Hawk Talk: Half-empty or half-full?

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Hawk Talk: Half-empty or half-full?

Thursday, June 3, 2010
9:21 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA Riddle me this: Are the Chicago Blackhawks not the most criticized winner of the first two of three Stanley Cup Finals games in recent memory?

First, horror of horrors, the Blackhawks won the Game 1 slugfest over the Philadelphia Flyers because their goalie was just a bit better and puck possession a smidge stronger. Then in Game 2, the Philly hung in with Chicago, which apparently earns a tie point or somethingnot sure, it doesnt seem to show up in the series records. And with a loss in Game 3Chicagos first in eight playoff gamesits as if somehow a series of breakdowns and bounces earned the Flyers two or three victories instead of just one.

Yes, its all the rage to point out that the Flyers are back in it ad nauseam. Well, sure, in that theyre not down 3-0, the Flyers are back in it.

But its an opportune time to again mention picking the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup Finals in five games. Game 3 was the contest that the Hawks would most likely lose, and on the hush-hush in private correspondence your faithful hockey servant anticipated a Blackhawks blowout in either Game 3 or 4so you have a read on what I think is coming.

However, some folks prefer to see their cups half-empty, and giving them something to wring their hands over is arguably a public service. So, in the interest of fair play, as well as keeping Philadelphias pipe dream alive, here are three key weaknesses weve seen in the Blackhawks.

Cool Hand Qs Shufflin Crew
Its about time for Dustin Byfuglien to shuffle off to another line, yes? Its not so much hes played poorly or been baited by Flyers jokesterdefenseman Chris Prongeralthough those arguments could be made. But it is definitely time to stop the bullheadedness of keeping the first line that crushed the San Jose Sharks together for nostalgias sake. The Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Byfuglien line rallied the Blackhawks into the Finals, and it will be remembered forever fondly for that. But Coach Joel Quenneville, who has been notoriously flip (and in the playoffs, super savvy) about pulling the trigger on player substitutions and remade forward lines, has been strangely silent in terms of such moves so far. Hes overdue some changes come Game 4.

Get Soupy Out of the Doghouse
No one will argue that defenseman Brian Campbell had a strong Game 1, and it was understandable that Soupy saw very limited minutes during the Chicago leg of the Finals. But Campbell is much too valuable to Chicagos puck-possession play to continue to function as the fifth d-man on the depth chart. Brent Sopel has terrific value as a shot-blocker, but too much time for the Iron Giant is an indication the Quenneville is playing too defensively and conservatively. A contingent effect of Soupys reduced minutes is that far too often Sopel and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been paired, neither of whom can do much in terms of advancing the puck and tightening the screws on Philly with puck possession. Such a pairing allows the Flyers, already aggressive and wilding with the dressing the Carcillos of the world, to be that much more aggressivewithout consequence.

Matchmaking Nightmares
Of course the Finals are the consummate chess match, but thats no reason for Quenneville to get all Kasparov on Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who is pretty well known as confident bordering on brash. It wouldnt take too much to exploit Laviolettes confidence, but Cool Hand Q appears to need to not just beat the Flyers, but run a victory lap around them when it comes to line matching.

Nowhere in the series did it hurt the Blackhawks more than in overtime of Game 3, when Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky were both dashing off the ice when the opportunistic switching post-faceoff, turned fatal. In the defensive confusion, Dave Bolland was double-teaming Danny Briere, leaving Duncan Keith frozen and surrounded by three Flyers. The goal that tied the game, by Ville Leinocompletely nullifying Patrick Kanes stunner of a breakaway that gave the Blackhawks their first lead, for 20 secondsalso came as the result of a quick line yanking from Q.

While some Blackhawks admitted a bit of confusion over the frequency (and in some cases, sloppiness) of the line changes after Game 3, Quenneville was all too willing to issue a mea culpa. The bad news for Flyers fans is that the steely mentor is sure to be much more surgical with his bench moves come Friday.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

The Blackhawks' season ended much sooner than expected after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

But for some players, their hockey season may not be finished yet.

The IIHF World Championships begin May 5, and an early postseason exit gives several Blackhawks an opportunity to play in the tournament.

With the National Hockey League saying it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, players may be more inclined to join given the uncertainty of when they'll be able to represent their countries again — if ever, for some.

Here's an update on which Blackhawks players could be participating:

— Patrick Kane said Saturday he's taking the weekend to mull over Team USA's offer, and will make a final decision in the next "day or two."

— Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each declined their invites from Team Canada, electing to use a lengthy offseason to recharge and focus on training for the 2017-18 NHL season.

— Corey Crawford and Nick Schmaltz said they have not been contacted by their respective countries, but both said they would consider going if they are.

— Artemi Panarin has reportedly already accepted Team Russia's offer to play.

— Niklas Hjalmarsson said he's "thinking about" Team Sweden's offer after the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to play for my country again, so that might be factor," he said.

— Marcus Kruger said he's talking with Team Sweden officials, and has expressed interest in going.

— Marian Hossa said he informed Team Slovakia that he will not be playing: "Let the young guys play."

— Richard Panik will not be participating either, saying he doesn't want to risk injury as he seeks a new contract.

Jonathan Toews will make 'little changes' to offseason prep

Jonathan Toews will make 'little changes' to offseason prep

Jonathan Toews gave a succinct "no" when asked if he'd consider playing in the World Championships next month in Europe. For the Blackhawks captain, his 2016-17 season wasn't where it needed to be.

So instead of helping Team Canada across the pond, he'll prepare to help the Blackhawks more next season.

Toews will use this offseason in a variety of ways, including taking some time completely off to heal and rest. And while there's a lot of time between now and the Blackhawks' training camp, Toews said competing in the World Championships would take up a good amount of time he'd rather use to be ready for the fall.

"At this point of my career, going through the last couple of years the way things have played out, there are some little changes here and there with how I approach my preparation, especially the last summer being a long offseason and coming in feeling I was as prepared as I could be and still not getting to the level of play I wanted to this season," Toews said on Saturday. "There are some things I have to re-evaluate and think about this offseason. There's no satisfaction there but definitely take a different approach with how I prepare for next season. I didn't get to the level I needed to be to help our team survive a little bit longer in this last series, so I have to be responsible for that as well. Just look back, assess and see what you can do differently."

Toews had a slow start to the season and then missed three weeks with a reported back injury. Much like the rest of the Blackhawks he started heating up in February and finished the regular season with 21 goals. But it was another quiet postseason for him, as Toews had just one goal in the four games against the Nashville Predators, and that was a late-regulation power-play goal in Game 4.

So was Toews dealing with a physical issue? Asked how healthy he was, Toews said, "well, that's kind of one of the things I'm hitting on," but didn't get more specific than that. Coach Joel Quenneville said some of the Blackhawks' key players, "have some issues they're taking care of, but I don't think it's going to be to that extent to where it's long term care." Quenneville also said any health issues had nothing to do with what happened in this series. Toews certainly wasn't using it as an excuse, either. As for the future, Toews said he'll reconfigure his workout, training regimen, whatever necessary to be better next season.

"Just the way the speed of the game has changed the last few years. I've always been the type of player who likes to play heavy and protect the puck in the corners. It seems the strength has been a factor but also the speed in my game that I used to have in my younger years," Toews said. "I have to get back to playing more puck possession, more speed on the rush. That right there is one little thing. But I think the skill part is another thing I'll have to focus on and trying to get back to playing the way I can."