Hawk Talk: Toews, Kane, Sharp line making impact

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Hawk Talk: Toews, Kane, Sharp line making impact

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
12:27 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Three weeks ago today, here we sat, the Blackhawks still Stuck-In-A-Rut. They'd just put forth a flat effort in Calgary in a game that was pretty important coming off an encouraging effort, but a loss, in Vancouver.

So Joel Quenneville did two things: He skated his team up and down the ice for about an hour in Edmonton on an off-day, giving them a workout they didn't provide the night before. And, amidst a season of inconsistency, he went with something he could pretty much bank on. He put Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp together on the same line.

READ: Blackhawks acquire defenseman Campoli

The risk in putting all those proverbial eggs in one basket was not getting enough production from the other three lines. It was also about that time he shuffled his defensive pairings to ease some of massive workload off Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

That gut move probably has nothing to do with the bleeding ulcer that soon victimized the head coach. If anything, the decision has to have him feeling better with the results he's received. It hasn't been the lone cause of this recent warm-up and season-high five-game win streak, but as they prepare to face Calgary for the first time since, they're 7-1-2 in the ten games since walking out of the Saddledome saddled with continuing frustration and uncertainty.

The way the West is, they're not out of the woods, but things have gotten fun again as the Blackhawks have answered the pressure - their best players have started being their best players.

In the 10 games, Toews, Sharp and Kane have combined for 14 goals and 40 points. The rest of the roster's contributed 18 goals, which will do the job if that pace should continue. Marian Hossa has a four-game goal streak. But there's no question the leaders of a stretch that also includes banking 10 of a possible 12 points on the road is the Toews Trio.

READ: High Five: Red-hot Hawks, Toews fly by Wild

Let this also be an all-points alert for every February to come in Toews' career: He has 49 points in 41 NHL games in the second month of the calendar year, not to mention an Olympic Gold medal on a team in which he was named the tournament's Outstanding Forward. Dating back to the January game prior to the All-Star Game in which Kane teased his team selection and Sharp was named MVP, he's piled up 23 points over 14 games, nine multi-point contests. Since one two-game blip when he slipped off the scoresheet, Toews has 11 points over six points. Tuesday, the NHL named him the league's 1 Star of the Month.

With numbers like that, do we really have to March on to a new month?

Deadline Doings

...or maybe not doings...

Besides the Kings' acquisition of Dustin Penner, no other West contenders were really active, save for the Columbus-Phoenix trade.

Alex Goligoski has had an impact in Dallas, but they were shutout on a Deadline Day in which there was about half the activity of a year ago. They held onto Brad Richards, and maybe they think that'll be a positive vibe in the room, removing any doubt whether he'll be there the rest of the way.

Nashville made a strong move awhile ago with the acquisition of Mike Fisher, but surprisingly, nothing else for a team needing a jolt, not to mention a banged-up roster needing bodies.

Minnesota also did nothing, perhaps hoping the return of Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse in a couple weeks will provide a boost. They're hoping they're still in it by that point.

San Jose was cash-strapped and sat tight after some earlier depth moves has coincided with them playing better, along with Antti Niemi doing a flashback to 2010.

Vancouver decided to tinker with depth up front, including acquiring an agitator. Was it necessary? Will they really need that at the time of year they're pointing towards?

Anaheim made several moves over the past few weeks, but the bottom line is, they need Jonas Hiller healthy.

The Hawks are a stronger, deeper team with Chris Campoli out there. Now they need to avoid further injuries (is that possible?), and Michael Frolik to find the net. Once he does, let's see what happens after that.
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Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

What we all expected to happen did happen on Friday night when the Blackhawks traded Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes.

One way or another, be it via trade or just going to unrestricted free agency on July 1, Darling was headed elsewhere. He’s earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender, it wasn’t going to happen here, and now he’ll get that chance.

But this isn’t about where Darling’s career takes him from this point. This is about the Blackhawks and where they go from here. They’ve been in the enviable position of having some stellar backup goaltenders the past few seasons, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Darling. So as this offseason continues, finding another one becomes top priority.

A few days ago Pat Boyle and I discussed a few topics on the HawksTalk Podcast, including what we considered to be on general manager Stan Bowman’s to-do list this summer. Getting a reliable backup goaltender has to be on there because the Blackhawks have shown over the past few seasons that having that great 1-2 punch in net has proven very successful.

Let’s go back to the 2013 offseason. In the summer of 2013 the Blackhawks signed two goaltenders. One was Nikolai Khabibulin, the other Raanta. We all remember how that went. Khabibulin, another former Blackhawks player brought in on the hopes that he had something left, didn’t. He started four games — two of which Corey Crawford came in and finished — suffered an injury in mid November and never played another game for the Blackhawks. Then on Dec. 8, Crawford, playing in his 27th game of the Blackhawks’ first 32 games of that season, got hurt. Enter Raanta, who went on a tear through December, going 8-1-3. That season highlights the need for reliable depth at that position more than any in recent memory.

You’re familiar with the other examples, too. Emery was outstanding when he had to be in the lockout-shortened 2013 regular season — please see that 45-stop outing vs. Calgary — and he and Crawford earned the William M. Jennings Trophy that year. Darling showed how dependable he could be several times the past few seasons, from his work in the 2015 first-round series against the Nashville Predators to his record (6-3-1) when Crawford was out with appendicitis through the first three weeks of last December.

That depth at goaltending has been especially critical the past two seasons. How many “goalie wins” did the Blackhawks have through the 2015-16 season, when they struggled to get consistent line combinations past their second one? How many did they have at the start of this past season before they did get that four-line rotation in February?

Crawford has played between 55 and 59 games in each full regular season dating back to 2010-11. Injuries happen. Slumps happen. Being overworked happens. Having a backup on which you can rely is something every team would love to have and something the Blackhawks have had recently, and they’ve benefitted from it.

It’s easy for us to sit here and say the Blackhawks need to do this. Actually finding that guy is an entirely different matter. But the Blackhawks have done it well lately, and despite the team’s quick exit this spring, there are still plenty of reasons for a would-be backup goaltender to come to Chicago.

Darling was the latest to embrace the backup goaltending role in his time here. His moving on was inevitable. Now the Blackhawks need to find the next guy who can keep their 1-2 punch in net going.

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Chicago will always be home for Scott Darling. Literally.

He's a Lemont native who grew up rooting for the Blackhawks, signed with the franchise in 2014 and reignited his career by winning over the backup job, and enjoyed the highest level of success by becoming the first local kid to win a Stanley Cup in Chicago.

But as he said at the end of the season, Darling has paid his dues as a backup in the NHL and is ready for the next step of being a No. 1 goaltender.

The Blackhawks gave him that opportunity Friday, shipping his negotiating rights to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick in 2017.

And, assuming a long-term extension gets done, the fit couldn't be better for both Darling and Carolina.

The Hurricanes play such a structured game under Bill Peters, who is arguably the most underrated coach in the league. He served as the head coach for the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs for three seasons from 2008-11, and was also part of Mike Babcock's coaching staff in Detroit for three years after that. He comes from a solid coaching branch. 

Peters preaches puck possession and team defense, and both categories have excelled during his tenure in Carolina.

Why is this good news for Darling? Because both of those areas have been vital in all three of the Blackhawks' championship runs this decade, meaning there won't be much of an adjustment schematically.

Over the last three seasons combined, the Hurricanes have been the sixth-best possession team in the league (controlling 51.7 percent of the even-strength shot attempts), have allowed the second-fewest shots on goal per game (27.7) and own the second-ranked penalty kill unit (84.4 percent success rate). 

Defense and dictating the pace of play has never been a problem for the Hurricanes; it's the goaltending that's been a sore thumb for a long time, and they've finally addressed it.

In the last three seasons, Carolina has finished 28th, 29th and 29th in even-strength team save percentage at 90.9 (2015), 91.5 (2016) and 91.2 (2017). This past regular season, only two goaltenders — Craig Anderson (94.0) and Vezina Trophy-favorite Sergei Bobrovsky (93.9) — who appeared in at least 30 games had a better 5-on-5 save percentage than Darling, who recorded a 93.7 percentage.

He is a significant upgrade from Eddie Lack ($2.75 million cap hit) and Cam Ward ($3.3 million), both of whom are under contract through 2017-18. (That's a situation Carolina GM Ron Francis will have to sort out as the expansion draft approaches, but there's no doubt Darling will head into training camp as the clear-cut starter).

There's reason to be excited about the Hurricanes' long-term vision and growth on the back end, too. They were the third-youngest team last year, and their blue line group is led by 25-year-old All-Star Justin Faulk and 20-year-old Noah Hanifin, the club's No. 5 overall draft pick in 2015.

The Hurricanes are right there. They're ready to take off after missing out on the postseason for eight consecutive years, in large part because they haven't gotten the goaltending needed to consistently win games.

With the addition of Darling, they hope to have finally found that missing piece to the puzzle.