Chicago Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Stars-stuck

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Hawk Talk: Stars-stuck

Saturday, April 16, 2011
Posted: 8:13 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The last time and only time the nucleus of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson fell into a 2-0 series hole, Marian Hossa was helping the other side.

It was the Western Conference Final two years ago against Detroit. The Hawks came back to win Game 3 at home, then lose in five.

The last time the scoring core of Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa came under such post-season scrutiny as a group was about the same time last year. Through three games of the Nashville series, Kane had two goals and an assist, while the other three had combined for four assists. They responded by collecting 22 points together in winning the final three games to punch their ticket to Round Two versus Vancouver.

Regardless of how much gas is left in their tank after carrying the team just long enough to make it to the playoffs, theyll be looked upon now to fight back in this series against a Canucks team many compare to the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. Kanes secondary assist on Ben Smiths second goal Friday night is the only point among the quartet so far.

I cant speak for those guys (Toews, Kane and Hossa), but the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. That kind of stuff happens in playoff series. Weve been through that before, said Sharp, upon arriving with the team at OHare Saturday afternoon. I turned on the TV after Game 1 and the Vancouver media was talking about how (league scoring champ) Daniel Sedin was shut out. The more important thing to me is finding a way to get some wins.

We exited Vancouver playing two games where maybe we couldve gotten something out of it, but we were nowhere near good enough to be effective, said head coach Joel Quenneville. We expect our top players to all be better, and that probably goes across the board for our entire team. But certainly we need more from those guys, be it offensive zone time, puck possession time, quality scoring chances.

"Our power play has been an area where they can get some positive puck possession and confidence with the puck. But that group provides an area where we have to be improved, and I think that starts with the power play generating some momentum. We havent been very productive in that area, and thats where it can start," Quenneville continued.

No kidding.

The power play that finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NHL is in a 1-for-26 drought the last nine games, and is 1-for-25 against Vancouver this season. Blackhawks ambassador and former head coach Denis Savard said on our Blackhawks Pregame and Postgame Live that the Canucks third-ranked penalty-kill is among the most aggressive in the league, especially up top, cutting down passing lanes, and providing their own short-handed chances. The Hawks have had a first-hand look at that through the first two games.

Opportunity presents itself to be aggressive, explained Sharp, pointing the finger back at their own power play struggles. They certainly like to challenge defensemen up-ice and buzz in the (neutral) zone, but its nothing we cant handle.

Technically, the must-win game isnt the one until the other team is one win away from advancing. In front of what will be an amped-up United Center crowd looking for reasons to derisively chant the opposing goalies last name, center Ryan Johnson thinks the Hawks will need to make sure intelligence, execution, and energy are in synch to get back in the series.

Just because weve come home, the focus cant just be, Hey, we wanna run around, create hits and get the crowd going. Thats the way you get in trouble against a team like this that moves the puck the way they do. Were going to have to do the right things in order to establish a physical game.

Thats something Johnsons ex-team has already established through the first two games: hard, clean hits that can wear a team down over the course of a game and a series. Its something that his team needs to develop against the Sedins and other top Vancouver weapons.

The question is whether they have the right or enough players to do that, defend their own zone, stay out of the penalty box and still create the offense thats been lacking. Thats a pretty long to-do list when youre already down 2-0.

Its that investment that you make early in a series that may not pan out that game, but come Games 5 or 6, as the series goes on, you wear guys down and get guys thinking about it every time they go back and get the puck, or make a play along the wall.

Besides whos scoring and whos not, its another reason why the Presidents Trophy winners need to win just two out of five now, and the defending Cup winners need four out of five.

On the Health Front

(Tomas Kopeckys) progressing. Well see how he is in the morning. Bryan Bickells still getting assessed. Well have a better idea at the morning skate. (Dave Bolland) is 'doubtful'.

Kopecky sat out Game 2 after suffering an upper-body injury early in the series opener. Bickell appeared to have suffered a laceration to the wrist or forearm area from Sami Salos skate in Fridays third period. Bolland would be missing a 17th consecutive game due to a concussion.

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

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 6-1 win over Red Wings in preseason home opener

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 6-1 win over Red Wings in preseason home opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Thursday's preseason home opener:

1. DeBrincat-Schmaltz-Kane were electric.

Yeah, this line could work. We realize the Red Wings sent over many of their fringe players, but Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane are all on the same wavelength offensively and it was evident in their first preseason game together.

The trio combined for four points (one goal and three assists), and created several quality scoring chances at even strength throughout the game. Kane was Kane, Schmaltz was one of the best players on the ice and DeBrincat cashed in for his first career (preseason) goal in the NHL.

This is certainly something to keep an eye on as roster cuts get underway and final decisions on the Opening Day lineup approach. Will DeBrincat be a part of the big club? It was considered a long shot before training camp started, but it's hard to ignore the chemistry he's developing on that second line.

2. Brandon Saad picks up where he left off in Blackhawks uniform.

It's like he never left. In his first game back in a Chicago sweater, Saad netted a hat trick — albeit, it's preseason so it won't count in the books — and he could have had a fourth, and maybe even a fifth, if you want to look further into the chances he had. All three goals that he did score though he found himself parked in front of the net, which is a great sign for the Blackhawks because it's something they lacked last year.

"The puck seemed to be finding me," Saad said after the win. "Regardless of what kind of game it is, you want to get your confidence rolling. It’s good to be back out here. It's always nice to be wanted and welcomed, and these fans are the best fans in the league, so it’s good to be back."

Saad finished the game with a game-high eight shots on goal and a plus-3 rating, and he did it without Jonathan Toews, who did not play due to an illness.

3. Connor Murphy developing chemistry with Duncan Keith.

The Blackhawks' new top pairing featuring two-time Norris Trophy winner Keith and 24-year-old Murphy was solid in their first game together.

Murphy wasn't afraid to be aggressive and take chances by pinching in, joining the rush, and quarterbacking the power play with confidence. He also didn't make any glaring defensive mistakes, which is a plus in Quenneville's book.

"I thought everybody played well on our back end," Quenneville said. "Then we went down to five, I thought they looked very good." (Luc Snuggerud suffered an upper-body injury in the second period, and did not return. Quenneville said they will know more about his status on Friday).

4. Jordan Oesterle catches Joel Quenneville's attention.

Of those six defensemen noted above, the one that really stood out to the Blackhawks coach was Oesterle. The 25-year-old blue liner signed a two-year contract with Chicago over the offseason, and is fighting for a spot on the bottom pairing.

He made a strong early case by registering two assists and leading the team with three blocked shots in 21:49 of ice time, playing on both the power play and penalty kill units.

"I liked him. A lot," Quenneville said. "I liked his thought process, jumping up in the play, positionally very strong, quick and headsy. He did a really good job. He's got some flexibility and the ability to play both sides is a great asset to have."

5. What to make of abundance of penalties

We mentioned the NHL's desire to crack down on slashing penalties and faceoff violations in our five takeaways after Tuesday's preseason opener, and it remained the same Thursday. There were another 13 penalties called, three of which were slashing, and handful of centers getting tossed from the dot.

So what should we make of it all?

Well, it's hard to imagine the amount of penalties will stay the same once the actual regular season starts. It seems like a tactic to lay down the hammer extra hard in an effort to get players to adapt to the new enforced rules as quickly as possible. It will be interesting to follow how things may change over the course of the season, with referees having the tendency to swallow their whistles as the important games roll around, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Blackhawks: Alex DeBrincat’s instincts serve him well vs. Red Wings

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks: Alex DeBrincat’s instincts serve him well vs. Red Wings

Alex DeBrincat had an idea of what he wanted to do in this first home preseason game: apply what he’s learned lately when he could but ultimately stick with what he knew. While he thought he could have been better overall, he nevertheless made a good first impression.

DeBrincat had a goal and looked comfortable in the Blackhawks’ 6-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center. After excelling in the Ontario Hockey League the past three seasons the 19-year-old forward is going to get a good opportunity to show what he can do at this level. While the Red Wings weren’t stocking anywhere near a full roster – plenty of youth was featured in Detroit’s third preseason game in as many days – this was more about what DeBrincat could do with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane.

“I felt pretty good out there,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I could improve on but overall I don’t think I played terrible. I’m still trying not to force plays and finding which one is the right play. Once I improve on that I should be pretty good.”

Pretty much everybody had a good night for the Blackhawks but coach Joel Quenneville wanted to get a good look at the second line overall and DeBrincat. The left wing held his own and scored his first preseason goal in the slot, a very familiar and productive area for him.

“Yeah, that’s kind of my sweet spot, so I felt pretty good about it,” DeBrincat said. “It’s 3-on-2 and [Richard Panik] made a great pass to me. I kind of had a muff on it, too. I got lucky it went in.”

While there are going to be things DeBrincat has to improve upon at this level, the skill is undeniable.

“I thought he had a great play on his goal, great instincts around the net, some nice plays,” Quenneville said. “Schmaltzy was dangerous on that line, Kaner, a lot of options and you can see that skill level, the thinking around the net. His plays around the offensive zone were good. We can say a lot of guys did good offensively and he was one of them.”

DeBrincat said several times that he felt he forced plays throughout the night but that’s not unheard of for a young player, be it one coming from the OHL or the AHL. Ryan Hartman said he did the same thing at the start of last season.

“First game, a little intimidated… young kids they’re respectful, and when you get a chance to play with a Kaner it’s like, wow. Whether you’re trying to get him the puck or thinking give and go, that chemistry evolves,” Quenneville said. “But I thought he was pretty comfortable in a lot of things.”

DeBrincat will get a few more looks before the Blackhawks decide what to do with him. Going from the OHL to the NHL is a big leap, and time in the AHL wouldn’t hurt him long term. Still, in his first week at camp DeBrincat’s instincts have been evident. His ability to adapt to a bigger, faster game has been, too.

“Honestly, for me it’s been pretty good. I’m competing pretty well. It’s just faster, and once I got adjusted to that, it’s not too hard,” he said. “I’m still trying to compete every day and just do the little things.”