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
CSNChicago.com

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.

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

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.

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