Youthful energy 'contagious' for Blackhawks

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Youthful energy 'contagious' for Blackhawks

Theres a vibe going through the Chicago Blackhawks locker room with the arrival of rookies Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw. Its an energy, an exuberance that the young upstart guys have provided.

And as the Blackhawks trudge through the toughest part of this long NHL season, its an energy level they appreciate having.

Sometimes, between games 40 and 60 its such a long period of time. Now all of a sudden we have the new blood, Marian Hossa said. Theyve brought something, a little life to our team again. And you can tell right now. Were rolling four lines and you feel the energy.

When teams reach this point of the season, it can drag a bit. Its not the first 20 games, when everyones excited to start the new campaign. Its not the final 20, when everyones gearing up and pushing for the playoffs. Its the middle of the season, when finding the energy, especially mentally, is a bit trickier.

So enter the rookies, who are damn happy to be here every day. Shaw said it himself on Wednesday night: he and Hayes dont want to get reassigned. Theyre living the dream, and the excitement theyre feeling is resonating through the locker room.

Especially at this time of the year, injecting these guys in your lineup you get an energy and an enthusiasm in practice that keeps everybody young, coach Joel Quenneville said. I think its easy to add that type of element to your team. You could use it right now and I think you notice it as well.

The veteran players are noticing it, too.

This is a tough part of the year; were not quite at the end of the season, were past the beginning and its always a grind. But certainly in the tight race were in, in the Central Division and Western Conference, that energy keeps us on our toes, Jamal Mayers said.

What Hayes and Shaw have brought on the ice has certainly been noticed. The exuberant attitude theyve brought to practices, skates and to the locker room is welcomed, too.

Its contagious, Mayers said. Thats what young guys are supposed to bring: the excitement of being in the NHL. And you can see it in their eyes. Theyre not just happy to be here, but theyve got that excitement and theyve realized their dream to be here. Thats infectious.

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?"