Blackhawks

Blackhawks better, but no 'W' all that matters

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Blackhawks better, but no 'W' all that matters

Moral victories are nice, but the longer a team has to settle for them, the less they mean.

The Blackhawks remained stuck at one point in their last nine games and theyve pretty much used up all their mulligans in the Western Conference playoff standings. No, they wont be out of it by the time they take the ice against the NHLs best team Thursday at Madison Square Garden. But who would have thought at the start of this trip that by the time they return to the United Center Sunday morning, they just might be?

The penalty kill held the leagues second-ranked power play off the board in three chances. The compete level and overall defensive coverage was more consistent. They rallied twice from one-goal deficits in a tough arena to tie.

But none of that mattered when Dylan Olsen couldnt get a puck out of the Hawks zone with about six minutes left. Nashville worked it around to Ryan Ellis, who wound up from the point for the second time in the game and the rubber wound up behind Ray Emery. The first time, it was tipped-in by Nick Spaling for a 2-1 Preds lead. This time, it glanced off Duncan Keiths stick, but Emery still had a clear look and maybe time to adjust the deflection.

The moral victory is that Emery was otherwise very good. The fact that a big save eluded him meant the Hawks would go without a victory again when they couldnt rally back a third time. The Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line that Joel Quenneville put together was very good. The reality is it didnt get on the scoresheet despite heavy offensive pressure and accounting for 10 of the teams 32 shots.

The Hawks played hard and with urgency. When they skated off, their situation became more urgent.

In five of the seven games so far on this trip, the Hawks have found themselves tied in the third period. In another, they entered the third down just one goal. Theyve been close, but been unable to finish. It wound up being another night that didnt quiet those wondering if they are finished.

As they head to New York, that Giants analogy they used a week ago after the G-men won the Super Bowl despite sporting a 7-7 record late in the season could inspire a trip to Tom Coughlins office. The longer the wait becomes to draw that comparison, no matter the effort, the harder it is to believe it could happen the same way without the results.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

It’s an annual rite of passage if you cover or are a fan of the Blackhawks: you question the power play, because there always seems to be an issue with the power play. You wonder why every season, given the talent on this team. And again this fall the power play has sputtered.

But a funny thing happened at the end of the weekend. The Blackhawks’ power play started to look good, started to generate chances and started to score. In 10 games prior to the Blackhawks’ Nov. 12 game against New Jersey they had just three power-play goals in 40 opportunities. In their last three games (vs. the Devils, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins), they’ve tallied five goals on 13 opportunities.

So what’s been working?

“I’ll probably give you the same answer as when it wasn’t working: pucks to the net, guys in front,” Patrick Sharp said. “We have the shot mentality more so than just moving it around and getting it set up. You look at the goals we’ve scored, it’s nothing overly complicated. It’s just getting the puck to the net. Just stay with it.”

Sounds simple enough, but the stay-with-it part has probably been the toughest segment of the equation. When the Blackhawks slumped they really slumped, and their lack of confidence on the power play was as evident as their lack of scoring on it. Yes, stressing over it can have its affect; and when the Blackhawks got those two power-play goals against the Devils it seemed to be a release.

“You get one, that weight gets lifted off your chest a little bit, you can play a little loser and maybe not grip your stick as tight as when things weren’t going well,” Cody Franson said. “When you’re confident out there you’re moving the puck cleanly, things happen a little quicker for you and give you those better looks at good chances. When you’re not that confident sometimes you’re not executing as well and things were moving slower and you’re not generating too much. Confidence definitely plays a big part in it.”

So back to what’s working. The Blackhawks started becoming more active on the power play, cutting down on the passes and increasing the shots. They’ve been there for rebounds. They started feeding off the success, be it with the power play as a unit or with individual performances. Artem Anisimov has returned to being a force at the net again; of his five goals in his last three games, two are power-play goals.

“A couple of broken plays and sometimes you get some breaks. You win a faceoff and make a quick little play after a couple of great opportunities on the prior whistle there that didn’t go in. I just think shots at the net and traffic and off that, sometimes they go in,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our entries have always been alright this year, so we’re getting zone time and let’s get some simpler looks and sometimes they go in. I think gaining confidence there, it seems like we’re having the puck more and longer and sustaining some offense off it.”

The Blackhawks have struggled more than they’ve succeeded on the power play the last few seasons. But as their overall scoring has increased again, so has their power-play production. Good timing.

“People tend to say the power play can keep you in games and the penalty kill can win you games. Our penalty kill’s been great and has given us chances in a lot of games. [Corey Crawford’s] been playing pretty well,” Franson said. “And when our power play can give us success we find ourselves in better situations to try and win games.”