One NHL team is off to its best start ever


One NHL team is off to its best start ever

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Blackhawks are off to the best start in their 85-year history, despite not being in charge for much of their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night.Thanks to Nick Leddy's goal at 2:45 of overtime and a zoned-in, 29-save effort from Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 2-1 and improved to 6-0.After taking a cross-ice pass from Viktor Stalberg, Leddy fired from the left circle and beat Detroit's Jimmy Howard with a shot that slipped just under his glove. Leddy, a defenseman, said it was his first overtime goal at any level."It's an unbelievable feeling, one I'll never forget," he said. "I heard that stat (best start) before the game. If we stick to doing the little things, we'll be great."The Blackhawks started 5-0 in 1971-72 -- Hall of Famer Bobby Hull's final season in Chicago -- and matched it on Saturday night with a 3-2 win in Columbus.On Sunday, however, they were anything but assertive for much of the second and third period. Part of that was penalty-related.Still, Chicago killed all six of Detroit's power plays, improving to 22 of 23 this season.Detroit's Johan Franzen finally connected at even-strength early in the third to tie the game at 1 and set up overtime. Duncan Keith scored a power-play goal in the first period for Chicago."We could have been on our heels a little bit," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Detroit was pressing (being) down a goal. You know everything's coming. They were pinching."We could have been better, but at the same time, six (games) in nine (days) could have been a factor."Quenneville couldn't really fault his club, one of two undefeated NHL teams along with San Jose."I think everybody deserves credit," Quenneville said. "Everybody's contributing. Everybody was where we wanted them to be. Everybody had good conditioning to start with. Special teams, Crow (Crawford) in net, the team game. I'm pleased."Crawford, who made his fifth start in six games, was sharp again. Last season, the Blackhawks' 28-year-old No. 1 goalie was criticized for allowing soft and untimely goals. That hasn't happened so far this season."Focus has been a huge part of it so far," Crawford said. "I thought I was focused last year, but I wasn't quite there."This year, I've paid a little bit more attention to that, especially throughout the game. Every play around the net, I'm ready and getting low for little things around the net so I don't give up those little goals."Crawford needed to be sharp when his teammates sagged on Sunday."I thought we really carried the play in the last 30 minutes of the game," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They were better than us early. They outskated us, and then we really dug in and got playing a while. We had every opportunity to win the game."Injury-depleted Detroit has gone just 2 for 26 with the man advantage so far."We've got to shoot the puck a little more and maybe things will be a little different," Franzen said. "It think it's just a matter of getting the shots and getting the traffic."Howard, who has started all five of Detroit's games, made 25 saves.Chicago has won four straight against Detroit, dating to Feb. 21, 2012. The Blackhawks and Red Wings met for the 722th time, the most of any two NHL opponents.Sunday's game was only the Blackhawks' second at home, and they begin a six-game road trip Wednesday in Minnesota. The Blackhawks don't skate at home again until Feb. 12 as they play 10 of their first 12 games away from the United Center.Keith scored the only goal of the first period, during a power play 2:24 in.Crawford had to be sharp to preserve the lead in second. Early in the period, he made close-in saves on Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg. And the Blackhawks needed Crawford as they ran into penalty trouble in the second. Detroit was unable to convert any of four straight power plays beginning midway through the second, including a 43-second 5-on-3 advantage."The D were blocking the shots," Quenneville said. "Key saves by Crow (Crawford). It was a group effort, with spectacular kills."We dodged a bullet. It was the key to the game."The Blackhawks started the third sluggishly, and Franzen finally tied it at 1 with an even-strength goal at 4:30 of the period. After Zetterberg's shot was blocked, Franzen picked up the loose puck and closed in from the right circle. He got by Keith and beat Crawford with a shot between the legs.Crawford made a point-blank stop on Cory Emmerton midway through the third to preserve the tie.Howard then made sprawling saves on Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews during a Chicago power play with just under 5 minutes left in the third. Keith's shot a minute-and-a-half later hit the post.Crawford stopped Franzen's prime chance 1:30 into overtime.Notes: Red Wings D Jonathan Ericsson returned after missing three games with an injured hip. ... Detroit C Darren Helm (back) and D Jakub Kindl (healthy scratch) sat out after playing on Friday against Minnesota. Both have missed four of five games so far. ... Red Wings D Ian White (leg), D Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and LW Jan Mursak (shoulder) and G Jonas Gustavsson (groin) remain sidelined. ... Out for Chicago were LW Daniel Carcillo (knee) and D Steve Montador (concussion, from last season) ... The 1971-72 Blackhawks won nine of its first 11 games en route to a 46-17-15 record and first place in the NHL's old Western Division.

How Kyle Schwarber is such a ‘baseball rat’ that Cubs used him in their draft war room

How Kyle Schwarber is such a ‘baseball rat’ that Cubs used him in their draft war room

Matt Dorey and Lukas McKnight had just scouted a California Baptist University pitching prospect as they rode toward the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and pulled into the parking lot.

Dorey watched the Cubs game on his phone as the valet guys approached the car: “Holy s---!” Kyle Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler as the two outfielders converged in the left-center field gap, both of them tumbling to the ground as Arizona Diamondbacks leadoff guy Jean Segura sprinted for an inside-the-park home run at Chase Field. 

Dorey, the team’s amateur scouting director, and McKnight, the assistant director, walked into the hotel’s sports bar with this sort of thought in mind: Make it a double. On the night of April 7, the Cubs really didn’t know what damage this might do to Schwarber’s career, or if a severe injury could shred the franchise’s World Series plans.

“The pit in my stomach at that moment,” Dorey remembered. “Everybody starts texting me: ‘Oh, this doesn’t look good.’” 

It looked like an awful high-speed collision that might derail the 2016 Cubs. It didn’t matter that Schwarber had only turned 23 a month earlier and only had one full season of professional baseball on his resume. 

The Cubs had witnessed his quick, compact left-handed swing at Indiana University and understood what his magnetic personality meant in building the Hoosier program, using the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft on Schwarber with the belief that those qualities would strengthen the Wrigley Field clubhouse. 

An MRI at a hospital in the Phoenix area revealed a torn ACL and LCL in Schwarber’s left knee, as well as a severely sprained ankle, what was supposed to be season-ending trauma. Except Schwarber has already notched three hits and two walks in the World Series, including a double off the Progressive Field wall against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in Game 1. 

A stunning performance that left teammate Kris Bryant predicting “they’re going to make a movie about him” couldn’t get Schwarber medically cleared to play defense on Friday night as Wrigley Field stages its first World Series game since 1945. But in what’s now a best-of-five battle, the Cleveland Indians will have to worry about Schwarber walking up to the plate for what could be a season-defining pinch-hit at-bat.

“I’m a baseball rat,” Schwarber said. “I want to be involved in it as much as I can. A lot of (credit) goes to this team and this organization for allowing me to be around. They were a big rock in my rehab.

“I could have easily just gone to Arizona, gone through the motions in rehab. But these guys really made me kick it up a notch. I’m sitting here today mostly because of those guys.”

Beyond the grueling physical exercises, Schwarber studied video, helped prepare scouting reports, brainstormed with catchers and attended meetings with pitchers. In no uncertain terms, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made Schwarber untouchable in trade talks, allowing the Indians to acquire All-Star reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees.

Cubs officials also invited Schwarber to observe their draft process in June, allowing him to sit in as they gathered in an unfinished section of the new underground clubhouse in Wrigleyville.

“We got him a computer,” Dorey said. “He had access to all of our analytics. We had the video up. I asked him questions about catching. We asked questions about guys he played against. 

“A lot of the pitchers that we were considering – in the Big Ten especially – we’re like: ‘Kyle, what do you think?’ He’d be like: ‘This guy sucks, man.’

“He was just so invested in it. He was so into it. Even for the better part of four or five days – and during the actual draft – he sat in there and he (found) a couple guys that he really liked. He was like: ‘Man, I’m just trying to get my guy.’ 

“There was a hitter (he really liked). I’m like: ‘Kyle, dude, we’re not taking many hitters.’”

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Even without Schwarber getting a hit during the regular season, the Cubs are so loaded on offense that they scored 808 runs. In the fourth round, the Cubs drafted Tyson Miller, the Cal Baptist right-hander Dorey and McKnight scouted the day Schwarber wrecked his knee. 

“It was just so fun,” Dorey said. “I was so appreciative of his willingness to try to see the organization from a different lens.

“Most guys – not that they don’t care about it – they just don’t take the time to understand what happens on a day-to-day basis to see how we bring new guys into the organization.

“It was great for our scouts to see – and great for all of us to hear a different perspective (with Kyle) talking about players that he’s seen. And he’s seen what it takes to play at this level.”

Out of that gruesome injury came another chapter in the legend of Schwarber, a baseball gym rat who’s supposed to lead the Cubs back into October for years to come.

“It was really tough to see,” Dorey said. “But I also look at it now like Kyle just went through the biggest obstacle or adversity in his career. He worked so hard to get back to this point. It’s just pretty inspiring to see that he’s even taking BP – let alone hitting 5-hole in Game 1 of the World Series.”

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Call it variations on a theme. The Bears on Monday night will face not only the Minnesota Vikings, but also Sam Bradford, the latest quarterback opponent that hints at possibilities in the Bears’ own future far beyond what was once the norm.

That norm is what can reasonably be expected from a new quarterback, one coming into a new system, new environment, even a new league, and having near-immediate success. Quarterback changes can involve upheaval of staff, personnel and even franchise identity, as the Bears can confirm based on their last eight years with Jay Cutler.

The experiences in Dallas, Minnesota and Philadelphia point to the kinds of quarterback transitions the Bears may be in search of after the 2016 season.

Bradford arrived in Minnesota via trade just eight days before the season opener, yet has proceeded to post the best results of his career: for completion percentage (67.5), interception percentage (0.6 percent; 7 TD’s vs. 1 INT), yards per attempt (7.4) and rating (100.3, vs. a previous best of 90.9).

More important, without the Vikings’ starting left tackle (Matt Kalil) and running back (Adrian Peterson), Bradford has the Vikings leading the NFC North and tied for the NFC lead at 5-1.

“[The Vikings] had the misfortune of losing their quarterback, they go out and make a bold move to get him and they haven’t missed a beat offensively,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He’s been getting better and better.”

This all holds particular relevance for the Bears, who saw Brian Hoyer step in and deliver four straight 300-yard passing games, something he’d never done in his career and no quarterback in Bears franchise history had done. Cutler’s personal best was two straight, for purposes of comparison.

The Bears are expected to have a new quarterback in some form or other next year. In the meantime they have been victimized by two rookie quarterbacks already this season (Carson Wentz, Philadelphia, and Dak Prescott, Dallas). The experience of Bradford, Prescott and Wentz, all new in 2017 to their situations, suggests chances of dramatic improvement over the Bears’ recent history with Cutler, for example.

“A good quarterback can influence the guys and make guys around him better,” Wentz said. “So it’s one of those things where the quarterback usually gets too much credit and too much of the blame as well. It’s just kind of the nature of the position.”

Prescott and Wentz were 2016 draft choices and had offseasons and training camps with their respective teams. Bradford had none of that, yet began his year throwing 130 passes without an interception.

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How that happens may be illustrative for the 2017 Bears. The Vikings traded for Bradford, a one-time starter for the Rams and Eagles. But because of the late-offseason timing of the deal, necessitated by the season-ending leg injury for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Bradford had to be eased into the new offense.

“I think that’s honestly one of the bonuses of coming during the regular season,” Bradford said on Thursday. “Obviously it would’ve been nice to have some practices in training camp. But once you get into the regular season, it’s not like you have the whole playbook in each game plan. Each game plan is very specific for that week’s opponent, so it’s considerably less than would be in your training-camp installs.

“So I think that helped a little bit. But as far as it being cut down, the volume wasn’t so much cut down as how the plays were called, naming some concepts with some things I was familiar with. That really helped me.”