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


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

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
9:09 PM

By Chris Boden

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.

Richard Panik fueling Blackhawks' top line

Richard Panik fueling Blackhawks' top line

Richard Panik was coming off his first career hat trick last week when he was asked about solidifying his spot on the top line with Jonathan Toews.

“I wouldn’t call it mine, for now,” Panik said.

The right wing’s hesitancy was understandable: Outside of some Blackhawks veterans, your place on a line is only as good as your last game.

But considering how he’s playing right now and the amount of goals he’s scored, you’d think Panik will be a top liner for a little while longer.

Panik scored the game-tying goals against his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, with 88 seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday night. There was probably a little feeling of vindication for Panik on that goal – Panik spent last season with the Leafs’ minor-league team until he was traded to the Blackhawks. But no matter the opponent, Panik’s been a scoring threat.

“We didn’t expect six goals in six games but we knew he’d be an offensive threat for us,” Toews said. “He’s showing consistently. He had the hat trick – when you have a game like that, the puck keeps finding you and he’s making no mistakes around the net. He’s shown he can score goals in any which way.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Part of the reason Panik’s back on the top line was the Blackhawks wanted to get more balance among the forwards. Marian Hossa, a longtime sight on that line, is on the third. But again, it’s all in what you do with the opportunity.

“The position he ended up being in was probably more so [for] being ready every game, consistent, doing the right things,” coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s game. “He has all the tools we look for. He’s coming up with loose pucks, hanging around the net, going to the hard areas, giving us some physicality and finish as well. That was a big one, for sure, so he’s been a very pleasant start for us and for himself.”

The Blackhawks will always take goals no matter who scores them. But it’s how and from where Panik’s scoring those goals that’s especially good for the Blackhawks. Constantly looking for a net-front presence, Panik’s providing it. Most of his goals have been within a few feet of the net.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to find the space in front of the net and the goals are scored from there,” he said. “That’s the area I want to go to and it’s working.”

In six games Panik has already reached the totals he had in his 30 games with the Blackhawks last season (six goals, two assists). Panik approaches every game on the first line like it could be his last up there, and considering how often the Blackhawks change combinations that’s a smart approach. But the Blackhawks were looking for more consistent scoring on that top line, and as long as Panik helps provide that, he’ll stay put.

“Consistency was my biggest weakness. I’m just focusing on that, bringing it every night,” Panik said. “I think I know what I’m capable of. I know I can play on this level. Now I have an opportunity. I just have to take advantage of it and keep playing this way.”

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

This Five Things was headed for a lot of negativity before the final three minutes of regulation. But thanks to the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback, this one won’t sting as much as Friday’s installment.

So while you all celebrate the Cubs going to a World Series, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1. Waking up just in time. The Maple Leafs haven’t played their best hockey in third periods – entering Saturday’s game, they’d been outscored 6-1 in that frame. But for 17-plus minutes of the third it didn’t look like the Blackhawks were going to take advantage of that stat. But they would, salvaging a point out of nowhere with two goals within a minute (Artem Anisimov at 17:32 and Richard Panik at 18:32). Better late than never.

2. The Richard Panik show continues. The forward said he doesn’t think about Toronto anymore, that it’s all about the team he’s with now. But looking at his celebration on his game-tying goal late in the third period, there had to be a little motivation to score against the Leafs, right? The Blackhawks don’t care who the opponent is, and Panik now has six goals to start the season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Power play fizzles. Ah, thought we were going to talk about the other special teams? In a second. The bigger problem on Saturday was the Blackhawks’ advantage, on which they went 0-for-6. It took until overtime, when their fifth power play was a 4-on-3 for them to really generate anything against the Leafs.

4. Late-period goals hurt. The Blackhawks looked set to enter first intermission with a 1-0 lead but Tyler Bozak scored with just 14 seconds remaining. They could’ve had a 2-2 tie entering the second intermission but James van Riemsdyk scored with 1:44 remaining in the second. Again, the Blackhawks overcame that. But coach Joel Quenneville talked about the loss of momentum in games, and here are two examples of it.

5. The Auston Matthews show. The Leafs phenom didn’t score a goal on Saturday but there’s no doubt he had his effect. His speed was especially on display on William Nylander’s goal; Matthews drew several Blackhawks and Nylander had a rather open net on the rebound.