Hawk Talk: Sabres victory was a learning experience

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Hawk Talk: Sabres victory was a learning experience

Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010
2:20 p.m.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

As works of art go, it was more crayons-on-construction paper than Chagall. More finger painting than Van Gogh. But the beauty of Saturday night's 4-3 win over Buffalo was in the way the Blackhawks found a way. They loaded up their lunch bucket, rolled up their sleeves, and when it was time to punch the clock, they had themselves four points in 24 hours. That's one point more than they had in their first four games.

They went up against an expected Eastern playoff team that's struggled out of the gate, desperate for a win, and kept them down. Most of the game, the Blackhawks' offense that was poetry in motion last season struggled to just pass the puck. Clarification: Pass the puck to a teammate. They were outshot 41-21, not a common sight lately. And they'll have to be better this week, with three games against two teams anxious to prove something against the defending champs -- St. Louis Monday and Friday, sandwiched around Vancouver Wednesday.

The puck possession game and the big advantage in shots on goal that was one of their trademarks last season will take awhile to evolve until the new faces have more time to work together with the guys who've been in this system awhile. This first month that features 13 games in 24 days doesn't allow for a lot of practice time, either. Still, they found a way against a team they should've beaten Saturday night, creating some momentum they hope to build upon this week. Cup returnees set up and scored all four goals. Dave Bolland was stopped on a breakaway in the third, then tried a different move to score on another seven minutes later. Marian Hossa may be one of the NHL's leading scorers, but he also won an incredible battle with three Sabres for a puck in a corner during that third period.

After their three one-goal losses, let's see if that ugly, grinder victory gives them and the other newbies a template for how to get it done when the passes aren't clicking, the bounces and calls aren't going their way, and they're facing extra attackers in the final minutes. With the game on the line, Marty Turco was at his best, too.

There's something to be said about finding ways to win, and it's something this year's favorites like Vancouver and San Jose have to discover consistently. The Canucks went into Sunday night's game with Carolina 1-2-1 and struggling to score despite their depth and firepower. Then, watching San Jose at home versus Atlanta Saturday night, the Sharks jumped to a 2-0 lead, only to lose 4-2. Who helped lead the comeback against Antti Niemi and company? Andrew Ladd scored the first goal, short-handed, charging the net for a rebound and added an assist. Ladd leads the Thrashers with five points and is a plus-3. Dustin Byfuglien scored the game-winner on a power play. And oh, Brent Sopel was a plus-3 on the night. Byfuglien's goal came while Dany Heatley was in the penalty box. Patrick Marleau was sent off after that, hampering the Sharks' attempt to tie. Atlanta was playing the second of back-to-backs on the road.

Two other ex-Hawks are enjoying 4-0 starts with their respective teams: Adam Burish (0 points, plus-3) with Dallas, and Kris Versteeg (one goal, one assist) with Toronto. John Madden? Not so much (0 points, minus-5).

Sunday's demotion of 19-year-old Nick Leddy may indicate a couple of things. The Hawks are still managing the salary cap, unfortunately, and they might be looking for a little more muscle and "jam" against the Blues and Canucks. Leddy didn't seem to do anything too harmful his first six NHL games, and it's plain to see he's a big part of the future. Everyone's been impressed and liked, overall, what they've seen. Still, his Cap hit's over a million dollars, and Jassen Cullimore's is about half of that. Cullimore was drafted into the NHL the same year Leddy was born, but played pretty well Friday and Saturday in a year-and-a-half-long journey back to the NHL since his last game. That leaves three spots on the blueline, at least for this week, for Cullimore, Boynton, Hendry and Scott to battle for. It'll be two when Brian Campbell returns in about three weeks. And maybe one whenever the Hawks decide it's time to bring Leddy back up, no matter what he's making.

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

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

The Blackhawks may want to forget this weekend.

Their captain is struggling health-wise and the rest of the team is struggling in other aspects. That led to a point-less pair of games, something the Blackhawks haven’t dealt with often this season. Even a return home on Sunday, where the Blackhawks had collected points in 12 consecutive games, couldn’t help them.

Still, the show must go on. So before we trudge home in the slush, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

1. Jonathan Toews isn’t improving. The captain isn’t getting any worse but his injury isn’t getting better. That’s what coach Joel Quenneville said prior to the game, the sixth in a row Toews has missed with a reported back injury. Toews skated on Sunday morning but will not shut it down for a few days. That’s discouraging news, especially for Toews. You could hear the frustration in Toews’ voice when he talked following Friday’s practice. It’s likely growing.

2. Scott Darling did all he could. We could have “goaltending buoys the Blackhawks” on a save/get key this season. It was true again on Sunday as Darling was stellar in stopping 30 of 32 shots. The Blackhawks have gone through their troubles this season but goaltending hasn’t been one of them. Darling will take the bulk of the work while Corey Crawford is sidelined. If he plays the way he did on Sunday night, the Blackhawks won’t have to worry about that part of their game.

3. Little generated again. Both teams played on Saturday but the Blackhawks were the ones really looking lackluster on Sunday night. The Blackhawks once again didn’t have many great scoring opportunities; through two periods, you could count their quality shots on one hand. They woke up some in the third period but not enough.

4. Second line drawing all the attention? OK, again, right now Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane are the Blackhawks’ top line. And with that, the trio has become the prime target of attention for the opposition. Other lines have had opportunities but these are not the balanced Blackhawks teams of previous seasons. That second line is what did the bulk of the damage last season, and teams are focusing on it –  and being more successful against it – this season.

5. Power plays a problem again. The Blackhawks’ first power play was as forgettable as they come. It was so unproductive, spent so little time in the Jets’ zone that fans started to audibly groan. And when the Blackhawks got a four-minute power play late in regulation they couldn’t get the game-tying goal. Again, this isn’t the first season the power play has struggled. But when the offense overall dries up, the issues here are that much more glaring.

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

The Blackhawks’ offense has been struggling for some time now. Nevertheless, the Blackhawks, more often than not, have found a way to get just enough to get them a point or two.

But this weekend, their mediocre offense was downgraded to anemic, and the inevitable disappointing results followed.

Artemi Panarin scored his second goal in as many games but the the Winnipeg Jets scored late to take a 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Sunday night. The Blackhawks dropped their second in a row. It was also the first time they didn’t record at least a point at the United Center since their season-opening loss to the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 12.

Jonathan Toews missed his sixth consecutive game with a reported back injury that coach Joel Quenneville said is “not getting better.” Toews will stay off the ice for a few days and be re-evaluated in the middle of the week.

Scott Darling was strong, stopping 30 of 32 shots. But it was one more game in which the Blackhawks leaned on their goaltending and provided little offensive support.

“Yeah, it’s been frustrating,” Duncan Keith said. “We’re obviously not doing what we need to do to create enough offense, putting pucks on the net or getting to the net or even just having enough offensive zone time.”

No, the Blackhawks’ zone time wasn’t so good in this one. That was especially true on their first power play, during which the Jets were more of a threat on Darling than the Blackhawks were on Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

Still, thanks to Panarin’s goal with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation, the Blackhawks once again had a chance. Andrew Copp diminished those chances some with his goal with 4:45 remaining. The Blackhawks got a four-minute power play with less than three minutes left in the third period but couldn’t get one past Hellebuyck. Their best chance, coming from Marian Hossa, was stopped with 2.6 seconds remaining in regulation.

“That was a good chance to get the equalizer and we had a couple of decent looks but not the finish we were looking for,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t generate much tonight. It was one of those games. They came into our building, what was it a year or two ago, where they beat us back-to-back Sunday nights. They shut us down. The first two games [this season] they’ve shut us down pretty good.”

There’s no doubt the Blackhawks are missing the void left by Toews. Sure, they got points in four of the first six games he missed. But as Patrick Kane said, eventually you start feeling the void left by a top player.

“When you’re missing a guy right away for a couple of games, it may not really show up and guys are excited to get that chance. The longer you go, missing a great player, there’s going to be a hole,” he said. “Nothing we can control. It’s something guys like myself and other guys have to step up and try to [help], whether it’s taking on more ownership and leadership, playing the right way and do whatever you can to help this team win.”

The Blackhawks are going to have to find ways to win without Toews, as they did when he was first absent, because it sounds like he’ll be missing at least a few more games. Even when Toews was in the lineup, however, the scoring issues were there. Are the Blackhawks lacking confidence? Darling said no – “I’d be surprised [at that] with the great offensive players we have in here.”

Still, the Blackhawks need to find answers, no matter who’s in their lineup.

“We just have to figure out a way to get that chemistry going,” Darling said. “Because when it’s going it’s pretty lethal.”