Blackhawks

Cubs, Samardzija jumping into uncharted waters

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Cubs, Samardzija jumping into uncharted waters

ST. LOUIS In their first meeting, Jeff Samardzija sold himself as a starter to Theo Epstein with a detailed plan of attack on how hed get ready for this season.

Samardzija moved to his place in Arizona last November, because it can be so boring and monotonous out there: Youre either playing golf or working out.

The Cubs certainly noticed the commitment, and saw someone whos 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, with enough raw athleticism to play Sundays in the NFL.

Here comes the next phase for Samardzija, who threw 88 innings last season exclusively as a reliever. Remember that manager Dale Sveum wants his team to play with an edge, whether its Matt Garza screaming into his glove or Ryan Dempster trying to mask his temper.

We want them to want to fight Dale to come out of the game, pitching coach Chris Bosio said Saturday. Thats our mindset from jump street. You got to be that guy. You got to want to stay out there in the toughest of tough situations. Finish what you start. Thats the goal.

The Cubs projected that Samardzija is built to (eventually) throw 200 innings, a target hed almost certainly like to reach this year. But hes never thrown more than 142 innings in a season before. It doesnt sound like theres a number out there where hed automatically or arbitrarily be shut down.

We have a plan that were going to follow, Bosio said. Its already been talked about with Dale and (general manager Jed Hoyer) and Theo.

It depends on how hard the innings are, how efficient he is. That really dictates how far a starter goes in the game. If hes efficient, hes going to pitch deeper and the same thing will be for Jeff and the rest of the guys. If hes efficient, hell pitch more innings. That pretty much answers itself.

But there will be a push-pull dynamic here. Sveum caught himself after Fridays 9-5 win over the Cardinals.

Five days earlier, Samardzija had thrown 110 pitches and almost put together a complete game against the Nationals. This time he needed 103 pitches to finish five innings and qualify for the win.

Its uncharted waters, Sveum said. But I think we have to be careful and I have to be careful of using those kind of things as excuses, too, just because its the first time hes done this and done that.

Hes pitched enough in the big leagues to understand all this.

Samardzija thanked the offense but pointed out that its obviously not the start you want to have just five and dive. The Cubs will have to monitor his workload, and will have off-days to play with this season, but they are also trying to create an identity.

Bosio is a big guy who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and can look players in the eyes. Hes old school, but still calls people dude. He expects his pitchers to throw inside and doesnt want anyone searching the dugout after the fifth inning.

Dont even look in, Bosio said. I just dont want that. Period. Im not going to be happy if youre looking in for help.

In one year, the talk has shifted from the Cubs being forced to carry Samardzija in the bullpen because he was out of minor-league options, to maybe being a top-of-the-rotation starter.

While Samardzija was being interviewed in the dugout during Saturdays FOX broadcast, Garza was throwing sunflower seeds at his face. On the air, Samardzija said something like: You have to have composure when you're dealing with idiots.

This group has some personality, and has kept the Cubs in pretty much every game so far this season.

We got some guys that like to get after it, Bosio said. Theyre loose, but at the same time, theres that internal burn that we want. We like competitive guys. Were a competitive staff. We were as players. We are as coaches.

These guys have taken the ball and ran with it in spring training. Now we have to get better as individuals and push each other. Thats what good teams do.

While Epstein generally believes that the postseason is a crapshoot, the Cubs president has found certain elements that show up more in the playoffs, and can help slightly tilt the odds in your favor.

One is having a strong top of the rotation, and Epstein believes that Samardzija has the raw components to be one of those pieces. The art is in developing that consistency.

If Samardzija gets to that level, and runs with Garza, maybe the Cubs arent that far from contention in the National League Central.

Samardzija is 27 years old, but his right arm doesnt have as much wear and tear as a typical major-league pitcher that age. There will be physical hurdles if hes as good as the Cubs think he could be.

But Samardzija has cleared one mentally. When he found out he made the rotation near the end of camp, he reflected on how far hes come from Notre Dame.

I went through college and I just played. It was natural. I really didnt have too many setbacks, Samardzija said. I havent had too many things that I really had to earn. I had to earn this and that feels good. To put that work in and see it pay off is pretty nice.

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.