Sweet stick music: Hawks roll to third straight win

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Sweet stick music: Hawks roll to third straight win

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 9:35 p.m. Updated 10:40 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

NASHVILLE - The Chicago Blackhawks have squandered some opportunities this season when they didnt play a strong defensive game. On Thursday, their ability to do that earned them one of their biggest victories of the season.

WATCH: Crawford, Hawks hungry

Tomas Kopecky, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp scored and Corey Crawford earned his third shutout this season in a 3-0 victory over the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks, who have now won three in a row and four out of their last five, climbed back into the top eight of the Western Conference.

And the only thing lost on Thursday was coach Joel Quennevilles voice.

Going into the third my voice (left). It was like the first day of training camp or the first regular-season game. Id been idle for a while, said Quenneville, who was coaching in his first game since having treatment for an ulcer last week. Thursdays game was obviously a welcome sight for him.

Crawford was great but the whole defensive core played great, he said. We made some plays up to wingers and forwards. That was good was how solid we were defensively.

It was another dose of momentum for the Blackhawks, who were strong, stoic and defensive-minded from the net out. Crawford stopped all 31 shots he faced and his teammates blocked another 21 shots 13 by defensemen.

It seems like every time I was trying to fight through screens our guys came up with big blocks. That makes a huge difference for a goaltender, Crawford said. We were hungry tonight all over the ice. Our forwards were getting back pressure on their rushes, helping out our D and we were making great plays to get out of our zone.

And when the Predators made mistakes, the Blackhawks turned it into offense. The Blackhawks were about to get a power play late in the first period but Kopecky, the extra attacker on the delayed call, took a pretty Sharp pass and scored.

Hossa was next, causing a Predators turnover then splitting the defensemen en route to a breakaway goal and a 2-0 lead early in the third.

WATCH: Hossa relieved after game

It felt good just to have a regular goal, said Hossa, whose last three goals have been two empty netters and a penalty shot. Ive had some good chances but the puck doesnt want to go in. I saw the puck was coming straight in front of me. I just had to out-skate the defensemen.

Sharp added the empty-net goal with 31 seconds remaining.
After shutting out the Predators, Corey Crawford improved to 21-12-3 this season with a 2.11 goals against average and .923 save percentage. (AP)
(Our focus) needs to stay right where its at, knowing that we havent done anything yet, said Duncan Keith, who had a team-high four blocked shots. Its been a nice couple of wins here that we can really build off of and try to keep it going.

The Blackhawks are gaining momentum that they hope finally leads to that lengthy winning streak thats eluded them so far this season. Theyre feeling better. But given the crazy West race, they know they cant get too comfortable.

There shouldn't be any complacency, Quenneville said. You want to keep pushing ahead. In the rear-view mirror, its so tight. Were never in a place where we should feel comfortable.
Briefly

Niklas Hjalmarsson missed a few shifts at the end of Thursday nights game. Quenneville said the defenseman has an upper-body injury but that it doesnt look like its serious.

Kopeckys goal was his 11th of the season, giving him a new career high.

Sharps goal was his 32nd of the season.

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

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.