TAMPA, Fla. – The Chicago Blackhawks departed their Florida trek, bringing back their mothers and three out of a possible four points. As far as the games, it wasn’t all pretty and perfect. Not even close, actually. But one way or another, the Blackhawks are still collecting points and, entering Friday’s games, sit third in the Western Conference.
So, as we say goodbye to palm trees and hello to the Chicago chill, a few musings on the Blackhawks (and a few other subjects) this week:
1. Coach Joel Quenneville reminded his club entering last night’s tilt against Tampa Bay that, if the Blackhawks want to produce more, they have to do the dirty work more. Yep, we’re talking about those greasy goals. And on Thursday night, the Blackhawks got them. Bryan Bickell scored on a rebound. Marian Hossa tipped in a Patrick Sharp shot, as Andrew Shaw did on a Patrick Kane attempt. Greasy, dirty, whatever; that, for Quenneville, was more like it. “That’s how you score in this league,” he said. “Goalie’s are going to stop what they see. We were fortunate with one off them, but you can do a better job and getting more guys driving the net. That’s where the rewards are and that’s how you score goals.”
2. It’s not about the line it’s about the results. We’re talking about Bryan Bickell here, who scored his third goal in as many games on Thursday night. Bickell’s getting paid $4 million a season now, so the automatic thought is, he has to be a top-line player. No, he doesn’t. He needs to earn his money with physical play and solid production. Who the hell cares on which line he finds it? Quenneville certainly doesn’t. He’s getting the game he wants out of Bickell in his familiar third-line role. In turn, Bickell’s getting his confidence back. The Blackhawks are now getting the bang for the bucks they threw at him. That’s the point.
3. You have to wonder if Sheldon Brookbank will get a few more games in the immediate future. The defenseman had a strong outing against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, and Michal Rozsival, who was back in the lineup on Thursday, has struggled. Obviously Rozsival wasn’t going to be an everyday player anyway; age (well, injuries more so) are catching up with him. He’s been taking his share of penalties when he has played, too, and they’ve been those trying-to-catch-up penalties like hooking and tripping. We know Quenneville wants to keep everyone sharp, but it might be time to give Brookbank’s (slightly) younger and (much) healthier self more playing time.
4. Brandon Saad will turn 21 on Sunday. The kid has accomplished a lot at 20: won a Stanley Cup, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy for top rookie, earned a top-line spot and could end up making the U.S. team for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The “man-child” has grown up quickly and has handled it all well. Here’s to his 21st year being as productive as his 20th.
5. Jonathan Toews took some great shots on Thursday night, hits the crossbar on one of them, then gets credited with the own goal because he’s the last Blackhawks player to touch the puck – somewhere around the red line. Sometimes, you just shrug your shoulders and go with it.
6. A reminder to those who subscribe to the misguided belief that the Blackhawks let Ray Emery “get away.” No, they didn’t. Emery wanted an opportunity to be a No. 1 guy again, and he certainly earned the right to do so with his work here. But he wasn’t going to get that job in Chicago. It wasn’t about money. It was about a chance he was going to get in other markets, but not this one. Carry on.
7. Patrick Sharp may be carving his niche in that No. 3 shootout spot. The Blackhawks have had a revolving door of players there over the past few seasons, but he’s come through in two of the last three shootouts, either notching the winner or eliminating the opposition. “I know my (shootout) numbers aren’t particularly good, and I always shoot third because we have some pretty good guys at (Nos.) 1 and 2,” Sharp said, referring to Toews and Kane, respectively. “So far so good. Hopefully it can translate into more goals in 60 minutes.”
8. Good luck to former Blackhawk/IceHog Carter Hutton, who takes over the No. 1 goalie spot for the Nashville Predators while Pekka Rinne undergoes another hip surgery. Hutton earned a 3-2 overtime victory over Winnipeg on Thursday night. It’s a pressure-packed situation for Hutton, but it’s nevertheless a tremendous opportunity for him to make his NHL name.
9. Speaking of former Blackhawks in the Music City, Viktor Stalberg’s start with the Predators has been rough. After signing that four-year deal worth $12 million this summer, Stalberg missed several weeks with a shoulder injury to end training camp/start his season, had zero points in his first six games and was a healthy scratch on Thursday night. Stalberg’s been moved around the Nashville lines but he should be used to that from his time with the Blackhawks. Eventually you have to do something, wherever you’re placed.
10. You know how the Blackhawks are taking a ton of shots lately? Well, they’ll want to keep that up against the Minnesota Wild, who they play here on Saturday and in Minny on Monday. The Wild’s goaltending situation now is much like it was in last spring’s first playoff round: hurting. Josh Harding was injured in Thursday’s game, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Niklas Backstrom, coming off a knee injury of his own, replaced him but told the S-T he’s still not “feeling normal yet.” The Wild are playing well right now, and Harding was a big part of that. If the Wild’s netminders are still feeling iffy these next two games, the Blackhawks have to keep them busy.