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.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.