Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats


Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
4:48 PM

By Chris Boden

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.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Flames: Same old story on the penalty kill

Five Things from Blackhawks-Flames: Same old story on the penalty kill

Here we go again.

Listen, it’s been one of those nights for everyone, including the Blackhawks. So let’s just save ourselves some time and get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames.

1. Good and bad about the penalty kill. OK, let’s start with the good. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was successful on their last three penalties, including Tyler Motte’s double-minor high-sticking. The bad news is they allowed goals on their first two kills and have now given up 14 in seven games. So what worked on the three late penalty kills? "We just kept our feet moving. We were working. Our shifts were 20 to 30 seconds tops. When you go that short you have the energy to outwork the power play and make up for being down one man," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the key right there, and I think our systems fall into place when we’re all moving and we’re all skating the right way."

2. Puck possession. When the Blackhawks are playing at their best, they are dominant in this department. They looked discombobulated in this one from the start and had very little possession, especially early. "Our identity in the past was fast and having the puck. Now we don’t have quite the four-line rotation or the puck enough to get that precision we look for, that identity we’re accustomed to having," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We’re not playing as fast because we’re defending a lot more than we’re used to."

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3. Forsling hurt. Blackhawks rookie defenseman Gustav Forsling was injured in the second period and did not return. Forsling took a big hit from Lance Bouma along the glass between the two benches. Quenneville said Forsling is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks have better depth at defense this season. Now, with Trevor van Riemsdyk out for a few weeks and Forsling potentially missing some time, they’ll need all of it.

4. Corey Crawford doing just fine. Yes, he’s part of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill that is not doing much of anything right now. But he’s also been stellar at 5-on-5, where he’s allowed just three goals this season. If not for Crawford tonight, the Blackhawks aren’t in striking distance when the third period begins and they probably don’t earn that overtime point.

5. Brian Elliott just a little better. Elliott stymied the Blackhawks in Game 7 of their first-round series last spring, and he aggravated them again on Monday night. Richard Panik nearly had the winner on Elliott until the Flames goaltender stopped his shot with his right skate. Elliott was also good in overtime (6-for-6), when the Blackhawks had a 4-on-3 power play. The Elliott of Monday night is the Elliott the Flames were hoping for when they traded for him this offseason.

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

When watching Blackhawks hockey over the last few years, several things stood out. Among them was their penalty kill and dominant puck possession.

Both of those things have been missing so far this season, and both have cost the Blackhawks.

Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the season but Kris Versteeg had the shootout winner as the Calgary Flames beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night. The Blackhawks are now 3-3-1 on the season as they keep trying to find more consistency in their game.

Gustav Forsling suffered an upper-body injury in the second period when he was hit by Lance Bouma on the glass between the team benches. Coach Joel Quenneville said the defenseman is day-to-day.

Corey Crawford stopped 29 of 31 shots in the loss. Despite the two power-play goals tonight, Crawford was good. He’s allowed just three 5-on-5 goals on the season.

But that penalty kill did hurt once again, as the Blackhawks allowed the Flames two power-play goals. While they killed the final three penalties they took, including a Tyler Motte double-minor high-sticking, the damage had been done. The Flames power play entering the game was just 1-for-25.

“It just seems no matter what it finds a way, a different way, every time,” Quenneville said. “We had a couple big kills in the second period and that was positive, built off it, had a good third period and found a way to get a point. Could have had two.”

The Blackhawks didn’t look great at the start of this one, something that’s becoming a trend with them. Couple that with that penalty kill – they gave up both power-play goals 39 seconds into each kill – and it was no surprise the Blackhawks were down 1-0 after the first.

“We’ve got to get that out of our game,” Jonathan Toews said of the slow first period. “As I’ve been saying, the penalty kill usually translates from our effort 5-on-5 and if we’re not starting games well, then we’re getting behind. Obviously [we’re] giving up power plays to begin with and we’re not killing the penalty kills that we’re on. Unfortunate to get behind again tonight.”

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Brian Campbell got his first goal of the season when his shot (or pass) went off Calgary defenseman TJ Brodie’s stick. Richard Panik nearly had the game winner in the waning seconds of regulation but Brian Elliott, who was also great tonight, knocked the puck off his right skate.

The Blackhawks also had a 4-on-3 power play in overtime on which they couldn’t capitalize.

“You can talk about the penalty kill tonight but we’ve had a couple 4-on-3 chances in overtime the past couple games where our power play needs to be better,” Kane said. “We need to capitalize in those situations.”The Blackhawks are struggling with parts of their game that used to be familiar and successful. There’s plenty of time left in the season but they need to find their well-rounded game again.

“We can be play better, collectively, as a group as far as dictating the pace of games and controlling the puck, getting pucks back. That's really the key with hockey is winning those battles, controlling the puck,” Kane said. “We're so used to playing a puck-possession game. That's really something we've been getting away from here. It's early on in the season, so it's something to build on.”