November 18, 2010 at 1:00 am

Ted Kulfan: NHL Insider

Champion Blackhawks are in trouble, especially at home

Former Red Wing Marian Hossa has eight goals and five assists for the Blackhawks this season. (Brian Kersey / Associated Press)

The Blackhawks are in trouble.

The defending Stanley Cup champs are already in seventh place in the Western Conference — and due to a quirk in the schedule, they've already played 3-5 more games than most of the other teams in the conference.

And at the United Center — usually a sturdy home-ice advantage for the Blackhawks — they're only 5-7. They're 9-9-2 overall.

"You want to come up with an answer, and if we had it there'd be no problem — we would have taken care of it already," captain Jonathan Toews told the Chicago Tribune. "We definitely need to be better at home."

The Blackhawks began a six-game road trip Wednesday in Edmonton. Unless they clean up their defensive shortcomings, get more secondary scoring, and play with more energy, this team won't come close to defending the Cup.

"In my mind it's not early in the season anymore," said goaltender Marty Turco, who has done a nice job replacing Antti Niemi. "There's no real excuse for saying it's early in the season. It's all about team play and collecting points. (The season) can get way pretty easy."

Tough call

The Flyers finally benched forward James van Riemsdyk, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, after he went 15 games without a goal (he has four assists).

"It stings, it's not fun," van Riemsdyk told reporters in Philadelphia. "You want to play. You want to contribute. You want to be out there. (But) it's a coach's decision and I have to respect it. I have to just work hard and try to control the things I can control."

Van Riemsdyk was selected after Patrick Kane (Chicago) in the 2007 draft. That hasn't been a favorable comparison for van Riemsdyk, but neither has the fact that productive players such as David Perron (St. Louis), Jakub Voracek (Columbus) and Sam Gagner (Edmonton) were picked long after van Riemsdyk.

"It's all about your production on the ice and how you play the game," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We've got to continue to work and develop players, but at the end of the day, decisions have to be made."

Duty calls

Some NHL players are big fans of the modern warfare game "Call of Duty."Atlanta goalie Chris Mason has a long list of league players on his "friends' list."

"It's great camaraderie," Mason told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "It's hard to call it camaraderie since you're shooting and you're not with each other when playing, but it's a fun time."

Said the Wild's Greg Zanon: "It's a great way to keep in touch. You hook up the Bluetooth and talk to guys while you're playing, so it's another interesting way to keep tabs on everybody."

By the numbers

0 — Amount of games the Red Wings have had against Eastern Conference teams.

8 — Games Vancouver as played against the East.

15 — Points by Carolina's Jeff Skinner, the rookie points leader.

Helping hands

The longest streaks of games with an assist this season:

9 — John-Michael Liles, Colorado (Oct. 7-26)

7 — Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit, (Oct. 28-Nov. 11)

6 — Alex Ovechkin, Washington (Oct. 30-Nov. 11)

6 — Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit (Oct. 23-Nov. 6)

6 — Henrik Sedin, Vancouver (Oct. 9-19)

He said it

"They'd think we were starting a bonfire."

— Ottawa's Jason Spezza, worried what American sports fans would think about the idea of throwing sticks in the middle of the ice to divide teams for the All-Star Game.

More Ted Kulfan