Jim Neveau, Blackhawks Correspondent
Microcosm (n.) – A small, representative system having analogies to a larger system in constitution, configuration, or development.
No, I did not include this definition just to make it seem as though I am smart, but instead to hammer this one point home about the Blackhawks’ stunning 6-5 victory over the Calgary Flames in the Windy City: this game was a microcosm of what the Chicago Blackhawks are.
What are they exactly, you may ask. Well, to start with, the Hawks are an offensively sound team, capable of scoring goals in bunches. They certainly did that tonight. They were down 5-0 after the first 12 minutes of the game, and they managed to slowly chip away, using their potent offense to beat the Flames into submission. In all honesty, it didn’t look like Calgary knew what had hit them. The Hawks got contributions from everyone, and they never succumbed to doubt in their ability to come back and win.
On the flipside, the Hawks also possess a MASSIVE problem in net. I have been on the Huet-defender team since last season, bringing up constantly how he had unfair expectations leveled on him, or that he just needed to be “the guy” in order to establish a rhythm, or that he was the victim of some shoddy defense or fluke bounces. I spun the Wheel of Excuses so many times you could have called me Pat Sajak.
I am throwing in the towel on defending him for the time being. His play tonight, giving up three goals on five shots, was inexcusable. He clearly has something wrong in that melon of his, because for all the hype of the big contract, and the Stanley Cup expectations, he reminded me tonight of another Chicago athlete who was crushed beneath big dreams: Rex Grossman.
Like Grossman, he looked like a deer in the headlights as the Flames tore him to pieces in front of 20,000 stunned fans. He looked about as lost as Melinda on “Hell’s Kitchen”, or better yet, like the cow being fed to the raptors in Jurassic Park, and that is why Joel Quenneville needs to man up and send him to the pine for the next game at least, if not on a more regular basis. With games coming up against Edmonton, Nashville, and Dallas, a goaltender whom isn’t on the fritz is required, and Huet doesn’t fit that bill.
I’m not going to give up completely on the man. After all, there have been times (see Detroit Game 5, or even the ZSC Zurich game this pre-season) that he has looked magnificent, and downright dominant. Right now, what Huet needs is to sit on the bench, work his tail off in practice, and prove not only to himself, but to the Chicago faithful, that he has what it takes in order to be “the guy” again before he’s given the keys again without hesitation.
As for Antti Niemi, I may not feel like he is going to be able to handle the stress of being completely relied upon in net, but I sure feel like he is more comfortable in his skin right now than Monsieur Huet. He did allow two soft goals immediately upon entering the game, but he solidified as the pressure mounted and the comeback wore on. He looked at the very least serviceable, and with an offense like Chicago’s, that’s all you need on most nights.
Niemi needs to be in net on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks battle the Oilers at the United Center. If he isn’t, then Quenneville is risking permanent psychological damage to his embattled goaltender on the level of a LaTroy Hawkins. Dusty Baker kept putting Hawkins in to close games, and each time LaTroy blew it, the fans at Wrigley let him know how displeased they were. Eventually, it got into his head, and he had to leave town in order to fully right himself again.
If Huet keeps being put in the situation of starting in goal full time, then the Hawks faithful will pick him apart if he continues to struggle. For all of the qualities that Chicago sports fans have, there is one thing that truly unites them all: they will NOT hesitate to eat one of their own, and Huet may be the next course on the menu.
Moving away from the filleting of the Frenchman, the offense was a two-faced beauty tonight. In the first period, the Hawks looked as though they were sleepwalking across the ice. Of course, it’s hard to be intense when your goaltender has got more holes than Pebble Beach, but still, it was a little disconcerting.
Following John Madden’s goal toward the end of the first period, it looked as though a fire had been lit under the Hawks’ butts. They scored three times in the second period, pulling to within one, and ratcheted up the intensity to almost a playoff level. They were hitting Calgary in the mouth at every opportunity, with Troy Brouwer getting a ton of the credit for his physical play, including a glass-shattering hit and a bout with Jarome Iginla.
Then, early in the third period, the comeback was completed when Patrick Sharp tipped in a Duncan Keith shot. The place exploded, as did the brains of half of the Calgary players. It was almost like watching “Dawn of the Dead on Ice” for a little while, as the Flames skated around the ice with the same lack of enthusiasm that crippled the Hawks in the first period.
Once Calgary came out of its doldrums, the two teams exchanged blows for the remainder of the third period, and once the game went to overtime, Brent Seabrook ended it in the first minute, giving the Hawks a thrilling 6-5 win and dealing Calgary a crippling blow that it’s going to take awhile to recover from.
Watching this game, it’s no small wonder that pundits from across the hockey world have said that the Hawks offense is downright “scary”. If they are capable of producing with this kind of intensity without Marian Hossa in the line-up, then it’s going to be even more frightening to see what they will do when the sniper returns.
It all may be for naught, however. If Huet can’t get his act together, then it won’t matter how many goals the team scores. Disappointment is the calling card for a team that’s all offense, no defense, and the Hawks may fit into that category before all is said and done. Only time will tell.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.