Hawks' ability to maintain edge proves successful once again

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Hawks' ability to maintain edge proves successful once again

As the Chicago Blackhawks tried to figure out ways to beat Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen on Thursday night, they couldnt help but admire the guy.

It was almost fun to watch how good he was playing, just making acrobatic save after save, Patrick Kane said afterward.

Sure, that came after the Blackhawks came back to beat said goaltender, 3-2, in overtime. But what strikes me about that comment is this: the Blackhawks saw what Lehtonen was doing, they respected him for it, but they never lost their edge or stopped trying to beat him. And eventually it paid off.

Theres a certain calmness, a team-wide focus to these Blackhawks through the first four games. Theres no panic, no massive worry and no apprehension coming through in their play.

WATCH -- Hossa: We like how we look so far

It was a really good game for us and I think their tender was amazing tonight, goaltender Corey Crawford said. We just kept sticking to the same play, kept going, and our guys did a great job not getting frustrated. The missed opportunities or big saves sometimes get to you. But tonight was great. We kept going, got some big goals and an amazing play by Kaners at the end there.

The Blackhawks are off to their best start in 40 years, thanks to a combination of solid team play, better special teams and, yes, those four rolling lines that recently had Marian Hossa reminiscing all the way back to 2010. Its a familiar group, one that hasnt changed much since last season. But thats proving to be a good thing.

You look at the team we have now, its pretty much the same as last year. Its a team that had a good season, had over 100 points, underachieved in the playoffs and thought we couldve had a better season, Kane said. You put the same group together, theyre going to have a chip on their shoulder to come back and prove to everyone that it can be the team to do something special. Hopefully thats what we have in here.

Yes, there are going to be bumps in the road and (gasp) losses at some point. But the Blackhawks are playing like a cohesive, confident group with something to prove; and thats going to help them plenty through this 48-game sprint of a season.

The power play takes a positive turn

Patrick Sharp recently talked about the Blackhawks special teams, including that power play that was so beleaguered last season.

Yeah, its been a topic of conversation for a long time, he said.

Well, it still is. Except this time, its for a good reason. The Blackhawks power play, a glaring Achilles heel last season, has been a boon in the early going. Theyve scored at least one power-play goal in each of their first four games, including all three of their goals in Thursday nights 3-2 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars.

Six power-play goals in the first four games: not bad for a team that managed 42 man-advantage goals in 82 games last season.

Duncan Keith to the rescue

Corey Crawford was solid in getting his third victory of the season, stopping 21 of 23 including a penalty shot. But a little help never hurts.

An Alex Goligoski shot trickled through Crawfords pads and toward the goal as the final second-period seconds ticked away. Duncan Keith stopped it, clearing the puck as the horn sounded.

That guy, hes aware all over the ice, he gets to things so quick, Crawford said of Keith. He saved my rear end. I owe him one now, I guess.

Preview: Corey Crawford ill, Scott Darling in for Blackhawks vs. Blues

Preview: Corey Crawford ill, Scott Darling in for Blackhawks vs. Blues

The Blackhawks were already without Niklas Hjalmarsson on Sunday night. Now they’re without Corey Crawford as well.

Crawford is ill and Scott Darling will start in his place when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Crawford was expected to start but did not skate this morning – goaltending coach Jimmy Waite took the other net. Coach Joel Quenneville does not believe Crawford has the mumps – “I haven’t heard the word mumps around here,” he said. The Vancouver Canucks are currently working through an outbreak of the mumps and several teams battled it a few seasons ago.

As for the backup, Quenneville was hoping Lars Johansson could be up in an emergency situation, as long as logistics work out. The Rockford IceHogs are scheduled to play at the Ontario (Calif.) Reign later today.

Marian Hossa did not skate this morning but he is expected to play tonight. As Quenneville said on Saturday, Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with the upper-body injury he sustained on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes but is out tonight.

The last time the Blackhawks faced the Blues was in their Winter Classic game on Jan. 2. A month later coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and, now under Mike Yeo, the Blues have gone 7-3-0 since then. That includes two losses heading into their bye week, however, which they come out of tonight.

“I think usually teams seem to respond pretty well with coaching changes. Whenever you get something new, something to renew the group, whether it’s systems or different energy in the locker room, teams seem to respond at least in the beginning,” Jonathan Toews said. “We can expect this team to be really hard to play against and obviously pretty eager to, maybe, be better overall than they have been all year, knowing what they’re capable of as a team. We know whether we’re playing St. Louis or Minnesota, teams that are close to us in the points race, the points are always huge.”

BLACKHAWKS VS. ST. LOUIS BLUES

6:30 p.m.

TV: NBCSN

Live stream: NBC Sports app

Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Tomas Jurco-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa

Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Andrew Desjardins

 

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Michal Rozsival

 

Goaltender

Scott Darling

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Corey Crawford (ill).

 

St. Louis Blues (via NHL.com)

Forward lines

Alex Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

 

Defensive Pairs

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

 

Goaltender

Jake Allen

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: None.

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco lingered near the end of the Blackhawks' practice on Saturday, watching as fellow Slovak/now-teammate Marian Hossa drew a few things up on the dry-erase board.

Having a few familiar countrymen's faces (Hossa and Richard Panik) in the room helps. But for Jurco, just getting a fresh start is a welcome sight.

Jurco skated on the third line with Marcus Kruger and Hossa, and it looks like he'll make his Blackhawks debut there when the team hosts St. Louis on Sunday night. Jurco spent the last few seasons with the Detroit Red Wings but couldn't find a steady place in the lineup. Now here, he's hoping to change his fortunes.

"I mean, it's been tough couple of years for me in Detroit, so I was talking to [general manager] Ken Holland and we were discussing some options. I wasn't progressing in the last year or so, so I think this is a great time to push my game to another level," Jurco said on Saturday. "Like I said, this is another fresh start for me and I'm very excited for it."

[MORE: Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues]

Jurco joins a Blackhawks team that is surging (winning eight of nine) these last few weeks of the season. He and Hossa played together in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, so there's some familiarity as well as friendship there.

General manager Stan Bowman said Friday night that, based on Jurco's skills and the Blackhawks' style of play, Jurco should fit in well.

"I think he's going to get better here," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's going to get a little bit more comfortable with how we have to play, knowing that you want to go right through the puck and you want to pressure. Offensively I think he's got a chance to recapture some confidence. I think he moves well. I like his size. [It's] just getting a little more comfortable with our game and trusting his own instincts right off the bat."

It was time for a change for Jurco. Whether he blossoms like Panik, who came here from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and is now putting up career numbers as part of the Blackhawks' top line, remains to be seen. It's an opportunity nonetheless, and Jurco is ready to take advantage of it. 

"It was a number of different reasons in Detroit it didn't work out for me. I wasn't playing much, so that's obviously tough. And when you don't play for a few weeks and you play a couple of games, it's very tough," Jurco said. "I'm very happy that I'm here and excited for tomorrow."