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SportsMonday: Hawks' Hot Start Heals The Hurt

How are we going to stay pissed at hockey if the Blackhawks are going to go around piling up goals and immediately winning road games against the teams that lorded over the Western Conference in the playoffs last year?

The Hawks kicked off the lockout-shortened NHL season by jumping all over the defending Stanley Cup champ Kings in Los Angeles on Saturday, scoring three goals in the first period on the way to a 5-2 victory. Then they traveled down to Phoenix late last night to face the team the Kings beat in the Western Conference finals and all they did at the Arena in suburban Glendale was rally from a pair of early deficits to defeat the Coyotes 6-4.


We will stay at least a little hacked off when we remember that at the very least there should have been a month-and-a half more NHL hockey this winter. The owners insulted the players with their first lowball offer when negotiations kicked off in the late summer and by the time the scheduled start of the season came around and the lockout began, there was still substantial space between the players' proposals and the owners'.

But by the beginning of December, the general parameters of a future deal were clear. The players, whose aggregate salaries had represented some 57 percent of total hockey-related revenues in the 2011-12 season, were going to accept a sizable reduction in the number, probably taking it down to a seemingly ultra-fair 50-50.

But a group of hawkish owners took the lead in the negotiations at that point and torpedoed a potential deal. It appeared that even though the players were making substantial concessions, this group of owners, led by Jeremy Jacobs of Boston and Murray Edwards of Calgary, wouldn't agree to a deal unless they brought the players' union not just to its knees but made sure it was absolutely flattened.

Eventually sanity prevailed and the more moderate owners made sure the ideologues didn't trash the season. The sides settled for a deal that looked a whole heck of a lot like the one on the table at the start of December.

The bad news was that NHL hockey wasn't played during the holiday season. The good news was that Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz wasn't one of the owners who was - publicly, at least - out front of the anti-union demagoguery.

Anyway, Hawks fans were desperate that the season not be canceled because there was plenty of reason to believe that their team would be in the hunt for the championship. And sure enough the Hawks have enjoyed a rousing start with a big old party now set for Tuesday at the United Center. That's when the St. Louis Blues come to town for the home opener.

Fans will have to savor that time with the Hawks and a home game a little further down the line against the Red Wings because Chicago otherwise plays 10 of its first 12 games on the road.

As for the piles of goals we were talking rejoicing about the fact that Marian Hossa already has the biggest one (he has scored four) is the best sign so far. The lockout was actually good for the awesomely skilled two-way forward who will have to be a huge part of any sort of successful run the Hawks make this season.

The Hawks' 2011-12 season essentially ended when Coyote punk Raffi Torres executed the cheapest possible shot on Hossa's head in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series. There were, of course, other factors in Chicago losing the series four games to two, but putting Hossa on the sideline with a severe concussion gave Phoenix a huge edge.

Hossa finally felt right again in about November-December and when it came time to take the ice to prepare for a season starting in January, he was ready to go.

Now he has scored two goals in each of the Hawks' first two games and is clearly back to his old self. So far the Hawks have put Hossa on the first line with center Jonathan Toews, and Patricks Kane and Sharp on the second line with center Dave Bolland and it has worked great. Many fans believed the Hawks had to go out and find a big-time second center during the off-season but the team chose to fill the position from within with the player who is in his fifth full year with the team.


What wasn't so good was back-up goalie Ray Emery's effort between the pipes. He gave up a tissue-soft goal to the Coyotes' David Moss in the first period and was leaking dangerous rebounds all night. Fortunately, Coyote goalie Mike Smith was even worse. He capped off a rough night by whiffing on a puck that popped into the air after a tip-in attempt by Bolland and it resulted in the Hawks' sixth goal.

Smith was so pissed to have missed (the puck) that he proceeded to smash his stick in two on one of his goalposts.


Hockey fans knew how he felt but if the Hawks keep playing like they have, the lockout anger will fade as fast as the Zamboni sheen on the ice after an NHL period begins.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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