Back-and-forth affair sends Hawks to 7th straight loss

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Back-and-forth affair sends Hawks to 7th straight loss

SAN JOSE, Ca. The response to Jonathan Toews getting knocked around was much like the Blackhawks overall performance on their winless skid: it was there, but it needed to be more and it needed to be quicker.

Toews was roughed up early, and the Blackhawks couldnt get retribution on the scoreboard as the San Jose Sharks beat them 5-3 at HP Pavilion on Friday night. It was another frustrating game for the Blackhawks, who are now winless in seven straight (0-6-1).

The Blackhawks are still somehow in sixth place in the Western Conference, but theyre still losing ground in points. First-place Detroit is now 11 points ahead of them.

The Hawks talked positives after Fridays game but that was little consolation in the grand scheme of things. They still allowed three Sharks power-play goals, two of which put them in an early 2-0 hole and those little gaffes once again turned into big opposing goals.

The Sharks used their physical edge early and often, with Toews in the crosshairs. When Sharks captain Joe Thornton took a few shots at Toews, the Blackhawks didnt respond as quickly as they should have. And when defenseman Sean ODonnnell and Duncan Keith did respond it somehow became a Sharks power play.

Its a little confusing how we get the extra penalty there. Im not sure how many free shots theyre allowed to get. We defend ourselves and get the extra two minutes, Toews said. Its tough to look on the bright side of things but we played hard out there. We saw some fights, saw some scratching and clawing, some battling in front of the net. We played the way we had to. We just gave them too many opportunities on the power play and thats how they separated themselves.

Corey Crawford struggled again, allowing five goals on 27 shots. Asked about goaltending after, coach Joel Quenneville said that has to be better.

The Blackhawks did show their best mettle in the second period, when two Marcus Kruger goals tied the game at 2. Jamal Mayers, who fought Ryan Clowe and was also part of the scuffle with Toews -- was also put on the top line for protective measure. It worked, by the way.

I think that there were a few things said to get us back on track and to be a little more resilient, Mayers said of the first intermission. We know how we have to play. Weve been talking about it for a couple days. Its about executing.

But it was the poor execution that overshadowed things once again. Viktor Stalberg had another costly turnover he didnt play much after committing it, either the Blackhawks gave up another power-play goal and Crawford was too far out of the net again.

The Blackhawks keep trying to find the positives in this skid. There were some here and there, and their second period was a reminder of what they can do when they want to. But the good moments, like physical retaliations, havent been enough to outweigh the problems.

These are tough times right now, said Marian Hossa. We need to get out of the slump. We talk about it, but we cant just put our heads down. We just have to battle through it. Obviously its not a fun time right now.

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.