stuhackel
Monday December 6th, 2010

By Stu Hackel

The Blackhawks have not exactly torched the NHL so far in their defense of the Stanley Cup, and their road just got bumpier with this injury last night to Patrick Kane...

...that took him out of the lineup early in the Hawks' 4-2 victory over the Flames. Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game Kane "is probably going to be out for a little bit," adding he thought the injury wasn't serious and that the team would know more today. That could mean Kane suffered something like a knee ligament sprain that may cost him anywhere from two to six weeks, but nothing as dire as an ACL injury that would sideline him for several months. Stay tuned.

Considering that the Hawks are already without Marian Hossa for the second time this season as well as Fernando Pisani, their ranks up front are thin. Still, they have enough depth and quality to get by, as they did against Calgary. Dave Bolland, one of the game's best two way forwards, scored twice and captain Jonathan Toews got serious and chipped in with a goal and an assist.

The Flames game was Chicago's seventh home win of the season, but the Hawks also have eight losses at United Center, not the kind of record that looks good on a Cup contender. They're better on the road, where they've gobbled up 18 of a possible 28 points. This morning, they sit fifth in the Western Conference, five points behind the first place Red Wings, but only three points away from ninth.

Ideally, the Hawks would like to build on their high level of play from last spring and be above the conference pack with Detroit, instead of in the middle. Their salary cap struggles and subsequent deals that robbed them of some important depth are well known. Imagine this team with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien in the lineup (or, conversely, imagine the Thrashers without them).

That's not to say that a post-Cup hangover hasn't effected this club. The key area where the Blackhawks have underperformed at times is on defense. Duncan Keith was the best d-man in the NHL last season, and he had such an outstanding playoffs that many thought that he, and not Toews, should have won the Conn Smythe. But Keith's play hasn't always reached that level this season and, in fact, Coach Q nailed him to the bench for a few shifts during a game in November and broke up his defense pairings for a spell. Keith was minus-7 then and he's minus-6 now. Yet Quenneville clearly still trusts him because he had Keith on the ice for half the game against Calgary, a whopping 29 minutes and 39 seconds.

Keith blamed his poor play not on the huge minutes he logs, but on a lack of focus. He was trying to do too much, not keeping his game simple. Sounds suspiciously like the dreaded Cup hangover.

Skating Around: Could Wild GM Chuck Fletcher be ready to pull the trigger on a trade to shake up his team? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo thinks it's quite possible and that Fletcher could move someone from his defense corps...

Like their division rivals the Blackhawks, the Blues continue to get slammed with key injuries. Andy McDonald went down with an "upper body" injury Saturday night on this play....

...in which his skate caught a rut and he stumbled head-first into Shawn Horcroff's knee and the play resulted in Taylor Hall's game-winning OT goal. McDonald, who has a history of concussions, sat out Sunday night's game against the Canucks. David Perron has been out with a concussion since he was thumped by Joe Thornton a month ago, and T.J. Oshie is missing an extended period with a broken ankle. Even without those three, the Blues broke a five-game losing streak in Vancouver on Sunday night, downing the home team that had won four straight...

Here's something you won't see often: The Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom making a questionable decision during overtime on Saturday during the play that led to the Kings' game-winner. At around the 50-second mark in the video....

...you see Lidstrom circling with the puck in the far corner as across the ice Johan Franzen is calling for a pass. It's a risky play, passing through the Kings' defense, and Lidstrom might have taken the safe route by cycling the puck back to Pavel Datsyuk, who was below the goal line. But Lidstrom tried the pass. It was deflected by Kings rookie Alec Martinez (who is profiled in today's LA Times by Helene Elliott), went to Dustin Brown and the Kings broke out on an odd-man rush that Anze Kopitar finished. Regardless, the Wings got five of six points on their West Coach trip. The Kings, who had lost seven of eight, won their second in a row...

And finally, Bill Guerin announced his retirement in a statement on the Penguins website. Guerin, 40, scored 429 goals and 427 assists for 856 points, winning two Stanley Cups in his 18-year career while playing for eight teams. He felt a strong connection with the Pens and wanted to retire as a member of their organization. They'll honor him before tonight's game against the team with whom Guerin began his career, the Devils.

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