Hawk Talk: Coach Q, staff facing difficult choices

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Hawk Talk: Coach Q, staff facing difficult choices

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011
Posted: 5:48 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com Blackhawks InsiderFollow @TraMyersCSN
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Decisions, decisions.

We've just about reached that time of the preseason, folks. The Chicago Blackhawks will play their final preseason game Sunday afternoon when they take on the Washington Capitals. After that, it's time to make some choices: who stays and who goes?

Remember when we thought the only big choice the Blackhawks would have at the start of preseason would be at No. 2 goaltender? Yeah, it still is. But throw in some injuries, some impressive youngsters, and the Blackhawks brass have a few more decisions to make.

Coach Joel Quenneville always says making decisions is a good problem to have. So let's take a look at some players and wonder: What Will Q Do?

Ray Emery vs. Alex Salak

The Blackhawks brought in Emery as a viable veteran candidate for the No. 2 goaltending spot. It's a feel-good story, for sure: goalie seems finished, goalie has successful hip surgery, goalie resurrects career. But will it happen that way?

Emery said his body feels good, that his game feels right, but the results have not been there in preseason games. Sure, some of those goals were flukey and he didn't always get help in front of him. But the bottom line is, he hasn't made the stops.

Then there's Salak. Yes, he's young. No, he hasn't played a ton of games on this side of the pond. But is that transition from European to the smaller North American ice really that hard for a goaltender? Salak had his full game last Sunday in Detroit. He didn't get a lot of help either, but he still stopped 30 of 33 shots.

The Blackhawks will probably still go with Emery, allowing Salak to hone his skills in Rockford. They like Emery's veteran status and NHL experience. And the game results could still come. But remember, Blackhawks: the last two guys who started the season as backups, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, didn't have so much NHL experience. They didn't turn out so bad, either.

Marcus Kruger

Quenneville hasn't been overwhelming in assessing Kruger this preseason, and the young Swede hasn't exactly separated himself from the pack. Here's where going from European ice to ours requires adjustment time. Kruger admitted as much last Sunday before the Blackhawks game in Detroit -- "it's a lot different. The surface and the game here is a lot quicker."

Still, injury issues may keep the center up here early. But with other options at center -- Patrick Kane's been doing just fine there on the No. 2 line -- sending Kruger to Rockford for some work may be a good idea once the roster is fully healthy again.

Patrick Kane

OK, not a roster decision as much as a position decision. The Kane-to-center announcement had us all and surprised last Sunday -- I have the five seconds of dead air on our recorders to prove it. And while it's just been two games, the experiment has been pretty good. That includes Friday night, when Kane's group was up against star Pens such as Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Quenneville still likes what he sees. So it's worth seeing more.
Brandon Saad and Brandon Pirri

They're young, they're talented and they're making some of the lower-line Blackhawks look over their shoulders. And since the Blackhawks' forward corps are bumped and bruised, they've earned at least a few looks at the start of this season. Let's see what they can do, shall we?

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

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DENVER – Well, that was a wild one, wasn’t it?

We’ll spare you the gory-to-glorious details (most of which are in the game story, anyway). So instead, let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 6-4 victory over Colorado.

1. Great night for the rookies. The Blackhawks’ newest players were their most prolific players on Tuesday night. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals. Tanner Kero did too, and added an assist. Nick Schmaltz had a goal and an assist. All of these experiences are great learning curves for the Blackhawks’ youth, and coach Joel Quenneville likes how they’re progressing, not just with scoring but with their overall games. “That’s the part that’ll make them better players and us a better team is playing the right way defensively, being responsible, putting the puck in good areas and going hard to the net.”

2. Top line still too quiet. Line changes were made but the results remained the same, especially for the Blackhawks’ top trio. Ryan Hartman and Richard Panik were up there with Jonathan Toews in this one, but still nada. The three had a combined three shots for the game. Many of you have asked if Toews is still dealing with that back injury. On Tuesday morning he said, “no, it’s been really good, actually.” Still, there’s something up with a top line that, regardless of combination, just can’t get anything going.

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3. Terrible second period. The Blackhawks came out of the first in great shape and with a 2-1 lead. But things got messy in the second period. Be it the inability to clear or get the puck deep in the Avs’ zone, the Blackhawks made mistakes. The Avs capitalized, scoring three goals in the second including two in a 63-second span. Outside of Tanner Kero’s goal, the Blackhawks had a forgettable second period. The Avalanche outscored them 3-1 and outshot them 8-4 in the second.

4. Faceoffs lost. The Blackhawks did not do well in this department, winning just 23 percent of their faceoffs. It didn’t cost them the game but they certainly need better nights than they got on Tuesday.

5. Corey Crawford gets through it. Crawford was stellar prior to his appendectomy but hasn’t been at that level since. Quenneville said he considered pulling Crawford during this one but decided to keep him in. Quenneville’s still happy with his goaltending – again, the Blackhawks aren’t where they are right now without it this season. But he said Crawford could be better than he was on Tuesday.