Hawk Talk: Something to solve... or re-solve

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Hawk Talk: Something to solve... or re-solve

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
9:09 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

October 7th at ColoradoOctober 9th versus DetroitOctober 13th versus NashvilleOctober 22nd at St. LouisOctober 23rd versus ColumbusNovember 1st at New YorkNovember 3rd versus New JerseyNovember 7th versus EdmontonNovember 13th at NashvilleDecember 11th at San JoseDecember 13th at ColoradoDecember 15th versus ColoradoDecember 28th at St. LouisDecember 30th versus San Jose

Fourteen of 39 games so far this season where, as Joel Quenneville has aptly described it, his Blackhawks have left meat on the table.

Meat that their opponents have gobbled up for two points each time, while the Hawks have all of three points to show overtime or shootout losses Oct. 7, Nov.13, and Dec. 11.

These are games in which the Blackhawks have been tied, or held a one-goal lead, either entering or during the third period. And lost.

All but two were against the Western Conference teams theyll be battling it out with down to the wire for playoff spots, and positioning. Half occurred at home. Just when an impressive, four-game win streak provided hope those late fades were a thing of the past, it reared its ugly head the last two games, versus teams where victories wouldve provided points to immediately offset the games those opponents had in-hand.

In fairness, there have been twelve games this season where the Hawks have been in similar situations and gone on to win. Overall, its fair to say theyve weathered the storm of injuries, fatigue, and the target on their backs very well.

Theyre in the thick of things as their opponents games-played gradually catch up to theirs. But its those ones that got away that they have to hope wont bite them come April. Make no mistake, it will be an absolute dogfight to make the playoffs. And when they head down the home stretch, making it in would almost seem like the actual playoff games have less pressure - if thats possible - for a defending champ.

Brian Campbell said it after Thursdays loss: the effort was probably there, the smarts might not have been, in terms of taking penalties against one of the most highly-skilled teams in the NHL.

They had the effort and smarts in that win streak to overcome the personnel absences. Theyll need it even more without their captain Sunday and Monday against two teams they are 5-0 against this season - Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Ducks and Kings probably figure its time for some payback.

The To-Do List is ever-evolving. But its safe to say that improving the bottom-five penalty-kill is near the top. And as the calendar year provides a fresh start, a better way of finishing from here on out will be of utmost importance, as the second half of the Blackhawks season begins Wednesday against Dallas.

Im thankful that in 2010, the Blackhawks, and Comcast SportsNet provided me with one of those top career memories of an up-close view of the run to the Stanley Cup, and the ensuing celebrations.

Ill just start 2011 with wishes for health and happiness for all our readers, viewers, and fans. That health part includes the Blackhawks, too.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Here are some of Tuesday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Wednesday on CSN: Illinois State and Loyola host in Valley doubleheader

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Report: Bears seeking trade partners for Jay Cutler

Bulls Talk Podcast: What is the Bulls' approach at the trade deadline?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

White Sox Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with executive vice president Ken Williams

Northwestern's offense nowhere to be found as Illini complete sweep of season series

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Why Sammy Sosa compared himself to Jesus Christ in candid interview