Hawks moving by Dallas, on to next 'big game'

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Hawks moving by Dallas, on to next 'big game'

Saturday, March 19, 2011Posted: 4:40 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE Troy Brouwer tried to forget about Thursdays loss as soon as it was over. Not that there were many memorable moments the Blackhawks could take with them.

You just wash it, for me at least. There were no positives you can take out of that game, Brouwer said. You learn from the negatives and then you just forget about it.

What the Blackhawks are very mindful of, however, is the task at hand. Theyre seventh in the Western Conference, and theyll probably be in the same spot Sunday when they face the surging Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.

And all those phrases that contain big game, critical game or must win are in full effect again.

Its for sure the biggest game to date. And well probably say that 10 more times, said coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks have 11 games remaining in the regular season. Its definitely a huge game and its going to be very important.

The Blackhawks thought about that all through Saturdays practice, which featured plenty of puck-battle drills and 5-on-5 defensive zone work, two things that were lacking against Dallas on Thursday.

We were doing OK (early Thursday) but not generating any chances. When youre not getting chances youre not scoring goals, Brouwer said. We got away from the game plan, giving away too many odd-man rushes. We played right into what they wanted to do. We just try to shake it off as much as we can and learn a little bit.

The Blackhawks had a solid practice on Saturday but Quenneville said that has to flow over into Sunday.

It was more workmanlike than some days but we have to play that kind of way, he said. We need to be hard to play against. That defensive mind type of mentality in all areas of the ice is what makes us effective.

The Blackhawks were working as one during their eight-game winning streak. They got away from that in Dallas and need to get it back against a Phoenix team that has thrived on playing a team game lately. The Coyotes have won five in a row heading into Sunday, including a 3-1 victory over red-hot Vancouver on Friday.

The best players need to be the best going into the playoffs. Everybody knows that and we just have to respond, Marian Hossa said. We just have to play the team game. Thats the most important thing. That didnt happen in Dallas. We have to be on the same page and be smart and play the team game.

The Blackhawks dont have to look at the standings every day to know the race is going to stay tight. Theyve put Dallas behind them. Their minds have to be focused on the latest big game.

Whatever happened in Dallas happened, its over with and were moving on. Our whole team has to be better, Patrick Sharp said. This is our biggest game of the year, absolutely. We thought Dallas was the biggest game of the year. With 11 games remaining, theyre all going to get bigger and bigger.

Bickell better

Bryan Bickell said he felt 10 times better following Saturdays practice than he did about an hour before the Blackhawks loss to the Stars on Thursday night. Bickell said he didnt feel too bad Thursday morning, when he didnt participate in morning skate. But right before the game he was much worse and couldnt go.

An hour before the game I just couldnt do it, he said. It was definitely (tough). Im not a guy to miss a game like that. It was hard to see it on TV and then being a guy short. It put the team in a tough spot there.

Quenneville said the team is talking about calling someone up for Sundays game against the Coyotes for precautionary reasons.

Injury update

Defenseman Brian Campbell (left foot) will not play Sunday against Phoenix. There was an outside chance that Campbell could join the team here but he remained home nursing that injury. Quenneville is hopeful Campbell will be ready soon.

When we get back, we expect him likely to skate and hopefully this week at home hell be able to play, said Quenneville, who added Campbell has not skated the past few days.

Meanwhile, Dave Bolland (concussion) is showing a little progress, Quenneville said. Bolland has been sidelined since that Tampa Bay game.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

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.