Myers: Hawks have been able to weather the storm

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Myers: Hawks have been able to weather the storm

Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010
10:50 a.m.
By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

First I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. I hope its a good one for all of you.

Now with that in mind, I would be remiss if I didnt bring some good news: the Chicago Blackhawks are 6-3-1 since Nov. 30, the day after they lost Marian Hossa to his lower body injury and six days before they would lose Patrick Kane to a left ankle injury. Not so bad for a group missing the teams sorry, make that two of the NHLs premiere players. As of Christmas Day, the Blackhawks are seventh in the Western Conference with 41 points. No, theyre not right in the midst of the top 8; but considering No. 1 Detroit has 46 points, theyre right in the thick of it.

Welcome to the Western Conference, where the standings seem to change on a minute-by-minute basis. Its always tight in the West but this year its been unbelievably suffocating.
But I digress

So how have the Blackhawks been able to weather the storm sans Hossa and Kane? After months of talking about getting away from too pretty, too stylish hockey, they actually have. Their play lately has no bells, no whistles and no worrying about dazzling the home crowd. Call it nuts-and-bolts hockey, hard-hat hockey, blue-collar hockey, it all comes down to the same important point: the Blackhawks have won more a heck of a lot more than theyve lost without two of their top players.

Certainly the Blackhawks have had their eye-rolling moments through this stretch please see both games against the Colorado Avalanche, especially the one in Denver. But lately the Blackhawks have gotten back to playing complete games with everyone on board.

Corey Crawford has been great in net, stopping everything from the mundane to the mammoth. By the way, is it too early to say he should be among the NHLs three stars for December? Somewhere after that Crosby guy, of course. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are back to their old selves, and Brian Campbell has been stellar. Goals have come from everyone, from top liners to checking liners to fourth liners (shameless plug: please see my Hawk Talk from Thursday). And the Blackhawks havent played with fire: theyve played clean hockey, avoiding penalties and killing them off.

More comfort and joy is on the way, folks. If the injured parties arent back for the Blackhawks Dec. 26 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they should return soon after that. December could have been a big bag of ugly for the Blackhawks without Hossa and Kane. Instead, theres been more reasons to celebrate than not. And with two of the Blackhawks top stars soon returning, the New Year could be pretty happy, too.

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The Blackhawks' starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let's just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks' victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain's confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should've gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews' goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He's getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, "it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen."

2. Great start. This hasn't been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn't the Blackhawks' best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 26 of 28 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford "looked like he was in control."

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he's been very good. When he's been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks' second goal. Kempny didn't play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team's road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. "Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it's man coverage, sometimes it's playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff," Quenneville said. "Defenseman is a tough position as you're growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he's making progress."

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik's 11th goal of the season in the first period.