Blackhawks

Fire look to get back to winning ways

816414.png

Fire look to get back to winning ways

Fire coach Frank Klopas had just one basic reaction to his teams poor showing before its first sellout home crowd of the season last week: forget about it.

Thats undoubtedly good advice. The 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy wasnt indicative of the Fires play of late. Prior to the shaky showing the Fire (8-6-4) had a four-game unbeaten streak.

"Our movement and being dynamic and being off the ball wasnt as sharp, Klopas said of the dropoff in his teams performance." You have to move on, and there will be setbacks. Its how we react to them. Youre going to have games like that throughout the season.

An immediate recovery is possible on Saturday when the Vancouver Whitecaps come to Toyota Park. The Whitecaps should be travel-weary; they played their fifth straight road match on Wednesday, losing 3-2 to lowly Toronto FC. That was the third meeting of the season for the Canadian rivals, but the first in Major League Soccer play. They met for the Canadian Championship in a two-game aggregate goal playoff, Toronto FC winning that title in the same matchup for the second straight year.

Still, Vancouver (8-5-6) could be the most improved team in Major League Soccer. As an expansion team in 2011 the Whitecaps finished 6-18-10 and were last in the Western Conference. The Fire, though, couldnt beat Vancouver last season, going 0-1-1. Saturday marks the only meeting of the clubs this regular season.

Therell be a Chicago flavor to the visitors. Vancouver general manager Tom Soehn developed his soccer roots in the Chicago Kickers youth programs and was a defender on the Fires MLS and U.S. Open Cup champions in the augural 1998 campaign and was a Fire assistant coach from 2001-03. John Thorrington, injury-riddled in six seasons with the Fire, has kept his career going with Vancouver, which acquired him in the expansion draft. Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit was on the Fires first Premier Development League team in 2001. Jay Nolly, a reserve goalkeeper for the Fire, was a Whitecaps netminder last season and earned the first MLS shutout in the history of the Vancouver franchise.

While Klopas doesnt have an injury issue to deal with this week, he does need to find the right playmaking midfielder. He used Chris Rolfe, Alex and Rafael Robayo in the role once manned by the departed Sebastian Grazzini against the Galaxy. None could get the Fire going.

There also could be a change in the back. Klopas didnt use usual right back Dan Gargan against Los Angeles, going with Jalil Anibaba there instead. It was an Anibaba handball that led to Robbie Keanes penalty kick that provided the only goal the Galaxy needed.

Klopas isnt pointing fingers for last weeks loss, though.

"It wasnt just one or two players, and we have to move on, he said. "In the end its important to be where we set our eyes in the beginning (back in the playoffs after a two-year absence). This is a strong group.

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

corey_crawford_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Bill Belichick scoffs at Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison

Bill Belichick scoffs at Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison

All of the good graces Bill Belichick may have won on Tuesday afternoon -- when he compared the Bears' offense to Kansas City's -- are officially gone. 

Today, when talking to reporters, a Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison came up. Belichick, who coached LT as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator in the 1980s, was NOT having it: 

"Wait a minute, we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor now. I’m not putting anybody in (LT’s) class. Put everybody down below that. With a lot of respect to a lot of good players, we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor."

A bit harsh, Bill. 

For what it's worth, here's Khalil Mack's 2018 projection, assuming his latest ankle injury doesn't make him miss time: 

20 sacks, four interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries

That's .5 sacks less and four INTS, 16 FFs and 4 recoveries more than LT had in his 1986 MVP season. And yeah, maybe "they didn't record tackles/fumbles in 1986" and "16 forced fumbles would not only blow the current record (10) out of the water but is just plain unrealistic" but whatever, we're just sayin'. 

UPDATE: shocker, LT agrees: