Chicago Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: A dirty dozen remain for Chicago

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Hawk Talk: A dirty dozen remain for Chicago

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
4:40 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Only 12 games remain in the Blackhawks' season. Exactly four weeks from now, they'll be preparing for their first-round playoff opponent. That's the way they're looking at it inside the locker room, without any doubt their golf clubs will even be a consideration then.

Fourth-place in the West feels good after an impressive win over San Jose, made more impressive by the fact they were without two key players, were returning home from nine days on the road and playing the second game of a difficult back-to-back. But they're also still just four points removed from 9th place heading into Tuesday night and should they come up empty in Dallas Thursday night, they could be back in a tie for eighth-place depending on the scenarios between now and the end of that night's action.

Despite last week's hiccups (the most costly of which was coming up empty against the Panthers), the defending champs have done an exceptional job of taking care of business over the past month, failing to come up with a point just twice. And when we wrote last week about squeezing at least two, if not three, points out of the weekend versus the Caps and Sharks, they delivered three. Importance was added because they'll be doing a lot of sitting around the next week and a half, with just three games over 11 days. It comes at a good time for a handful of players whose banged-up bodies can use the lighter schedule. It won't ease the nerves of daily standings-watchers, because while their schedule lightens, other teams will pass them.

They also have the most difficult schedule of the nine teams packed between third and 11th in the West. Entering Tuesday's action, here's the average Points Percentage of the contenders' remaining opponents:

Blackhawks .590
San Jose .579
Anaheim .576
Dallas .568
Phoenix .567
Los Angeles .565
Nashville .565
Minnesota .554
Calgary .531

When we brought this up to Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Joel Quenneville Monday night, they wouldn't say whether all the tough opponents necessarily helps them remain in a proper focus and mindset. But they all agreed no opponent is easy, even those out of the playoff picture (Florida, back here next Wednesday, beat the Hawks in the one example of a first period in which the Hawks were not playing as they should). The players also say they've approached the past month as if the playoffs have already begun. For the most part, it's showed. There are still three games left with Detroit, as well as tough trips into Boston and Montreal.

Quick Wristers

With Brian Campbell's injury, it's a good thing Stan Bowman went beyond looking for just a "fifth or sixth" shot-blocking, penalty-killing defenseman at the trade deadline. He got more in Chris Campoli, who's definitely elevated the blue-line depth with his overall, well-rounded game. That's made all the more important as the Hawks await the return of one of the NHL's plus-minus leaders.

The Hawks cashed in on the fact they were just about fully healthy during their recent eight-game win streak, which they needed to do with all hands on-deck. Injuries are inevitable and the team's negotiating its way through the absences of Campbell and Dave Bolland. The center was lost on, as Joel Quenneville has indicated, the exact kind of stupid, irresponsible hit the league says it's trying to eliminate in order to reduce concussions, courtesy of Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina. Now, the team and Bolland deal with the kind of injury that has no timetable for a return to the ice for an important player. He's aleady missed almost three games. Brad Richards recently missed 10. Sidney Crosby's just getting on the ice now for the first time in more than two months.

Most athletes are very particular about their equipment and almost never offer excuses publicly. I don't know whether fans would be interested in hearing every detail before booing or criticizing and just base their evaluations on the bottom line, or whether full disclosure would be helpful. They'll probably never get the latter with athletes who are big enough to face the music, based strictly on results. But there's this from Hossa Monday night: In addition to battling a number of health issues this season, he's also gone a long stretch without sticks he's comfortable with. He has them now, resulting in 10 goals and eight assists his last 15 games.

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

Jonathan Toews explains why he altered his offseason training regime: 'I might have overdone it'

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USA TODAY

Jonathan Toews explains why he altered his offseason training regime: 'I might have overdone it'

Days after the Blackhawks were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Jonathan Toews made it known that he wanted to make "some little changes" to his offseason training program.

He went on to say that he never quite reached the level of play that he wanted to during the 2016-17 season after scoring a career-low 21 goals and totaling 58 points for the second straight year. Not bad, but not great by his standards.

In a recent interview with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, Toews opened up about why he altered his offseason regime from the previous year.

“Last summer is the first time I really got the time to train really hard and I might have overdone it in the wrong way," Toews admitted. "Just worrying about power and strength all the time. I came into the season and just couldn’t move, just felt slow. I mean the game is so fast nowadays. It’s kind of a wake-up call in that sense.”

The game indeed is getting faster, and younger players are breaking into the league much quicker because of it. Look no further than Connor McDavid, who's quickly emerged as the face of the NHL.

It's also evident after watching the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups with their speed, not necessarily grit.

Toews recognizes that, and it's why he's making the necessary changes to help return to top form and get the Blackhawks back on track in doing so.

“When you see the top players nowadays they’re all on the ice,” Toews said. “They’re on the ice all the time just working on skill and that’s something I’m really going to focus on going forward.

"Just getting back to playing with the puck, knowing that that’s the type of player I am, and not just being overly concerned with the defensive two-way hockey but knowing that I can go out there and contribute with the best of them, too, if I put my mind to it a little bit more.”

Projecting Blackhawks' Opening Day lineup in 2017-18

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USA TODAY

Projecting Blackhawks' Opening Day lineup in 2017-18

With Blackhawks single-game tickets having gone on sale Monday — and less than a month away from the first preseason game of the 2017-18 season — it's time to start breaking down what the team's lineup could look like on Opening Day.

Brian Campbell, Scott Darling, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artemi Panarin and Trevor van Riemsdyk were among Chicago's key departures in an offseason makeover, along with Marian Hossa, who's sitting out the upcoming campaign with a medical condition.

There are plenty of important shoes to fill. So how will the reformed Blackhawks stack up?

Let's give it a crack.

(A quick note: All indications are that the Blackhawks will place Hossa on long-term injured reserve as soon as the regular season starts, so we didn't include him on the 23-man Opening Day roster even though he will be. Instead, we added an extra player we believe will serve as the 23rd man going forward.)

First line: Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Richard Panik

Second line: Patrick Sharp - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane

Third line: Ryan Hartman - Nick Schmaltz - Tomas Jurco

Fourth line: Lance Bouma - Tanner Kero - Tommy Wingels

Extras: Jordin Tootoo

Thoughts: 

— It's practically a lock that Joel Quenneville will open the season with Saad-Toews-Panik at the top, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll stay that way or finish like that. At the Blackhawks Convention in July, Quenneville toyed with the idea of even putting Sharp on the first unit alongside Saad and Toews after the 35-year-old veteran looked "unbelievable" in the gym during offseason workouts.

— Speaking of Sharp, we're slotting him in at that second-line left wing position to start based off Quenneville's high praise of the winger. And it makes sense, trying to rekindle some magic with Kane off the bat and provide stability on the top-six while spreading out the bottom-six.

— Schmaltz could certainly be a candidate to jump up to the second line with Anisimov and Kane (or perhaps even swap center positions with Anisimov, but we won't get cute early on). The lack of center depth, however, might force him into a third-line center role to start, which isn't the worst idea. He won only 30.9 percent of his faceoffs last season, and the only way to get better is by taking more reps. 

— Hartman and Jurco each spent more time on the left wing than right with the Blackhawks last year, but Jurco played more on the right side in Detroit so that's where we pegged him here. He's probably going to get a longer leash to nail down a full-time spot, and be put in a position to succeed in a third-line role. 

— To round out the four-line rotation, Kero is surely going to play the role of Kruger by handling the bulk of defensive zone draws with newly-signed versatile forwards Bouma and Wingels serving as his wingmen. Tootoo comes in as the extra. 

— It will be tempting to throw highly-touted prospect Alex DeBrincat into the fire right away, but there's no need to rush it and we don't believe the Blackhawks will, either. He's still only 19 years old, and it'd be asking way too much of the 5-foot-7, 170-pound OHL player of the year to log important minutes straight out of juniors.

— That leaves Laurent Dauphin, Alexandre Fortin, John Hayden, Vinnie Hinostroza and David Kampf off the roster for now as well, and it's not a bad thing. There just isn't enough room for everybody, and their developments are better served playing every day in the AHL rather than being fringe players in the NHL and taking turns sitting in the press box.

No. 1 defensive pairing: Duncan Keith - Connor Murphy

No. 2 defensive pairing: Michal Kempny - Brent Seabrook

No. 3 defensive pairing: Gustav Forsling - Jan Rutta

Extras: Jordan Oesterle, Michal Rozsival

Thoughts:

— First off, there is no replacing Hjalmarsson. He was a linch-pin on the Blackhawks' blue line for a decade. It will take a collective effort to help alleviate that loss. While Murphy's defensive game needs improvement, he has to be the favorite to play alongside Keith strictly based on balancing out the rotation. It also helps that he's a right-handed shot, complementing the left-handed two-time Norris Trophy winner.

— Kempny and Seabrook had really strong possession numbers together last season, and should formulate the second unit. Kempny struggled to anchor down an every-day spot in his rookie campaign because of his defensive inconsistencies, but Quenneville is likely to give him an extended leash just like he did with the youngsters last year, simply because he has to.

— Forsling showed real promise in training camp a year ago, and it was enough to break last year's Opening Day roster. He stayed on for the first half before being assigned to Rockford, but it was necessary for his development in order to secure a full-time spot this year.

— Oesterle and Rutta — and perhaps even prospect Ville Pokka — are expected to vie for the sixth spot, with Rozsival serving as the seventh defenseman for insurance. We have the 27-year-old Czech defenseman getting the first crack at it, but it could be an ongoing competition for much of the year.

Starting goaltender: Corey Crawford

Backup goaltender: Anton Forsberg

Thoughts:

— For the first time in a while, the Blackhawks are heading into the season with some uncertainty surrounding their backup goaltending situation. Crawford is the clear-cut starter, but for two-plus years the Blackhawks felt like they've always had two No. 1s with Darling.

— Forsberg legitimately might be the X-factor for the Blackhawks' season. Darling appeared in 32 games last season, and 29 the year before, essentially starting one-third of the team's games over the last two years. And he thrived in that role. Forsberg has high potential, but can he take that next step and be a consistent goaltender the Blackhawks need him to be? That's the question that nobody can answer until we actually see it.

— If the Forsberg experiment doesn't work out, or they prefer to enhance his development with every-day starts in Rockford, the Blackhawks signed Jean-Francois Berube who could see some playing time. But it's Forsberg's job to lose.