10 games in, Hawks living up to expectations


10 games in, Hawks living up to expectations

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

By Chris Boden

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.

Five Things to watch: Blackhawks host Flames tonight on CSN

Five Things to watch: Blackhawks host Flames tonight on CSN

The Blackhawks (3-3, 6 points) take on the Calgary Flames (1-4-1, 3 points) on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Blackhawks Pregame Live at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final horn to get analysis and player reaction on Blackhawks Postgame Live.

Here are five things to watch for during tonight's game:

1. Anisimov, Panik look to stay hot: Artem Anisimov and Richard Panik are both tied for fourth in the NHL in points with eight apiece. Panik has recorded at least one point in five of six games this season, including a hat trick in last week's win over the Predators and a game-tying goal against the Maple Leafs in the final minute of regulation. Anisimov has shaken off a slow start and recorded seven points in his last three games.

2. The Captain looks to light the lamp: Twelve different Blackhawks have scored a goal through six games. None of those players are named Jonathan Toews. The Captain has recorded two assists and actually leads the Blackhawks in penalty minutes (nine), and all 15 of his shots on goal - second on the team - have been stopped. The good news is Toews has 21 points in 31 career games against the Flames.

3. Johnny Hockey takes his talents to the Windy City: The 23-year-old All-Star might remind you of a certain No. 88 on the Blackhawks, and for good reason. The 5-foot-9, 157-pound Gaudreau was sixth in the NHL in points last season, and he led the Flames in goals, assists and points. He's got just three points in six games this season for the 1-5 Flames, but he's a candidate to make something happen in an instant whenever he's on the ice.

4. Former Blackhawks return to the UC: It'll be a small reunion of sorts for the Blackhawks and Flames on Monday night. Calgary currently has three former Blackhawks on its roster in Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer and Michal Frolik. Versteeg and Brouwer were part of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup run, Frolik was on the squad in 2013, and Versteeg returned to the Madhouse in Madison in 2015.

5. Brian Elliott struggling with new squad: The last time the Blackhawks saw Brian Elliott he was leading the Blues to a Game 7 victory with 31 saves. He  hasn't found that same sort of success early in his first season with the Flames; he's 0-3 and has allowed 14 goals. He's likely to start in goal tonight against the Blackhawks.

For more on how the two teams stack up, click here for all the stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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Richard Panik fueling Blackhawks' top line

Richard Panik fueling Blackhawks' top line

Richard Panik was coming off his first career hat trick last week when he was asked about solidifying his spot on the top line with Jonathan Toews.

“I wouldn’t call it mine, for now,” Panik said.

The right wing’s hesitancy was understandable: Outside of some Blackhawks veterans, your place on a line is only as good as your last game.

But considering how he’s playing right now and the amount of goals he’s scored, you’d think Panik will be a top liner for a little while longer.

Panik scored the game-tying goals against his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, with 88 seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday night. There was probably a little feeling of vindication for Panik on that goal – Panik spent last season with the Leafs’ minor-league team until he was traded to the Blackhawks. But no matter the opponent, Panik’s been a scoring threat.

“We didn’t expect six goals in six games but we knew he’d be an offensive threat for us,” Toews said. “He’s showing consistently. He had the hat trick – when you have a game like that, the puck keeps finding you and he’s making no mistakes around the net. He’s shown he can score goals in any which way.”

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Part of the reason Panik’s back on the top line was the Blackhawks wanted to get more balance among the forwards. Marian Hossa, a longtime sight on that line, is on the third. But again, it’s all in what you do with the opportunity.

“The position he ended up being in was probably more so [for] being ready every game, consistent, doing the right things,” coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s game. “He has all the tools we look for. He’s coming up with loose pucks, hanging around the net, going to the hard areas, giving us some physicality and finish as well. That was a big one, for sure, so he’s been a very pleasant start for us and for himself.”

The Blackhawks will always take goals no matter who scores them. But it’s how and from where Panik’s scoring those goals that’s especially good for the Blackhawks. Constantly looking for a net-front presence, Panik’s providing it. Most of his goals have been within a few feet of the net.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to find the space in front of the net and the goals are scored from there,” he said. “That’s the area I want to go to and it’s working.”

In six games Panik has already reached the totals he had in his 30 games with the Blackhawks last season (six goals, two assists). Panik approaches every game on the first line like it could be his last up there, and considering how often the Blackhawks change combinations that’s a smart approach. But the Blackhawks were looking for more consistent scoring on that top line, and as long as Panik helps provide that, he’ll stay put.

“Consistency was my biggest weakness. I’m just focusing on that, bringing it every night,” Panik said. “I think I know what I’m capable of. I know I can play on this level. Now I have an opportunity. I just have to take advantage of it and keep playing this way.”