By Popular Demand... - More 2010-2011 Questions Addressed In Our Season Preview

Since Sam is easing himself back into the excruciating work schedule that is this blog and the Indian on what he viewed as some softball questions (he very quickly found out that isn't as good for hockey queries as it is for what he's usually looking for), I suppose it's up to me to step it up here a little in this next batch. So with that, it is with great pride that I address some your questions here at the Gathering of The Juggalos....I mean in our preview of the 2010-2011 Chicago Blackhawks season.

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First off, Smokin'  Herb Grigsby asks:How well does Stalberg perform with superior talent around him? Will he blossom into the 20+ goal scoring sniper that his talent suggests he is?

Excellent question, Herb. I am personally of the opinion that Viktor Stalberg will in fact improve upon his 9 goal output in 40 games last year. Reports from the Maple Leafs' side come in stating that he's as fast as Phil Kessel, with the addition of being 6'3" and 210 pounds. He clearly has a goal scorer's instinct, and will be asked to show that, likely on one of the top two lines. Putting Stalberg in a fourth line role doesn't make a lot of sense for what his (ample) skill set is, so barring a dog shit training camp, he should find himself on a wing in the top-9. The knock on Stalberg has always been want, as he doesn't utilize his frame as well as he could by engaging in physical play, nor is he always interested behind his own blue line. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar? On top of likely playing with one of three tremendously defensively responsible centers who boast high hockey IQ's in Toews, Sharp, or Dave Bolland, Stalberg will also now be playing for Joel Quenneville, who you may remember getting a fair amount of defensive effort from previous such one-time floaters as Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg, and Dustin Byfuglien (against Vancouver at least). To put it bluntly, everything is in place for Stalberg to have a breakout year, and if he finds himself in Coach Q's doghouse due to under performing, it will be because he screwed the pooch on his own.

And for those of you unfamiliar with Stalberg's aforementioned nose to the net, observe his college highlight reel, which is sure to moisten even the driest of panties. (Yes, it's against collegiate competition, but observe his shot selection and how he allows the play to develop.)

#18 Viktor Stalberg - "The Swedish Rocket" (via lackofchaos)

  • Next up, we have the inimitable Sec 326 Bureau Chief (he of Scotty Bowman stalking and breakfast picture taking fame), who wonders:

How much will Turco’s stats improve on account of (a) having an actual defense in front of him, or (b) his attempts to battle his serious case of the common old?

This is certainly the $1.3 million (or $2 million for San Jose) question, isn't it? While I don't see Turco's stats to leap back to his pre-lockout then-record breaking numbers with a sub-2 GAA, I'm fully confident that Marty should see an improvement in his stat line. Keep in mind that last year he still boasted a .926 even strength save percentage, and while that dipped to a ghastly .855 on the penalty kill, it should be noted that Dallas as a team was an abhorrent 77.4% penalty killing team. Now those numbers shouldn't absolve Turco from any fault on an individual goal or two, but he certainly wasn't getting a lot of help. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that while Huet had problems with handling long stretches between opponents putting shots on him, Turco posted his best career numbers while playing within the smother-the-opposition-with-my-calzones-and-man-boobs system of Ken Hitchcock, and as well with the defense-conscious Dave Tippett. In 2002-2003 where Turco posted a jizz-inducing 1.72 GAA and .932 save percentage, he saw an average of 23 shots a night. Last year, the Hawks allowed a league-best 25.1 shots a contest, so it would stand to reason that with 5/6ths of the defensive corps back, that Turco should at least be able to improve upon his numbers from Dallas, where he saw 5 more shots a night last year, despite the fact he's naturally slipped a little since those days. Add all that with the intangible factors of Turco desperately wanting to win a Cup in the twilight years of his career as the primary goalie, show that he's still worthy of a larger contract after this season, as well as do all that for the organization of his hometown hero Tony Esposito, and you have yourself one highly motivated goaltender. Of course, the first time a tricky one goes in, the torches and pitchforks will come out, but overall, it says here that Turco has got enough left in the tank to backstop the Hawks this year.

  • Long-time guy cliffkorrol keeps his question simple and terse, which is how we like 'em:/

What’s the PP/PK plan?

Seems easy enough right? First off on the penalty kill, I would not expect too much to change from what you saw last year from a strategic standpoint. However, personnel is something entirely different. The only combinations we know we'll see are Keith and Seabrook as the first defensive unit, and Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will see time as a forward unit, which even reading that should be enough to make the wieners of opposing blue liners shrivel back up into their body at the thought of them streaking the other way. The Hawks boast two players who have tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals recently in Hossa last year and Patrick Sharp from two seasons ago, so that is a constant threat. However, with the losses of John Madden, Colin Fraser, and Kris Versteeg, it's going to be up to players like Troy Brouwer, Fernando Pisani, and Jake Dowell to step into their spots. We know Pisani is an exemplary penalty killer, but his problem has been health, and the recent report of back spasms this summer don't bode well. We've seen Troy Brouwer be a perfectly willing penalty killer in the past, and has even shown flashes of short-handed scoring, notably when he began the onslaught on Black Wednesday in San Jose. As a fourth line center, Dowell will most assuredly be asked to kill penalties, which he's shown a knack for, scoring his first ever NHL goal while shorthanded Thanksgiving night of 2007 in Calgary. On the blue line, it's going to be of paramount importance that Nick Boynton assume the role of our dearly departed Catfish, Brent Sopel. Say what you will about Sopel in any other situation, but on a penalty kill, the way he took shots would make Austin Kincade proud. Boynton, when paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson, would be best served to do the same, lest we all be subjected to John Scott on the penalty kill, which I don't think anyone wants to see.

At the other end of the ice, it should be interesting to see if new assistant coach Mike Kitchen will be able to figure out what John Torchetti couldn't, which is how to get more out of what is a very offensively talented team. Often times the Hawks power play looked utterly clueless last year in the regular season, which should have been flat-out embarrassing for a team with that amount of talent. Perhaps Torch had too many pieces to work with which led to analysis paralysis, or such cockamamie ideas as Patrick Sharp on the point. Either way, the power play finally hit its stride in the playoffs when they finally realized that a simple two-man game between Kane at the half wall and Toews on the goal line worked wonders with a man in front, whereas Torchetti insisted on running things through his point men. Not to mention Brian Campbell frequently languishing either on the second unit of the power play, or inexplicably not seeing time at all with the man advantage given his skill set. Even with that, Duncan Keith will likely run the first unit with Brent Seabrook as his trigger man, and Toews, Kane, and a player to be named later up front, but the season will likely start with Hossa completing the Unholy Alliance. The second unit will no doubt feature Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp, though Sharp may start the season out opposite Brian Campbell on the point. It would not shock me in the least, however, to see Niklas Hjalmarsson finally get to see some power play time as his game grows. On more than a few even strength occasions last year, we've seen Hammer deftly drag the puck along the blue line while skating backwards to fire a low, hard shot on net through traffic. Those solid instincts may warrant some time on the power play unit should Sharp be frequently exposed by opposing forwards. The remaining forward spots pretty much become a grab bag depending on how Q and Kichen want to counter the opposition- whether it's a man in front with Troy Brouwer or (god forbid) Tomas Kopecky, or perhaps someone to find soft spots in the defense such as the previously discussed Viktor Stalberg. All that being said, however, given the scoring talent that remains after the off season purging, it still is almost irrelevant what system the Hawks run on the power play, as they have the talent to trip, stumble, fart, and dry hump their way into at least competence on pure talent. The key for both prolonged success and the condition of our livers will be making the unit run cleaner and more efficiently, and there's nothing jumping off the screen from Mike Kitchen's past that suggest he'll turn it around in short order. Expect some frustration in the early going from the power play unit.

  • Lastly, we have ben9599, who wonders:/

In which game will Tazer provide proof of living sainthood?

For those of you still needing further proof for Toews to be fully canonized by the First Church of Blackhawk Nation, he will perform his most impressive act of miracle working yet in May, when he banishes the snakes in red and white sweaters hailing from the lands west of Windsor from these lands forever.