Chicago Blackhawks

Hawks, Pens to battle with differing views of playoffs

368117.jpg

Hawks, Pens to battle with differing views of playoffs

Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
10:17 a.m.
Associated Press

The winners of the last two Stanley Cups square off for the only time this season Sunday at the United Center.

Neither the Chicago Blackhawks nor the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, resemble their Cup-winning teams or are playing at a championship level.

The defending champion Blackhawks (29-23-6) might again be without coach Joel Quenneville as he continues to recover from gastrointestinal bleeding brought on by a small ulcer. The 52-year-old has been released from the hospital, but it is unclear when he will return to the bench.

The health of its coach isn't Chicago's only concern.

The Blackhawks are 11th in Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. They lost to Columbus 4-3 on Friday after earning six of eight points in their previous four games (2-0-2).

"We've got to bear down," said assistant coach Mike Haviland, who has led the team in Quenneville's absence the last two games.

While a playoff berth for Chicago diminishes with each loss, Pittsburgh looks like it will be making a fifth straight playoff appearance despite its troubles.

The Penguins (36-19-4) haven't played since beating Colorado 3-2 in overtime Wednesday, avoiding a fifth loss in six games. They are in fourth place in the East, five points behind conference-leading Philadelphia and 12 up on eighth-place Carolina, but the team has been decimated by injuries.

Superstar center Sidney Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion and Evgeni Malkin, the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is done for the season after having surgery on his torn ACL and MCL. Forwards Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu and Eric Tangradi are also sidelined.

Amidst all these injuries, Pittsburgh will welcome the return of Matt Cooke to the lineup in Chicago after the left wing completed a four-game suspension Wednesday for a hard hit on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.

With their top three goal-scorers out (Crosby, Kunitz and Malkin), Tyler Kennedy again stepped up for the banged-up Penguins on Wednesday, scoring a power-play goal 4:10 into overtime. Kennedy has five goals in the last eight games after scoring only two in his previous 24.

"Staying focused on how we need to play," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Making sure we're playing the right way to give us a chance to have success. We've had a fair amount of success doing it. That's really been the mindset and struggle of our team - to stay in that mindset."

While Pittsburgh's roster looks different from its 2009 Stanley Cup champion team because of injuries, the Blackhawks had to part ways with several key members of last season's team because of the salary cap.

They kept their core intact, but have been receiving little production from their role players.

Against the Blue Jackets, Patrick Sharp had two goals and assisted on a score by Patrick Kane as Chicago's top line - along with Jonathan Toews - accounted for all of its offense. Kane and Toews both had two assists, and the trio has combined for 20 of the team's 38 points in the last five games.

"Those guys are game breakers," Pittsburgh right wing Craig Adams said. "We are going to pay special attention to them if we can."

This will be the first meeting between these teams since Chicago's 2-1 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2009.

"We're going keep plugging along here," Sharp said. "We're going to get on a hot streak, win some games and get ourselves right back in it."

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Blackhawks' Alexandre Fortin finding form again after offseason surgery

Blackhawks' Alexandre Fortin finding form again after offseason surgery

Alexandre Fortin was grateful to be back on the ice this weekend, back in Chicago where he wowed the Blackhawks last fall and nearly found a spot on the regular-season roster.

His thoughts are on repeating that camp performance. What he has to keep his mind clear of, however, is the sports hernia and surgery that sidelined him for part of the summer.

“It’s normal. You don’t want to get hurt again,” he said. “When you’re starting in camp like that, everyone’s good so you just have to get to a high level quick. At the same time, you just have to [listen to] your body and do things right.”

When Fortin has been on the ice, however, he’s been impressive. Following Sunday’s outing coach Joel Quenneville talked of the young forward showing the abilities that made him such a pleasant camp surprise in 2016.

“He’s coming off that injury, missed a day and change but [Sunday] all of a sudden he had his legs, his stride back,” Quenneville said. “He’s a fast player who can back off defensemen and this year, this camp, at least we got him out there and captured that speed. He can be useful.”

Fortin had sports hernia surgery in late June; he was present at the Blackhawks’ prospect camp in July but, because of the recent surgery, was limited to off-ice workouts. He was back on ice at the team’s prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich., where the Blackhawks claimed the tournament title. That helped Fortin feel more comfortable again as he returned for his second Blackhawks camp, but he’ll keep an eye on things to make sure he doesn’t re-aggravate his hernia.

“I’m in good hands here and they know what to do with me,” I just do what they ask me. Camp is long, so we’ll just keep improving every day.”

The good thing is the Blackhawks are again happy with what Fortin is doing, even in his limited work at camp. The problem is there probably won’t be room for him, at least in the early going. The Blackhawks’ depth signings in early July mean a lot of one-way contracts, and other young guys – Alex DeBrincat and John Hayden among them – are also vying for a roster spot.

Fortin will mind his injury but still wants to go through this camp the same way he did the last one, playing his strongest game and looking for an opportunity. Whether it happens now or later, he’s happy to get it.

“I mean, camp is long so you have to focus on what you can see,” Fortin said. “Like [general manager] Stan Bowman and Joel said at the beginning of camp, everybody’s here to make the team and just try to find a way to do that. That’s my plan and I’ll do what I can do and see after.”

BRIEFLY

As they usually do, the Blackhawks will send most of their young players to their first preseason game on Tuesday night in Columbus.  Asked if he would send the Alex DeBrincat-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane combo that has been together the last few days at camp, Quenneville said, “maybe one of those three will go.”

The Blackhawks will start cutting their training camp roster either Wednesday or Thursday.

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

anisimovblackhawks.png
USA TODAY

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

There are very few things ever set in stone but entering this training camp, Artem Anisimov at second-line center was as solid a bet as you could make. But Nick Schmaltz’s strong camp has coach Joel Quenneville thinking, tinkering and considering the 21-year-old for that spot alongside Patrick Kane.

A bit of a surprise, for sure, but Quenneville likes the chemistry of Schmaltz and Kane, who have been skating together for part of the summer. As for Anisimov, if he’s the third-line center, he won’t sulk or change his game.

“I’m just going to go out and play and try to score goals and make plays,” he said following Sunday’s scrimmages.

Anisimov is back to 100 percent after admitting he wasn’t that when the Blackhawks entered the first-round series against the Nashville Predators last spring. The center had suffered a leg injury vs. Montreal in mid-March that sidelined him until Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s ready to go after the long offseason, although who his playing partners will be is now somewhat up in the air. On Sunday Anisimov centered Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp as Quenneville continues to look at options, not only for the top two lines, but to bolster bottom-six depth as well.

“I think every team needs good depth at center and have a strong three or four lines,” Anisimov said. “It’s helpful in a team game.”

DEBRINCAT’S CHANCE

Alex DeBrincat teamed with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz during Sunday’s scrimmages, as Quenneville gave the 19-year-old a chance in what he’s calling this season’s “lottery spot.” It was just a first glance at the trio but Quenneville liked what he saw.

“The upside of that could be really big,” said Quenneville. “He’s one of those guys who his instincts are high and he’s playing with a couple of guys who have the same type of instincts. The reading and anticipation off plays, communicating without having to communicate, they know where it’s going to go next and that’s something that will only get better as they get accustomed to playing together.”

Quenneville added that, “we’ll have a couple of days to look at him a little more.” The Blackhawks’ first preseason game is Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

ROZSIVAL’S STATUS

General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday that defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical. Quenneville specified on Sunday that Rozsival has an upper-body injury. Asked if Rozsival could miss the season, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.”