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.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Duncan Keith was already deemed unlikely to play in many, if any, Blackhawks preseason games, when training camp opened. As of now, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the first few.

Keith will probably not play in the Blackhawks’ first four preseason games, assistant coach Kevin Dineen said following Monday’s training camp sessions. As for whether or not Keith will play in any, that’s still up in the air.

“That’s a question that Dunc and the medical staff, Stan [Bowman], Joel [Quenneville], we’ll all get to that. I wouldn’t foresee him certainly in these first four games. I would say that’s not going to happen,” Dineen said. “We’ll let him keep progressing on his timetable that he’s on now.”

Keith has been participating in one practice each day but has not been in any of the scrimmages. Assistant coach Mike Kitchen said Keith has asked to skate in the team’s second practice each day – each session is about 20-25 minutes – but the Blackhawks have told him no. As of now, both Dineen and Kitchen figure Keith will be ready for the regular-season opener but the Blackhawks will continue to be prudent with him.

“He’s out there wheeling around, doing well,” Dineen said. “We had a good chat with him today. He feels like he has a lot of jump but not a lot of stamina right now. We’ll continue the way we’ve handled it so far. We’ll keep moving forward that way.”

Players returning soon

Patrick Kane, who was at the United Center on Monday afternoon, will skate with the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Defenseman Michal Kempny will also join Tuesday’s sessions. Dineen said Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin are expected to join the Blackhawks on Friday.

Neither Kane nor Kempny are expected to play Wednesday vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

Pokka is back

Defenseman Ville Pokka, who played for Team Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, skated with the Blackhawks on Monday.

“Anybody coming back from Toronto over the last two weeks is going to have a heck of a lot of confidence,” Dineen said. “A young kid like that getting the chance to represent his country on the international stage is a great honor and a pick-me-up heading into training camp and the season.”

First cuts made

The Blackhawks made their first round of cuts on Monday, sending Radovan Bondra, John Dahlstrom, Nathan Noel and Roy Radke to their respective junior teams. The active roster is now at 57 players.