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
VIDEO: Pirri scores a pair of goals, again
VIDEO: Emery upset over his performance
READ: Sharp hopes to play in opener

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.

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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