Tuesday, March 1, 2011
By Chris Boden
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?
...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.
Remember -- 8:00 start Wednesday night, 7:30 Pregame on Comcast SportsNet
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.