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.

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.