skille is the speed ingredient with Dowell being the grinder.

          Stalberg being slotted in tonight with Jake and Big John probably means he’s been told to *work* a little harder…not a bad thing.

          BTW Chris Block has an excellent piece this week about the guys in Rockford:
          http://www.thethirdmanin.com/2010-articles/december-2010/dec-26th-committed-indian-column-rockford-down-on-the-farm-report.html

          Block feels Morin is going replace either Brouwer or Stalberg next year…plus some other fascinating perspectives.

          Good, balanced article; despite the *headline* which was NOT Chris’ idea.

  11. Al Cimaglia says:

    It was a good read….

    Not a lot of immediate help coming from Rockford….But Morin and Leddy are going to be good.

  12. Sav says:

    And now Toews is hurt after a BS hit. Shockingly, no penalty called. Toews should’ve stayed on the ice and waited for a stretcher. They would’ve gotten a major.

    • Living the Cup says:

      So what is the point of having Scott in the line up if our best players are getting run at anyway?

  13. Shruew says:

    Scott figured out how to end a long fight lol