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.

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

What we all expected to happen did happen on Friday night when the Blackhawks traded Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes.

One way or another, be it via trade or just going to unrestricted free agency on July 1, Darling was headed elsewhere. He’s earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender, it wasn’t going to happen here, and now he’ll get that chance.

But this isn’t about where Darling’s career takes him from this point. This is about the Blackhawks and where they go from here. They’ve been in the enviable position of having some stellar backup goaltenders the past few seasons, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Darling. So as this offseason continues, finding another one becomes top priority.

A few days ago Pat Boyle and I discussed a few topics on the HawksTalk Podcast, including what we considered to be on general manager Stan Bowman’s to-do list this summer. Getting a reliable backup goaltender has to be on there because the Blackhawks have shown over the past few seasons that having that great 1-2 punch in net has proven very successful.

Let’s go back to the 2013 offseason. In the summer of 2013 the Blackhawks signed two goaltenders. One was Nikolai Khabibulin, the other Raanta. We all remember how that went. Khabibulin, another former Blackhawks player brought in on the hopes that he had something left, didn’t. He started four games — two of which Corey Crawford came in and finished — suffered an injury in mid November and never played another game for the Blackhawks. Then on Dec. 8, Crawford, playing in his 27th game of the Blackhawks’ first 32 games of that season, got hurt. Enter Raanta, who went on a tear through December, going 8-1-3. That season highlights the need for reliable depth at that position more than any in recent memory.

You’re familiar with the other examples, too. Emery was outstanding when he had to be in the lockout-shortened 2013 regular season — please see that 45-stop outing vs. Calgary — and he and Crawford earned the William M. Jennings Trophy that year. Darling showed how dependable he could be several times the past few seasons, from his work in the 2015 first-round series against the Nashville Predators to his record (6-3-1) when Crawford was out with appendicitis through the first three weeks of last December.

That depth at goaltending has been especially critical the past two seasons. How many “goalie wins” did the Blackhawks have through the 2015-16 season, when they struggled to get consistent line combinations past their second one? How many did they have at the start of this past season before they did get that four-line rotation in February?

Crawford has played between 55 and 59 games in each full regular season dating back to 2010-11. Injuries happen. Slumps happen. Being overworked happens. Having a backup on which you can rely is something every team would love to have and something the Blackhawks have had recently, and they’ve benefitted from it.

It’s easy for us to sit here and say the Blackhawks need to do this. Actually finding that guy is an entirely different matter. But the Blackhawks have done it well lately, and despite the team’s quick exit this spring, there are still plenty of reasons for a would-be backup goaltender to come to Chicago.

Darling was the latest to embrace the backup goaltending role in his time here. His moving on was inevitable. Now the Blackhawks need to find the next guy who can keep their 1-2 punch in net going.

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Chicago will always be home for Scott Darling. Literally.

He's a Lemont native who grew up rooting for the Blackhawks, signed with the franchise in 2014 and reignited his career by winning over the backup job, and enjoyed the highest level of success by becoming the first local kid to win a Stanley Cup in Chicago.

But as he said at the end of the season, Darling has paid his dues as a backup in the NHL and is ready for the next step of being a No. 1 goaltender.

The Blackhawks gave him that opportunity Friday, shipping his negotiating rights to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick in 2017.

And, assuming a long-term extension gets done, the fit couldn't be better for both Darling and Carolina.

The Hurricanes play such a structured game under Bill Peters, who is arguably the most underrated coach in the league. He served as the head coach for the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs for three seasons from 2008-11, and was also part of Mike Babcock's coaching staff in Detroit for three years after that. He comes from a solid coaching branch. 

Peters preaches puck possession and team defense, and both categories have excelled during his tenure in Carolina.

Why is this good news for Darling? Because both of those areas have been vital in all three of the Blackhawks' championship runs this decade, meaning there won't be much of an adjustment schematically.

Over the last three seasons combined, the Hurricanes have been the sixth-best possession team in the league (controlling 51.7 percent of the even-strength shot attempts), have allowed the second-fewest shots on goal per game (27.7) and own the second-ranked penalty kill unit (84.4 percent success rate). 

Defense and dictating the pace of play has never been a problem for the Hurricanes; it's the goaltending that's been a sore thumb for a long time, and they've finally addressed it.

In the last three seasons, Carolina has finished 28th, 29th and 29th in even-strength team save percentage at 90.9 (2015), 91.5 (2016) and 91.2 (2017). This past regular season, only two goaltenders — Craig Anderson (94.0) and Vezina Trophy-favorite Sergei Bobrovsky (93.9) — who appeared in at least 30 games had a better 5-on-5 save percentage than Darling, who recorded a 93.7 percentage.

He is a significant upgrade from Eddie Lack ($2.75 million cap hit) and Cam Ward ($3.3 million), both of whom are under contract through 2017-18. (That's a situation Carolina GM Ron Francis will have to sort out as the expansion draft approaches, but there's no doubt Darling will head into training camp as the clear-cut starter).

There's reason to be excited about the Hurricanes' long-term vision and growth on the back end, too. They were the third-youngest team last year, and their blue line group is led by 25-year-old All-Star Justin Faulk and 20-year-old Noah Hanifin, the club's No. 5 overall draft pick in 2015.

The Hurricanes are right there. They're ready to take off after missing out on the postseason for eight consecutive years, in large part because they haven't gotten the goaltending needed to consistently win games.

With the addition of Darling, they hope to have finally found that missing piece to the puzzle.