Chicago Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: 'I Don't Really Like Country Music'

Hawk Talk: 'I Don't Really Like Country Music'

Sunday, April 11, 2010
11:37 P.M.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Blackhawks entered the final day of the regular season with the potential to face the Avalanche, Kings, or Predators.

Turns out, they drew the opponent I was least comfortable with them facing. And that equation had nothing to do with travel destinations. That actually plays into the Hawks hands same time zone, fairly short trip.

Nashvilles top two scorers (breakout boy Patric Hornqvist and now-healthy ex-Hawk Steve Sullivan) have all of 51 points. The Blackhawks have two players with that many assists.

Their team stats pale by comparison: 18th in Goals Per Game. 14th in Goals-Against Average. 24th on the Power Play. 28th on the Penalty Kill. Theyve also been knocked out in the first round of all four of their previous playoff appearances (which came consecutively before missing out last spring) twice by Detroit, twice by San Jose. They lost four of six in the season series to the Hawks.

And yet, this was one of three Central Division teams to hit the century mark in points, and the fact theyre quite familiar with the Hawks personnel doesnt hurt, even though they havent played since December 27th. Behind the braintrust of G.M. David Poile and the only Head Coach theyve ever had Barry Trotz a systems been put in place thats kept the small-market Preds competitive year in and year out. They build from within, make quiet, effective roster moves, and dont dish out free agent money, especially to those outside their existing family. Sure, the Kings have more firepower. The Avs have a no one expected us to be here youth movement and a Park Ridge native in net the Hawks cast off a few years ago, whos played out of his mind this season. No matter whom the high-profile Hawks faced, that opponent would take the old Were David, youre Goliath mindset once the post-season puck dropped. It may not be any more prevalent that this matchup. While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have deservedly received plenty of attention for their growth into young, All-Star-caliber defensemen who were also both Olympians, the Preds pair of gold medalist Shea Weber and silver medalist Ryan Suter havent received quite the hype. Matter of fact, when I sat down with Keith and Seabrook earlier in the season and asked if they could think of a comparable shutdown tandem, the first they thought of were the 24-year-old Weber and 25-year-old Suter, moreso than Detroits upper 30s-something Olympic tag team of Lidstrom and Rafalski.

Then theres the matchup in net. Only one of these Finns teams wont be fini after playing in their first-ever post-season series. 26-year-old Antti Niemi going out and winning the crease down the stretch cannot be underestimated, but thats exactly what 27-year-old Pekka Rinne did in his battle with Dan Ellis. Rinne (65) has gone 12-4-1 with a Goals-Against of about 2 since the Olympics. He has the same number of shutouts as Niemi (7), but four have come in his last 14 starts. The Hawks went 2-1 when they opposed Rinne this season (just as they did against Ellis), scoring seven goals in those two wins, while he shut them out in the defeat. While Cristobal Huet was as good against the Preds as he was against any opponent this season back in the 2009 portion of the schedule, Niemis lone appearance wound up being in the unlikeliest of matchups in the season series. The Hawks trailed 2-1 after two periods, scored three goals in a seven-minute span for a 4-2 lead, only to have Nashville score twice in less than a minute to tie. Patrick Kane then rescued the two points, and a 4-2 season series triumph, with 44 seconds left. The nine combined goals in that finale represent one-third of the offense compiled between the clubs in their head-to-heads.

Lets salute the Hawks for setting single-season franchise records for points, wins, and road wins. Theyve answered every challenge, most recently coming out of a 2-5-&-2 funk to win six of their final seven. But it says here falling one win shy of matching the franchise single-season record of 30 home victories may have made their first-round road a little tougher. The Blackhawks should win this series. But the past 6-12 months is now just part of the record books, and memories. Now its about creating the ultimate memory for the first time since 61. Weve been waiting. Its finally here.
Be sure to join Steve Konroyd and me for our 30-minute Blackhawks playoff special Tuesday night at 10:30, following SportsNite. Well take an in-depth look at this matchup and hear plenty from both the Hawks and Predators.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

nick_schmaltz.jpg
USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”