Boden: Penguins' pain threshold


Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

A year ago, the Blackhawks had 144 man games lost to injury. This year, they've had all of 22. Pittsburgh had well over 300 a year ago. They've had more than 160 this year.

Brent Seabrook, who suffered a nasty, illegal hit at the hands of Rene Bourque during Sunday night's game, did travel with the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh but it's unknown if he will play Tuesday. Bourque received a two-game suspension from the NHL on Monday.

Even with this injury, the Blackhawks can count their blessings with how healthy they've been. But they can also look across the ice Tuesday night and see the team that's been best at handling health issues. Sidney Crosby has missed 25 games and still has only faced the Hawks just twice in his career (none in the past five seasons). All-Star defenseman Kris Letang's missed 11 games total, and hasn't played since Thanksgiving weekend. Same goes for fellow blueliner Zbynek Michalek. Evgeni Malkin missed seven games earlier. There are others. Those are just the bigger names. But the Penguins came into Monday tied for the fourth-best point total in the East -- after losing four of their last six. They lost those 300-plus man-games a year ago, and Dan Bylsma amazingly led them to the second-highest point total in the East before exiting in the first round of the playoffs. Think of the Hawks playing without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a year ago.

"They've learned how to play without their star players and it shows that they don't give anybody easy games," said Toews. "When it comes to playing Eastern Conference teams we're not used to seeing it comes down to us and our preparation. We've been playing much better, getting the starts we need, we've been (penalty-) killing better and paying better attention to detail. When we do that, our skill takes over."

"They're right at the top of their conference and play well with whoever they have in their lineup," added Duncan Keith. "We know it's gonna be a tough game. It'll be exciting to go into Pittsburgh and play our first game in their new building."

Joel Quenneville, who reached the 600-coaching-win mark Sunday night quicker than anyone in NHL history except for the legendary Scotty Bowman, speaks of highly of what Bylsma's been able to pull off.

"You gotta commend them with how well they play their team game and their commitment for doing the right things all over the ice. They play hard and play a physical brand and don't give you a lot of time or space. Everybody's kind of stepped up to the challenge of missing key guys and finding ways to win. It's not easy to do over long periods of time even though I think initially you might get a little jolt out of it, but you have to commend them over sustaining it over time."

But the Hawks who've been playing for Quenneville almost 3-12 seasons -- particularly two of the guys who have letters on the front of their jerseys -- know what they have in their leader after they helped him reach that milestone Sunday.

"You don't get to that point without knowing a thing or two about hockey," said Toews. "He's done nothing but good things since coming into this locker room. I think for the guys in here, you take satisfaction in getting wins like (Sunday's) for your coach, knowing what he puts into our team every single day."

Said Keith: "He's been huge, coming in here and settling down our team. He really gave us that experience and leadership and capped it off with the Cup. 600 wins is a lot of wins. It's impressive, and I don't think it's a coincidence when you get that many."

If you think about it, Quenneville just turned 53 in September. Would he coach, say, another ten years? While appearing to handle the stress of the job quite well on the exterior, who knows what toll it takes (see last year's missed time that seemed to surprise everyone). But he's been at this awhile. Every coach in every sport has a "shelf life," but with this Blackhawks core in place the next few years, how high can his win total go? The 21 victories this year put him fourth in club history with 159, three behind Rudy Pilous, and 23 behind Bob Pulford, so he very well could become the second-winningest coach in franchise history before the season is out. Billy Reay's 516 victories tops the organization.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Flames: Same old story on the penalty kill

Five Things from Blackhawks-Flames: Same old story on the penalty kill

Here we go again.

Listen, it’s been one of those nights for everyone, including the Blackhawks. So let’s just save ourselves some time and get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames.

1. Good and bad about the penalty kill. OK, let’s start with the good. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was successful on their last three penalties, including Tyler Motte’s double-minor high-sticking. The bad news is they allowed goals on their first two kills and have now given up 14 in seven games. So what worked on the three late penalty kills? "We just kept our feet moving. We were working. Our shifts were 20 to 30 seconds tops. When you go that short you have the energy to outwork the power play and make up for being down one man," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the key right there, and I think our systems fall into place when we’re all moving and we’re all skating the right way."

2. Puck possession. When the Blackhawks are playing at their best, they are dominant in this department. They looked discombobulated in this one from the start and had very little possession, especially early. "Our identity in the past was fast and having the puck. Now we don’t have quite the four-line rotation or the puck enough to get that precision we look for, that identity we’re accustomed to having," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We’re not playing as fast because we’re defending a lot more than we’re used to."

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3. Forsling hurt. Blackhawks rookie defenseman Gustav Forsling was injured in the second period and did not return. Forsling took a big hit from Lance Bouma along the glass between the two benches. Quenneville said Forsling is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks have better depth at defense this season. Now, with Trevor van Riemsdyk out for a few weeks and Forsling potentially missing some time, they’ll need all of it.

4. Corey Crawford doing just fine. Yes, he’s part of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill that is not doing much of anything right now. But he’s also been stellar at 5-on-5, where he’s allowed just three goals this season. If not for Crawford tonight, the Blackhawks aren’t in striking distance when the third period begins and they probably don’t earn that overtime point.

5. Brian Elliott just a little better. Elliott stymied the Blackhawks in Game 7 of their first-round series last spring, and he aggravated them again on Monday night. Richard Panik nearly had the winner on Elliott until the Flames goaltender stopped his shot with his right skate. Elliott was also good in overtime (6-for-6), when the Blackhawks had a 4-on-3 power play. The Elliott of Monday night is the Elliott the Flames were hoping for when they traded for him this offseason.

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

When watching Blackhawks hockey over the last few years, several things stood out. Among them was their penalty kill and dominant puck possession.

Both of those things have been missing so far this season, and both have cost the Blackhawks.

Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the season but Kris Versteeg had the shootout winner as the Calgary Flames beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night. The Blackhawks are now 3-3-1 on the season as they keep trying to find more consistency in their game.

Gustav Forsling suffered an upper-body injury in the second period when he was hit by Lance Bouma on the glass between the team benches. Coach Joel Quenneville said the defenseman is day-to-day.

Corey Crawford stopped 29 of 31 shots in the loss. Despite the two power-play goals tonight, Crawford was good. He’s allowed just three 5-on-5 goals on the season.

But that penalty kill did hurt once again, as the Blackhawks allowed the Flames two power-play goals. While they killed the final three penalties they took, including a Tyler Motte double-minor high-sticking, the damage had been done. The Flames power play entering the game was just 1-for-25.

“It just seems no matter what it finds a way, a different way, every time,” Quenneville said. “We had a couple big kills in the second period and that was positive, built off it, had a good third period and found a way to get a point. Could have had two.”

The Blackhawks didn’t look great at the start of this one, something that’s becoming a trend with them. Couple that with that penalty kill – they gave up both power-play goals 39 seconds into each kill – and it was no surprise the Blackhawks were down 1-0 after the first.

“We’ve got to get that out of our game,” Jonathan Toews said of the slow first period. “As I’ve been saying, the penalty kill usually translates from our effort 5-on-5 and if we’re not starting games well, then we’re getting behind. Obviously [we’re] giving up power plays to begin with and we’re not killing the penalty kills that we’re on. Unfortunate to get behind again tonight.”

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Brian Campbell got his first goal of the season when his shot (or pass) went off Calgary defenseman TJ Brodie’s stick. Richard Panik nearly had the game winner in the waning seconds of regulation but Brian Elliott, who was also great tonight, knocked the puck off his right skate.

The Blackhawks also had a 4-on-3 power play in overtime on which they couldn’t capitalize.

“You can talk about the penalty kill tonight but we’ve had a couple 4-on-3 chances in overtime the past couple games where our power play needs to be better,” Kane said. “We need to capitalize in those situations.”The Blackhawks are struggling with parts of their game that used to be familiar and successful. There’s plenty of time left in the season but they need to find their well-rounded game again.

“We can be play better, collectively, as a group as far as dictating the pace of games and controlling the puck, getting pucks back. That's really the key with hockey is winning those battles, controlling the puck,” Kane said. “We're so used to playing a puck-possession game. That's really something we've been getting away from here. It's early on in the season, so it's something to build on.”