Boden: What are you thinking behind that poker face?

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Boden: What are you thinking behind that poker face?

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010
1:38 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
With the Blackhawks spending part of this three-day recess in the middle of their six-game trip in Las Vegas, it got me wondering whether it's time yet to reveal our hand on where this team's headed, long-term this season. Should we still be holding our chips in judging this team? All in? Folding?

Is this truly going to be a Jekyll-&-Hyde team all season long, forever finding a way to get in sync? Are they just toying with us -- playing the dangerous game of "flipping the switch" -- and playing hard and well when they need and want to? In an early-season "Hawk Talk," we praised the group for its ability to find ways to win games. Since then, they've gone through stretches of finding ways to lose. Disciplined, hard-working, all-around games tease us, only to be followed by a flat effort.

Their resume shows they've found ways to beat some of the top teams the first month and a half (Los Angeles, St. Louis, Vancouver, and ending Anaheim's six-game winning streak). They've also found ways to lose twice at home to Edmonton, and help scuffling teams like Columbus and Phoenix get on track when they came into the United Center. We'll see if Friday's Flame-out turns Calgary's fortunes, but they got temporarily put back in the loss column in Detroit on Sunday. Until the Hawks prove they can consistently string wins together, we'll have to get used to the concept that they've made their road much tougher. The points that've fallen by the wayside can't be retrieved. Making the playoffs, and seeding for it, is going to be a dogfight. The important thing is getting in. And with the way things have gone thus far, home versus road, home-ice advantage for this team might not be that important.

On the glass-half-full side you can say the last two weeks, as a whole, have been steps in the right direction towards getting this team where it needs to be, despite varying results, and that Friday was the aberration, and the blunt reminder.

There have been encouraging signs of late from some of the newcomers. Jack Skille has five points and is a plus-7 in his last seven games. Bryan Bickell's collected five points and is plus-4 over his last six after being benched. Viktor Stalberg, though scoreless in his last three games, showed signs of being able to hold down the left side lining up with Toews and Kane. Jake Dowell's been steady with his opportunities and has the willingness to try to make something happen physically when the rest of the team's sluggish.

In the end, the old adage goes, the Blackhawks' best players must be their best players. The plus-minus rating has its pros and cons, and I'm not even sure yet how big a fan I am of the statistic. Nevertheless, here are those numbers from members of the returning "core," along with their point production, in the team's wins and losses. Some may be telling, others perhaps not so much:

Wins
Losses
Duncan Keith
5, 7 pts.
-11, 6 pts.
Niklas Hjalmarsson
3, 1 pt.
-9, 0 pts.
(suspended for one win, one loss)
Brent Seabrook
6, 8 pts.
-4, 4 pts.
Patrick Sharp
11, 11 pts.
-11, 11 pts.
(missed one loss)
Jonathan Toews
12, 9 pts.
-6, 9 pts.
Troy Brouwer
2, 5 pts.
-2, 6 pts.
Dave Bolland
1, 3 pts.
1, 1 pt.
(missed 2 wins, 4 losses)
Brian Campbell
7, 2 pts.
1, 3 pts.
(missed 7 wins, 6 losses)
Marian Hossa
3, 13 pts.
-1, 4 pts.
(missed 2 wins, 3 losses)
Tomas Kopecky
4, 5 pts.
-15, 5 pts.
(missed one loss)
Patrick Kane
6, 17 pts.
-11, 5 pts.
(missed one win)

Every player's individual numbers are affected by the team's wins and losses. This is the group that Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff rely upon the most. In most cases, the numbers reflect the team's inconsistent start. Most of these guys have taken turns acknowledging how they need to be better. Check out Brian Campbell's consistency since he returned from his knee injury, leading the team at plus-8. Kopecky was reunited with Hossa and Sharp Saturday, and saying those two bring out the best in him is an understatement. He had an assist and was a plus-1. In the 11 games before Hossa's injury, Kopecky had a goal, seven assists, and was a plus-3.

The makeup, character, production, and accomplishment of last year's team has spoiled us all. Everyone's expectations vary in the wake of the offseason changes -- and what's realistic over if, when, and how well this roster clicks. As they tried to re-charge and bond in Vegas, The Hangover is one factor that should be kept in mind through all this. Yes, it's a tired phrase. But ask any previous Cup winner (especially in the salary cap era) about the after-effects everyone above is experiencing, and each player reacts differently to the physically-, mentally- and emotionally-draining run. Then the celebration. Then the short offseason. Toss in the busiest start of any team, and if you think about it, it's an imposing task. They're going through something they've never experienced before, unchartered individual territory. And while we all expect that when we ask these guys to play harder and dig deeper, who knows how deep that physical, mental, and emotional reservoir runs in each, compared to a year ago? The hope is the best is yet to come, if not just around the corner.

So are you holdin'? Foldin'? Or all in?

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

Marian Hossa named Blackhawks' nominee for 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Marian Hossa named Blackhawks' nominee for 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The Chicago chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has selected Marian Hossa to be the Blackhawks' nominee for the 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

The 38-year-old winger has bounced back in a huge way following a 2015-16 campaign where he had only 13 goals and 20 assists in 64 games. 

Hossa is tied for second on the team with 24 goals and ranks sixth on the club with 42 points in 66 contests this season. He ranks fourth among active players with 1,131 points, and recently surpassed Pat Verbeek to move into 35th all-time in goals scored with 523.

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Three finalists from the 30 NHL teams will be named at the end of the regular season.

Pit Martin (1969-70) and Bryan Berard (2003-04) are the only two players in Blackhawks history to win the honor.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."