Friday, March 26, 2010

And then there were nine

After the abysmal game on Thursday night at Columbus, it was clear that goaltender Cristobal Huet's head wasn't in the game. He's admitted as much himself; but then, it wasn't one of the team's most stellar games, either. The question that has interested fans all season - who's going to be in goal for the Hawks come playoffs time - is pretty much crystal-clear at this point.

Don't get me wrong. I do feel bad for Huet. It's awful to watch a sports game, and see a player whose confidence in their own ability is clearly shaken. I don't have any suggestions as how to get him back on par, either, as this kind of thing is a person demon that every athlete experiences sooner or later. Some have only one bad game and shake it off; some have several and start wondering if they've reached the end of the career.

Since no deadline trades were made, the team doesn't have any choices. Niemi will clearly need to step up as the alpha goalie, and Corey Crawford - depsite taking a loss in his only Hawks game to date - will need to be just as ready to jump in as backup as Huet will.

The question on everybody's mind is: Is Niemi ready?

An awful lot of people are quick to point out the statistic that only three rookie goalies have won the Stanley Cup. Well, so what? It's not like he's a 19-year-old rookie fresh out of high school; he's got seasons of play - including playoffs - at home in his native Finland. He has stepped up to bat and not only had wins but had shutouts in some of the most high-pressure games in the season, such as against the Coyotes on Tuesday.

On the other hand, he's also had a game or two where he, too, has had a bad night and needed to be pulled. (See the game vs. the Islanders a couple weeks ago.)

If you want to look at the big picture, though, the Blackhawks have had some of their most painful losses against teams that don't even have a chance of getting a playoff berth this year. (And since the majority of the teams get into at least the first playoff round, that says a lot.) Columbus was one example, as was the NYI game.

There were some other surprising losses against good teams as well - let's look back to January where the Blackhawks were leading 5-1 going into the third period, and the Minnesota Wild came back and kicked Chicago butt to win 5-6.

When the Hawks have their game face on, holy cow, they can do great things. The team is chock-full of indisputable talent, young and seasoned alike.

As the late season has shown us, however, that the unexpected can happen. Although the Olympics was a tuning fork for some of the team's best players, we're not witnessing the same level of play from the team as a whole as we saw in the weeks leading up to the Games. (And hey, P.S., hello, White Sox - if you're going to honor the Olympians at an event, give the Slovakia players some love, too. They were >this close< to coming home with their own medals, and deserve the same adulation as the U.S. and Canadian players.)

Did the two-week break simply throw off the rhythm for the team? Has it just been a bad streak?

The Hawks still have several games to go to clean up the season. The majority of games are against teams that they have proven they can win against, but that doesn't mean they should go into those games just assuming they'll win - and playing to match that assumption.

Samuel Goldwyn once said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

The team could take some lessons from the Phoenix Coyotes. With the team's future existance in doubt and no coach to start the season, the team pulled together and have produced a true Cinderella story for the NHL this year. And as very, very badly as I (and every other Blackhawks fan) would love to see the Cup come home to Chicago this year, I wouldn't be surprised to see the final round be a contest between the Coyotes and the Capitals.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your viewpoint!

Please note that anonymous comments are moderated in order to prevent spam.