Hawk Talk: How to Beat Preds


Hawk Talk: How to Beat Preds

Thursday, April 15, 2010
10:30 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini

As ascendant Stanley Cup favorites and critical darlings, most analysts see the Chicago Blackhawks quarterfinal series against the Nashville Predators as nothing more than an afterthought. And why not? The Hawks stitched together a superior regular season and potent 6-0-1 stretch run kick to sprint into the postseason. Here are 10 ways the Blackhawks can beat the Predators:

Puck Possession: Yes, this is the top bullet despite Chicagos wounded troops (hurry back soon, Soupy Campbell!). There is no greater key to Chicagos domination of the 2009-10 regular season than its ability on both ends of the ice to simply strongarm and suffocate the game by never letting go of the puck. Chicagos shot differential of 9.0 the third-biggest of any team in the post-lockout era and is a distinct measure of playoff success. Yes, Nashville has the potential to squeeze the juice out of the puck and demoralize opponents and fans alike with slowdown, Slurpee play. But the Hometown Heroes can simply go Globetrotter on teams, playing keepaway until daylight to the goaltender breaks; puck possession on Chicagos level is nothing short of a neck-snapper.

Antti-Dote: Sure, rookie netminder Antti Niemi has just 42 games of NHL experience under his belt. Yes, between his first run as a starter right before the Olympics break and Cristobal Huets utter abdication of the crease just a matter of weeks later, Niemi wasnt razor-sharp. And yes, rookie netminders whove sipped from the Cup are few and far betweenKen Dryden may be able to both out-argue and out-save Niemi even today. But listen, Niemi is a bad, bad Finn. He stole the blue ice from a veteran making close to 6 million per year, a guy who still ranks in the NHL all-time top 10 in save percentage. The rook finished second in the NHL in points percentage (.757), third in shutouts (seven, tied with his countryman counterpart in this series, Pekka Rinne) and fourth in goals-against average (2.25). And most importantly at this time of year, Niemi is unflappable. In coach Joel Quennevilles parlance, the rookie is laid-backish. That quality makes him goalie-wise beyond his 26 years.

By the Time They Get to Phoenix: Perhaps the Blackhawks can emulate the Phoenix Coyotes in their 3-2, Game 1 win over Detroit, as they took their poor power play unit and stung the Red Wings with three man-advantage goals. Aside from a nice streak at the turn of the calendar, Chicagos man-advantage looked awfully five-on-fivish for most of the season, to the point of slowly fading to black post-Olympics (dwindling to an NHL 16th-best .177 by seasons end). But on the flip side, Nashvilles penalty kill is a .771 embarrassmentthats the worst mark among playoff clubs and 28th overall in the league. In this battle of bad to worse, Chicago capitalizing with scores on those rare Predators penalties could help turn the series.

Defensive Domination: Without Campbell, the Blackhawks are weaker on D, of course. But the top four d-men, paired up as Duncan Keith-Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Seabrook-Niklas Hjalmarsson, have kept the ship afloat. Buff is a Seabrookian big body whose time served on offense over the past two seasons has served him well now that hes back on the blue line. Seabs and the Babyfaced Gangster both pack just enough puck-possession and big-hitting skills to form a pairing few opponents want to skate through. Nashville has a deep forward corps, but its not particularly skilled; down a key man or not, theres no reason the Hawks shouldnt stymie whatever is passing for offense south of the Mason-Dixon Line these days.

Home Cooking: The Blackhawks won the third-most (29) home games in the NHL in 2009-10 and in the United Center have an advantage like none other in the game. The UC has hosted the two dozen biggest indoor crowds of the entire NHL season, so no barn gets louder and less hospitable for opponents than Sweet Home Chicagos. Last year, the decibel level for the pregame national anthem alone was eardrum-bleeding. Its only going to get louder this season.

Be Cool: Chicago is well aware that the Preds play a lull game. It masquerades as bruising, old-school yawner pucks, but its really a series of traps, and by the time you take the ice off of your bruised cheek and look up at the JumboTron, youre down two with 10 minutes left. The Hawks have shown a tendency to play to the level of its opponent, and in the case of this matchup, against a team that sports inferior talent top-to-bottom, they cannot let this happen. For all the experience gained in last years surprising run to the NHLs final four and in a full season played out as hunted and not hunter, the Blackhawks are still young and subject to pressure. Nashvilles sole aim will be to bully the Hawks, frustrate them with physical play, and with the help of a fortunate puck dribble or two, cast growing doubt in the minds of the heavy favorites. The Hometown Heroes need to be cool, weather any slumps or mid-game stagnation and continue to play their ruthlessly efficient, puck possession game.

Stay Cool, Q: Quenneville played Cool Hand Q to the hilt this year, steadying his troops through the seasons ups and downs. But he does tend to be a touch paranoid when it comes to his lineshes quick to toss his players into a Lotto Hopper of lines when the offense goes a touch stale. When he panics at the sight of stagnant offense mid-game or drops a key cog three lines because of a single brain cramp, it doesnt inspire the troops. During the March skid that made the Redshirts look more AHL than NHL, the players said a lot of the right things, but boy howdy, there were some 10,000-mile stares being cast in the dressing room. Q needs to stay calm at the wheel and not give in to a game of 52-card pickup at the first downturn.

Fourteen Deep: The Blackhawks are outrageously deep on offense. The team was carried to a six-game win streak by its fourth line of Colin Fraser, Tomas Kopecky and Ben Eager, all of whom had been healthy scratches for at least one game earlier in the season. Bryan Bickell and Adam Burish, both who could contribute to fourth or even third lines on most any NHL team, appear likely to spend the quarterfinals watching in the press box. And in spite of major injuries to the defense, none bigger than the loss of Campbell for the quarterfinals, the Hawks have shifted on the fly and mostly retained their characteristic toughness and puck possessiveness.

Spreading the Wealth: The Blackhawks score a ton of goals (at least five-on-five, or shorthanded, heh) yet only Patrick Kane could be considered a team superscorer, topping 30 goals, 80 points and more than one point per game. But overall Chicago is a much more high-powered offensive team than Nashville, no matter how thin the O is spread: The Hawks have four players with more than 60 points, while no Sabertooth topped 51. Which means in parched or lulled time

Superstars Take Over: Despite any talk of spreading the wealth, the Blackhawks have a half-dozen playmakers superior to any Nashville skates, from the Big Red Cheese, Jonathan Toews, to the wizardry of Kane and Marian Hossa, the explosiveness of Kris Versteeg, the steady scoring of Patrick Sharp and the center of the line of defense, Duncan Keith. When times get tough, superstars step up. The closest forward Nashville has to a superstar is Patric Hornqvist, whos tallied all of one goal in eight career contests vs. Chicago. Any of the aforementioned Blackhawks could equal that with a single sneeze.

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

Trevor van Riemsdyk out about a month as Blackhawks host Toronto

Trevor van Riemsdyk out about a month as Blackhawks host Toronto

Trevor van Riemsdyk will miss about a month with an upper-body injury he sustained in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to Columbus on Friday night.

Van Riemsdyk was injured late in the second period when he slid into the net, his right arm/shoulder colliding with the post. Coach Joel Quenneville said van Riemsdyk’s injury, as of now, doesn’t require surgery. Quenneville wasn’t sure if van Riemsdyk would be put on injured reserve. The defenseman played all 82 games for the Blackhawks last season but had injury problems prior to that.

In good news, Marian Hossa is now “likely” to play Saturday night, Quenneville said. Hossa has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury he sustained on Tuesday night.

Scott Darling will get the start vs. the Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks have had an up-and-down start to the season. Once again, their penalty kill hasn’t helped. It allowed two more goals to the Blue Jackets and has now allowed 11 through the first five games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“We can’t say much about our PK right now. It’s definitely a sore spot and it’s almost like let’s look at it as a fresh beginning and look at trying to get through one kill, and the first 20 seconds get through that rotation,” Quenneville said. “Let’s take baby steps in our approach, whether it’s a four-man pressure, denying entries or up-ice pressure, in the shooting lanes, make sure we’re clearing, all the things that go into it. It’s been tough right now and certainly we have to repair it and fix it tonight.”

Meanwhile, there’s nothing new to report on Andrew Desjardins, who suffered a lower-body injury in the Blackhawks’ preseason finale in St. Louis. Quenneville said it’ll still be a few weeks until Desjardins skates.


Time: 6 p.m.


Radio: WGN

Projected lineups


Tyler Motte-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Marian Hossa

Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling-Brian Campbell

Scott Darling

Injuries: Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body), Andrew Desjardins (lower body)

Toronto Maple Leafs

William Nylander-Auston Matthews-Zach Hyman

James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Mitchell Marner

Milan Michalek-Nazem Kadri-Leo Komarov

Matt Martin-Peter Holland-Connor Brown

Morgan Rielly-Connor Carrick

Jake Gardiner-Roman Polak

Matt Hunwick-Nikita Zaitsev

Frederik Andersen

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

COLUMBUS, Ohio – We’ll save you some time tonight. The Blackhawks lost another one in familiar fashion. You can guess what our focus will be, so let’s get right to it.

Here are Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

1. We’re trying not to pick on the penalty kill again, but… it cost them again. The Blackhawks gave up their 10th and 11th power-play goals in their first five games on Friday night. Opponents are planting themselves in front of Corey Crawford and, be it screens or tips, they’re capitalizing. Long-distance shots are getting through far too often. “I think our focus always has to be 5-on-5. When our effort and our energy and our work ethic is there it usually translates into our special teams and I don’t know. It’s frustrating," Jonathan Toews said. "We definitely have to keep pushing to find a solution. Even when it seems like we’re doing a good job bounces go against us. We deserve all the criticism and we just have to keep finding ways, dig deep and really try to dig ourselves out of this thing.”

2. The seven-defenseman set. Quenneville didn’t want Trevor van Riemsdyk sitting out too long, and for a few days it looked like Brian Campbell was going to be the odd-man out tonight. Instead the Blackhawks went with seven, which gave them the chance to rotate and put Campbell back on his natural left. With that, however, the forward lines were naturally skewed. Patrick Kane played nearly 29 minutes. Quenneville said earlier this season that it wouldn’t be something the Blackhawks would try often. Speaking of van Riemsdyk…

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Van Riemsdyk hurt again. You have to feel for van Riemsdyk. He finally got healthy last season playing in all 82 games after knee and wrist injuries sidelined him the previous one. Now it looks like he’ll be out again after he went hard into the net late in the second period. Van Riemsdyk got tangled up and his right arm/shoulder collided with the post.

4. Tyler Motte gets his first. The University of Michigan product scored his first career NHL goal, a rebound off a Toews shot in the second period. Considering the game’s outcome, however, Motte’s enthusiasm was tempered. “It was exciting. It felt good to chip in offensively but obviously the real story is us losing another game,” he said. “We were better in the offensive zone but there are still some things to improve on. The most important thing is winning games.”

5. Brandon Saad great but stymied. The former Blackhawks left wing had some tremendous scoring opportunities on Friday. He had a team-high seven shots, most high quality, but Crawford stopped him every time. Just in case anyone needed a reminder of what the kid is capable of, regardless of which sweater he’s wearing.