Dangerous (D-)end games

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Dangerous (D-)end games

The Bears currently have three ends and one defensive tackle with four or more sacks through eight games. Last year they had four through 16 games, including tackle Amobi Okoye who is now on the bench after being beaten out by Nate Collins.

Defensive end Israel Idonije has four now; he had five all last season. Corey Wootton has four; he had zero in 2011.

This all takes on added significance next Sunday when the Bears face the Houston Texans, who have allowed quarterback Matt Schaub to be sacked just 10 times. Only Eli Manning (eight) has been sacked fewer times among starting quarterbacks.

Defensive tackle Stephen Paea continued his impact playmaking with a half-sack shared with Idonije. Paea also collected two tackles and a quarterback hit, and he has had a sack, tackle for loss, solo tackle or quarterback pressure, sometimes more than one from the group, in every game this season.

Paeas sack gave him 1.5 for the year, serviceable for a nose tackle, while three-technique Henry Melton has 4.5.

Paea collapsed the center of the Tennessee pocket into quarterback Matt Hasselbecks lap but he was more impressed by the outside rush that has gotten steadily stronger. Julius Peppers has 5.5 sacks, Idonije four, Corey Wootton four after one of Hasselbeck on Sunday, and Shea McClellin 2.5.

Our D-ends are just beasts, Paea said, shaking his head. If we can get some push in the middle, we know that those guys are going to drive the quarterback into us and leave him nowhere to go.

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The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.