Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

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Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011
1:56 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

If the Blackhawks had not had themselves a four-point weekend, it likely would've prompted a little deeper probing into what's going on with the defending champs. And let's face it, those two words (much less the actions) are cause for discomfort. Glad we don't have to, at this point.

But they took advantage of two home dates against struggling teams, and even though Friday's turned out to be a little more adventurous than preferred, got some momentum going heading into an important week and interesting stretch. Even though it wasn't exactly a pressure situation, they temporarily buried that 0-for-5 PK stretch with a successful kill against an Islanders power play that had been clicking. They apparently stayed physically healthy, and their core guys got healthier on the stat sheet. All that while honoring their Cup predecessors of half a century ago, who spoke Saturday from experience of the need to at least keep finding effort and hunger, even if other variables are out of their control.

It's a good vibe as they next face a Colorado team they get their last crack at defeating this season come Wednesday, followed by next weekend's home-and-home versus Nashville. After that, it's just three games the final two weeks of the month through the All-Star break. That's when the rest of the West will catch up in the games-played column, and the Hawks will get a better gauge on how much heavy lifting will be required through April 10th. And oh yeah, the first two of those three games to close January come back-to-back, following five days off, at Detroit, then back home versus Philadelphia.

Joel Quenneville spoke between the victories about how he believes this team has an extended win streak in it, and the sooner they pull that off, the better. I went back and looked at how other teams in the West have put together streaks, but have found for most, those hot stretches have been countered with cool - or cold - snaps. Every team's dealt with its share of injuries, and in some cases have fared surprisingly well without key players. But most of all, it's just life in the ultra-competitive, don't-look-too-far-ahead West. Detroit and Vancouver appear to have potentially put themselves in position for the top two playoff seeds. But here are examples of the roller-coaster rides everyone's been through, as well as some of the key players they've spent some time without. The Blackhawks certainly haven't been alone in their inconsistencies through the first three months:

Anaheim: (Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Andy Sutton, Cam Fowler) Started 1-3-1, 6-game win streak immediately followed by a 6-game losing streak (0-4-2), followed by 7-2-1 stretch, followed by losing 4 of 5.

Colorado: (Chris Stewart, Craig Anderson, Milan Hejduk, Kyle Quincey, T.J. Galiardi) Started 3-1, followed by 1-3-1 stretch, later won 4 straight, immediately followed by 1-3-3, then a 6-game win streak, followed by 1-4-1.

Columbus: (Kristian Huselius, Ethan Moreau) Won 7 of 9, later won 5 in a row, followed by an 0-4-1 stretch, a 1-4-2 stretch, and a 3-game win streak.

Dallas: (Kari Lehtonen, Krystofer Barch, Toby Petersen) Started 5-1, lost 3 straight, won 3 in a row, then lost 3 straight, later had a 6-game win streak, and recently lost 4 of 5.

Detroit: (Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Brad Stuart) Started 17-4-2, had a 3-4-2 stretch in December, and recently won 4 of 5.

Los Angeles: (Drew Doughty, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene) Started 12-3, then immediately lost 7 of 8, followed by a 3-game win streak. Recently had a 4-game win streak followed by a 4-game losing streak.

Minnesota: (Guillaume Latendresse, Anti Miettinen) Started 10-6-2, then went 1-5-2. 4-game win streak snapped by Dallas Sunday.

Nashville: (Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Cal O'Reilly) Started 5-0-3, then lost 5 straight, then won 4 of 5, followed by a 4-game losing streak, followed by an 8-0-1 stretch, then a 5-game loss streak, and have now won 5 straight.

Phoenix: (Shane Doan, Ilya Bryzgalov, Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal) Started 4-5-5, then won 7 straight. They haven't won or lost more than 2 straight since.

San Jose: (Douglas Murray, Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell) Started 6-5-2. Have had one 4- and one 3-game win streak, but have now lost 6 of their last 8, despite improved play from Mr. Niemi.

St. Louis: (T.J. Oshie, Roman Polak, Barrett Jackman, Andy McDonald, David Perron) Started 7-1-2, and own win streaks of 7, 5, and 3, as well as two 5-game losing streaks.

Vancouver: (Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond) They're healthy in more ways than one now with this 17-1-3 streak. But they started 2-3-2 before winning 8 of 9, followed by a 4-game losing streak.

While the Blackhawks, and some fans may be disappointed where they stand, thanks in large part to a failure to close out games, maybe they deserve a little credit, too. They're still right there, living through the same streakiness as everyone else. But none of those other teams have had the roster turnover the Hawks have had. The foundation they've built for this season through the first half may be shaky, but they're still in position with everyone else to accelerate.

One final thought that Steve Konroyd and I have shared a couple of times on Pregame and Postgame Live. He needs more "meat" on his body of work his rookie season, but if Corey Crawford keeps playing at the level he has, it'll be a shame he'll be overlooked for the Calder Trophy by the impact Couture, Skinner, Hall, Eberle, Fowler and Shattenkirk have had on their respective teams. Bryan Bickell's hanging tough, stats-wise, but the way Crawford's performed - and the way the team seems to play better in front of him - shouldn't be overlooked for finalist consideration if he maintains his pace. Position-wise, he'd get challenged from a workload standpoint by Sergei Bobrovsky. But Corey got his first shootout experience Friday, and his second NHL shutout Sunday. He's living up to the rep that many talent evaluators have been saying for a couple of years: he has the best combination of talent and potential of any goalie the organization's had since being picked in the second round of that stacked 2003 NHL draft.

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

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.