Chicago Blackhawks

Odds and end zones: Aftermath of 49ers debacle

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Odds and end zones: Aftermath of 49ers debacle

Exactly how significant or revealing the Bears 32-7 nightmare against the San Francisco 49ers was wont truly be evident until at least next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and the on successive Sundays against Seattle, the Vikings again and Green Bay. By then the season and the questions will quite possibly have been settled.

But the aftershocks from a game like reach potentially beyond the immediate game situations of 2012:

2013 draft plans

Simply concluding that Aldon Smith established that the Bears will address offensive line, chiefly tackle, with anywhere from two to four picks in next years draft may be how matters play out. The performances of Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb were collectively as poor as any in recent Bears history.

But there is a cycle to drafting that makes it a deadly proposition to be forced into addressing the same position repeatedly in a short time frame. That draws away picks that should have been addressing other needs coming in the normal replacement cycle. The Bears know from experience.

Sometimes it can work. They used No. 1 picks on tackles in 1981 (Keith Van Horne) and again in 1983 (Jim Covert). That was necessitated by injuries taking Dennis Lick (1976) and Ted Albrecht (1977), both No. 1s themselves.

The Bears overcame that with stellar drafting, including nearly the entire 1983 class plus a succession of hits on high picks on Hall of Famers (Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent) and high hits like Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, Wilber Marshall, Tom Thayer and others into a team with a Walter Payton base.

But more common are the disasters on the line after Covert suffered a career-ending back injury. The Bears were forced to use their 1991 No. 1 on Stan Thomas and 1992 No. 2 on Troy Auzenne, both major disappointments in search of replacements for Covert and Van Horne.

The Bears were able to overcome the 2002 No 1 used for Marc Columbo, whose Chicago career was over before it started because of knee injuries. But it took heavy spending in free agency for Fred Miller and John Tait. The Bears cannot count on that kind of success in a time of a diminishing talent pool on the offensive line and a shrinking salary cap.

If Carimi, Webb and now-gone Chris Williams are all draft misses ultimately, the Bears can ill afford to spend multiple picks on the offensive line at the expense of needs on the other side of the ball.

Worth noting?

A division-leading team giving up six sacks in a 20-point blowout loss after cleaning up on doormats. That would be the San Francisco 49ers, stomping the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in succession by a combined 79-3 score, then being drubbed 26-3 (giving up the 26 without answering) by the New York Giants. At home.

Lovie watch

A debacle like the one Monday in Candlestick Park will start the Lovie Smith haters eagerly anticipating a death spiral that will end with the Bears out of the playoffs and the Bears coach out of a job.

Anything is possible. Mike Tice could be one-and-done as offensive coordinator as well, definitely if the offensive bumbling continues. Jeremy Bates, too.

If someone wants the Bears to collapse just to see Smith be fired, that suggests other issues in play there.

But the Bears had back-to-back nightmares in 2010, losing to Seattle (six sacks of Jay Cutler) and Washington (four sacks four interceptions) in miserable performances -- at home -- and recovered to reach the NFC Championship game.

The 2011 season was over after the two-game embarrassments vs. Green Bay and New Orleans for a 1-2 start, and over again when an unraveling in Detroit (three sacks, six false-start penalties) left the Bears at 2-3. When Cutler went down with his thumb injury, they had recovered to 7-3 with five straight wins.

Thats not likely this year, even with a Cutler return, given the difficulty factor of the next four games.

But the Giants were 6-4 at the 10-game mark last season. The Green Bay Packers were 7-3 at this point of the 2010 season and even lost three of their last six. Their seasons didnt end badly.

The Bears' will if the offense continues to score one or zero touchdowns per game,which it has in four of the last five games, the only exception being the laugher in Tennessee. Still, best to let the whole thing play out before firing coaches, players and anyone else.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”