The "D"-termining factor for the Blackhawks

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The "D"-termining factor for the Blackhawks

"If you look at our goals-against, we gotta tighten up. I think we have the team for it and that's too high right now. Hopefully, on the road trip, we can focus on keeping the goals-against down and have a great last 30 games."

Niklas Hjalmarsson sees it like the rest of us.

Dave Bolland knows it, too.

"Our defensive game -- that's what I think everybody's breaking down, taking care of our own zone. That's one thing we need to focus on," Bolland said.

Giving up just two goals (before the empty-netter) in the rematch against Nashville was an improvement from Saturday night. But even those were off costly turnovers in their own zone that the Predators, well...preyed on, and cashed in.

"Generous" is how Joel Quenneville called it. And it's those mistakes against one of the league's hottest teams and hottest goaltenders that basically hands over two points to a division rival, especially when you're playing without two of your top three offensive players.

Can the Blackhawks clean things up in these last 30 games with the personnel that's in place? It will be the biggest determining factor in where they finish in the Central and West, and how long they last in the playoffs.

The Hawks are the only NHL team without a shutout. The goaltending needs to be better, but more importantly, the entire group in front of them must improve a 2.82 GAA that puts them tied for 20th in the NHL. Last season, the Hawks had the league's 12th-best defense. When they won the Stanley Cup, they ranked sixth.

Right now, just two teams in the West (Anaheim and Columbus) own a worst goals-against average. Of the three division rivals they'll meet 10 times over the final 26 games that will be the biggest determining factor where they'll finish, St. Louis leads the league in that category, Detroit is fifth and Nashville ninth.

The top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will get five days off the ice before returning to practice Monday in Vancouver. From a team standpoint, it's good they're not involved in All-Star weekend, as their ice times have been climbing once again -- Keith back to averaging more than 26 minutes, second in the league. They'll need to be great the rest of the way, but all of their teammates have to be much better.

"We're one of the top teams that has a lot of goals-against," Keith said Tuesday morning. "It's something we need to continue to get better at. It has to be a full team effort -- it's not one player or one group, it's the team."

Quenneville didn't hesitate a short time later when asked about what'll hold this team's fate after this weekend.

"Tighter defensively as a team. We all have some responsibilities in how we play without the puck," Quenneville said. "It's the quality of chances we're giving up and the type of goals. We've got to get better in that area going on the road. It doesn't have to be pretty. I think we'll be playing uglier games."

There's no doubt the coachng staff's message is out, but the execution's been missing and has kept the Hawks from cashing in even more than they did in playing 19 of the last 26 at home following the Circus Trip. As they enter the nine-game stretch that keeps them out of the United Center for nearly four weeks, a "whatever it takes" attitude will be what it takes. Two points will be more important than style points.

Kevin Dineen to stay on Blackhawks' staff as Avalanche hire Jared Bednar

Kevin Dineen to stay on Blackhawks' staff as Avalanche hire Jared Bednar

The Blackhawks' coaching staff will be intact for the 2016-17 season.

Two weeks after Patrick Roy abruptly resigned as head coach, the Colorado Avalanche officially picked Jared Bednar to be his replacement over Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen, who was among the favorites for the coaching vacancy.

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Bednar has no National Hockey League coaching experience, but did guide the Columbus Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate to a 15-2 postseason record last season en route to the franchise's first Calder Cup championship.

Retaining Dineen is good news for the Blackhawks, who start training camp next month, but it goes without saying that Dineen is certainly deserving of a second crack at a head coaching position in the near future.

Dineen, Mike Kitchen and head coach Joel Quenneville will enter their third season together after helping the Blackhawks capture a Stanley Cup in their first year as a group in 2015.

Jonathan Toews named Team Canada alternate captain for World Cup of Hockey

Jonathan Toews named Team Canada alternate captain for World Cup of Hockey

Jonathan Toews was named alternate captain of Team Canada on Thursday for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Sidney Crosby was named Team Canada’s captain. Crosby, who claimed his second Stanley Cup in June, was also Team Canada’s captain en route to the gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

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Toews, who has been the Blackhawks’ captain since the 2008-09 season, was also alternate captain of Canada’s 2014 Olympic squad. Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens will serve as Team Canada’s other alternate captain.

Duncan Keith won't play for Team Canada in World Cup of Hockey

Duncan Keith won't play for Team Canada in World Cup of Hockey

Duncan Keith will not be part of the Blackhawks’ World Cup of Hockey contingent after all.

Keith will focus on improving his health rather than play for Team Canada in the tournament, which takes place next month in Toronto. The Blackhawks released a statement regarding Keith on Wednesday afternoon.

"As Duncan continues offseason rehabilitation on the right knee injury that he sustained last season, we understand his decision not to participate in next month’s World Cup of Hockey," team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in the statement. "We believe it is in his best interests to focus on getting stronger and not risk further injury."

Keith had surgery on that knee last October and was sidelined about one month.

St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will take Keith’s place.