Ultimately, defense will tell Hawks' tale

Updated 12/1/2010 7:22 PM

There are many things Gary Bettman is never going to understand about the NHL.

But nothing draws more laughs within the game than the commissioner's attempt to turn every game into a track meet in hopes of luring more fans.


He must have been quite happy with the Blackhawks' 7-5 victory over St. Louis on Tuesday night at the UC, since that 5-goal third period is the kind of shootout he'd like to see in every game every night.

What he doesn't get is that every hockey player is taught from the start that his team can't lose if his team doesn't give up a goal.

It's the very premise with which every team begins a season, and the fire and brimstone at the core of every coaching sermon.

"We got a little bit casual there," said Joel Quenneville of the Hawks nearly blowing a 5-1 lead Tuesday. "You've got to stick with it mentally in games like this."

Certainly not the kind of game Quenneville, or any coach, wants to watch.

Bettman tried to reinvent the game coming out of the lockout in hopes of opening up the ice and removing all notions of hitting and defense, but what he failed to calculate was the amount of energy hockey lifers put into stopping the opposition.

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And it appears as though the coaches and GMs are regaining control, Tuesday's abomination aside.

In 2005-06, the first year of the new rules, 21 teams averaged at least 2.88 goals per game, with 16 at 3 goals or more.

Last season only six teams reached 2.88, and five were at 3 goals or more.

In 2005-06, 106 shutouts were recorded the entire season. This season the NHL is on pace for 186 shutouts.

In 2005-06, six teams blocked 1,200 shots, while this year 14 teams are on pace for 1,200.

What Bettman hasn't been able to legislate is the kind of coach GMs hire as they build a team. The result is the NHL has behind its benches 12 former professional defensemen and five defensive forwards, including a Selke winner.

And among the GMs are two ex-goalies, three defensemen and five defensive forwards, also including a Selke winner.

So you have many GMs and coaches who still think defense first, and no amount of rule change is going to deter them.


The league can shrink goalie equipment, add power plays, try gimmicks and turn it into ballet if they can, but given time coaches are always going to find a way to force, trap, clog and disrupt.

Eventually, the NHL will take away a goalie's catching glove and a defenseman's stick.

But there will always be coaches like Quenneville who insist on defense, puck possession and puck support, and there will be teams like last season's Hawks that lead the league in shots against and win the Stanley Cup because of it.

On their recent road trip, the Hawks allowed 3 goals in 4 victories, and 12 goals in 2 defeats.

If they want to be an elite team again this season it will have to be done with defense first, and that's a simple hockey truth that undoubtedly will outlast Bettman.

Bearing down

True, this has all the earmarks of a trap game for the Bears, going on the road to Detroit for a division game against an inferior opponent after facing a tough foe and winning at home.

But in reality this is the Miami game all over again, except the Lions aren't even that good. Like the Dolphins, the Lions have no QB, unless you want to try to sell Drew Stanton the way some sold us Tyler Thigpen.

Like Miami, the Lions also can pressure the QB, but this should be another easy one if all together now Mike Martz calls a smart game.

If he flips out, Martz has shown he can talk Jay Cutler into losing any game.

Huskie heaven

The NIU Huskies are a 17-point favorite over Miami (Ohio) in the MAC title game Friday in Detroit (6 p.m., ESPN2), after winning their last three games by an average of 47 points.

The Huskies have won nine straight for the first time since 1965 and are in the top 25 for the first time since 2004.

The good cause

The Blackhawks will host a toy drive at each of the next three home games to support the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots. Bring an unwrapped toy Friday, Sunday or Wednesday to Gates 2, 3, 6 or 7 and enter a raffle to win autographed items or game tickets.

Holiday cheer

Comedian Alex Kaseberg: "Thanksgiving can be tough. There's arguing, crying, screaming and drunks getting in a fight. And that's just in the Detroit Lions' locker room after the game."

Best headline

Sportspickle.com: "Derek Jeter shows little range in contract demands."

And finally …

Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi: "Did you see where President Obama told Barbara Walters that he is a Miami Heat fan and keeps tabs on the Heat's progress from the White House? Should we really be surprised? I mean, why wouldn't Obama be a big fan of a team that has spent tons of money but is getting no results? The Heat are the NBA's version of the federal government."