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Maven's Ravin': You Don't Want to be a Blackhawk Thursday

By Stan Fischler
February 15, 2012

You don't want to be Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman or any one of a dozen Chicago Blackhawks who have arrived in town looking like a collection of Humpty-Dumptys on skates -- with two handlers.

As we used to say in Brooklyn, the Blackhawks are so low they could play handball off the curb and now they have to face the white-hot Rangers on Thursday night at The Garden.

Tell me, has any team fell more precipitously after winning the Stanley Cup than the Windy City sextet?

Last Spring they gained the playoffs on the last night of the season on what really was a fluke finish; and look at them now.

They arrive at The World's Most Famous Arena on the heels of their NINTH STRAIGHT DEFEAT, 3-2, after Nashville broke a 2-2 tie on Tuesday night with less than six minutes remaining. And as a result, the talk on State Street, The Loop and all the way out to Evanston is about rolling heads.

Who's to blame?

Is it the general manager Stan (Son Of Scotty) Bowman, who boasted in October that he had crafted a well-balanced sextet with more physicality than last year's outfit?

Is it the coach, Quenneville, anointed as a genius two Junes ago after his lads beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Patrick Kane's sudden-death goal that nobody saw -- but Pat?

Or -- perish the thought -- can we put a pair of goat's horns on the goalies, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, who lately have been looking very much like a couple of pounds of Swiss Cheese on skates?

We'll know better Thursday night at Fort Neverlose because if ever the Chicagoans are going to be tested it will be by John Tortorella's outfit, easily the NHL's hottest team; and if you don't believe me ask any one of twenty Boston Bruins who were solidly spanked by New York in Beantown on Tuesday night.

A debate about Quenneville's future has been raging in the Chicago papers lately, especially since Bowman uttered a cryptic statement worthy of his father: "Now is the time to rely on leadership," said Scotty's son, "both in the coaching and from the guys in the locker room." The "coaching" part is what touched a journalistic nerve with a couple of Chi scribes. Has Quenneville lost his ability to lead?

Well, Joel Q has been around long enough to command respect in the room and he's fortunate to have one of the most admired captains -- not to mention forwards -- in Jonathan Toews, the Midwest's answer to Ryan Callahan.

But as Cally will tell you -- but won't tell Toews -- the man with the C on his jersey cannot do it all although Jonathan sometimes acts as if he can carry his entire club on his somewhat slight shoulders.

"We need something," Toews allows. "Something's gotta give. We need something to make us feel good about ourselves."

Rest assured, he's not going to get one whit of sympathy from Torts, Inc., an outfit that treats virtually every game -- home or away -- as if it's the seventh match of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Nor will Bowman receive any solace from opposing general managers as the Trade Deadline looms right over the horizon. With neither Emery nor Crawford playing like Vezina is his middle name, it wouldn't surprise if Bowman gambles on snaring a veteran puck-stopper for the homestretch.

Trouble is, virtually every team with potential trade bait still has a shot at making the playoffs including the Islanders who on Tuesday night in Winnipeg obtained yet another two-point-getting-performance from Evgeni Nabakov. Which means just about the only goalie who The Maven can see available is Edmonton's Nik Khabibulin and Nikky is all of 39 years old.

All of which brings us to one Hawks-Rangers thriller-diller looming at MSG. By 10 p.m. we'll know whether an S.O.S. for the Blackhawks will have to be flashed over Sear's Tower in Downtown Chi.

Or, as Quenneville so aptly -- and, perhaps, ominously -- puts it: "At the end of the day, you want results!"

If the Blueshirts win, Stan Bowman may have to reconsider his most recent vote of confidence that "Joel's a great coach."

Hey, so was Mike Keenan -- and he's available! 


ONCE OVER LIGHTLY BUT NOT POLITELY

 • WHO'S BETTER -- RANGERS OR BRUINS?: Every so often there are games that are more meaningful than others when it comes to projecting the future. The Rangers' spanking -- and blanking -- of the Stanley Cup champs in Beantown on Tuesday night says a lot about New York's ability to beat Boston in any Spring 2012 playoff series. When all is said and done right now, all you have to know is that Tortorella holds the trump card; and that's Henrik Lundqvist who's better than any goalie B's coach Claude Julien should choose to use.

 • THE ETERNAL COACHES: Barry Trotz has been at the Predators helm since big-league hockey was welcomed to Nashville yet, somehow, his act never gets jaded. Once again, he has his Preds on a fast track to the playoffs. By contrast, the NHL's other eternal coach, Lindy Ruff, is having as rough a season as anyone could imagine. A glance at the standings makes it difficult to recall what wonderful things were expected in Sabreland last Fall.

The Game's self-proclaimed "bible," The Hockey News, picked Buffalo to finish fifth in the East with this assurance: "A full season of new ownership and a pair of veteran additions (Christian Ehroff, Robyn Regehr) adds up to the Sabres rising through the East rankings again." One wonders what owner Terry Pegula will do if his club misses the post-season.

LUNDY BIG ON WALL STREET: Unobtrusively and without any fuss or fanfare, The Wall Street Journal has developed a most readable sports section. My favorite WSJ story of the month recently was authored by Mike Sielski and is titled,"The Best N.Y. Athlete (Hint: Not Lin)." And if you haven't guessed by now, Sielski picks Henrik Lundqvist not only over Jeremy Lin, but Eli Manning as well and backs it up with this thought: "Manning had a terrific year, but he wouldn't be on his way to Disney World again had Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley not returned to the lineup in time." Or, as the late, great Jimmy Durante would have sung it, "Deny That If You Can!"

RICK NASH -- GOING WHERE?: For the moment, at least, Rick Nash's name is being bruited about as the plum of available stars -- well, at least in Columbus they think he is -- ready to be dealt before the deadline. Naturally, the Rangers inevitably will be tossed into the Nash narrative because it makes for good schmoozing. The issue confronting Glen Sather is how much -- if any -- tinkering should be done to a team that is playing so well? If Slats can pull off a deal like the one that sent Scott (One Goal A Year) Gomez to Montreal and produced Ryan McDonagh, you can bet a new face will be on the roster by the end of February. If not, well, who can complain about a first-place team?

WHAT MAKES TORTS TICK: Reader Gus Victor writes with a splendid X-Ray about John Tortorella. As a matter of fact, it could be the best endorsement of Torts for the Adams Award as coach-of-the-year. Sir Victor writes:

"Tortorella is in tune to the emotional component of this team more than many Rangers coaches in my 43 years of watching. That includes Emile Francis, John Ferguson, Larry Popein, Jean-Guy Talbot, Fred Shero and Ted Sator. Torts doesn't allow his team to get an inch ahead of itself nor believe any press clippings or power ratings regarding their league status. It's a long journey and there are no short cuts. Being short on focus is not an option."

The Maven's Conclusion: Well-written and all true!

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