On any given night, there’s a fanboy somewhere, watching a hockey game and saying “Well, we shoulda won that, it was just a fluke we didn’t.”
Caps fans have been saying that a lot lately. Weird puck squirts. Dominating play but no points. Mystical karmic forces aligned against Washington until its NFL team changes its name, or some such.
Point is, if you find yourself resorting to the fluke argument too often, chances are pretty solid you’re really not talking about flukes, but something else. Fixing that something else is starting to become an issue now, and seeing as we’re going up against our Winter Classic rivals tonight, this game needs to provide clues as to what, exactly, needs fixing.
Chicago is a dominating team with a corps of dominating players, despite some of their early going this season. I’d like to say something rude about all those young punks like Toews, Kane, Van Riemsdyk (which always makes me think of hipsters with funny little beards), and even some of the elders, but I can’t. They’re just that good.
Chicago itself is another story.
Someone, probably me, once called Chicago an American city blighted with a Russian soul. Meaning despite its beautiful setting, the people who live there are mostly miserable, cold, and like being ruled by a dictator.
Remember those terrible teevee shows featuring home movies of people bouncing off trampolines or taking a baseball to the groin or repeatedly slipping and falling on ice? I’m pretty sure those shows were hits in Chicago where the people would laugh and laugh at the misfortune of others, ha ha ha, all while downing a rope of brats and a brick of cheese. It’s no accident an anagram of “Chicago Illinois” is “A Chic Soiling Oil.”
We reached out to Blackhawks smartie Satchel Price, managing editor and all-around Chicago know-it-all over at Second City Hockey, to find out a little more about just who we’re facing tonight, and what the game may presage about our meeting on January 1st.
When I was growing up, being a Hawks fan was challenging. Not so lately. How and when did you come to hockey in general, and the Hawks in particular?
Like many other Chicagoans who grew up in the area during the late 1990s and early 2000s, hockey didn’t get a ton of my attention as a kid. I remember going crazy for Sammy Sosa, and have just the faintest memories of Michael Jordan — he retired the first time when I was five — but the Blackhawks never had that kind of appeal. Not only were they not very good, but they weren’t on TV. Can you even imagine that now? Being terrible at ice skating as a kid probably didn’t help, either.
But as you noted, something changed around the middle of the last decade, when the team’s leadership changed and some early draft picks turned into superstars. The dial on my fandom wasn’t really turned until the first Stanley Cup run in 2010, but by the time the team was back in the mix a few years later, I was straight up hooked. It’s certainly not a development I would’ve predicted when I was 10 years old, though.
Every arena has its thing. I love the octopi at the Joe. What’s the United Center’s? And what is it with your national anthem singer? You do know everyone here thinks he’s ridiculous, right?
Man, I feel weird even answering this, because I actually saw my first Blackhawks game as a visitor at the Verizon Center a few years ago and was a credentialed Washington Wizards writer in college. So it’s kind of funny for me thinking about the United Center, when I’ve actually been to D.C.’s arena more often in recent years.
As for our special charm at the Madhouse on Madison, who’s complaining about our national anthem? Folks elsewhere surely think it’s silly, but on TV, they probably don’t see the way fans react to Jim Cornelison, and how that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the night. People start going HAM for that dude wailing out, and then the hockey starts, and there’s a moment you think, “Holy s*%t, this is amazing.” And I think that’s a pretty special feeling for someone to have at pretty much any game.
Down to tacks: the Hawks are clearly loaded with offensive talent, but it’s seemed like you haven’t quite pulled it together this season. What’s happening?
This question has come up a lot early this season, but over at SCH, we haven’t been particularly worried about the offense. There are guys we’d like to see more from — Andrew Shaw has struggled, in particular — but the numbers scream “bad luck” more than anything. Entering tonight’s game against the Caps, the ‘Hawks are currently tops in the league in overall CF% and second in overall Fenwick. Their overall shooting percentage (6.7 percent), on other hand, is 27th in the league.
As we saw against Montreal, Chicago’s offense looks quite alright when the bounces are going its way. I think as that shooting percentage regresses to a more reasonable level — guys like Jonas Hiller and Michael Hutichinson won’t keep delivering stellar performances every night — you’ll see the ‘Hawks rising up the offensive leaderboards. Ain’t no thang.
It looks like you’re going to be down Patrick Sharp for a good month, maybe more. How should the Hawks adjust with Regin back, and what does this mean for your second line?
It’s hard to discuss “lines” with the Blackhawks because they don’t exactly have lines. Joel Quenneville has fallen in love with the blender early this season, so basically every game has been a series of mix-and-match hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. So the current second line is Marian Hossa, Shaw, and Brandon Saad, but pretty much nobody in Chicago expects to see that group together all night. The ‘Hawks will keep doing what they’ve done, treating like the roster like an ongoing puzzle, it’ll just be with Regin instead of Sharp.
I’ve been a major Corey Crawford supporter since I started at SCH late in the summer, and still feel strongly that he’s a quality goaltender. Partially because of his contract, he gets some unfair treatment from the fans at times, but he’s established himself as an above-average goalie and for a team like the ‘Hawks, which can’t afford to waste any years rebuilding at that position given the established talent elsewhere on the roster, that’s acceptable. Can he keep up a .938 save percentage? Probably not, but I think he can do better than his .915 career percentage, and that should be enough for the ‘Hawks to win.
Some of your players are consistently excellent, and then there’s guys like Versteeg. He’s had big ups, and deep lows. What’s it going to be this season?
Versteeg is just an inconsistent player to some degree, not just year to year but game to game. He’s got fantastic stick skills and occasionally delivers some serious highlights, but it’s also led him into the habit of skating around with the puck far too often. It’s not an uncommon sight to see Versteeg turn it over after an extended attempt to make something happen with his stick. With that said, he’s in a position to get a lot of good chances on the ‘Hawks, and we’ve already seen him convert several this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up a highly frustrating 20 goals.
This is off topic, but I’m curious. There’s been lots of talk about Washington’s NFL team name, and the logo image as well. Is there any conversation in Chicago about your team name, logo, or mascot, and if so, how would you characterize it?
There hasn’t been much discussion, but it’s a sentiment that I definitely understand. The Washington NFL team name is offensive, and while the Blackhawks team name shouldn’t be treated the same, that’s mostly a difference of degree, not kind. There are certainly times when I’m uncomfortable seeing Black Hawk’s head plastered everywhere, partially because I lived in D.C. for four years and felt a similar discomfort seeing the same thing from Washington football fans. So I sympathize with that and don’t dismiss the realities of the situation.
I also can’t stress enough that the Blackhawks, as an organization, have handled their team name, logo, and branding with much greater care and respect than Dan Snyder and his team. That’s certainly a big part of why the team has been able to skate around the controversy, and insist that it’s not the same. There’s also a historical implication to the Washington name that doesn’t apply to Chicago’s, and that’s become part of the discussion, as well. However, with that said, the logo remains the head of a Native American leader, and as long as that’s the case, I imagine we’ll continue having this discussion, as beloved as it is.
Last question: how is this game going to go, and what might it say about the up-coming You Know What on January 1?
I don’t want to be overly confident, but after the absolute beatdown of the Habs at the Bell Centre on Tuesday, I think the Blackhawks are rolling into this game with some serious momentum. The Capitals already have a suspect defense, and even without Sharp, the ‘Hawks are loaded with weapons. There are basically two ways I see this game going: a lopsided Chicago win, or a high-scoring game that could go either way.
As for our little meet-up on New Year’s Day, both teams feel like works-in-progress, so unless there’s some chippiness that might boil over in a couple months, it’s hard to make predictions about that one. I’m certainly excited for a little hockey at Nats Park, though.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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