Myers: From here on, every game counts

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Myers: From here on, every game counts

Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011
4:21 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

Ah, home sweet home. For the Chicago Blackhawks so far this season, its been anything but. Whether theyve gotten into startstop mode too often, gotten too pretty or just havent shown up at all, the Madhouse has been maddening.

Well, now theyre going into enemy territory for a while. A long while, it seems. The Blackhawks will play 19 of their next 31 on the road, including this five-game trip that takes them through Western Canada and the southwest U.S. If the Blackhawks are going to be successful on it, they are going to have to get back to that simple, hard-hat hockey that fared so well for them on their Circus Trip back in November.

And theyre going to have to live by their own mantra: from here on out, every game truly does count.

We went into the break disappointed, so lets channel our energy in a proper way, coach Joel Quenneville said prior to the Blackhawks 7-4 victory over Columbus on Tuesday. You want to make sure guys are focused and youre ready to start.

The Blackhawks victory over the Blue Jackets exemplifies what these final 31 are probably going to be like: tough, sometimes mucky, fights to the end. Shaking off All-Star break rust and overcoming two deficits, the Blackhawks gritted one out. It came with no style points.

None of the remaining games should have style points. The Blackhawks just need to play hard, 60-minute games.

They need Patrick Kane to get his scoring going again. Same for Marian Hossa. They need Patrick Sharp to keep doing what hes been doing. Same for Jonathan Toews. They need both their goaltenders, Marty Turco and Corey Crawford, playing every night like theyre trying to grab the No. 1 job away from the other. They need their defense to be as sound as it was last season.

As Quenneville said, lets make sure theres a purpose. We all want to max out no matter what the situation.

Entering Thursday nights games, the Blackhawks were eighth in the Western Conference with 58 points. Four through seven are Nashville (61), San Jose (60), Anaheim (60) and Phoenix (59). Can they leap into fourth place with a couple of victories? Sure. Can they fall just as fast with some bad games? Absolutely.

The Blackhawks have been inconsistent this year. Ill argue the entire conference has been, save Vancouver and Detroit. You dont get a logjam like the one were seeing because everyones running on all cylinders.

For as much as the Blackhawks have squandered, they still have more than enough opportunities to climb back near the top. Theyve got to put their hard hats on again. Theyve got to play 60-minute games every night. And theyve got to embrace the road-game mentality every minute, every second.

The road beckons once more. The Blackhawks have some time to bond, regroup and recognize the task at hand. They can get there with simple, hard-played hockey.

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

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”