Hawk Talk: Meaty, middle portions of Circus Trip

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Hawk Talk: Meaty, middle portions of Circus Trip

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

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

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.

Jonathan Toews sets up game-winner as Team Canada wins World Cup

Jonathan Toews sets up game-winner as Team Canada wins World Cup

Jonathan Toews set up the game-winning goal to Brad Marchand as Team Canada rallied back to beat Europe, 2-1, to complete the two-game sweep in the final at the World Cup of Hockey.

After Patrice Bergeron tied the game with a tip-in on the power play late in the third period, Drew Doughty was sent to the box for tripping, giving Europe a power play for a chance to respond.

But midway through the man advantage, the Blackhawks captain retrieved the puck and carried it into Europe territory before dropping it off to Marchand, who snapped home the shorthanded game-winner with 43 seconds remaining in regulation.

It was the second goal in a span of 2:09, helping Canada capture their second straight World Cup title (2004).

Sidney Crosby was named MVP of the tournament after scoring four goals and seven assists in six games. 

Toews was fourth among all players in the tournament with five points (three goals and two assists).

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson looked around the Blackhawks’ room at where fellow defensemen stalls would probably be as the season approached.

“You have Brian (Campbell) back, (Michal) Kempny here, obviously and all the other guys,” Gustafsson said. “It’s going to be tough, but I like it.”

The Blackhawks’ biggest Achilles heel last season was defense, especially after Trevor Daley was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That opened the door for young players, including Gustafsson, to get bigger opportunities. This year the defense should be stronger with Campbell’s return. So for guys like Gustafsson, cracking this lineup just got that much tougher.

During the summer, assistant coach Mike Kitchen talked potential pairings as Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Campbell-Brent Seabrook, Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. As of now, the team is expecting Keith to be ready for the season opener. Keith has been participating in a practice a day but whether or not he plays in any preseason games is uncertain right now.

If it starts out that way, Gustafsson would be on the outside looking in.

But first things first: Gustafsson is focused on building off experience gained last season — he played 41 games, recording 14 assists — and cleaning up a few errors committed in training camp practices.

“You know all the guys on the team, you know how they want to play over here and in the NHL. Just go out and show them. I didn’t do that [Saturday] but this was the first game,” Gustafsson said. “I felt good with the puck but I have to play more defense in my own zone. Just a couple of small things I have to be better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nothing comes easy when you’re trying to make an NHL roster but it got that much tougher for a young defenseman with the Blackhawks this season. Hey, that’s the way it is, and players know it.

“Of course it’ll be tougher,” Gustafsson said. “It won’t be easy to take a spot. You just have to go out there, do your best and see what happens.”

BRIEFLY

- Patrick Kane could play in the Blackhawks’ game against St. Louis on Saturday. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said, “don’t be surprised to see 88 politicking to get in the lineup. Pretty good chance we’ll see him on Saturday."

- The Blackhawks were off on Thursday. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger and Hjalmarsson were expected to join the team at Friday’s practice

- Alexandre Fortin, who signed a three-year contract on Sunday, played 12 1/2 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That included about two minutes of power-play time. Dineen wouldn’t mind seeing Fortin in another game. “He showed himself well all camp and I think [Wednesday] we saw some good spurts out there, and we’ll find that consistency in a young player as we move forward.”