Niemi, Sharks get the best of Blackhawks again

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Niemi, Sharks get the best of Blackhawks again

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010
10:00 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

When the Chicago Blackhawks have won lately, theyve been disciplined. Theyve stayed out of the penalty box, staying calm and staying away from costly penalties and draining kills.

But on Thursday, they got away from that disciplined game and it cost them.

Joe Thornton scored the game-winner a few seconds after the Blackhawks killed off their final Sharks power play of the night and Antti Niemi collected his third victory against his former team in the Blackhawks 5-3 loss to San Jose on Thursday night.

The Blackhawks were called for six penalties against San Jose, which had the leagues sixth-best power play fifth-best on the road entering Thursdays game. San Jose scored two power-play goals and added Thorntons not long after another advantage in the third.

The effort was there, but I dont think sometimes the smarts were there, defenseman Brian Campbell said. Against St. Louis, we had a ton of penalties, before that when we won four games in a row, we took either (no penalties), one or two in every game. Especially against a team like San Jose, youre killing off that many penalties you get out of sync.

Coach Joel Quenneville was unhappy with the lack of discipline and some of the calls.

Ill disagree 100 percent with two calls tonight that I dont even know where they came from. One (on Brent Seabrook) put us down 5 on 3 and the other (on Jassen Cullimore) led to the winning goal, said Quenneville, who was also frustrated with how the Blackhawks gave up some of those goals.

We almost got through that 5 on 3, which wouldve been nice. But that open-side play those plays, empty netters are plays we have to defend against and be in proper position, Quenneville said of the Sharks first power-play goal by Benn Ferriero. Our PK has struggled this year, but those tap-in goals are something weve got to get out of our repertoire.

Marty Turco, who stopped 40 against St. Louis on Tuesday, allowed four goals on just 20 shots against San Jose.

I couldve made a couple more saves, couldve been the difference, Turco said. I certainly dont make excuses for myself.

But despite the errors, the Blackhawks battled back. Troy Brouwer scored a power-play goal with 22.9 seconds remaining in the second period and Campbell came through with just a half second left in the period to tie the score 3-3.

That was a big lift going into the third, Seabrook said. We thought we got some energy from the second period.

The Sharks, however, got over it quick.

There were a few F-bombs for about a minute and then we kind of calmed the dressing room down shortly after, said Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. We just said, Hey, weve still got a chance to win the game. It took about a minute but it did calm down after that.

The Blackhawks were finding success with good, clean hockey. The last two games, theyve had anything but.

We were taking too many penalties and its tough to get back into it sometimes, Campbell said. I still felt the puck battles were pretty strong tonight. But its unacceptable to not do everything right every night.

Foley, Olczyk extended

The Blackhawks re-signed broadcasting tandem Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk to three-year extensions on Thursday. The deals will keep play-by-play broadcaster Foley and television analyst Olczyk through the 2013-14 season.

Foley has been with the Blackhawks for 28 seasons, calling games for the team from 1981-2006 before returning to the booth to start the 2008-09 season.

Olczyk played 16 seasons in the NHL, including five with the Blackhawks. Hes been a TV analyst for the Blackhawks over the past five seasons.

Mothers days

The Blackhawks will have their moms on their latest road trip when they head to Los Angeles on New Years Day. It will be the first time the Blackhawks have had such a trip. Players figure manners will definitely be in order.

Im sure guys will be on best behavior, defenseman Brent Seabrook said. A lot of please and thank you.

Quennevilles mother will also be attending.

The enthusiasm just from my own mother coming on this trip, usually shes excited for Christmas but shes excited about the moms trip, Quenneville said Thursday morning. Everyones excited. The dads trip was great, a lot of fun.

Niemis return

Niemi stopped 26 of 29 for his third victory vs. the Blackhawks and first back at the United Center. Niemi said it was different coming back.

It was a funny feeling, he said. Today was even more exciting. Getting to morning practice and seeing the Blackhawks trainers was great and made it feel like a little more than just one game.

Briefly

Jack Skille was a healthy scratch against the Sharks on Thursday. Of that, Quenneville said, we had some tough decisions. Jordan (Hendrys) played well up front and we were looking for consistency.

Fernando Pisani was out due to illness.

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

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Life as a backup goaltender can be difficult. 

The job entails being prepared at all times and performing at a high level when your number is called despite going sometimes weeks without seeing any action.

With Corey Crawford backing up Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, Scott Darling is getting the No. 1 reps in the crease for the Blackhawks.

And he's taking full advantage of that.

"Yeah, obviously I miss Corey, but it's fun to be the guy right now," Darling said following a 2-0 loss in Wednesday's preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I'll take any starts I can get. I don't care if it's regular season or preseason, I just want to play as much as I can. It was nice to get the first game under my belt."

After facing just three shots in the first period, Darling stayed on his toes by denying all 23 shots he saw in the second period — a handful of them on the penalty kill.

"I definitely don't like sitting there," Darling said of the first period. "I don't think they had a shot for about 12 minutes, but you've got to learn how to play in those situations too. It's nice to get some game feels."

Darling finished with 33 saves overall in the Blackhawks' loss and was sharp in the first dress rehearsal of the year as both goals were out of his control — a redirect on the power play and a rebound tap-in at the doorstep, both by Chris Kunitz.

Credit his strong play to working hard in the offseason and maximizing on the opportunity he's been given.

"Darling certainly was a standout, not only when we got a little bit overwhelmed in the second period, but really throughout the game," Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was certainly a positive, which we always expect out of him but I think it's a testament to the way he prepared himself this summer and I think it certainly showed tonight." 

Darling doesn't get many chances to anchor the blue paint on a nightly basis.

He started in 24 games last season, 11 of which came during the final portion of the season in March and April when Crawford was dealing with an upper-body injury.

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Darling said that stretch was "probably the best I've ever felt" because you know you're the guy, which eliminates the stress factor of turning in a great performance to earn your next start.

He finished the 2015-16 campaign with a 12-8-4 record, 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage, including one shutout.

Not bad, not great. 

This season is a chance to prove he can continue to be a consistent and reliable goaltender in any situation, and when the 27-year-old Lemont native gets the opportunity to represent the team he grew up rooting for — something he never loses sight of — Darling expects to be on top of his game when called upon.

"I'm seriously excited to be on the Chicago Blackhawks still," he said. "I just want to play the best I can when they give me a chance to play."

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz figured it would be different at this level.

Yes, Schmaltz had played against some of college’s best en route to that national title with the University of North Dakota. But the pro level is the pro level for a reason.

“It’s a big transition from the college level. Guys are faster, more skilled, and you have less time and space,” he said. “But as camp’s gone on everyone’s gotten a little more comfortable and making more plays and I think we’ll continue that into tonight.”

Schmaltz looked pretty comfortable on Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks lost their preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0. Schmaltz logged 18 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time, including 2:53 on the power play. For the Madison, Wisc., kid who used to come to Blackhawks playoff games, playing that first game at the United Center was “surreal.”

“It was good,” he said after the game. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we had some good opportunities. We can get more pucks on net. We let the goalie off a little easy, but hopefully just keep building and keep getting better every day.”

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Schmaltz has practiced some on the left wing, and that’s where he was in Wednesday night’s scrimmage (with Vinnie Hinostroza centering and Richard Panik on right wing). The Blackhawks always love versatility, but Schmaltz going on the wing is more of a need than an option right now.

“Most of the openings in the organization are on the wing. We’re pretty full down the middle. It’s something we’re trying to see if he can fit in there and play well there,” assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “And he’s got a nice set of hands, a nice skill set, so hopefully he’ll be comfortable on the wing there.”

Schmaltz has played more right wing than left, but he said the adjustments aren’t so bad.

“Just wall work. Might have to make some backhand plays off the wall but other than that, nothing, really,” Schmaltz said. “Since me and Panik are playing off wing, we’ll get across the blue line, cut across and make plays to each other. It’ll be fun out there.”

Schmaltz held his own in his first game in a Blackhawks uniform. There are high expectations for him entering this season, but he’ll let his game dictate where he ends up.

“If I play my game, play hard, I should put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “But I can’t control what decisions they make, so I’ll compete as hard as I can every night and show them what I can do.”