It’s Monday which means another round of mailbag questions.
Which forward will get bumped for Adam Burish when he comes back? Shouldn't the Hawks consider sending down one of the two extra forwards they'll have? -- Andrew, Oak Lawn, Ill.
I don’t think it will be one guy. Ben Eager and Tomas Kopecky are the obvious answers. My guess is those two, along with Colin Fraser and Burish -- if he can’t go initially every night because of the knee -- will all rotate. Nothing says another top-nine forward might sit as well if he isn’t playing well. The competition for playing time will be fierce. There is no reason to send someone down. First of all, they are all on one-way contracts and there’s no need to save cap space at this point.
In your opinion what teams would the Hawks like to play in the playoffs? -- Chris, Sycamore, Ill.
I can’t say for sure what they are thinking -- I haven’t really asked about playoff matchups yet -- but I can tell you what they should like as a matchup. Based on the regular season, the two teams I think the Hawks have a matchup edge with are the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks. To sum it up, in short, they are faster than the Flames and quicker than the Sharks. The Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings could pose problems. The Nashville Predators aren't a bad matchup, but that series could take some energy out of them, and I’m not sure they want to see them in the first round. Same with the Phoenix Coyotes.
So early on, I’d say if the Flames get in, they’re the team they should want to face. One caveat (for me as well): Don’t put too much stock in the regular season. I would assume in a seven-game series, the Sharks would play better than they did in the regular season series.
Despite the statistics [goals-against percentage, save percentage] showing otherwise, it became more clear Sunday against Detroit that goaltending will indeed be this team's biggest question mark come postseason. Knowing that Niemi struggles with a full-time workload and Huet has a tendency to give up some very "soft" goals, what approach should the Hawks use with their goaltending situation down the stretch and into the postseason to give them the best chance at winning the Cup? -- Marty, St. Charles, Ill.
You may be right in your assessment, but I’m not sure that Sunday should be the final straw. The whole team played bad in the second period, just as they did in New York with Niemi starting. And just as they kind of did against the Vancouver Canucks. This is more than a trend, it’s a pattern. But back to your question. I think they might have to reconsider some strategy soon. Maybe they just both play near equal down the stretch and coacj Joel Quenneville goes with his gut or the obvious hot one in those final games. Everyone within the Hawks has been saying this will take care of itself, but we are getting late and it hasn’t yet. There is still some time, but they might just have to rely on Q and his experience to pick the one to start the playoffs with no guarantee he’ll be the one to finish.
The Hawks' puck possession has been terrible since the break. Especially around the blue line against the Detroit on Sunday, resulting in no fewer than three of the Detroit goals. What happened to the dump-and-cycle offense they were running all year up to the break? -- Anthony, Mundelein, Ill.
They haven’t exactly been a dump-and-chase team. You dump it in when it’s called for and you skate it in when you can. There are no set rules. They would rather skate it in because it means not giving up possession. Like you say though, if they dump it in, they have to retrieve it and start the cycle. I wouldn’t make a generalization about their play since the break. The first period in New York was very good. Same with Vancouver and most of that night, in general. On Sunday, they played a great first period. A great one. And good enough in the third to make it close. It's stretches, if not the whole second period, that’s problematic.
Do the Hawks have any promising goalies in their farm clubs that they could bring up before the end of the season. They couldn't be any worse than what they have. -- Greg, Wisconsin
Not the time to do that. It could be worse and would be a sign to the team there is no faith in what they have. Now is the time they will rally around each other, not the other way around.
Do you think the Hawks failed to make any moves before the trade deadline that could have improved them in the goalie position? It just seems that the goalies are not consistent enough I feel to take them all the way to the Stanley Cup. -- Steve, Grand Canyon, Ariz.
Well, by definition, yes, they failed but it’s not because they didn’t try. No match was found mostly because of Huet’s contract, in my opinion. I think they would have done the right thing, if they could have.
Now, don't get me wrong here, I used to think that Huet wasn't good enough to even sneeze in the direction of going into the season. But he really had stepped it up in the games prior to Niemi getting four or five starts in a row and the whole Olympic break. After Huet's decision to leave his goaltending skills in the locker room during the first intermission and Quenneville's raunchy look of disgust, don't you think it's time the Hawks choose their man in goal for the home streatch? And if so, who should it be, considering Niemi has given up some iffy goals and been pulled from a start or two? Thanks for the insight. You have been a very reliable source for me in "infromation/rumor wars" my buddies and I have from time to time. Big fan of your work J.R. -- Justin, Schererville, Ind.
Yes, it's time, but no one has emerged. I think they want to give Huet every chance to have the job. If he falters [or continues to] then they go to Niemi. That's my guess. Goalies get pulled. It happens. I do think Niemi has been more “clutch” and that might be the deciding factor.
Jesse, does a puck-possession game not coincide with the idea of taking the simple play? Just seems that players are getting in more trouble trying to keep the puck rather than just getting the puck out of their own zone at times. And this has been going on all year ... With these goalies, being too cute and fancy is ending up in the net far too often. I hope Q starts to stress this once the playoffs start. Puck possession is awesome when players have the talent to do it, but not all players have that ability. Just clear the puck! -- Joe, Charlottesville, Va.
Your basic point is a good one. Take the simple play. Maybe after a period of success, they get a little relaxed with that puck and don't always do it. It applies to everyone, including the skilled guys. It does coincide with taking that safe play. You just have to make better decisions and know when to skate or go to the middle and when to go off the boards.