Hawk Talk: Meaty, middle portions of Circus Trip


Hawk Talk: Meaty, middle portions of Circus Trip

Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010
4:00 p.m.

By Chris Boden

After what happened 24 hours earlier in Calgary, Blackhawks fans needed a chuckle, and the team probably needed some affirmation. Leave it to the Canucks to provide just that. While we in Chicago might still wonder just what we have in these Blackhawks, the loyalists in the beautiful town in B.C. are probably wondering the same thing, just when they thought they made moves that would end in an ultimate celebration in that franchise's 40th anniversary.

6-0-1 at home. Seventeen points for the Sedins the previous four games. Newly acquired depth and skill on defense and some sandpaper and grit to stack behind two talented top lines. Result? Blackhawks 7, Canucks 1.

First Alain Vigneault had to pull Roberto Luongo (again) before the second period was out. He had to watch Sharp, Toews, and Kane score, and Hossa set up three of the four that chased his goaltender. Then he had to watch the Hawks' depth guys he thought they could neutralize this season light it up, too. It got to the point of frustration afterward that he mistakenly tried to call out Joel Quenneville for trying to run up the score further on a 5-on-3 while his Nuck-leheads were marching to the penalty box. Sorry, Alain, but double-check who actually was on the ice, and what the real top two Hawks power play units look like. You have our respect as a coach for just reaching 300 wins, but still, none of them have come against the Hawks in your two meetings this season. The season you didn't have to worry about Dustin Byfuglien four (or more) times and Ladd and Versteeg joining Dave Bolland to torment your top line.

Now, the Hawks move on on this trip to face the other Western contender who's been under their thumb the last couple of seasons. San Jose so far is, well, still San Jose. 9-6-4. Just when a convincing third straight win at home over Los Angeles last weekend gets people thinking they might be ready to get it together, they blow a 3-1 lead at Colorado to lose in overtime, then a 4-2 lead with three minutes left in Dallas to lose in overtime. They returned home Saturday night and got blanked 3-0 by a Columbus team that's believing more and more in itself, courtesy of Rick Nash's three goals and Mathieu Garon's third shutout.

Coach Todd McLellan never got a veteran, skilled replacement for Rob Blake following his retirement, though GM Doug Wilson made a bid for Niklas Hjlamarsson. Now these front offices, teams, Hjalmarsson, and, potentially, Antti Niemi cross paths for the first time since the Hawks swept the Sharks last May to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. McLellan has an interesting decision to make in goal. Antero Niittymaki was in net Saturday night, Niemi for the late collapse in Dallas. Niittymaki's been much better, and the team has played better in front of him, than Niemi. But does he hope to get Niemi on track by starting him versus his ex-teammates? It would certainly fire the Hawks up. But if they happen to light up Niemi like they did Luongo and the Canucks, the opposite could happen and Niemi might never get on track this season.

On the other hand, will Quenneville decide a second straight start could be in order for Corey Crawford, who's been getting better with each spot start and seems unfazed by what's generally been once-a-week playing time? If Niemi starts, it provides an appetizing storyline either way. He'd be facing the man who was signed to replace him in Marty Turco, or the goalie he barely edged out in backup competition to Cristobal Huet in training camp a year ago.

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

Artem Anisimov collecting points but knows faceoffs need to improve

Artem Anisimov collecting points but knows faceoffs need to improve

It took a little bit for Artem Anisimov to get going this season.

Much like the second line overall, he wasn’t making an immediate impact or collecting many points. Oh, how things have changed in a week or two.

Now if he can get his face-off victories on the same level as his production, he’ll be happy.

Anisimov, who was named the NHL’s second star for last week, continued his point-scoring run with an assist in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday night. Entering Tuesday’s games, Anisimov is one of four players with a league-best nine points.

“It was a very good week,” said Anisimov, whose focus quickly turned to the Blackhawks. “But we need to play better as a team. Better on the [penalty kill], better on the power play, too. Just play better.”

Anisimov wasn’t giving himself too much credit so Patrick Kane, the beneficiary of Anisimov’s assist on Monday, did.

“He made a great pass to me. Not that he didn’t do that last year. He was there, but sometimes we’d score a goal, he’d be the third assist or the guy in front of the net creating traffic and could be the biggest reason we score,” Kane said. “Good to see him get the points and get the recognition, for sure.”

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Now, about those faceoffs. After winning 44.2 percent of his faceoffs last season, Anisimov has won just 35 percent so far this season. As soon as the subject came up, Anisimov shook his head in frustration.

“The faceoff situation. It’s not great, actually. I try to do so many things right now but it doesn’t work,” he said. “You have so many different things. Try to worry about the opponent, how they do it, and not focus on myself. I just need to focus on myself and what I’m doing. keep working.”

Jonathan Toews is by far the Blackhawks’ faceoff man right now; he’s winning 60.8 percent of the time. Marcus Kruger is at 50 percent. The Blackhawks as a team are 29th in the NHL in faceoffs won in the offensive zone (42.5 percent), 27th overall in faceoffs (46.6 percent). Coach Joel Quenneville needs the team, including Anisimov, to be better in that department.

“We started off in a tough area – across the board except for Jonny – where we’re starting against it, chasing the puck and a lot of times we’re out there in the offensive zone and we don’t get that pressure, sustain offensive zone time or puck possession time. That’s an area where we’d like to get 50-50 or close to that and get a little help along the lines as well,” Quenneville said. “That’s definitely area where we need [Anisimov] to get better and get a little stronger, and [have] an awareness to what the opponents are doing or how the officials are dropping it as well. We have to get better.”

Anisimov has gotten his production going. He’d like to do the same with his faceoffs. Much like his scoring, he knows getting confidence in faceoffs could turn things around.

“Of course, yes,” he said. “I just need to straighten out a couple more games in the faceoffs and it’ll build confidence. Just build confidence.”

2010 Blackhawks can relate to Cubs’ quest for elusive title

2010 Blackhawks can relate to Cubs’ quest for elusive title

A young team sits on the cusp of achieving something great. If it’s done, it will erase years of angst, erase decades of frustration and futility.

Six years ago, that was the 2010 Blackhawks with their Stanley Cup triumph. Now it’s the Cubs, who could snap a century-plus long World Series drought. Those who were on that 2010 Blackhawks team can relate to what the Cubs are going through right now: an entire city watching, waiting and hoping for that elusive title. For them, staying loose was the best way to deal with the pressures that come with it.

That Blackhawks squad was a young-up-and-coming group. Ditto for this year’s Cubs. From all outward appearances these Cubs look like a loose bunch. The Blackhawks were the same in 2010, when they were helping the franchise rebuild after a lot of lean years.

“I think there are a lot of similarities,” Brian Campbell said. “I’m not in the [Cubs’] room, but we had a lot of fun in the room with guys who supported each other and had a lot of fun and enjoyed it. It seems like they have a good time over there and they go to work hard every day but enjoy themselves and have some good events. That’s the only way to kind of keep it relaxed.

“There’s pressure in the situation and it had been a while for us. And it’s been a long time for them,” Campbell added. “So I think it’s a good job by a lot of the guys in the clubhouse just keeping it relaxed.”

Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks that year knew what they could do, but they tried to focus on each game instead of the big picture.

“I wouldn’t say we went in blindly but it was relatively unknown for us. We were just playing and I think we were clicking at the right time. Obviously we had a lot of firepower,” Toews said. “We didn’t really realize how tough it is to get there and we just kind of knew that was our potential and we just kept playing, kept winning. And before we knew it, we were on top.”

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Maintaining that composure and relaxed atmosphere was key. But with young teams, coaches can also help in that regard. Coach Joel Quenneville gauged where his 2010 Blackhawks were and didn’t do anything to shake the players’ demeanor.

“We didn’t change our approach as we went along,” Quenneville said. “Guys were always together. They were very loose going into games and together between games and I think it was just a continuation from momentum that was gained as we progressed in the playoffs. As we went deeper and deeper it seemed like it was more enjoyable and the guys continued to have more fun.”

A postseason taste the previous season didn’t hurt. In the spring of 2009 the Blackhawks made their first postseason appearance since 2001-02, advancing to the Western Conference final. They lost to the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in five games but the young Blackhawks took a lot out of getting that far. The next season, they were brimming with confidence.

“We were almost naïve enough to not know how well we were doing at the time and what we were setting up. The next season we had such confidence in ourselves that we knew nobody was going to beat us in the playoffs if we didn’t want them to,” said Troy Brouwer, who’s now with the Calgary Flames. “You go into every game with the mentality that you know you’re going to win and good things can happen.”

Certainly the Cubs have been waiting longer to end their World Series drought (108 years) compared to the Blackhawks (49 years). But a wait’s a wait, expectations are expectations, and pressure is pressure. The Blackhawks dealt with it all beautifully en route to that Cup six seasons ago, and they think the Cubs will do the same.

“They’re going to get more cracks at it, too. So obviously in the future that experience will be great, but it seems like they’re just going into it and playing well at the right time,” Toews said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch and great to see the buzz and excitement. Those guys are just focusing on the job. That’s the No. 1 thing.”