Familiarity could lead to success

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Familiarity could lead to success

When the Chicago Blackhawks look around the room, they see something thats been a bit foreign to them: familiar faces.

Sure, those teams leading up to the 2010 Stanley Cup were full of them. But since then, its been a turnstile of players joining and leaving the organization. Until now. Because after two seasons of much turnover and many personnel changes, the Blackhawks made very few moves this offseason. That has led to familiarity in the locker room.

Considering how short training camp was and how little time teams will have to adjust during this 48-game season, that familiarity could be a good thing.

We know its mainly the same team from last year but were a year older with a year of experience under our belt, Patrick Kane said after Fridays practice. Last year we still had a good season; we had over 100 points. We didnt have a good (postseason) but we felt we had a team that could make a good run. Its the same group, but a little more experienced.

Marian Hossa agreed.

There are just a couple of new names, not many, he said. Guys are more familiar with the system, and in a short season that should help us be on the same page.

Indeed, outside of adding Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival on the back end, the Blackhawks should know each other well. Its a far cry from two seasons ago, when the post-Cup dismantling gave the Blackhawks a very different look. The 2011-12 season featured its share of new faces, too, with Andrew Brunette, Sean ODonnell, Steve Montador and Jamal Mayers among the new acquisitions.

In the second half of last season several Rockford players started to emerge, namely Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig. Theyre back. So is just about everyone else, save ODonnell and Brunette. So the Blackhawks havent had to introduce as many new bodies to their system.

It helps, system-wise, coach Joel Quenneville said. Weve always changed the lines and the new look gives you a little excitement. But as far as knowing where we have to be, predictability with or without the puck, you have a lot of freedom to do what you feel whats right. But the one area we all should be excited about is improving on our special teams as well.

Yes, the forward lines will likely change a few times this season these are the Blackhawks, after all. But no one is a stranger to each others game anymore, so even when combinations are switched, they wont be completely foreign.

When you dont make as many changes, you dont have to make new friends or get to know how other guys play, Dave Bolland said. These guys were all here last year. Were all pretty comfortable here and I think its going to be a great year.

The Blackhawks are on the same hectic schedule as every other team in the NHL. But theyre on the same wavelength. And with little time to adjust and prepare for this season, the few changes could be beneficial.

We were disappointed at the end of last year, Quenneville said. Lets rectify that. We have something to prove.

Blackhawks acquire Michael Latta from Kings in swap of minor leaguers

Blackhawks acquire Michael Latta from Kings in swap of minor leaguers

The Blackhawks made a minor league deal on Saturday, announcing the acquisition of forward Michael Latta from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.

Latta, 25, has two goals and four assists in 29 games this season with the Ontario (Calif.) Reign of the American Hockey League.

He has four goals and 13 assists in 113 career games in the National Hockey League, all with the Washington Capitals from 2013-16.

Latta, who was a third-round pick (No. 72 overall) by the Nashville Predators in 2009, will report to the AHL's Rockford IceHogs. He carries a $600,000 cap hit, and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Schilling ranked second among defensemen on the IceHogs with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 40 games, and had a minus-3 rating. The 28-year-old blue liner signed a two-year contract worth $575,000 per season with the Blackhawks in July 2015.

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

See the Blackhawks get off to a slow start. See the Blackhawks get outshot. See the Blackhawks lean on their goaltending. See the Blackhawks find some offense in the third period. See the Blackhawks win.

This is a story the Blackhawks have written and played out plenty this season. Despite all evidence that it should work out to the contrary, the Blackhawks continue to pull out victories. But as we're well into the second half of the season, how much longer can they win with this formula? And is this, more than anything, a testament to how much they need to acquire someone (or plural) at the deadline to bolster their forward lineup?

Entering Sunday night's game against Vancouver the Blackhawks remain second in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota. Not surprisingly, they enter Sunday coming off another one-goal victory, a 1-0 decision over Boston on Friday night. Friday's game was cut from the same cloth as so many other one-goal games this season (please see above for the script). 

Here's how the Blackhawks are doing in one-goal games (through 48 games played this season) and how they've done in previous seasons:

Year Record
2016-17 18-7-5
2015-16 17-7-9
2014-15 22-13-6
2013-14 17-8-15
2012-13 19-3-5 (lockout yr.)
2011-12 22-6-11
2010-11 16-13-9
2009-10 23-9-8

The Blackhawks played 41 one-goal games (half of their regular-season games) in the 2014-15 season. Thirty of their 48 games this season have been one-goal games. But again, it comes down to how you're winning those games, and the Blackhawks are winning just about all of them in the same way: deal with a slow start and come back in the third period, relying on goaltending the entire time.

Being outshot the amount of times the Blackhawks have this season remains alarming. Sure, sometimes a lot of shots don't mean a lot of quality chances. But it's still better than minimal shots, and any shot can be an opportunity for a rebound, a deflection, something. From our stats guru Chris Kamka, here's a breakdown of the Blackhawks' shots per game vs. opponents, dating back to 2008-09:

Year Shots/Gm Opp. Shots/Gm Diff.
2008-09 32.7 28.6 +4.2
2009-10 34.1 25.1 +9.1
2010-11 32.2 28.7 +3.6
2011-12 31.5 28.6 +3.0
2012-13 31.1 26.2 +4.9
2013-14 33.1 27.2 +6.0
2014-15 33.9 30.2 +3.8
2015-16 30.5 30.8 -0.3
2016-17 29.3 31.1 -1.7

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

It's no surprise that the Blackhawks' differential was especially good in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons (and even 2013-14, when they went to the Western Conference Final). Those Blackhawks teams were deep, especially at forward. They weren't waiting for the perfect shooting opportunities as much as just firing. They had great four-line rotations, something they've sorely been lacking the past two seasons, which makes a difference with puck possession.

The Blackhawks will see what's available at the trade deadline. As I wrote a few days ago, there will be names out there but, considering some teams are still hoping for playoff spots, you take mentions for what they are right now. Over the next few weeks the picture will become clearer, and adding the right depth could rekindle that four-line rotation.

We've said throughout this season that the Blackhawks can't keep this up. We said it in November, and December, and now. Understand where we're coming from here; the Blackhawks can absolutely keep winning one-goal games. They've shown that in recent seasons and in the postseason, when the ability to do that is critical. But it's doubtful they can keep doing it the way they have most this season.