Hawk Talk: Defense must get tenacity back


Hawk Talk: Defense must get tenacity back

Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010
7:00 PM

By Tracey Myers

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had a brief--but pointed--laundry list of things that went wrong for his team defensively on Monday night.

It might have been giveaways, it might have been coverage, it might have been mental mistakes, he said.

It might have been all of that. No, as defensive games go, this was one of the Blackhawks worst. They couldnt get the puck out of their own zone early. They gave the Colorado Avalanche one delectable scoring opportunity after another, chances so prime and open that defenseman Brian Campbell said afterward that every one of us owes (Marty Turco) an apology. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were each minus-4 for the game.

Now heres whats really troubling: this is the Blackhawks healthy group. The forward side has been decimated by injuries Dave Bolland was out with an upper-body injury on Monday, joining Marian Hossa, Fernando Pisani and Patrick Kane on the sidelines. Between Rockford call-ups and defensemen playing the part of forwards, Quenneville has been able to cobble lines together.

The defensemen havent had to go through that much shuffling. They have been in their usual pairs for some time now. Theyve all been in the active lineup for some time now. If you want to really go back in time, this is the bunch that was least altered with all the offseason moves.

On Monday, the forwards were not the problem. The Blackhawks scored five goals; when you score five goals, you should win. And despite all the problems on Monday night, the Blackhawks were on the cusp of doing just that. Until that final two minutes, 24 seconds.

Even in recent victories, the Blackhawks have been flirting with disaster. They had big leads against St. Louis and Dallas at home, 5-1 and 4-1, respectively. But both advantages went from sizeable to slim, forcing the Blackhawks to score late to pad their leads again.

The Blackhawks have a big opportunity to rack up some points now, with all but one of their remaining December games here at the United Center. They are about to get some of their forwards back. They also need to get their defensive tenacity back.

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

Artem Anisimov collecting points but knows faceoffs need to improve

Artem Anisimov collecting points but knows faceoffs need to improve

It took a little bit for Artem Anisimov to get going this season.

Much like the second line overall, he wasn’t making an immediate impact or collecting many points. Oh, how things have changed in a week or two.

Now if he can get his face-off victories on the same level as his production, he’ll be happy.

Anisimov, who was named the NHL’s second star for last week, continued his point-scoring run with an assist in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday night. Entering Tuesday’s games, Anisimov is one of four players with a league-best nine points.

“It was a very good week,” said Anisimov, whose focus quickly turned to the Blackhawks. “But we need to play better as a team. Better on the [penalty kill], better on the power play, too. Just play better.”

Anisimov wasn’t giving himself too much credit so Patrick Kane, the beneficiary of Anisimov’s assist on Monday, did.

“He made a great pass to me. Not that he didn’t do that last year. He was there, but sometimes we’d score a goal, he’d be the third assist or the guy in front of the net creating traffic and could be the biggest reason we score,” Kane said. “Good to see him get the points and get the recognition, for sure.”

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Now, about those faceoffs. After winning 44.2 percent of his faceoffs last season, Anisimov has won just 35 percent so far this season. As soon as the subject came up, Anisimov shook his head in frustration.

“The faceoff situation. It’s not great, actually. I try to do so many things right now but it doesn’t work,” he said. “You have so many different things. Try to worry about the opponent, how they do it, and not focus on myself. I just need to focus on myself and what I’m doing. keep working.”

Jonathan Toews is by far the Blackhawks’ faceoff man right now; he’s winning 60.8 percent of the time. Marcus Kruger is at 50 percent. The Blackhawks as a team are 29th in the NHL in faceoffs won in the offensive zone (42.5 percent), 27th overall in faceoffs (46.6 percent). Coach Joel Quenneville needs the team, including Anisimov, to be better in that department.

“We started off in a tough area – across the board except for Jonny – where we’re starting against it, chasing the puck and a lot of times we’re out there in the offensive zone and we don’t get that pressure, sustain offensive zone time or puck possession time. That’s an area where we’d like to get 50-50 or close to that and get a little help along the lines as well,” Quenneville said. “That’s definitely area where we need [Anisimov] to get better and get a little stronger, and [have] an awareness to what the opponents are doing or how the officials are dropping it as well. We have to get better.”

Anisimov has gotten his production going. He’d like to do the same with his faceoffs. Much like his scoring, he knows getting confidence in faceoffs could turn things around.

“Of course, yes,” he said. “I just need to straighten out a couple more games in the faceoffs and it’ll build confidence. Just build confidence.”

2010 Blackhawks can relate to Cubs’ quest for elusive title

2010 Blackhawks can relate to Cubs’ quest for elusive title

A young team sits on the cusp of achieving something great. If it’s done, it will erase years of angst, erase decades of frustration and futility.

Six years ago, that was the 2010 Blackhawks with their Stanley Cup triumph. Now it’s the Cubs, who could snap a century-plus long World Series drought. Those who were on that 2010 Blackhawks team can relate to what the Cubs are going through right now: an entire city watching, waiting and hoping for that elusive title. For them, staying loose was the best way to deal with the pressures that come with it.

That Blackhawks squad was a young-up-and-coming group. Ditto for this year’s Cubs. From all outward appearances these Cubs look like a loose bunch. The Blackhawks were the same in 2010, when they were helping the franchise rebuild after a lot of lean years.

“I think there are a lot of similarities,” Brian Campbell said. “I’m not in the [Cubs’] room, but we had a lot of fun in the room with guys who supported each other and had a lot of fun and enjoyed it. It seems like they have a good time over there and they go to work hard every day but enjoy themselves and have some good events. That’s the only way to kind of keep it relaxed.

“There’s pressure in the situation and it had been a while for us. And it’s been a long time for them,” Campbell added. “So I think it’s a good job by a lot of the guys in the clubhouse just keeping it relaxed.”

Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks that year knew what they could do, but they tried to focus on each game instead of the big picture.

“I wouldn’t say we went in blindly but it was relatively unknown for us. We were just playing and I think we were clicking at the right time. Obviously we had a lot of firepower,” Toews said. “We didn’t really realize how tough it is to get there and we just kind of knew that was our potential and we just kept playing, kept winning. And before we knew it, we were on top.”

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Maintaining that composure and relaxed atmosphere was key. But with young teams, coaches can also help in that regard. Coach Joel Quenneville gauged where his 2010 Blackhawks were and didn’t do anything to shake the players’ demeanor.

“We didn’t change our approach as we went along,” Quenneville said. “Guys were always together. They were very loose going into games and together between games and I think it was just a continuation from momentum that was gained as we progressed in the playoffs. As we went deeper and deeper it seemed like it was more enjoyable and the guys continued to have more fun.”

A postseason taste the previous season didn’t hurt. In the spring of 2009 the Blackhawks made their first postseason appearance since 2001-02, advancing to the Western Conference final. They lost to the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in five games but the young Blackhawks took a lot out of getting that far. The next season, they were brimming with confidence.

“We were almost naïve enough to not know how well we were doing at the time and what we were setting up. The next season we had such confidence in ourselves that we knew nobody was going to beat us in the playoffs if we didn’t want them to,” said Troy Brouwer, who’s now with the Calgary Flames. “You go into every game with the mentality that you know you’re going to win and good things can happen.”

Certainly the Cubs have been waiting longer to end their World Series drought (108 years) compared to the Blackhawks (49 years). But a wait’s a wait, expectations are expectations, and pressure is pressure. The Blackhawks dealt with it all beautifully en route to that Cup six seasons ago, and they think the Cubs will do the same.

“They’re going to get more cracks at it, too. So obviously in the future that experience will be great, but it seems like they’re just going into it and playing well at the right time,” Toews said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch and great to see the buzz and excitement. Those guys are just focusing on the job. That’s the No. 1 thing.”