Myers: Hawks have been able to weather the storm

346625.jpg

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.

Former Blackhawks prospect Stephen Johns in the midst of frustrating season with Stars

Former Blackhawks prospect Stephen Johns in the midst of frustrating season with Stars

Former Blackhawks prospect Stephen Johns was like the rest of the Dallas Stars entering this season: he was optimistic, for his own game but also for the Stars, the team coming off a solid postseason and bringing a strong lineup back.

The season has been nothing but a disappointment, however, for the Stars, for a lot of their players and definitely for Johns, who has been in and out of the lineup.

“We have a pretty young team and most of these guys have played on teams that have always had the chance to win the championship of whatever league,” Johns said. “It’s tough for a lot of us right now. I’ve never been on a team that’s missed the playoffs. You have to stick together and get through it together and win as many games as you can. But it’s tough. It sucks.”

Johns will be a healthy scratch on Thursday when the Stars face the Blackhawks. The Stars are coming off a 1-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks and, like most coaches, Lindy Ruff is hesitant to change a lineup after a victory. Johns has played in 55 games this season. For the 24-year-old defenseman who was considered a great present-and-future piece of the deal that sent he and Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks to the Stars in the summer of 2015, it’s been frustrating.

[BLACKHAWKS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

“It’s all about confidence at this point and trying to find it,” Johns said. “It’s easy to lose your confidence and hard to get it back. It’s just finding it and sticking with it, blocking negative plays out and not letting it affect you, but it’s tough.”

It would be easy to think forward to next season. The Stars are all but eliminated from this postseason and, with some good health, perhaps they could get back to where they were in the 2015-16 season. Johns, too. Instead, he’ll focus on trying to make the final games of this season as positive as possible.

“You can’t look too far ahead into the future. Right now we have 10 games left and we just have to focus on those 10 games because nobody knows what’s going to happen in the summer,” Johns said. “It’s more about focusing this year on a positive note and then whatever happens, happens.”

Ryan Hartman gets another shot at center when Blackhawks take on Stars

Ryan Hartman gets another shot at center when Blackhawks take on Stars

Ryan Hartman isn't a total stranger to center.

He played more of it in his Plymouth Whalers (OHL) days but also got some center shifts in with the Rockford IceHogs. That's where he'd also get some faceoffs, especially if another center had, or was coming off of, a wrist injury.

His return there Tuesday night wasn't so shabby, either, as he moved to the second-line center spot when the Blackhawks were looking for a boost. So it's no surprise that he'll be back there again on Thursday night when the Blackhawks play hosts to the Dallas Stars.

Hartman admits he was a little surprised when he was put in that spot in the Blackhawks' overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks. But with this team you have to expect anything, and Hartman was happy to join Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane.

"You never know at a certain time of the game what's going to happen. But it went well," Hartman said. "Playing with those two guys is fun, and they're two special players. They make it easy on you, keeping the puck and making plays. It's exciting to play with those two guys."

Hartman did get some post-skate faceoff work in on Thursday. He said he'll do some video work as well.

"They put up video before games of tendencies of every center. I've just gotta watch that close before tonight's game so I know what some of their habits are and what centers I'll be lined up against," he said.

Hartman playing second-line center gives the Blackhawks another option in Artem Anisimov's injury absence. Coach Joel Quenneville said, depending on how things go, that Hartman could be considered to center the third or fourth line in the future.

"I liked him there, and the way he plays with those two guys, you can have a net presence and disruption around the net and a lot of action with those guys in that area. He has a quick stick and maybe there's some production there and it gives us some options of using him in the middle in other spots as well going forward," Quenneville said. "For a period there I thought he did a real nice job. We'll see how it works out. It looked all right today in practice. It's one more option, which we like."

[BLACKHAWKS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

CSN has complete coverage of Thursday night's game between the Blackhawks and Stars, starting with Blackhawks Pregame Live at 7 p.m., followed by puck drop from the United Center at 7:30 p.m. You can catch all the action on CSN or streaming live here on CSNChicago.com or on the NBC Sports app.

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

John Hayden, Jonathan Toews, Richard Panik
​Artemi Panarin, Ryan Hartman, Patrick Kane
Nick Schmaltz, Marcus Kruger, Marian Hossa
Dennis Rasmussen, Tanner Kero, Jordin Tootoo

​Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson
Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk

​Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries/illness: Artem Anisimov (left leg)

Dallas Stars

Forward lines

Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky
​Remi Elie, Tyler Seguin, Brett Ritchie
Devin Shore, Radek Faksa, Patrick Sharp
Curtis McKenzie, Adam Cracknell, Jiri Hudler

​Defensive pairs

Esa Lindell and John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn
​Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak

​Goaltender

Kari Lehtonen

Injuries/illness: Mattias Janmark (knee), Antoine Roussel (hand), Jason Spezza (back)