Hawk Talk: Keys to Beating the Blackhawks

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Hawk Talk: Keys to Beating the Blackhawks

Thursday, April 15, 2010
4:53 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Few pundits have given the Nashville Predators much of a chance to win their quarterfinal series vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. But the set shapes up to be much closer than people think. Here are 10 ways Nashville can advance past the Hawks:

Been Caught Stealing: Nashville absolutely must take Game 1 at the United Center. A win, be it in rowdy rout fashion or something more in the Predators style of smash-and-grab, accomplishes much beyond taking a 1-0 lead and nullifying Chicagos home-ice advantage. It would be the first road playoff win in 11 tries for the Nashvilleans, but bigger still, it would immediately cast doubt in the minds of the Blackhawks. The Hawks are no patsy and will not shrivel up in the face of adversity, as they proved in the first two rounds of the 2009 postseason. But given the contrast in playing styles, the Preds swooping in and mouth-punching away Game 1 while skating in the rowdiest building in the NHL would offer ample evidence that their style can and will win over Chicagos faster-tempo and puck possession. A decisive enough winsay, like Nashvilles Dec. 4, 4-1 triumph in Chicagocould also trigger panic in Coach Joel Quenneville, whos been known to switch lines or pull goalies at the first whiff of a gentle breeze.
Working for a Living: OK, its a ridiculous clich to spell out working harder as a key to victory. But in the case of the Preds, hard work is essentially all they have going for them. There are no stars of note offensively, the defense is tight but not led by a Duncan Keith-type of ascendant superstar and their goaltender might be called Miikka more often than Pekka this series. Crucial to a Nashville series win will be four lines of energytheres no way for the Sabertooths to outshine the Hawks in terms of sheer skill or playmaking. Outworking any team in the NHL? Now, thats a can-do.

Self-Defense: Nashvilles defense, let by Ryan Suter and Shea Weber on the top pair and second-tier support from Cody Franson and Dan Hamhuis, knows its going to be pummeled. Not physically, but by puck after puck in an endless stream of Chicago shots. The Blackhawks control possession of the biscuit better than any team in the league, and it wouldnt surprise to see Chicago outshoot the Preds by 10 in most of these quarterfinal games. But while the Blackhawks shoot a ton, their offense can stagnatewhen 20 shots have hit the crease but only ones poofed the net, pressure builds, defensemen cheat forward, forwards dig a little too long in the corners, giveaways garble the offense and mismatches in the Chicago zone may commence. If Nashvilles youngish corps can play standup D with patience, it will yield odd-man rushes and provide demoralizing chances and tallies.

Immovable Object Meets Unstoppable Force: While by no means the key to the series, it will be interesting to see what gives when the Blackhawks are on the power play. Chicagos man-advantage has been looking awfully five-on-fivish, steadily fading to black since the Olympics, dwindling to an NHL 16th-best .177 by seasons end. On the Nashville side, the Preds stop a mere .771 with their penalty kill, which finished poorest among playoff clubs and 28th overall in the league. Its a battle of bad to worse, and if the Preds pounce on Chicagos Brian Campbell-less unit to get off their PK schneid, its the sort of little thing that could help turn a tight series. The early returnsnamely Quennevilles insistence on keeping Dustin Byfuglien at the point rather than double-parked in front of the netmay indicate advantage: Predators.

Sound the Horn: Yes, the Predators have five forwards who topped 15 goals this season, but as the only 30-goal scorer on the team, Patric Hornqvist will be facing some enormous pressure to put the puck in the net. Its almost unfair to place so much offensive dependence on a 23-year-old, as the Hawks run out Patrick Kane after Jonathan Toews after Marian Hossa, ad infinitum, but this is the playoffs, and only the big boys advance. Hornqvist will also have to step up his production vs. Chicago: In eight career games vs. the Blackhawks, the right wing has just one goal and is a minus-two.

Pick a Pekka: Its a battle of inexperienced Finnish postseason goalies in this series, and arguments can be made the advantage goes to the bigger (65!), more experienced Pekka Rinne. Both Rinne and Chicagos Antti Niemi have had very strong stretch runs, but Rinne has authored four shutouts since the Olympics. More troublesome for Chicago is that Rinnes size makes screening him a true challenge. A lack of offensive rebounding30 one-and-dones a nightwill not get the job done against a 65 praying mantis in a goalie mask. Look for the Blackhawks to crash the cage hardand again, when they do, Rinne saves could lead to mismatches in the Chicago zone.
Muting the Volume: Despite its youth, Nashville has proven it can beat the Blackhawks at the United Center, and decisively. Contrary to popular myth, strong visitors play after first puck drop can mute the Redshirt crazies and mellow down the most rambunctious building in the league.

Trapper Keeper: Nashville is a trap team, and if theres been a style of play that has given Chicago any sort of consistent trouble, its that kind of puckhawking. The argument can be made that the Hometown Heroes beat themselves more often than any opponents style stymies them, but it cant be denied that trapping teams give the Blackhawks bunchy underwear. If Nashville controls neutral zone play, its upset city.

Keep it Clean: The Preds are a physical team, yet led the league with just 8.7 penalty minutes per game. If that sort of controlled aggression can be maintained under the bright lights of the postseason, it will give Nashville another key advantage over a Chicago team that isnt afraid to play physical pucksbut doesnt always do so smartly.

Make-Believe: The season series was not as one-sided as a 4-2 Blackhawks advantage would have you believe. Chicago outscored Nashville just 15-12 in the six games, and if the first two contests of the season are tossed outa big if, but only in the last four did the Sabertooths accurately imitate their current style of roughneckingthen the advantage shifts down to the southern boys, 11-10. The two teams split the final four games. An upset in this quarterfinals series is not a pipe dream where fans will be forced to believe in miracles to process what theyre seeingwhat makes this a terrifying opening draw for Chicago is that the difference between the two clubs is razor-thin.

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

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media on Saturday, he said that there would be change. That started on Monday when assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired.

The move came five days after the Blackhawks were swept out of the first round by the Nashville Predators. Bowman said in a statement that, “we believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward. Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen has been a member of coach Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010. The two go back to their playing days, however, when they were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and also the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was Quenneville’s assistant when the two were with the St. Louis Blues and when Quenneville was fired as Blues coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Kitchen was promoted to head coach.

As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the regular season 24th overall in the league, although that has to come with an asterisk. The penalty kill started the 2016-17 season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the basement. It did get stronger as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short stay in the playoffs.

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.