Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

284722.jpg

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.

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

The Blackhawks’ offseason moves have once again left holes, especially among the forward lines. Considering the experience Dennis Rasmussen gained last season, he could certainly grab the third- or fourth-line center spot.

But Rasmussen isn’t going to pencil in anything yet.

“I don’t really think that way. I always think I have to play as good as possible to earn a spot, and that’s what I think this year, too,” said Rasmussen on Day 3 of Blackhawks training camp. “But it’s really up to me. I have to play well to earn my spot here. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

After trading Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell this offseason, the Blackhawks will be looking for several players to step up and fill voids. Center is one of those spots, and Rasmussen played 44 games there with the Blackhawks last season. Rasmussen spent the long offseason prepping for this campaign, focusing on one thing in particular.

“I always try to work on getting faster, that’s the part of my game I can really improve,” he said. “I can improve everything. But especially getting quicker, that’s what I’m trying to focus.”

Anything else Rasmussen has to do to take that next step?

“I think he’s got to be a little more proactive than reactive out on the ice,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “Kind of be a little bolder in different areas whether it’s in the offensive zone if you’re down between the hash marks, hey, try and take a guy on 1-on-1. But if you’re a neutral zone, you got to be a little more responsible. If you got to pick up the wide winger and come back and play good defensive hockey, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

Rasmussen showed that when he made his NHL debut last season. The Blackhawks recalled him in early December, when they were looking to bolster their bottom six; any offense added was a bonus. He scored three of his four goals in his first seven games – his first came in his NHL debut vs. Nashville.

“He can make more things happen out there,” Kitchen said. “I think he understands that too because he wants to do whatever it takes to make the team.”

Rasmussen wants to be part of this group. He gained some great experience last year, and he hopes it serves him well in trying to get that roster spot this season.

“It was great for me. I got to play a lot, think I played in some important situations sometimes and I was really happy with last year. It gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of experience too,” Rasmussen said. “So hopefully I can bring that into this year.”

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

After earning a couple of invites from the Blackhawks this offseason, Alexandre Fortin earned a contract on Sunday.

Fortin agreed to terms on a three-year contract with the Blackhawks, who had invited him to prospect and training camp. The 19-year-old, who was passed over in two NHL drafts, was hoping to latch onto the Blackhawks’ organization.

“You know, it’s a nice day for me. I’ve been working on that since I was young, so now it’s just Step 1 and I’m very excited for the future,” Fortin said following Sunday’s training camp sessions. “I have to thank the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s the first team that really believed in me. It’s awesome.”

Indeed, Fortin was just looking for a chance and he could get it here eventually.

“I think it’s a real plus,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “I think he earned a contract. Right from the start, he stepped up and played. He’s been very consistent in every scrimmage. He’s been a threat to score out on the ice. I think he’s done a terrific job. He’s got to be very, very happy about the whole situation. It’s great for the organization: get a free agent who comes in and earns a three-year entry-level contract.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

The most likely scenario is he’ll head back to his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, after logging some training camp time with the Blackhawks. He could get into a preseason game, too. But the future definitely looks bright for Fortin.

“It’s, for sure, just Step 1. My real goal is to play pro,” Fortin said. “So I’ll keep learning, keep doing what coaches want, I’ll watch (the players) who I have to be like and keep working on that every day until my real dream comes true.”

Keith doing fine

Duncan Keith participated in one of the Blackhawks’ two practices again on Sunday, and Kitchen said Keith did just fine.

“The first day, Duncs, he got through the practice no problem. He didn’t have any issues. Talked to him the next day, the festival game day, and he said he was fine. Today was a little tougher day for defensemen, so we were asking a lot of them. There was a lot of 1-on-1, 2-on-1s, 2-on-2s. Duncs said after practice the forwards had it off and the D had the work day today. But he responded well afterwards,” Kitchen said. “He even asked if he could come out for the other practice, but we said no.”