Blackhawks focused during rare five-day break


Blackhawks focused during rare five-day break

Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011
4:40 p.m.

By Chris Boden

This isnt like the Blackhawks were coming off summer vacation, whether it started in mid-June or mid-April. They took two of the first three days off this week but wanted to return to practice with a focus and purpose, given the caliber of opponent theyll face upon returning from this five-day break from game action. Its about benefiting from rest, and not being hindered by rust, during a high-paced practice Thursday at Johnnys IceHouse West.

It was great to have a layoff, but we want to be at the level we were at before the layoff, said defenseman Brian Campbell. We want to start right away when the pucks dropped in Detroit not wait a period, period and a half. Thats the biggest factor for us. We really need to gear up. Tomorrows practice is pretty important that way to get ready for a big, big weekend. Detroit, were pretty familiar with. Phillys obviously got a lot of the same guys back as last year. Its going to be a good test for us since we are probably playing some of our better hockey of the season so far.

READ: Campbell providing calm presence for Blackhawks

We dont want to go into games and get caught up and find the pace is too fast, added head coach Joel Quenneville. We dont want to be absorbing whats coming our way. We want to set the pace and try to dictate as much as we can. The first ten minutes in Detroit is important for us, but we cant anticipate we cancatch up in the middle of games. We want to make sure our minds turn that switch back on and today I thought they did a good job with it.

If its the ultimate rivalry weekend for the Bears and Packers, the Blackhawks wont be far behind, even if not as much is at stake. The Red Wings stir up the passions of Hawks fans six times per season, then here come the Flyers, wholl have something to prove after last spring. And look theres Chris Pronger, just back from foot surgery five weeks ago. On top of that, the Hawks need to be solid defensively since these are the NHLs two top-scoring teams.

We know were going to score goals with so much talent up front, according to winger Tomas Kopecky. We just have to play really good defensively against these guys. We cant take any penalties and have to play real disciplined."

The penalty-kill and defending odd-man rushes received their share of attention Thursday morning. After allowing five power play goals in as many chances earlier this month, the Hawks PK went 7-for-7, only to allow Nashville to score twice in its first three power play chances Sunday night. Detroit owns the NHLs fifth-ranked power play entering Thursday.

Then theres the matter of the Central Division race. While the Hawks had their early struggles with cohesion and injuries, the Wings got off to a red-hot start. Now the defending champs are healthy and have been playing better, while Detroits getting banged-up. If these Hawks can elevate another level, is it possible they can chase them down, since they trailed the Wings by just eight points heading into Detroits game in St. Louis Thursday? The final three meetings in the season series will be played over the final two weeks. You can guess how captain Jonathan Toews feels about it.

Its a long year. As long as we keep having success against them (1-1 so far) we havent played them too often yet. We obviously control that, so..its not going to take a miracle to catch them. Weve just got to play well.

READ: Chris Boden takes a look at the Blackhawks farm system

Quenneville wont think that far ahead.

Lets take care of first things first in our goals and ambitions as we progress. An original goal starting the year was wed love to win the division. Thats still in place. But moving ahead, what were looking forward to doing is getting out of that area where every day youre on that (playoff) bubble.

Card Sharkser, Hawks

Campbell said he didnt have an exact number, but he believed Tuesday nights Texas Hold Em celebrity poker event at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond may have raised about double the approximately 100,000 donated in the inaugural event a year ago. He passed along thanks to his teammates, volunteers, and all the Blackhawks fans who came through at the tables and via auctions. Proceeds through the defensemans Campbell for Kids charity are designated for the Chicagoland Chapter of Autism Speaks.

As for the winners and losers that night among the Hawks, Marian Hossa was first to get knocked out, admitting he was surrounded by players who know how to play like pros. I had three 8s and a King and didnt win, so it was a tough one.

Troy Brouwer won for a second straight year, this time over Corey Crawford, who showed up wearing shades, baseball cap pulled down low, and ear buds.

Yeah, I was ready, the goalie confirmed. Got myself mentally prepared. I think I had my best game out there, I just caught some bad luck. I got beat by a pretty good player.

We followed up to make sure he was talking cards, not goaltending.


Every player was back at practice, including defenseman Nick Leddy, who was brought back up from Rockford after being sent down earlier in the week.

The pairings and lines looked the same as they did last weekend.

Crawford will start in goal Saturday afternoon, but Quenneville said no decisions been finalized about wholl start in net Sunday afternoon, or Tuesday against Minnesota, prior to the All-Star break.

Just as Bears head coach Lovie Smith reached out to Quenneville last spring to wish him luck and support during the Stanley Cup Finals, Quennevilles returned the favor to Smith this week.

Each locker had a navy blue Bears baseball cap, with an orange B on the front, hanging in it. Most players wore them (Kopeckys worn one just about all season). The biggest surprise: Packers fan Jack Skille wearing his backwards, and fellow Packer-backer Jake Dowell wearing his normally. After taking some good-natured ribbing a couple of days ago, both want to clarify its not about hatred for the Bears, just rooting for the team in the state they grew up in.

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

Preview: Blackhawks host Flames Monday on CSN

Preview: Blackhawks host Flames Monday 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.

Click here for a game preview 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.”