Concussions continue to plague NHL

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Concussions continue to plague NHL

Dave Bolland thinks about it all the time: the concussion hes had, the worries of getting another one and the effects that could come in the future. And with Chris Pronger becoming the latest player sidelined by his own concussion problems, those thoughts are there again.

I think you always have them in the back of your head; you always have it sitting there, said Bolland, a day after the Philadelphia Flyers announced Pronger will miss the rest of this regular- and postseason. You never know going into a hit or anything, you could have another concussion. It does get scary.

Pronger is the latest to be felled by a concussion, and its unknown how it could affect the 37-year-old beyond this season. Will he play again? What does his injury now mean for his quality of life in the future? Its all unknown. And thats where it really gets scary.

Its a tough stretch right now for the league and certain teams with that diagnosis. The tough part about it all is the uncertainty, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. At the end of the day you hope their quality of life gets back in order quickly, then you make other decisions. Its tough to hear that type of news.

Pronger is the latest to be sidelined by a concussion. His status for this season, unfortunately, is sealed. For others, such as Pittsburghs Sidney Crosby, Philadelphias Claude Giroux and now Carolinas Jeff Skinner, the term out indefinitely is part of a daily routine.

And while several players suffer through their concussion problems, talk continues on how to cut down on them. Sean ODonnell, who was Prongers teammate in Anaheim and Philadelphia, said players have to be proactive in protecting each other.

Everyone wants the big hit and you want your ice time and want your coach to be happy with you, but we have to realize were a fraternity out there. You want to make sure you take care of your guys, he said. You want to hit them hard. If they get hurt fairly, they do. But we need to make sure when someones vulnerable we pull up and our eyes dont light up because we think we can really put a hit on someone.

The term concussion epidemic has been a media story staple lately. But are concussions more prevalent now or are they just finally being recognized more?

I think theyre definitely being diagnosed more, ODonnell said. You used to hear the term stinger or got his bell rung, and if you added those up, they might be the same amount of times you hear concussion now.

Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne, who is still good friends with Pronger, said theres certainly a different outlook about concussions now compared to several years ago.

In the old times, nobody knew how dangerous they were. At that time, if you didnt play right away they thought you werent tough enough in this league, he said. Obviously, were all so concerned about concussions because you never know.

Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, who was Prongers teammate and sometimes roommate during their St. Louis Blues days, said the concussion situation is three-fold.

First, theres more information and guys are more cognizant of when theyre concussed and reporting it; and doctors are more knowledgeable of whats going on, he said. Second, ever since the rule changes, guys are bigger, stronger, faster and theres not much obstruction for guys to get in and hit guys. The third part is, maybe weve lost a little bit of that respect for each other, and somehow hitting guys in vulnerable positions has been accepted.

The NHL is cracking down on the bad hits that cause these concussions. Brendan Shanahan has doled out the suspensions and players are getting the message. But sometimes even the clean hits cause concussions, so theyll never completely be eradicated.

Pronger is the latest concussion casualty. He wont be the last. Players are just trying to be as aware and safe as they can be.

I hope hes going to be better. This league needs a guy like Pronger, Selanne said. There are too many concussions right now. And the league and every player should be worried about it.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Keep it simple.

There is no team in the league that scores fewer goals per game (2.00) and allows more goals per game (3.32) than the Avalanche, who are 4-18-1 in their last 23 games, including 1-7-0 in their past eight. The Blackhawks need to keep it simple, get bodies in front of the net and take advantage on special teams against a team that ranks in the bottom-seven in both the power play and penalty kill.

2. Will Jonathan Toews' success against Colorado continue?

It's been a tough year for the Blackhawks captain, who has only seven goals and 21 points in 37 games, including three points in his last seven. Earlier this season he went 13 consecutive games without a goal, and snapped that on Dec. 23 against Colorado in a 2-1 overtime loss. He recorded a season-high seven shots on goal in that game, and has scored a goal in each of his last four contests against the Avalanche. They seem to be his slumpbuster, so perhaps he'll come through again.

3. Marian Hossa's impact.

In the first meeting of the season, Hossa scored two goals in a 4-0 win over Colorado. In the second, the Blackhawks were without him after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury, and fell 2-1 in overtime. The Blackhawks are nearly at full strength this time around, with Marcus Kruger the lone injured player who's recovering from an apparent hand injury.

4. Nathan MacKinnon.

After a solid showing at the World Cup of Hockey last fall, MacKinnon was considered a strong candidate to have a breakout season with a new head coach that preaches an up-tempo style of play, right up MacKinnon's ally. But he hasn't reached that level yet, with 28 points in 41 games. Not bad, but not great by his standards as the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. He scored the overtime winner and added an assist in last month's victory against Chicago at the United Center.

5. Short shifts.

This will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams, but the first one in Colorado. Due to the high altitude in the Mile-High City, expect Joel Quenneville to distribute the minutes more evenly throughout their four lines and intstruct the Blackhawks to be short with their shifts, no longer than 40 seconds.

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Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"