Blackhawks

Bears problem vs. Packers: Lovie Smith? Or someone else?

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Bears problem vs. Packers: Lovie Smith? Or someone else?

The immediate effects of the Bears 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers were the easy part.

The Packers (10-4) clinched the NFC North division. The Bears (8-6) lost any meaningful control over their own playoff chances, going from the No. 2 seed in postseason standings at the midpoint when they were 7-1 to now trailing Seattle (9-5), the New York Giants (8-6, better conference record), Minnesota Vikings (8-6, better division and conference records), and ahead of the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) only by virtue of a Monday night win so long ago (Oct. 1) that it seems like a different season.

Which it effectively was.

Them winning this game in our house is what we needed to avoid today and we didnt do it, center and co-captain Roberto Garza said.

Sunday marked the sixth straight loss to the Packers, a ominous development given that one of the first reasons cited for firing general manager Jerry Angelo was the failure to keep up with the Packers.

It now looms as a tipping point for Lovie Smith as well. And maybe more than just Smith, who was 6-2 against Green Bay when the Packers were quarterbacked by Brett Favre; 1-1 with Kyle Orton vs. Aaron Rodgers; and 1-7 in games vs. Rodgers with Jay Cutler as his quarterback.

A QB who cant beat the Packers

The teams with youthful second- (Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco), third- (Russell Wilson, Seattle) and fourth-round draft choices (Kirk Cousins, Washington) at quarterback are right now firmly in playoff contention or better. The one that traded away two No. 1 picks is wondering whether he is worth a contract extension with a year left on his deal.

And Cutler has now established definitively that he does not have the wherewithal to overcome his shortcomings visavis Aaron Rodgers and beat the Green Bay Packers.

If that flaw has been enough to put Angelo and Smith in jeopardy, the same assumption can be safely made about Cutler, now 1-7 vs. the Packers and Bears centerpiece since 2009.

As I noted in a column Sunday morning, the Bears quarterback is simply not as good as his opposite number and has not found ways to overcome that. The question now is whether he ever will be able to.

It wears on me, Cutler said. It wears on everyone. You dont want to lose to your rival year-in and year-out. Then its not a rivalry anymore. Its a domination.

Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron were brought down in some significant measure because they were unable to handle the Packers and Brett Favre. Smith, who could handle Favre but not his successor, is now feeling their pain.

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.