Blackhawks 'D' weathering storm without Campbell

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Blackhawks 'D' weathering storm without Campbell

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
4:12 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

I was finishing up Blackhawks interviews with my fellow media brethren on Wednesday night when I saw defenseman Brian Campbell at the front of the room. Campbell, who sprained the MCL in his right knee in late September, is close to returning. He's on schedule with his rehabilitation. He wanted to start skating three weeks from injury diagnosis date, and a few days ago coach Joel Quenneville said he's close to doing that.

That's all good news. But what may be even greater news is how the Blackhawks have adjusted in his absence. You've seen the results for yourself, folks: close games, none of which the Blackhawks have ever been out of, a four-game winning streak and burgeoning confidence. And that defense? Well, it's held up pretty damn well.

Consider what the Blackhawks lost when they lost Campbell. Talent, obviously. Big minutes, too. Strong special teams work. Campbell's absence could have been detrimental, a big problem for a team that, with a lot of new faces, was already figuring out chemistry and combinations.

So why did it work? The rest of the defensemen took on more work. And if some of those weren't faring so well, then the prime guys took on even more. Exhibit A: Duncan Keith. You could definitely make the case that he's taking on too many minutes. With the exception of one game, he's averaged more than 30 minutes per contest. But Keith, being the gamer he is, will keep on doing what his team needs him to do. Still, methinks when Campbell returns, Keith will be one of the happiest guys in that locker room.

Brent Seabrook has been steady. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was shaky before serving a two-game suspension, is getting back to normal. Jassen Cullimore hasn't logged a ton of minutes in his last three games, but he's taking off some of the heat.

Then there's Nick Boynton. The 31-year-old, when asked a few weeks ago if he was ready to take on more minutes in Campbell's absence (Hjalmarsson was out on suspension at the time, too) said that's never a problem. It's getting enough minutes that is, he said. And Boynton has been tremendous: 23 minutes against St. Louis, 27 against Vancouver and 10 blocked shots in the two games combined. Those numbers will make you your goaltender's best friend; oh yeah, Boynton and Marty Turco's stalls are right next to each other in the Blackhawks locker room.

And Turco deserves credit, too. The goaltender is the last line of defense, as many a hockey coach has said through the years. Turco has now won four in a row, stopping 36 of 37 through regulation and overtime against Vancouver on Wednesday. He's still given up some goals he's not happy about -- the five-hole ones were a problem last year, too. But a four-game winning streak can't be all bad. Yes, I know those of you who aren't used to seeing him handle the puck get a little nervous. Relax and put the Mylanta bottle down. It'll be fine.

The Blackhawks weathered a big loss here. They've been used to it; they had to do it at the start of last season with a few Blackhawks, including Marian Hossa. Look how that turned out. In about two weeks it won't be just us media folks seeing Campbell post-game in a suit. Everyone will be seeing him on the ice. The Blackhawks managed just fine without him. They'll be that much better and stronger with him.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

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Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Brent Seabrook is out and Jonathan Toews will miss his eighth consecutive game when the Blackhawks host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Seabrook suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of the Blackhawks’ 4-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. The defenseman fell awkwardly along the boards and was down for a few moments. Coach Joel Quenneville said Seabrook is day-to-day. Quenneville added he’ll decide tomorrow who takes Seabrook’s place in the lineup.

“Seabs has played really well for us on the back end this year and we’ll definitely miss his contributions,” Quenneville said. “We’re looking for someone to step in.”

Toews is feeling better and could skate on Friday. Quenneville would not rule out the possibility of Toews returning Sunday against the Dallas Stars.

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Duncan Keith did not practice on Thursday but he’s expected to play vs. the Rangers. Scott Darling will start.

Quenneville said Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy on Saturday, is “status quo.”

Meanwhile, Nick Schmaltz, who was assigned to Rockford over the weekend, scored two goals in the IceHogs’ 3-2 loss to the San Antonio Rampage.

“I talked to Norm (Maciver, Blackhawks assistant general manager) about his game, they were extremely happy with how he played,” Quenneville said of Schmaltz. “He scored twice and there could’ve been more.”