Hawk Talk: Signs of life at the deadline

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Hawk Talk: Signs of life at the deadline

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011Posted: 6:20 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
Two road wins against teams just as desperate. Stars stepping up. Compete levels being raised and physical sacrifices being made.

The last five games havent been perfect for the Blackhawks, but thats not even necessary. Or realistic. Hopefully, its not what Hawks fans are hoping or expecting. But its as consistently well as theyve played all season, showing signs of what theyre capable of. You can make an argument that the four-game stretch prior to Christmas was just as good. But its what everyones been looking for, from management to coaches to fans to the players themselves. Next up: Building upon it and carrying it into the playoffs.

They have to. Right now, all hands are on deck from a health standpoint, while many other contenders are continuing their post-season fight battling key injuries (Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim and Dallas). Thursday night, it was an awfully quiet night for the Preds best players. You didnt hear Pat and Eddie call the names of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher or Sergei Kostitsyn very often in a threatening way. You also saw the Hawks block 21 shots (13 by defensemen). Over the last three games, 21s been the team average.

Marian Hossas burst through the middle of the ice in the third period, breaking away, and beating one of the leagues elite goalies in Pekka Rinne with the game in the balance Thursday was another sight to see. As was his overpowering of the Blues David Backes Monday before setting up a Dave Bolland goal. It was just the second time since Hossas blazing start to the season (prior to his first injury) that hes scored a goal that wasnt on a power play, empty net, or penalty shot. I would imagine hes aware of it, and been feeling it as much as the aches, pains and illnesses hes gone through following three straight long runs to the Stanley Cup Finals.

And if you didnt catch it right after the game on Comcast SportsNet, interesting stuff from Duncan Keith while talking with Foley and Olczyk:

I always find I play my best keeping the game simple, not trying to do too much, and just let the game come. Early on, you come back after a long season and I had a lot of hunger to try to do whatever I could to have a successful season, and thinking in my head, trying to repeat everything that happened last season. I shouldve just been letting it happen. I feel a lot more comfortable the last month. I just want to keep going to help the team get in the playoffs.

Its a fine line the coaching staff has to negotiate when it comes to leaning on your best players. There have been so many tight games, and their heavy workload following the Stanley Cup run cannot be dismissed. The top four defensemen have been burning up minutes, though the recent changes in combinations has helped offset the heavy, high-pressure special teams time. Thats why Stan Bowmans come out and said he wants to acquire a proven blue-line guy before Mondays trade deadline who can take some of the penalty-kill burden off of those guys. It would appear hes closer to doing that after placing Nick Boynton (and the 500,000 salary space it would open up) on waivers Friday. Throw that into what cap space they have left open, in part due to the Nick LeddyRockford shuttle, and a new D-man should be on the way in short order.

As we wait on any potential deals thatll put the finishing touches on the rosters of the playoff-chasers, a reminder that the first tie-breaker in the standings is now wins that do NOT include shootout wins. Here are the regulationovertime victory totals of the teams that entered the weekend 3 through 13 in the West (with the number of wins that include shootouts in parentheses):

San Jose 32 (35)Phoenix 30 (33)Los Angeles 27 (34)Minnesota 30 (32)Blackhawks 28 (32)Dallas 27 (32)Nashville 25 (31)Calgary 24 (31)Anaheim 28 (32)Columbus 26 (30)St. Louis 25 (27)

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

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

General manager Stan Bowman saw the potential in Tomas Jurco several years ago.

For the 24-year-old forward, it wasn’t working out with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps a change of scenery, an opportunity on a team that could vie for another Stanley Cup, makes a difference. The Blackhawks are about to find out.

The Blackhawks acquired Jurco for a third-round pick in this year’s draft on Friday afternoon. The 24-year-old Jurco has played in 16 games with the Red Wings this season but has yet to collect a point. In four seasons with the Wings, Jurco had 15 goals and 24 assists in 159 games. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that, “things haven’t worked out” for Jurco there and that he wanted to go elsewhere.

Jurco was on a bye as a member of the Red Wings but, now that he’s with the Blackhawks, the bye ends. Bowman was hopeful Jurco would join the Blackhawks at practice on Saturday. Also, to clear a roster spot for Jurco, the Blackhawks reassigned Vinnie Hinostroza to the Rockford IceHogs.

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Bowman said he’s been watching Jurco for a few seasons now.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Bowman said. “He’s been an accomplished player at a lot of different levels. He’s shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as he or the Wings would like, but you can see the talent and potential. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away. I’m not expecting him to carry our team but I think he can contribute.”

It was an under-the-radar trade for Bowman but that’s not surprising. In late January, Bowman said he probably wouldn’t do much at the trade deadline; he liked how the Blackhawks’ young players were progressing and figured, if that continued, the team would be in good shape. Since then the Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine and are just three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. As the Blackhawks kept winning it looked like, if they did anything, it would be a depth move.

So will there be any more moves? At this point it doesn’t seem likely, be it on forward or defense – Bowman didn’t have an update on Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) but said he’s happy with the depth in Chicago and Rockford on defense. Bowman said he’ll keep talking but, “but it’s a little bit different than in previous years when I thought we definitely needed something and were lacking in an area.”

“I’ve had a feeling about our team, not just recently but even a month ago. I liked the way this group was starting to come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve seen that enhanced over the last couple of week here. We’ve seen players step up, [Nick] Schmaltz in particular. [Ryan] Hartman’s been good all year. We’ve seen Jonathan [Toews] become a dominant player again. It gives your team a confidence that you have balance, scoring in different lines. We just added a young player to help us now as well as in the future. There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m not expecting more trades. I can’t predict more will happen but I have a good feeling about this group right now.”

 

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz's game has made tremendous strides since he came back from Rockford. He's has the puck more. He's playing with more confidence. He's recognizing when to hold onto the puck and when to give it up. 

Now to improve in one other category.

"I've been telling myself that for years now to shoot the puck and I still don't do it enough," Schmaltz said with a little smile. "Definitely shoot more and just play my game."

That, like everything else, will come with confidence more play but there's no doubt Schmaltz is making a bigger impact these past few weeks. Schmaltz celebrated his 21st birthday on Thursday with another multi-point night, this time a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks' 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. The rookie is brimming with confidence as part of the Blackhawks' surging top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik and has nine points over his last seven games.

For Schmaltz, every lessoned learned this season, including the ones from Rockford, has been put to good use the past few weeks.

"We're just having the puck more. That's my game. I like to have the puck, hold onto it and make plays," Schmaltz said. "I'm making more plays off the rush, in the zone. I'm definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that's how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well."

The Blackhawks have developed a better four-line rotation and a big part of that is the chemistry Schmaltz, Toews and Panik have formed on that top line. Panik said he's seen the change in Schmaltz lately.

"I think he just holds onto the puck more," Panik said. "He doesn't give it up quickly and that's what he's good at, just possession with the puck and making a space for him and he finds me or Toews."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday]

Coach Joel Quenneville was particularly complimentary of Schmaltz's game in Minnesota, which featured a "spectacular" pass to Toews on what was the captain's second goal of the night. 

"The one thing we want him to do is play with the puck, play to his strengths and have it. Now he wants it," Quenneville said. "He had the puck a lot [on Thursday], like he did in Minnesota. I just think he's improved his pace and his strength in the puck area is coming along. For young guys, that's always an area where you get better over your first few years. But the quickness and confidence with the puck is definitely more noticeable."

Sure, Schmaltz should shoot more. In his time with the Blackhawks Schmaltz has had two or fewer shots in all but one game (Nov. 23 vs. the San Jose Sharks). When he has shot lately it's led to good results. Sometimes the decision to shoot is easy — please see the 2-on-1 with him and Toews to start Thursday's game — but the Blackhawks want to see him take a few more chances.

"You're a young guy and sometimes you feel the need to move the puck a little bit but he rolled that half wall early in the Minnesota game and we kept saying, ‘Shoot the puck, think shot, think shot,'" Quenneville said. "I think that will open up his other options and all of a sudden they're going to have to respect him coming out of those tight areas with a quick snap shot in that area. He can work and get better in that area knowing, get a little more comfortable with it, snapping it."

The Blackhawks have shown steady improvement this season. The same goes for Schmaltz. The start of the season was a little rough and not surprisingly so; the transition from college to pro isn't easy. But Schmaltz is now looking like he belongs here, and he wants to keep building.

"I feel I'm playing at a high level, where I need to be. But I can't get happy or complacent in my game," Schmaltz said. "I have to keep working and keep that level as high as possible."