Blackhawks vs. Coyotes Preview 11/29/2011

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Returning to the United Center ice for the first time in 16 days, the Blackhawks are looking for their third straight win taking on the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at 7:30.  After going 3-3 on their annual circus trip, fans and analysts know the same about the team now add they did before the trip, which is very little at all.

In victories over Vancouver and Los Angeles they looked like the deadliest team in the NHL controlling the puck most of the game and rolling all four lines.  In embarassing defeats to Calgary and Edmonton though, the Hawks failed to show up and got completely run over.  While this Jekyll and Hyde act is nothing new for the Hawks, it is frustrating for fans and players alike to go through these periods.

If there are any positives you can take away from it though it’s that this Hawks team snaps out of its funks quickly and thus far has been able to reel off several wins after a losing streak.

You never want to call a game critical, but a win tonight will go a long way in restoring the faith of Blackhawks nation.  The next 10 of 14 games for the Hawks are on United Center ice in which they hold a 7-1-2 record.  The strong play at home and the sense of urgency the Hawks ought to play with in their United Center return will make it difficult for Phoenix to pull out a win. 

While the Coyotes are a talented group, they have struggled to find success this year. With talk of long time captain Shane Doan as potential trade bait, the Coyotes are a team in need of an urgent spark to turn their ship around.  The Hawks have a tendency to play down to their opponents playing level instead of coming out and forcing the other team to play their style of hockey against weaker teams.  However, the Hawks have historically done well against Phoenix and will look to build upon their past success.

However, it remains to be seen which Hawks team will show up tinight, making this evenings matchup that much more critical in building momentum

Injury Report: After missing a few players throughout the circus trip, the Blackhawks do not have any injuries to report.  The Coyotes will be without Defenseman Michael Rosival who is out with an upper body injury.

Players to Watch: Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are expected to be reunited on the second line where they found much success earlier this season.

Prediction: Blackhawks 3 – Coyotes 2

Train Blogging: Meeting People at Concerts

This past Saturday found my good buddy Jared and I at the Aragon Ballroom dancing our asses off to the Chicago prog-rock/funk/whatever you want to call them kings Umphrey’s McGee.  I could write this entire blog on how dirty Umphrey’s made the Aragon get, but instead I want to focus on one aspect of concert-going that I think can apply to pretty much any type of show you attend.

I’ve never seen any other gathering of people that produces the ease of conversing with a complete stranger than at a concert. I’ve been to a countless number of shows by myself and found people to talk to whether or not the music is playing. 

Even attending shows stone cold sober, it isn’t that difficult to pick up a conversation with the person next to you.  So what gives? When people are gathered together in the library you seldom hear, “hey bro that Ernest Hemingway novel is sick wait till you see what the old man does when he’s stuck out in the middle of the sea.” And at other mass gatherings like Occupy Wall Street rallies or Tea Party shindigs people are too pissed off to talk to complete strangers unless it’s yelling at them that it’s Obama’s agenda to destroy the very fabric of America.

First of all everyone attending a show is always in a good mood. Even when I saw the biggest dude’s pounding bottles of Captain Morgan like it was gatorade at Rage Against the Machine, they looked happy on the inside.

Hipster concerts are no exception either. Even though they will stand still, look at the floor, and act like they are too cool to be there, they secretly live for moments like that. Plus, you can always find a depressed looking Hipster at a show and talk about how great the band was before they sold out and started playing coffee houses instead of tea houses.

Still it really is a spectacle to experience. Try going to a show by yourself and you will instantly be able to find at least 5 other people that are there on their own as well. The easiest way to approach someone at a show is obviously talking about the band that’s playing. Even if you don’t have any knowledge about the show you’re attending, you can bond with someone over people watching at shows.

For those that have yet to attend a music festival (and I mean a real music festival not Lollapalooza) there’s a term to describe people that you only see at these events. Their called “festy kids” and they usually have long unwashed hair with a flat billed baseball hat, a backpack, and some crazy shirt on that you would never see anyone wear outside of a concert/college party.

I guarantee you pointing out the various outfits you see will have you wrapped up in conversation in mere minutes.  Chances are that you’ve already seen a good 30% of the people you’re discussing at other shows also.

Of course the exception to all this is a skrillex show. You can’t talk to people at his shows. Try having a conversation with your mother while a blender is going and an overstuffed laundry machine is violently shaking and you’ll understand why.

Blackhawks vs. Sharks Preview 11/23/2011

After getting outscored a combined 14-3 the past two games, the Blackhawks kick off the second half of their annual circus trip tonight in San Jose. Much controversy surrounded the team’s trip to Las Vegas following the embarassing 9-2 loss to Edmonton. Personally I think the trip will be more beneficial for the team than harmful. It seems over the past few years when the team has gotten in a funk and has had to play multiple games in a few days, it’s difficult for them to break out of it and get a win. The time off should allow the boys to refocus and come out strong tonight.

Former Hawks netminder Antii Niemi has played his former club well since signing with the Sharks last year and has maintained his top tier play since guiding the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010. San Jose as usual is among one of the top teams in the Western Conference and is two points behind the Hawks with 25. The Sharks are currently on a roll winning their past 11 of 14 games and are sitting atop the Pacific Division.

The matchups between these clubs have been close ever since the Hawks re-emerged as an elite hockey team in the 2008-2009 season. One bright spot of the past few days has seen defenseman Brent Seabrook and winger Michael Frolik return to practice with the team. Since Seabrook went down against Edmonton on November 13th, the Hawks defense has struggled. Duncan Keith was a combined -8 against Calgary and Edmonton after playing perhaps his best game of the year in the 5-1 victory over Vancouver. With some time off to get some rest and the possible return of Seabrook, look for Keith to have a strong game.

Players to Watch: Jonathan Toews (10 points in 6 games) Duncan Keith (-8 last two games, looking to bounce back)

Injury Report: Although both Seabrook and Frolik were back practicing with the team, they are both listed as questionable for tonight. Sharks back up goaltender Antero Niittymaki is out recovering from hip surgery.

Prediction: Whenever the Blackhawks get in a funk, the most infuriating part is that they collapse against teams they should beat. In the past few seasons, the Hawks always seem to rise to the occasion against elite teams making this matchup with San Jose almost ideal for them. Bound to face a raucous crowd at the Shark Tank, look for the Hawks to play with a jump in their step after getting pounded in Western Canada. This is going to be a close game as it has always been with these two clubs. With the extra days off and with something to prove look for the Hawks to take the first matchup of the season between these two clubs.

Blackhawks 4 – Sharks 2

Top 5 Songs to Heat Up the Winter Months

In 2009 ABC published an article detailing the different tendencies in the conception of human beings (check it out here). Citing a federal study, August and September are the busiest months for child birth. Assuming that most of these births follow the natural 9 month pregnancy cycle, we can draw one conclusion. Now up until the end of January is when people are most likely to get it on and bring junior into the world. I have several different theories why this is. First, during the winter time people can’t stand to be outside for long periods of time so any outdoor activity you partake in is likely to be short. Compared to the summer, we spend much more time inside. Let’s be honest, you can only play Mario Strikers on Wii for so long before you get an urge to get freaky, especially when Wario keeps pulling cheap shots knocking you out of the Striker Cup.

Seeing that people are going to be spending more time inside of a private environment during the winter months, it would only make sense that they don’t have anything better to do than recreate their favorite Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet scene from Titanic. If you and your mate are in need of a little kick start or something to set the mood, here are 5 songs that should do the trick. DISCLAIMER while I cannot guarantee listening to these tunes will get you some action, it will work much better than offering to play “Master of Puppets” before getting down.

1. Frank Zappa – Dirty Love

Like spreading butter over some warm French Toast this song hits the spot. Interpret what dirty love is however you want but if this song doesn’t make your drawers drop, move on to the next one and they’ll be down to your ankles in no time.

2. Buena Vista Social Club – Chan Chan

Slow down and keep it silky smooth with this track from the Cuban outfit. I have no idea what they’re saying in this song but the slow rhythms and melodies in this song make me think the group knew exactly what it was doing when they wrote this song. The perfect track to set the mood before putting on the next song to get down to business.

3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)

Jimi you’ve done it again. Making you want to scream from a mountain top that you are a Golden God, this track keeps building and building until finally climaxing in a glorious arpeggiated outburst of epic melody that is then followed by a slow grooving comedown allowing you to catch your breath after the intensity of the moment passes.

4. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

No words, no problem. Eddie Hazel’s guitar is straight up sex in itself. In fact I’m surprised this track hasn’t been used in an adult film. At 10 minutes long this is the perfect cut to raise the mercury level in your household’s thermometer.

5. Medeski Martin and Wood – Pappy Check

As Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords Said, “2 minutes in heaven is better than 1 minute in heaven. And 2 minutes with me is all your going to need because it’s so intense.” Coming in a little under 3 minutes this track is perfect for lying in bed with a cigarette post-coitus. This song may rival Zappa’s in terms of how dirty it is, this should be pulled out (no pun intended) as your closer coming in to seal the deal.

5 songs that will kill any mood you’ve set forth after these tracks (NEVER PLAY THESE AFTER PARTAKING!). Any Skrillex song, Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks, The Clash – I Fought the Law, Lil Wayne – Fireman, any Skrillex song, Enya – Orinoco Flow. Did I mention Skrillex?

Blackhawks vs. Flames Preview 11/18/2011

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Coming off a convincing 5-1 victory against Vancouver, the Blackhawks look to extend their winning streak to 5 games tonight as they visit the Calgary Flames.  Perhaps the most noteworthy headline from this game is the return of forward Ben Smith to the Chicago lineup.  Being the unanimous choice amongst the Hawks brass, much speculation has occurred since Rostislav Olesz was waived on Tuesday as to where Ben Smith will fit in this lineup.

Smith became an instant favorite for Hawks fans in their first round match up against Vancouver for his gritty play and his ability to score key goals (see game 6 game winning goal).  If it wasn’t for a concussion this preseason, Smith would likely already be playing for the club.

With the struggles of Bryan Bickell as of late and the success of the fourth line, Smith figures to replace Bickell on the third line alongside Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik.  Frolik took a hard fall in the middle of the third against Vancouver and did not return to the game after that.  His status for tonight’s game is questionable.  If Frolik can’t go look for the third line to be Smith-Bolland-Bickell.

The Flames and the Blackhawks met one week ago with Chicago running over the Flames with a 4-1 victory.

The lack of scoring has plagued the Flames all season long and has led to speculation that the organization is preparing to completely overhaul the team and begin a rebuilding process.  Calgary has only two players who have reached double digit point totals so far, star Jarome Iginla not included.  Compare that to the Hawks who have six players with double digit points.

With back to back games this weekend, look for Ray Emery to get the start tonight as he owns a 3-1-1 record with a 1.19 GAA against Calgary in his career.

Players to Watch: Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa both have 8 points during this 4 game win streak.  Steve Montador (4 goals and 6 points during streak). Patrick Sharp (3 assists against Calgary on 11/11/11).

Injury Report: Brent Seabrook will miss his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury.  Michael Frolik remains questionable after crashing into the boards during the third period against Vancouver on Wednesday.  For the Flames, defenseman Anton Babchuk and forward Brendan Morrison are on injured reserve while forward David Moss is questionable with a lower-body injury after missing Tuesday’s matchup with Ottawa.

Prediction: With the struggles the Flames have had in both the offensive and defensive zone it will be difficult for them to generate many chances against a hot Hawks team that has shut down opponents offensive attacks during their 4 game win streak.  The one downside to this match up is that the Hawks are prone to falling flat against weaker teams after performing brilliantly against tough opponents the game before.  If the Hawks don’t bring the same level of intensity that they have had during this 4 game streak, this game could be a lot closer than some may think.  However, since the 2008-2009 season the Hawks have had much success against the Flames going 15-4-0 against them.

Blackhawks 5 – Flames 3

Blackhawks vs. Canucks Preview 11/16/2011

Oh boy do we have a show in store for hockey fans tonight. If you’re new to the game or don’t have much exposure, this game, this rivalry, is exactly the way to be introduced or re-introduced to hockey.

Meeting for the second time this year, both teams are coming into this matchup on a hot streak with the Blackhawks winning their past 3 games and the Canucks winning the past 3 of 4. 10 days ago the teams met at the United Center where the Blackhawks failed to show up getting drilled by the Canucks 6-2. Many Hawks fans had high expectations prior to the first matchup. The lack of grit allowed the 2010-2011 Hawks team to get pushed around by Vancouver throughout their epic 7-game series this past year. With the additions of “gritty” veterans such as Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo, Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell, and with players like Bryan Bickell finally discovering his ability to deliver crushing hits, this game was supposed to be revenge for Hawks fans.

View from my seats right before puck drop, Hawks vs. Canucks 11/6

Didn’t happen. Hawks fell flat and this team eerily looked like the same Hawks team that was out-skated, out-hit, out-everything by Vancouver last playoffs. The Hawks managed to continue this funk by getting shut out by St. Louis 3-0 two days later before finally breaking out against Columbus with a 6-3 victory that saw Coach Q rolling all 4 lines and someone on the defense not named Nick Leddy step up and deliver some goals.

This is a different Blackhawks team than the Canucks faced 10 days ago. With the breakout play from Steve Montador and the rejuvenation of Duncan Keith, this Hawks team is playing the same style of play that gave the Canucks fits during their past playoff matches. Look for tonight’s game to be a much tighter and for the Hawks special teams to be much more effective. After giving up 5 power play goals to the Canucks, the Hawks have been penalized 11 times while yielding 4 goals. While you would like the Hawks penalty kill to be able to have a better percentage of killing off penalties, the fact that the Hawks have only been on the PK 11 times is showing they are playing a more disciplined game.

After going 5/62 to start the year, the Blackhawks power play has gone 5/11 the past 3 games. While finally being able to find the back of the net on the man advantage, the Hawks have also been able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for a much longer time while keeping the defense on their toes by abandoning the backdoor pass that has failed time and time again. Look for the Hawks to try and weather the early storm Vancouver will put on in front of a loud and rowdy Rogers Centre.

Players to Watch: Steve Montador (4 points in 3 games), Jonathan Toews (5 points in 3 games), and Dan Carcillo (21 PIM last game against Vancouver).

Injury Report: The Blackhawks will be without Brent Seabrook tonight as he is out with a lower body injury while center Dave Bolland is questionable with a lower body injury as well. The Canucks will start Corey Schneider tonight with Roberto Luongo being sidelined with an upper body injury. Forwards Andrew Ebbett and Steve Pinizzotto are listed as day to day with upper body injuries while forward Byron Bitz is out indefinitely with a hip injury.

Prediction: Whenever the Hawks travel to Vancouver it is always a tight contest. Losing Seabrook and potentially being without Bolland will be huge tonight in countering a powerful Canucks offense. Unlike their last meeting though, the Hawks have become a more cohesive group and are playing with more confidence. If they can weather the early attack that the Canucks are to bring, they should be able to garner enough chances to defeat their foes.

Hawks 4 – Canucks 2

Train Blogging: The Simplest of Tasks are Often the Most Challenging

Well, well, well it sure has been awhile.  Allow me to cut to the chase. Part of the title of this post is in reference to my inability to consistently update this blog.  The other part expands on this inaction by highlighting how seemingly menial tasks can easily escape our thought processes.

Let me offer some examples of easy tasks I tend to put off or forget. Updating this blog is up there along with flossing my teeth on a regular basis, waiting until my laundry basket is filled to the brim until I wash my clothes (although in my defense I will play the environmentally conscious card here), spending am extra 5 minutes of my lunch break on twitter instead of getting extra work done and then being rushed at the end of the day (although it’s all relative anyway), etcetera etcetera.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives that come from this, I’m going to take a different approach and argue that these instances occur because in today’s world we try to always keep the bigger picture in mind. That is, simple tasks are challenging to us because we are always focused on something that we are more emotionally invested in. 

This is problematic.

Wait, wait, wait! If I’m pressed to deliver a presentation to a potential client that will bring me 100k why should I worry about a simple task such as brushing my teeth? I never said my idea’s were foolproof. Exceptions to the rules always exist, which is why we can claim very few things in this world to be a universal truth.

I make these claims speaking philosophically, understanding that  counter-examples will always exist. Now back on topic.

In Confucius’ Analects one of the major themes is the idea that one cannot bring forth their inner goodness until they have focused on and embraced what is close at hand.  Think of it as a magnificent oak tree that has lived for hundreds of years.  Tree’s are able to provide every living being around it with the oxygen needed to survive. This tree would not be able to provide these amenities however if it the roots did not make sure the tree was receiving the proper nutrients to survive.

How does this apply to the modern day? Simple, how are you able to go out and fight poverty in inner cities if you have not addressed the problems in your own life and household? How is it possible to go out and make the world a better place when you have not worked on cultivating yourself to understand ideals such as humaneness and morality?

This is not a knock to say spend all day reading up on theories of ethics. Sometimes people go to Eastern Europe and build homes in war torn areas because they don’t have direction or an understanding on what humaneness is. By being able to help out and see first hand how to act in a humane manner, they will hopefully emulate those actions by working on improving what is near to them.

Now, how does flossing your teeth or doing work instead of tweeting lead towards acting in a humane manner?

Developing ritual and taking care of the small will allow you to focus on the large.  Doing chores like your laundry will become second nature and allow you to perform them without thinking twice.  Then, you will be able to focus on what isn’t close at hand. By taking this path, you are better able to asses larger situations in a humane and moral manner, because you have already done so with yourself.

Yet this often is not the case. We try to take care of the large and leave the small behind. Over time small tasks buildup until they become large.  Neglecting the close at hand, no matter how little it may be will evemtually grow until it becomes a large issue.