Blackhawks

Bears-Lions preview: Detroit's ball

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Bears-Lions preview: Detroit's ball

The Lions totaled 788 yards against the Bears 575, so any offensive edge ostensibly belongs to Detroit. But Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has never won at Soldier Field. And he gets beat up a lot when he plays there.
 
He has been forced out of Bears games with knee (2009) and shoulder (2010) injuries. Last year he got into a fight with cornerback D.J. Moore after throwing one of his four interceptions and was fined 7,500. He was sacked five times in the 2009 game.
 
In the 2011 game two, the Lions turned the ball over six times total and Stafford was sacked twice, finishing with a 46.3 passer rating. It didnt matter that the Lions vastly out-gained the Bears; they lost the ball on their first two possessions in three of the four quarters.
 
And Detroit is 2-3 for a reason.
 
We havent put enough sevens on the board early in the game, thats for sure, Stafford said. We have a lot of yards early and often in game but havent put touchdowns on the board. Thats something were still working on and giving it everything weve got to try and get sevens early.

Beyond Megatron
 
The 5,000 passing yards of Stafford last year really isnt the key in this matchup. Neither is All-World wideout Calvin Johnson for that matter. Stafford scored with a 73-yard pass to Calvin Johnson between safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather in the Detroit game last year. It was the last start for Meriweather and next-to-last for Harris, was released a couple weeks later.
 
The point there is that the Bears Stafford shredded last year are not the ones hell see Monday night. The safety play with Chris Conte and Major Wright has been solid behind a pass rush that has had three or more sacks in all but the Dallas game.
 
The Bears are unlikely to put up the two defensive and one return TD that keyed the win in Soldier Field last year. But either are the Lions likely to get an 88-yard rushing TD against a Bears front that is No. 1 in the NFL allowing just 65.8 yards per game. The Lions are 19th with 99.8 rushing yards per game and have not established a run game with Mikel Leshoure.

Keeping score
 
The Lions were able to blitz Philadelphia with a fourth-quarter spurt but the Bears are not the Eagles, and the Bears are allowing just 14.2 points per game.
 
Holding the Lions and a receiving corps of Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young, plus tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler to fewer than 15 points will be a chore, and the Lions are scoring 25.2 on average.
 
But no team has scored more than Green Bays 23 on the Bears and it is difficult to see Stafford and Detroit topping that without a run game, which the Lions dont have.
 
Last year, they had a lot of offensive firepower, linebacker Lance Briggs said. This year, they still have that firepower but just lost some close games and won some close games, especially as of late. Theyre a dangerous team and we already know its going to be a battle. It always is. But its one we have to win.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.