Blackhawks

Why Bryan LaHair never says, 'I told you so'

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Why Bryan LaHair never says, 'I told you so'

KANSAS CITY There have been so many microphones in Bryan LaHairs face that you wondered if at any point he wanted to scream: I told you so.
LaHair didnt last beyond his freshman year at Clemson University, and wound up at St. Petersburg College. He fell to the 39th round of the 2002 draft. The Seattle Mariners a team desperate for offense at Safeco Field released him. The Cubs didnt give him a real chance until the age of 29, after more than 3,600 at-bats in the minors. He could have gone to Japan to make some good money.
So the All-Star Game would seem like an ideal platform to fire back at anyone who doubted him along the way.
You aint going to hear that from me, LaHair said Tuesday. I wont say that. Im not a I told you so kind of guy. Im just grateful for all the opportunities Ive been given. Its just obviously a different road to get here. But you dont want to have enemies in this game.
So LaHair probably wont take this as a slight: Tony La Russa replacing Joey Votto at first base with David Freese in the fifth inning. Freese a third baseman and World Series MVP for La Russas St. Louis Cardinals last season had only played nine games at first base since 2009.
Instead, LaHair ran out there two innings later and followed Ryan Dempsters advice: Take as much stuff as you can. He made sure to get his bat and jersey signed by his teammates.
LaHair, of course, doesnt even play first base for the Cubs anymore. That job went to Anthony Rizzo, who might keep it for the next decade, as soon as he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa two weeks ago. LaHair patiently answered all the Rizzo questions and explained how much those two big left-handed bats could do damage in the same lineup.
LaHair thinks his sense of calm and purpose can be traced back, in part, to the visualization exercises he began years ago in the Mariners system with Dr. Jack Curtis, a sports psychologist who began consulting for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987, when future Cubs manager Dale Sveum played there.
I just know that if you believe you can do something, LaHair said, and you put your mind to doing something, youre capable of doing it. I know that if you put those visions in your head consistently of having successit just ends up being dj vu, because youve seen it happen before it happened.
The players voted LaHair onto the All-Star team during a first half in which he hit .286 with 14 homers and 30 RBI. He says he continues to work with team psychologist Dr. Marc Strickland, who divides his time between the Cubs and the minor-league affiliates and is seen around the batting cage and in the clubhouse.
We just go in a quiet room and close my eyes, LaHair said. I talk to him about what my plan is for that day or how I want to keep it moving forward. We just kind of go through at-bats and situations that may appear.
LaHair will picture that nights starting pitcher or how the game might unfold. He does it once or twice a series, sometimes on his own.
Most of the time when Im finished, LaHair said, I open my eyes and I get ready (and) I feel really relaxed.
Theres a difference between being relaxed and being too comfortable, and LaHair definitely isnt resting on this All-Star trip. He wants to play 10 years in the big leagues. How he responds in the second half will be one of the storylines to watch around the Cubs.
You got to make adjustments to perform and stay here and have success in the long term, Sveum said. The guys on the other side of the fence learn how to pitch you and all that. So you need to make adjustments on a constant basis around here to learn how to deal with this kind of pitching on an everyday basis.
LaHair still has to prove that he can hit left-handers and do it for an entire season. He knows how hard this game is, and how cold the business can be, which is why he wont tell the world: I told you so. Hes going to close his eyes and look at the big picture.
Youre not going to go 4-for-4 every day (or) hit three balls off the wall at Wrigley, LaHair said. Hopefully, it works enough to where you have enough success to where Im sitting here today.

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.