Cubs

Blackhawks want more traffic in front of Smith

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Blackhawks want more traffic in front of Smith

GLENDALE, Ariz. Jonathan Toews gave his assessment after the Blackhawks 3-2 overtime loss to Phoenix on Thursday. They did a lot of good things, played their game for the most part. Just a few little tweaks needed to be done.

Two of them include eradicating those turnovers and making life a lot harder on Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith.

The Blackhawks had a rough second period in which they struggled to move and turned the puck over. That, and lack of hard-to-see shots against Smith were costly in their loss. So the Blackhawks talked on Friday about shoring up a few things.

The second period we had the puck on our stick; it wasnt like they had to make any indirect plays, said coach Joel Quenneville, who added that there could be some changes for Game 2. We have to be more effective, efficient in that area. The onus is on the puck carrier to be responsible.

The Blackhawks had particular trouble midway through the second period, when clearing the puck from their zone became an ordeal. The Coyotes tied the game on that prolonged possession, which had a tired group of Blackhawks on the ice.

Marian Hossa said the team may have gotten too particular on its passing.

It felt like the first period was really good and the second started turning pucks over. Maybe we tried to make big plays too much instead of keeping it simple in the neutral zone. Maybe chip it in and go for it instead of always finding tape-to-tape passes.

Once they get that taken care of they can get back to attacking Smith. Yes, the Blackhawks fired plenty of shots at him in Game 1; 45 to be exact. But the big, mobile Smith could see most of them en route to stopping 43. Meanwhile, it was the Coyotes getting those deflected, traffic-bred goals, and the Blackhawks know they need more of those in their game.

Hes a good goaltender, and hes going to see a lot of pucks. Traffic is probably the biggest thing, Patrick Kane said. We have to get traffic around the net, try to squeak some by him. Hes going to stop the ones he sees.

The Game 1 loss wasnt the end of the world, but it was a wake-up call. This is not going to be an easy series against a gritty, opportunistic team with a red-hot goaltender. The Blackhawks will make their tweaks and hopefully make a bigger statement come Game 2.

Its not fun to lose Game 1 but we have a long way to go. Well bounce back from this, Toews said. Well improve on certain details and well be just fine. Well be even tougher to play against. We want to steal one here tomorrow night and go home with a good feeling and not let that get away from us.

With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

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USA TODAY

With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

The last three games have been more than forgettable for the Cubs.

From Wednesday’s 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Phillies to back-to-back walk-off losses on Thursday and Friday, the Cubs’ current road trip has looked much like those that preceded it. At various times, the offense has scuffled, the rotation has pitched a clunker and the bullpen has cracked.

The solution to the latest road trip woes? Give the ball to Jon Lester and get the hell out of the way.

Lester —  who pitched a clunker himself Aug. 6 against the A’s — did what the Cubs have become so accustomed to see him do over the past four seasons. The 35-year-old tossed 6+ shutout innings, allowing just four hits, leading the Cubs to a 2-0 win.

Lester had no room for error on Saturday, as the Cubs offense went hitless for the first 4 1/3 innings. While the Cubs bats were asleep, the Pirates threatened to break the game on open multiple times, loading the bases with one out (first inning), no outs (fifth) and getting runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth.

The latter two of those instances were assisted by errors by third baseman Kris Bryant, but that’s neither here nor there. Point being, with how the Cubs looked offensively, any Pirates runs could have proved critical on Saturday. Instead, Lester worked out of every jam, stymying the Pirates bats to an 0-for-12 line with RISP.

Winning Saturday’s game was obviously important for the Cubs, as it puts them a game ahead of the Cardinals in the win column (pending the outcome of St. Louis's game against the Reds later Saturday). But it was equally important for Lester, who called himself the “weakest link” in the Cubs starting rotation after that tough outing against the A’s.

The beautiful thing about baseball is that the regular season is 162 games long. Each day presents teams with a new slate, a chance to forget about what happened in the previous game and move forward.  If Saturday’s start shows anything, it’s that Lester and the Cubs are more than capable of putting a tough game in the rearview mirror and keep moving forward.

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13 Days to Kickoff: Phillips

13 Days to Kickoff: Phillips

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Phillips

Head coach: Troy McAllister

How they fared in 2018: 9-3 (5-0 CPL Illini Land of Lincoln Conference). Phillips made the Class 6A state playoff field and defeated Lake Forest and Prairie Ridge. They advanced for the quarterfinal round and lost to Cary-Grove.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 31 @ Cass Tech (MI)
Sept. 7 vs St. Mary (MO) at East St. Louis
Sept. 13 vs Taft
Sept. 20 vs Raby
Sept. 27 @ Morgan Park (Gately Stadium)
Oct. 5 @ Simeon (Gately Stadium)
Oct. 11 vs Lane Tech
Oct. 19 @ Westinghouse
Oct. 25 @ Lincoln Park (at Lane Tech)

Biggest storyline: Phillips has gone from a Public League also-ran to a program with annual state title aspirations. Can the two-time state champion Wildcats get back into the 6A playoff field and make a deeper run this November?

Names to watch this season: S Robert Pledger (Sr., Western Michigan) OL/DL Demerick Morris (Sr., Temple)

Biggest holes to fill: The Wildcats will bring back an experienced team this season after playing a ton of underclassmen in 2018. The biggest hole is more from a leadership standpoint with the graduation losses of WR/DB Fabian McCray (NIU) and DB Joseph Thompson (Illinois), both of whom were long time varsity starters. 

EDGY's Early Take: Phillips (4A-sized enrollment) and head coach Troy McAllister volunteered to "move up" to Class 6A level last season and also this season. The Wildcats will bring back big group of returning starters who saw significant playing time last season.

While they came up short last season with a 6A quarterfinals loss to Cary-Grove, look for the Wildcats to again challenge everyone who comes their way in the Chicago Public League. They’ll have to be road warriors the first two weeks, as they take on marquee competition from out of state. The Oct. 5 date vs. Simeon is a must-see. The 6A playoff field will have to be wary of Phillips.