Blackhawks working to shore up defense

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Blackhawks working to shore up defense

The losses are starting to mount, and the way the Chicago Blackhawks are losing is whats most troubling: poor team defense has been rearing its ugly head again.

So on Sunday, it was back to the old dry erase board.

The Blackhawks got back to work with what forward Viktor Stalberg called a tougher, rougher practice on Sunday, as they try to snap a five game winless streak. The mantra? Checking and playing defense have to be top priority.

Its just keeping it simple on the ice, starting from defensive zone out, defenseman Steve Montador said. Weve done well against good opponents, and in those games weve concentrated on checking, playing defense first. Practice today was a reminder of that, practice tomorrow will be a reminder of that. Every day were talking defensive focus first.

Talking about it is one thing. But the Blackhawks need to bring that defense-first attitude more consistently than they have. When the Blackhawks went on their 5-0-2 run in January, they gave up 16 goals in those eight games. In their current 0-4-1 skid, theyve allowed 22, including those eight to Edmonton on Thursday.

That has to be a part we can rely on, whether were holding a 1-0 lead, or its a 2-1 game or 1-1 game, coach Joel Quenneville said of the defensive game. Down the stretch, there are going to be a lot of low-scoring games and we have to be committed to playing those types of games.

So it was back to the old dry erase board on Sunday. The Blackhawks emphasized the defensive mantra and took out their frustrations on each other on the Johnnys West ice. Stalberg said practices like that can be therapeutic.

Sometimes when everyones a little frustrated, you go hard, battle and get some of that out on the ice, Stalberg said. Every time weve been in a slump we go through one of these rougher, tougher practices and it tends to work.

Getting their aggressions out is one thing, but it ultimately comes down to playing better team defense. Yes, theyre still sitting in sixth place in the West. But theyve got three more road games coming up this week, none of which will be easy, and they cant afford to lose more ground.

Defense leads to offense. The Blackhawks have preached it during their successful times. Now they have to practice what they preach more often.

It has to be solid checking, defensive-minded (hockey) first, Montador said. When we take care of that part of our game, we have the players, the speed and the skill to get the chances on offense. But its thinking defensively first.

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

The Blackhawks' season ended much sooner than expected after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

But for some players, their hockey season may not be finished yet.

The IIHF World Championships begin May 5, and an early postseason exit gives several Blackhawks an opportunity to play in the tournament.

With the National Hockey League saying it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, players may be more inclined to join given the uncertainty of when they'll be able to represent their countries again — if ever, for some.

Here's an update on which Blackhawks players could be participating:

— Patrick Kane said Saturday he's taking the weekend to mull over Team USA's offer, and will make a final decision in the next "day or two."

— Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each declined their invites from Team Canada, electing to use a lengthy offseason to recharge and focus on training for the 2017-18 NHL season.

— Corey Crawford and Nick Schmaltz said they have not been contacted by their respective countries, but both said they would consider going if they are.

— Artemi Panarin has reportedly already accepted Team Russia's offer to play.

— Niklas Hjalmarsson said he's "thinking about" Team Sweden's offer after the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to play for my country again, so that might be factor," he said.

— Marcus Kruger said he's talking with Team Sweden officials, and has expressed interest in going.

— Marian Hossa said he informed Team Slovakia that he will not be playing: "Let the young guys play."

— Richard Panik will not be participating either, saying he doesn't want to risk injury as he seeks a new contract.

Jonathan Toews will make 'little changes' to offseason prep

Jonathan Toews will make 'little changes' to offseason prep

Jonathan Toews gave a succinct "no" when asked if he'd consider playing in the World Championships next month in Europe. For the Blackhawks captain, his 2016-17 season wasn't where it needed to be.

So instead of helping Team Canada across the pond, he'll prepare to help the Blackhawks more next season.

Toews will use this offseason in a variety of ways, including taking some time completely off to heal and rest. And while there's a lot of time between now and the Blackhawks' training camp, Toews said competing in the World Championships would take up a good amount of time he'd rather use to be ready for the fall.

"At this point of my career, going through the last couple of years the way things have played out, there are some little changes here and there with how I approach my preparation, especially the last summer being a long offseason and coming in feeling I was as prepared as I could be and still not getting to the level of play I wanted to this season," Toews said on Saturday. "There are some things I have to re-evaluate and think about this offseason. There's no satisfaction there but definitely take a different approach with how I prepare for next season. I didn't get to the level I needed to be to help our team survive a little bit longer in this last series, so I have to be responsible for that as well. Just look back, assess and see what you can do differently."

Toews had a slow start to the season and then missed three weeks with a reported back injury. Much like the rest of the Blackhawks he started heating up in February and finished the regular season with 21 goals. But it was another quiet postseason for him, as Toews had just one goal in the four games against the Nashville Predators, and that was a late-regulation power-play goal in Game 4.

So was Toews dealing with a physical issue? Asked how healthy he was, Toews said, "well, that's kind of one of the things I'm hitting on," but didn't get more specific than that. Coach Joel Quenneville said some of the Blackhawks' key players, "have some issues they're taking care of, but I don't think it's going to be to that extent to where it's long term care." Quenneville also said any health issues had nothing to do with what happened in this series. Toews certainly wasn't using it as an excuse, either. As for the future, Toews said he'll reconfigure his workout, training regimen, whatever necessary to be better next season.

"Just the way the speed of the game has changed the last few years. I've always been the type of player who likes to play heavy and protect the puck in the corners. It seems the strength has been a factor but also the speed in my game that I used to have in my younger years," Toews said. "I have to get back to playing more puck possession, more speed on the rush. That right there is one little thing. But I think the skill part is another thing I'll have to focus on and trying to get back to playing the way I can."