Bolland given opportunity on Hawks' second-line

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Bolland given opportunity on Hawks' second-line

Weve all gotten used to seeing Chicago Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland in a certain role: center of the third line, leader of the checkers, aggravator of the Sedins.

But on Sunday, the Blackhawks first day of training camp, Bolland was taking a different role: second-line center, between two scoring snipers. And while line changes are always possible with the Blackhawks, for now its Bollands opportunity to move up one.

Bolland skated between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks No. 2 line, as team staff is ready to see him spread his scoring wings. Bolland has proven himself as the checking-line center; hes good at it, and good at getting in opposing top line players heads. But theres always been that other side of Bolland, the guy who can get on some scoring streaks, and the Blackhawks are hoping to see that more with this move.

Everybody kind of puts him as a third-line center, in that checking role, and a lot of times that line can be our best line. So having some offensive guys surrounding (Bolland), we think thered be nice production with the three of them plus theres some defensive responsibility, coach Joel Quenneville said. I like the balance that line shows.

General manager Stan Bowman agreed.

Weve talked about giving him an expanded role on our team for some time, and the time is now, Bowman said. On some of our playoff runs, he has ability to do things offensively. In that role, its probably more important that a player has the awareness to play in his own end. We have some high-end offensive players on wings. He doesnt have to surpass them; just play the defensive role on that line and be able to read off them, which Dave can do.

Bolland, who has played that role briefly a few times, is ready for the opportunity.

Playing with Kaner and Sharpie is always a privilege. Its a big role to embrace and I think Im ready for it, said Bolland. For sure, the offense is there. But Ive always been taught that defense is the game and you have to take care of that. Itll be a different mindset, going against different lines out there. But itll be good.

Bolland tallied 19 goals last season, tying a career high set in 2008-09. For Kane, the potential for Bolland to help linemates, and score more himself, is there.

Ive had some success playing with Bolland, and I know other players have in the past, Kane said. Hes a great center. He does a lot of things you want a center to do, moving the puck up ice and doing other things wingers arent supposed to. (His offense) is overlooked. He has all the talent in the world. Hes got a great shot, great hands. And hopefully he can show that.

Sharp said Bollands defensive skills are an added bonus for the line.

Bolleys a great player and weve had success in the past, he said. Theres a lot of talk with him playing with Kaner and myself, but hes still going to play his game. Hes still going to be tough to play against.

Bollands defense will remain. The Blackhawks dont want him to lose that. They just see his scoring potential, and they want to see it more.

Bolland, offensively, has skill. You can argue on any team of the league he could be the second-line center. But we dont expect him to be just in that (checking) role. I think theres more there.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Keep it simple.

There is no team in the league that scores fewer goals per game (2.00) and allows more goals per game (3.32) than the Avalanche, who are 4-18-1 in their last 23 games, including 1-7-0 in their past eight. The Blackhawks need to keep it simple, get bodies in front of the net and take advantage on special teams against a team that ranks in the bottom-seven in both the power play and penalty kill.

2. Will Jonathan Toews' success against Colorado continue?

It's been a tough year for the Blackhawks captain, who has only seven goals and 21 points in 37 games, including three points in his last seven. Earlier this season he went 13 consecutive games without a goal, and snapped that on Dec. 23 against Colorado in a 2-1 overtime loss. He recorded a season-high seven shots on goal in that game, and has scored a goal in each of his last four contests against the Avalanche. They seem to be his slumpbuster, so perhaps he'll come through again.

3. Marian Hossa's impact.

In the first meeting of the season, Hossa scored two goals in a 4-0 win over Colorado. In the second, the Blackhawks were without him after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury, and fell 2-1 in overtime. The Blackhawks are nearly at full strength this time around, with Marcus Kruger the lone injured player who's recovering from an apparent hand injury.

4. Nathan MacKinnon.

After a solid showing at the World Cup of Hockey last fall, MacKinnon was considered a strong candidate to have a breakout season with a new head coach that preaches an up-tempo style of play, right up MacKinnon's ally. But he hasn't reached that level yet, with 28 points in 41 games. Not bad, but not great by his standards as the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. He scored the overtime winner and added an assist in last month's victory against Chicago at the United Center.

5. Short shifts.

This will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams, but the first one in Colorado. Due to the high altitude in the Mile-High City, expect Joel Quenneville to distribute the minutes more evenly throughout their four lines and intstruct the Blackhawks to be short with their shifts, no longer than 40 seconds.

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Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"