10 games in, Hawks living up to expectations

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10 games in, Hawks living up to expectations

Monday, Oct. 25, 2010
12:54 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Ten games into their title defense, the Blackhawks are (with all due respect to Dennis Green) who we thought they'd be.

On the eve of the season three weeks ago, we wrote how this would still be a good team after all the off-season changes. But how great they can be would be decided by how the replacements grow into their roles. It's a process. It's early in the process. And it shows.

When Joel Quenneville looked for a spark to provide a final jolt of energy Saturday night in the finale of ten games in 17 days, he threw Toews, Sharp and Kane together on the same line. It paid off early. Once they left the ice, though, as Steve Konroyd pointed out afterwards on Blackhawks Postgame Live, the offensive firepower faded. As a result, don't expect the combination to have a long lifespan while everyone else continues to mesh.

While we wait for that to happen (and I wish I had the answer to how long that'll take), Quenneville could've used that as a reason to get back to practice Monday. It speaks measures he decided it was more beneficial to keep the players away from the rink a second straight day.

We wonder where the points are from the Bollands and Brouwers, and they probably thought it would be a lot easier to get them, too. Of the returnees, they're the ones who've been moved around and affected most. But it's had a trickle-down effect throughout the roster; 5-2-1 with a four-game winning streak hid the slow process. Losing Friday in St. Louis and Saturday at home made it stick out like Rick Rypien in Minnesota. What a difference two games makes. While the Stalbergs, Skilles, Dowells, and Bickells try get their NHL "green" to wear off and contribute in bigger, better and more consistent ways, they know their teammates are waiting for -- and trying to help -- that maturity and growth to kick in. The Brian Campbell injury, defensive positioning issues and some bad decisions on the ice haven't helped either.

Based on the early returns, it seems goaltending should not be a concern. Marty Turco's acquitted himself well and should get even better within the system, as long as the deflections and off-speed stuff is kept to a minimum. Corey Crawford looked very good the other night in his first action after five games off, and very few practices to stay sharp in between.

Even though it's early and all the adjustment time must be taken into consideration, it was good to see Jonathan Toews a little fired up after Saturday's loss. His team is 2-4 within the division, which could've been reversed if not for giving up third period leads at home in 3-2 losses to Nashville and Columbus. St. Louis has more or less controlled the play in the two head-to-heads thus far, and the Blues, Predators and Red Wings start the week a combined 14-2-6. Two more teams with something to prove -- or nothing to lose -- come to town this week in the Kings and Oilers. As everyone knows, the October points won or lost look even better or worse come April. All the more reason to hope the Hawks' core begins seeing more results from the rest of their corps.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco lingered near the end of the Blackhawks' practice on Saturday, watching as fellow Slovak/now-teammate Marian Hossa drew a few things up on the dry-erase board.

Having a few familiar countrymen's faces (Hossa and Richard Panik) in the room helps. But for Jurco, just getting a fresh start is a welcome sight.

Jurco skated on the third line with Marcus Kruger and Hossa, and it looks like he'll make his Blackhawks debut there when the team hosts St. Louis on Sunday night. Jurco spent the last few seasons with the Detroit Red Wings but couldn't find a steady place in the lineup. Now here, he's hoping to change his fortunes.

"I mean, it's been tough couple of years for me in Detroit, so I was talking to [general manager] Ken Holland and we were discussing some options. I wasn't progressing in the last year or so, so I think this is a great time to push my game to another level," Jurco said on Saturday. "Like I said, this is another fresh start for me and I'm very excited for it."

[MORE: Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues]

Jurco joins a Blackhawks team that is surging (winning eight of nine) these last few weeks of the season. He and Hossa played together in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, so there's some familiarity as well as friendship there.

General manager Stan Bowman said Friday night that, based on Jurco's skills and the Blackhawks' style of play, Jurco should fit in well.

"I think he's going to get better here," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's going to get a little bit more comfortable with how we have to play, knowing that you want to go right through the puck and you want to pressure. Offensively I think he's got a chance to recapture some confidence. I think he moves well. I like his size. [It's] just getting a little more comfortable with our game and trusting his own instincts right off the bat."

It was time for a change for Jurco. Whether he blossoms like Panik, who came here from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and is now putting up career numbers as part of the Blackhawks' top line, remains to be seen. It's an opportunity nonetheless, and Jurco is ready to take advantage of it. 

"It was a number of different reasons in Detroit it didn't work out for me. I wasn't playing much, so that's obviously tough. And when you don't play for a few weeks and you play a couple of games, it's very tough," Jurco said. "I'm very happy that I'm here and excited for tomorrow."

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues

Niklas Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with an upper-body injury but he will not play on Sunday when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues, coach Joel Quenneville said.

Hjalmarsson left with a little over eight minutes remaining in Thursday night's 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. He missed morning skate that day and, prior to the game, was seen wearing a wrap around his back. Whether or not that is the injury, however, is unknown. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will give Hjalmarsson time to regain full health, especially at this point of the season.

"I think he knows his body and he knows when he can fight through certain things. Giving him enough time to get back to where he's basically 100 percent is what we want," Quenneville said. "That's why he left the game last game. We want to make sure that when he comes back – you know, there's certain things you can fight through, and with him he can go through anything. Let's make sure at this time of the year that he recovers from this."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Quenneville said the Blackhawks will go with the six defensemen they currently have. The last time Hjalmarsson missed a game due to injury was late February/early March of 2012 (six games with an upper-body injury).

"He's a warrior, he gives you everything you want in a big game like tomorrow's. Certainly missed him in the last game," Quenneville said. "We haven't exposed too much not having Hammer out there in important shifts, but it's a good chance for other guys to get critical and important shifts, and hopefully that helps them in their games as well."

Briefly

- Jordin Tootoo also missed practice (illness).

- Corey Crawford will start vs. the Blues.