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.

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.”

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Life as a backup goaltender can be difficult. 

The job entails being prepared at all times and performing at a high level when your number is called despite going sometimes weeks without seeing any action.

With Corey Crawford backing up Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, Scott Darling is getting the No. 1 reps in the crease for the Blackhawks.

And he's taking full advantage of that.

"Yeah, obviously I miss Corey, but it's fun to be the guy right now," Darling said following a 2-0 loss in Wednesday's preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I'll take any starts I can get. I don't care if it's regular season or preseason, I just want to play as much as I can. It was nice to get the first game under my belt."

After facing just three shots in the first period, Darling stayed on his toes by denying all 23 shots he saw in the second period — a handful of them on the penalty kill.

"I definitely don't like sitting there," Darling said of the first period. "I don't think they had a shot for about 12 minutes, but you've got to learn how to play in those situations too. It's nice to get some game feels."

Darling finished with 33 saves overall in the Blackhawks' loss and was sharp in the first dress rehearsal of the year as both goals were out of his control — a redirect on the power play and a rebound tap-in at the doorstep, both by Chris Kunitz.

Credit his strong play to working hard in the offseason and maximizing on the opportunity he's been given.

"Darling certainly was a standout, not only when we got a little bit overwhelmed in the second period, but really throughout the game," Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was certainly a positive, which we always expect out of him but I think it's a testament to the way he prepared himself this summer and I think it certainly showed tonight." 

Darling doesn't get many chances to anchor the blue paint on a nightly basis.

He started in 24 games last season, 11 of which came during the final portion of the season in March and April when Crawford was dealing with an upper-body injury.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Darling said that stretch was "probably the best I've ever felt" because you know you're the guy, which eliminates the stress factor of turning in a great performance to earn your next start.

He finished the 2015-16 campaign with a 12-8-4 record, 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage, including one shutout.

Not bad, not great. 

This season is a chance to prove he can continue to be a consistent and reliable goaltender in any situation, and when the 27-year-old Lemont native gets the opportunity to represent the team he grew up rooting for — something he never loses sight of — Darling expects to be on top of his game when called upon.

"I'm seriously excited to be on the Chicago Blackhawks still," he said. "I just want to play the best I can when they give me a chance to play."