Monday, March 23, 2009

"Hello again, Patrick Sharp!"

Patrick Sharp left a game against Dallas in the third period with a lower-body injury over a month ago. In fact, the game was on Valentine's Day, but Dallas's dillhole, Steve Ott, was showing no love for Chicago's top goal scorer (at the time).
During Sharpie's time off, the Blackhawks went 6-10 and have given up a pretty comfortable lead over Vancouver for fourth place in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks were sliding terribly, losing 7 of their last 8 and were 3-7-2 in their last twelve...until Sunday.
Granted, the Blackhawks were playing the Los Angeles Kings (who currently sit at 13th place in the West), but you have to start somewhere, right? Sunday's game in Chicago was the much-awaited return of Patrick Sharp, and he didn't disappoint.
Sharp scored the first goal of the game at 9:46 of the first while on the power play. This goal already told Blackhawks fans that one of their favorites was back in business, but he didn't stop there. He helped Martin Havlat light the lamp on a beautiful give-and-go, letting fans know that he was up to his old antics. Think that's the last we heard of Sharp? No, Sharp thoought he'd might as well seal the deal by scoring an empty-netter off the boards from his own blue line.
Does this mean that the Blackhawks are back on track and have fixed all the problems that caused them to lose 7 of their last eight? No. Let's not kid ourselves, as good of a game as this sounds; it was still against the Kings. The Blackhawks need to continue to limit opponent's shots, as they did against Los Angeles. As good as Khabibulin is, he's even better when he doesn't face that many shots. Same goes for Huet. If he faces a bunch of shots, he eventually can't stop anything, but when the Blackhawks limit the shots of their opponents, he seems to make the saves that he needs to, even the difficult ones.
The Blackhawks need to help Khabi out and let him get back into his game. Let's not forget, he just came back last Sunday from a month off with a groin injury. The Blackhawks also need to be able to give Huet some time off after exhausting himself and compromising his ability by playing all but one of the games that Khabi was gone in the stretch from Feb. 11-Mar. 15. Huet needs some time to rest up and figure out how to manage his rebounds.
One last thing, the Blackhawks need to stop giving up the first goal of the game. And stop giving it up early. The statistics show that the team who gives up the first goal doesn't stand a great chance at winning. The Blackhawks seemed to be giving up the first goal IN THE FIRST MINUTE several times during their cold streak. Not only do you start off in the hole by one, but the pyschological effect must be tremendous as well. How do you go out and win the game when you promptly let all the air out of your balloon?
The Blackhawks play the NHL's best, the San Jose Sharks, on Wednesday. This will be a true test of their meddle. I'm not saying that they have to win on Wednesday to prove that they're out of their slump (although, that would be nice!). However, they need to put forth a good showing. I don't expect the Blackhawks to top the team whose proven themselves to be the best since week one, although I know they can (see Jan. 31, thier last meeting). For now, I'm just going to bask in the sunlight of Sunday and think good thoughts about the Blackhawks ending the season strong and heading into the playoffs with a full head of steam.

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