Blackhawks, Pens have different reasons for urgency

Blackhawks, Pens have different reasons for urgency

Friday Feb. 18, 2011
1:56 p.m.

By Tracey Myers

The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins head into Sundays matchup with a few things in common. Theyre the two most recent Stanley Cup winners. Theyre both loaded with young talent. Theyve both dealt with significant injuries this season.

Yet while the Penguins are sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference standings while the Blackhawks are 11th in the West and struggling to make up ground.

Who's under the most pressure? The Hawks or Penguins?

So what gives? Well, just take a look at each teams schedule. Specifically, look at what the Penguins did during November and December. With Sidney Crosby on his monster 25-game point run the Penguins followed suit, going 19-6-2 over those two months.

That run proved vital, considering where theyre at now. They could be without Crosby (concussion) a while longer, if not the whole season. Theyre definitely minus Evgeni Malkin (knee) the rest of the season. Theyre treading water in February, sporting a 5-4-0 record this month. And with that type of firepower missing, theyre relying on their other assets.

Kane makes list of Top 5 U.S. born hockey players that will play in Sunday's games

Their strengths, obviously, are in goal and on defense, said Blackhawks analyst and former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk. You can look at their top four defensemen, (Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang), which is a heck of a D as a starting point. When you don't have offense youre defending a lot. Right now, that's where they're going to have success.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have been missing that productive run all year long. Theyve had their own injury issues -- Brian Campbell (knee) missed the first month of the season, Patrick Kane (knee) missed three weeks and Marian Hossas (various) been in and out. Then theres the summer turnover, which left the Blackhawks figuring out new teammates for most of the first month or two. It all led to inconsistency.

You can't redo your roster by 50 percent and not expect to have issues, said NBC analyst Mike Milbury recently. There are bound to be bumps. You throw in goaltending issues and its a recipe for an uneven season. But they can still lean on some pretty good guys.

True, but one of the Blackhawks biggest Achilles heel has nothing to do with the remaining talent or roster turnover. Its the Blackhawks lack of finish. Coach Joel Quenneville has kept count of how many times the Blackhawks have led or been tied in the third period, only to come away with no points. By our last count, its around 12 games, and the squandered points have loomed large here late.

The mind, heart and soul is there, Olczyk said. Its about execution. Its whether or not you can find a way to win a game or do you find a way to lose games. I do see the urgency, I do see the want. Sometimes it's the execution and that's all it comes down to.

The Penguins and Blackhawks will have their reasons for urgency on Sunday. The Penguins want to hold on to the top-four spot that gives then home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks just need to get in to the playoffs and cant afford to squander any points, especially at home. With the potential for missing the playoffs, missing a chance to defend that Cup, theres not much more need for motivation.

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

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.”