Hawk Talk: 'Nuck, 'Nuck, Look Who's There

Hawk Talk: 'Nuck, 'Nuck, Look Who's There

Friday, April 30, 2010
8:03 PM

By Chris Boden

If the Canucks keep scoring 4.17 goals per playoff game (as they did in the first round versus Los Angeles), any questions about whether Roberto Luongo can goaltend his team into a conference final for the first time in his career won't matter. And Antti Niemi will feel at least some of Luongo's pain after the Blackhawks' seven-goal Game 6 clincher last May.

Niemi and the Hawks' defense were good against Nashville. You don't get two shutouts without being good. But you're also not great if you're blowing 3-1 leads in back-to-back games en route to victories that closed out that series. No one needs to tell them the Canucks aren't (with all due respect) the Predators.

Alain Vigneault decided it was ex-Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson "on" and Alex Burrows "off" the Sedin Line going into the Kings series. The result? 12 goals, 29 points from that line alone! The Hawks' top guns seemed to feel their way around what the Predators gave them for three games, and bravely faced the criticisms as panic began to creep into Hawk Nation. They acknowledged they needed to do better, then went out and were.

Toews, Hossa, and Sharp combined for no goals and four assists those first three games (while Patrick Kane still managed a pair of goals and a helper). Then they went out and delivered the knockout punch the final three games, the trio delivering six goals and 18 points.

More times than not, however, these series need that surprise "X" Factor (especially when you're only killing 16 of 26 penalties). Vancouver got that with Steve Bernier - 11 goals in the regular season, four in six games against L.A. If the Hawks aren't killing all but one penalty over a series (and the Canucks' power play clicked on 21 percent in the regular season and 25 percent so far in the playoffs), an offensive breakout from a Bolland, Brouwer, Versteeg..or how about even Andrew Ladd?..would be a huge shot in the arm. Vancouver worked to add depth in the off-season so up to three lines could be dangerous. The Hawks already had it, to the point where all four could be legit threats. Dustin Byfuglien was their "X" Man in the series a year ago - not necessarily from a statistical standpoint, but setting a tone and message, and being a headache. Now he's back on a "fourth" line with Brouwer and John Madden. Wasn't it just two weeks ago that a fourth line including Colin Fraser and Ben Eager really carried this team into the post-season?

Luongo's post-Olympic performance included seeing five of 14 shots get past him in just 20 minutes at the United Center on March 5th. Since winning gold for Canada on his home sheet and telling Kane he wanted to see him in the playoffs again, his goals-against average was above 3, and his save percentage below .900. Things didn't seem to be going much better through less than four full games (including an early exit and two partial overtime periods) against the Kings. But do you look at the 13 shots that got past him in that time, or the fact nine were power play goals? Or both? He tightened up to help the 'Nucks close it out, allowing only a pair each in Games Five and Six. Is he back on track - just in time for this rematch that he and all of his teammates have been obsessed with over the past year?

I've used the phrase before this season; Things Change. And quickly. For the Hawks, just go back to last Saturday's game. Or Monday's first period.

Both of these teams are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. The one that doesn't find the 'Next Level' is going to be awfully heartbroken in less than two weeks. The only certainty is it'll be fun, and tense, in between.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

COLUMBUS, Ohio – We’ll save you some time tonight. The Blackhawks lost another one in familiar fashion. You can guess what our focus will be, so let’s get right to it.

Here are Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

1. We’re trying not to pick on the penalty kill again, but… it cost them again. The Blackhawks gave up their 10th and 11th power-play goals in their first five games on Friday night. Opponents are planting themselves in front of Corey Crawford and, be it screens or tips, they’re capitalizing. Long-distance shots are getting through far too often. “I think our focus always has to be 5-on-5. When our effort and our energy and our work ethic is there it usually translates into our special teams and I don’t know. It’s frustrating," Jonathan Toews said. "We definitely have to keep pushing to find a solution. Even when it seems like we’re doing a good job bounces go against us. We deserve all the criticism and we just have to keep finding ways, dig deep and really try to dig ourselves out of this thing.”

2. The seven-defenseman set. Quenneville didn’t want Trevor van Riemsdyk sitting out too long, and for a few days it looked like Brian Campbell was going to be the odd-man out tonight. Instead the Blackhawks went with seven, which gave them the chance to rotate and put Campbell back on his natural left. With that, however, the forward lines were naturally skewed. Patrick Kane played nearly 29 minutes. Quenneville said earlier this season that it wouldn’t be something the Blackhawks would try often. Speaking of van Riemsdyk…

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Van Riemsdyk hurt again. You have to feel for van Riemsdyk. He finally got healthy last season playing in all 82 games after knee and wrist injuries sidelined him the previous one. Now it looks like he’ll be out again after he went hard into the net late in the second period. Van Riemsdyk got tangled up and his right arm/shoulder collided with the post.

4. Tyler Motte gets his first. The University of Michigan product scored his first career NHL goal, a rebound off a Toews shot in the second period. Considering the game’s outcome, however, Motte’s enthusiasm was tempered. “It was exciting. It felt good to chip in offensively but obviously the real story is us losing another game,” he said. “We were better in the offensive zone but there are still some things to improve on. The most important thing is winning games.”

5. Brandon Saad great but stymied. The former Blackhawks left wing had some tremendous scoring opportunities on Friday. He had a team-high seven shots, most high quality, but Crawford stopped him every time. Just in case anyone needed a reminder of what the kid is capable of, regardless of which sweater he’s wearing.

Penalty kill struggles again in Blackhawks’ loss to Blue Jackets

Penalty kill struggles again in Blackhawks’ loss to Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Blackhawks were trying a different look on Friday, going with seven defensemen. But at the end of the night, it was something all too familiar contributing to their downfall.

Tyler Motte scored the first goal of his NHL career but the Blackhawks gave up two more power-play goals in their 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. It was another night on which special teams doomed the Blackhawks; through the first five games of their regular season, their penalty kill has now allowed 11 goals.

And the loss could also sting them, personnel-wise. Trevor van Riemsdyk went hard into the post late in the second period and did not return. Coach Joel Quenneville said van Riemsdyk, who has had his injury issues in the past, “may be out for a bit.” Quenneville added that he’ll know more on Saturday.

Quenneville dressed seven defensemen to get everyone playing. Van Riemsdyk had been a healthy scratch the previous three games. It also gave him a chance to put Brian Campbell back on the left, his normal side. But regardless of the new defensive look, the penalty kill remained its unreliable self.

“It just seems a lot of times it’s a quick play off a faceoff and it’s in our net,” said Duncan Keith. “It’s a few different things and obviously, we as players, we need to take ownership of it and figure out a way to get the job done. You watch it, there’s lots of different things.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno was set up right in front of Corey Crawford on both of their successful power plays. On the first, a Zach Werenski goal, Foligno set the screen. On the second, he tipped David Savard’s shot. The Blackhawks’ confidence has to be shaken, and that never helps.

“It’s the same way 5-on-5: I think when you’re snake bitten you tend to try too hard and do too much. That can end up hurting you as well,” Jonathan Toews said. “As forwards I think that’s the No. 1 thing. We have to be better getting in shot lanes. It started on the road against Nashville, they scored two goals going right past our forwards and it kind of led one game after another to today.”

Still, the Blackhawks had a great chance to find an equalizer at the end. They got a power play with 3:26 remaining. Despite some good scoring chances, and Crawford pulled for an extra attacker, the Blackhawks couldn’t capitalize. Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 32 of 34 shots in the victory.

The Blackhawks can’t stop the bleeding on the penalty kill. It’s cost them in all three of their losses and it’s made their two victories closer than necessary. They know what the problems are. They have to fix them fast.

“Both plays could have been prevented, whether it was a block, clear, just got to get sharper, more determination and try to stay out of the box,” Quenneville said. “Starts from the faceoff to a clear to shots and recognize when there’s a chance to pressure. We had a couple of opportunities there. they end up in our net right now.”