Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

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Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
4:48 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Go up and down the Blackhawks' lineup, Friday and Sunday. Every player played better than they had over the previous week. The proof is now out there, on tape, for how good this team is capable of being, and that's without Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Viktor Stalberg. Now, it's all about doing that for every game, and not just talking about doing it. If they do, this team will be just fine.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook came into the weekend against the Wings and Kings a combined minus-14. They were a combined plus-6 in the two victories. Jonathan Toews had three more points to give him 13 over his last nine games. Bryan Bickell has been answering the call with eight points over his last seven. Troy Brouwer - who had one goal in his first 21 games came into WingsKings with eight over his previous dozen. He may not have collected a point, but was a plus-3, dished out 11 hits and was a disrupting influence in front of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick. Matter of fact, the Hawks as a whole played with a chip on their shoulder - 34 hits Friday and another 35 Sunday. They sacrificed - 24 blocked shots Friday, and 22 Sunday. They were smart - facing one short-handed situation all weekend. When you're penalty-kill is struggling, that helps. That PK should get an assist with the return of Fernando Pisani, the arrival of Ryan Johnson, and the level-raising play of Dave Bolland lately, offensively too.

Encouraging signs, but Joel Quenneville wasn't ready to declare anything after the win over L.A. He's seen signs before, only to see lapses follow. It's about high-level consistency, which has eluded just about every team around the league heading into the holidays. The competition and balance is stiff, as any day-by-day glance at the conference standings will show you. A couple of flat efforts has teams scrambling to recover, and no matter how they play from this point on - some earlier missed opportunities will already force the Hawks to scramble once the games-played numbers even out. We asked the head coach before Sunday's game whether Friday was the team's best 60-minute effort of the season, and said it probably came down to that one and the 7-1 victory in Vancouver. He's been preaching during his three years it's all about defensive effort, responsibility and execution. That's what we saw this weekend, along with some wonderful goaltending from Corey Crawford.

Maybe the Hawks started this thing a little earlier, and just can't beat Colorado. They played a good road game in the overtime loss in San Jose before the loose, off-to-the-races defeat in Denver and the third period double minor in the rematch last Wednesday. Prior to those three, they'd won five of six.

Between the roster turnover, the short summer, wearing the "target," and the health challenges, we knew this wasn't going to be easy. But now, even without a couple of marquee names, they've shown what they're capable of doing. That level now needs to be sustained, especially before Baby New Year crawls in. They're 4-4-1 against the Central, with Nashville, Columbus and St. Louis up next. They're 0-1-1 against Antti Niemi and the Sharks, then reach the season's halfway point at Anaheim and Los Angeles right after the New Year.

As Quenneville said at the team's annual holiday family skate Monday morning at the United Center, Santa was very good and came through with his request a year ago. Is it greedy to ask for the same, expensive gift this year? At this rate, he'll probably accept efforts and execution like he saw this weekend on a game-by-game basis. That, and a healthy New Year, is probably enough for him to take his chances on whether it's a gift they're given again.

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

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

This is public service announcement regarding Alex DeBrincat and his potential this season with the Blackhawks:

Tap the brakes.

We’ve relayed this address a few times the past few seasons, most notably with Teuvo Teravainen as people eagerly anticipated his professional debut. We’re pretty sure when he was recalled for the first time, exultant trumpets played faintly in the background. But it bears repeating now with DeBrincat, who might or might not do fantastic things right out of training camp.

This warning, however, comes not only because DeBrincat might not be ready for the grand stage play-wise. It’s also because the Blackhawks might not have room for him.

Take a look at CapFriendly.com for the Blackhawks’ current situation: As they enter the fall they’re roughly $35,000 over the $75 million salary cap, but it’s not so much about money as it is the roster setup. There are 22 players currently listed on the Blackhawk’s CapFriendly roster, but only five defensemen. Also, of the 14 forwards listed, only one could be sent to Rockford without going through waivers (Nick Schmaltz).

So if there’s no room for DeBrincat, don’t be surprised.

Still, it’s going to be interesting to see what DeBrincat does at training camp this fall. You understand why the hype is there. DeBrincat is coming off three stellar seasons with the Erie Otters, with whom he had 127 points (65 goals, 62 assists) last season. DeBrincat is hopeful that a strong training camp could lead to opportunity, but he understands it might not be right away.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” DeBrincat said. “But they have a plan for me and I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I’ll stick with their plan.”

But the Blackhawks will take the slow-and steady approach with him as they did with past younger players. He’s only 19 years old, so there’s no need to rush his development. Playing time in the American Hockey League could be very beneficial for him as he makes the jump from the OHL to the pros. As former Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said earlier this summer, dealing with bigger and stronger players at this level is going to be the toughest hurdle for DeBrincat.

“It’s not that he’s afraid; he’s very good at battles. But just playing against the opposition, against five strong, fast players and just finding out how much time he has, where the room is,” Knoblauch said in early June. “One-on-one battles in our league, there are strong guys and he does fairly well. But when you have a unit of guys, it makes the game a little more difficult.”

DeBrincat will have his time with the Blackhawks. It just might not be right away, and for several reasons, including the current roster setup. So let’s tap the brakes. For now, anyway.

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Chad Krys was like any other freshman college hockey player last season. He had his ups and downs and improved as the season continued. In a few months the Blackhawks prospect will be heading to Boston University for his sophomore year, and his coach believes he can be one of college’s best defensemen next season.

“Now that he’s comfortable and knows what’s expected of him, I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but I think he can have a breakout year,” said Boston Terriers coach David Quinn. “He’s played a lot of hockey, and I really think he has the elite talent, the work ethic continues to improve and his conditioning really improved.”

Krys, the Blackhawks’ second-round selection (45th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, is working toward that at this week’s Blackhawks prospect camp. Krys was part of what Quinn said was the youngest team in the country last season. The Terriers, who had nine freshmen in their lineup, fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the West Regional last March.

Even through the ups and downs, the lessons were valuable.

“Like coach Quinn said, our biggest problem was our immaturity but we couldn’t help that. We were all 18 and 19 years old. But I think it’ll be good for us having a lot of guys coming back and being returning players,” said Krys, who added the accelerated learning curve should help, too. “Going through that with everyone, especially in my class, there were a lot of us in a similar situation, trying to get to the next level. So I think we experienced a lot of team things.”

As a freshman, Krys had five goals and six assists in 39 games for the Terriers. He said he focused on trying to improve his overall defense last season, and Quinn said he took steps forward in that department.

“He’s always been a really good, gifted player and had the puck an awful lot. But most kids as they climb the hockey ladder, they haven’t had to defend a lot because they’ve had the puck a lot. At the higher level you have to play both ends of the rink,” Quinn said. “He had better defense, particularly off the rush and he did a better job down low defending. He also did a better job getting involved offensively.”

Considering Quinn’s outlook of Krys, it’s no surprise he’s pegging the young defenseman to be one of the Terriers’ leaders next season and beyond. Krys has an affable personality — at the 2016 NHL Draft he brought his GoPro and interviewed Alex DeBrincat, who was selected six picks prior to Krys. That, combined with his play make him a strong potential leader. Krys is fine with being that guy.

“That first year you’re a freshman and you’re just trying to find your way,” he said. “The second year I want to be more dynamic and more of a go-to guy for the team.”

All the potential is there for Krys to have a strong future with the Blackhawks – “I’d be more surprised if he didn’t play than he did. He’s a legit prospect,” Quinn said. Until then, his coach feels Krys is on the cusp of having a big season with Boston.

“The jump to college hockey’s big, and he’s feeling his way through it. He had a good first half but a better second half,” Quinn said. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be one of the better defensemen in all of college hockey.”