Dylan Olsen had enough reason to celebrate Tuesday night, his 21st birthday. Then the Chicago Blackhawks gave him another present.The defenseman Olsen was called up by the Blackhawks, and forward Andrew Shaw was added to the active roster and recalled also, late Tuesday. The two were brought up as the Blackhawks have finally run into some injury issues; defenseman Steve Montador (upper body) and forward Marcus Kruger (concussion) were placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.Both will make their NHL debuts Thursday against the Philadephia Flyers.It should be exciting (for Shaw) to play in his first NHL game. Hes one of those guys who can do a lot of things for us. Hes smart, can score goals and can play hard, coach Joel Quenneville said. (Olsen) looked good in practice and played well in our preseason games. With the depth of our organization, its something wanted to give a try.The call-ups were great news for both young players, especially for the birthday boy.Its incredible. I couldnt ask for a better birthday present, said Olsen, who was paired with veteran defenseman Sean ODonnell at Wednesdays practice. Im happy to be back up here with the pro guys and hopefully Ill get in the lineup tomorrow. Hopefully Ill have a good game.Olsen was injured the first part of training camp. That, coupled with the fact the Blackhawks had eight defensemen already, meant there was no room for Olsen on the big-clubs roster. But Olsen said hes used his time wisely in Rockford and is ready for his NHL test.Im just working on the little things, shooting the puck, passing and gap control, said Olsen. Its been going well so obviously its paying off when I get the call-up. Ill keep doing my job and hopefully stay up here as long as I can.ODonnell said Olsen was catching on quickly.I just like to see a guy who comes up get the drills quickly. You didnt have to tell him things more than once. He looked in place, ODonnell said. For his first practice, he was real solid.Shaw got a double dose of good news too, getting the call up not long after he signed his new three-year deal.Weve been talking about this deal for the last two weeks, so when I signed it the other morning, a couple hours later I got the call, Shaw said. It was the most exciting day of my life.Shaw, who was on the top line with Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews at practice, brings that sandpaper quality that the Blackhawks will miss with Daniel Carcillos absence. He also has a scoring touch. Shaw has 12 goals with the Rockford IceHogs this season and had a career-high 54 points (including 22 goals) with the Owen Sound Attack the previous season.The 20-year-old is understandably excited to play with his linemates.Oh yeah, Im a little nervous. Its only practice so I can imagine what (Thursdays) game is going to be like, Shaw said. Ill just go to the net with a stick on the ice and good things will happen. Im going to be nervous, but theyre great players and theyll make great plays and make me look good.
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.
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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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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?"