The Chicago Blackhawks began their Stanley Cup defense just over a month ago. As their November schedule begins, they’re not doing so shabby: 9-2-4 and sitting fifth in the Western Conference.
Back to the full 82-game schedule, the Blackhawks don’t have to go into sprint mode this season. They’ve gotten off to the solid start they wanted, they’ve stayed somewhat healthy — somewhat — and they’re right in the thick of things. So as this week’s games loom — and because a game last Sunday denied us the chance to write this theme — let’s have some random musings, shall we?
1. Brandon Pirri at second-line center. So far, so good for the 22-year-old, who’s played a majority of his time with Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. He hasn’t been overwhelming, but he hasn’t made glaring errors, either. Coach Joel Quenneville isn’t worried about production from that line. As he’s said a few times, that line is going to be judged with how they do on the defensive side of the puck. Pirri’s shown he has good hands and good offensive instincts. The Blackhawks hope the other side of his game gets strong as well.
2. Corey Crawford is best when he’s busy. Crawford’s off to a pretty nice start this season, and his standout games have been the ones where he’s gotten a steady stream of work. Goalies probably hate being inundated with pucks in a game, but at the same time, they likely prefer seeing a regular amount of shots. Think of some of those games when the Blackhawks were barely allowing shots in their first periods, compared to recent games in Winnipeg, Minnesota and his off-the-bench performance against Ottawa. Crawford’s been quick and big in those games, and the results have been positive.
3. Off-Blackhawks topic here for a second, but best wishes to former Blackhawks center Dave Bolland in recovering from surgery to repair a lacerated tendon — he’s out indefinitely. Bolland’s checking game and ability to irritate opposing stars were noticeable in his days with the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, something else has been synonymous with him in recent years: injuries. The guy can’t catch a break in this department, be it a bad groin, bad back, concussions or his current malady. Here’s to him finding health in the near future and maintaining it.
4. We’ll stop picking on the Blackhawks’ penalty kill since it’s gotten better in recent games. The team’s killers are getting more comfortable with each other, but there’s something else: The Blackhawks are staying out of the box. They’ve taken just three penalties in their last three games, and one of those resulted in a penalty shot that wasn’t on goal. The Blackhawks can keep working on it in practice; they’ll never have a problem avoiding it in a game.
5. Everyone has the right to turn down the invitation, but good on all the Blackhawks players who attended the White House to celebrate their Cup yesterday. Plenty of days in D.C. are about politics. This visit isn’t. It’s about being commended for a job well done, nothing more. Good on them for realizing that.
6. Speaking of that, do yourself a favor and watch President Barack Obama’s address during the Blackhawks’ visit, for no other reason than his amusing jab at Corey Crawford.
7. Jonathan Toews was kept off the score sheet when the Blackhawks went to his hometown of Winnipeg on Saturday. Seeing the Jets again here on Wednesday night, we’re guessing he’ll be more relaxed, certainly not as inundated with requests, and his on-ice game will reflect that.
8. If the Blackhawks have a great game Wednesday night vs. Winnipeg, don’t be surprised if Quenneville backs off the practices à la the lockout-shortened season. Their busy schedule is coming up fast, including that circus trip in about two weeks. Again, this season is a marathon, not a sprint.
9. There’s a reason I put Marian Hossa on my Selke Trophy ballot last season: The guy is tremendous at the defensive game. We’ve seen that again in recent games, where his pursuit and capture of the puck has been strong. His offensive ability has been well documented, but he’s right up there with the best defensive forwards — the award is for best defensive forward, not necessarily center — in the league.
10. Speaking of Hossa, there were obvious concerns with him right out of training camp regarding the back injury he suffered in the Stanley Cup Final. So far, so good. Hossa’s played in several back to backs and has looked strong and healthy in them. The Blackhawks will keep an eye on him, but it’s encouraging that the Hossa health questions have been minimal.