Blackhawks checking line finds chemistry again

674964.png

Blackhawks checking line finds chemistry again

COLUMBUS, Ohio Its clear what the Blackhawks are looking for in their checking line: stop opponents from scoring first, and get any offense you can on your end.

The Blackhawks latest checking-line group has the potential to work both sides very well.

Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg have formed some chemistry again and it was evident in the Blackhawks 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The trio, which was together earlier this season, has looked comfortable again. And coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw on Thursday.

With Stals speed and Bicks size, its little things that help us out there, Bolland said. Its always helpful having two big guys on your line that have some speed.

They had long cycles in the offensive zone, a lot of puck possession time, Quenneville said. Were not happy about the one goal (they gave up to Carl Hagelin) but they did a lot of good things. They were controlling the play a lot and had the puck a lot. Thats where were looking to be at.

Indeed, the three were playing their best defense on Thursday with the offensive chances they created on the other end. Both Stalberg and Bolland had prime opportunities, something they havent had in a while.

Its a team game, and when we have chances wed like to bury them. But its nice to start getting them again. It seemed like they dried up lately, Stalberg said. We have to take advantage of them and get more comfortable in those areas. If we can keep the puck in their end and cycle, thats going to be better for us.

Bolland said, with Stals speed and Bicks size, its the little things that help us out there. Its always helpful having two big guys on your line that have some speed.

Of the three, Stalbergs adjusting to the checking-line role the most. His first indoctrination came with these two earlier this season and hes embracing the challenge.

Its something I want to learn and want to get better at. Last night was a step in the right direction, said Stalberg.

Yes, we all know Quennevilles propensity for switching line combinations. We also know that when a line shows some chemistry, it gets a chance. This trio should get a decent one.

We compliment each other, all three of us. It seems like were making pretty good plays, playing simple, Stalberg said. If we take care of our end well get our chances. Last night we did. Wed like to bury them but thats going to happen at some point.

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.