Blackhawks want to take the Penguins' place at the top again


Blackhawks want to take the Penguins' place at the top again

When the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted their second Stanley Cup last June, the Blackhawks were well ensconced in their offseason, one that was way too long for their liking. Even after a frustrating and brief postseason, some of the Blackhawks couldn’t help but notice what the Penguins did.

“It was a pretty impressive run,” Corey Crawford said. “A lot of injuries, too. I feel like they had a lot of guys hurt for a long period of time. It was a good run or two runs for that team. We definitely want to be the next team.”

Saying that is one thing. Pulling it off is quite another.

The Blackhawks have lost a few key players from their core and are trying to rebuild their bottom six to what it used to be. There are question marks on defense. And the young guys who made their debuts last season, including Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz, have to take that next step and become contributors throughout the regular season and beyond.

“We’re going to need them,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a number of young guys who came in and showed progression over the course of the year. Young guys coming in, [Gustav] Forsling, [Alex] DeBrincat, these guys not just contributing but also absorbing responsibility or leadership or quality ice time. They’ll all be moving up and expected to contribute in a meaningful way and be a part of the group that’ll make us a better team.”

Think back at the depth the Blackhawks had, especially on their 2013 and 2015 runs. When your fourth line is playing key minutes down the stretch or, in the case of 2013, scoring the Cup-winning goal, you know you’re living right. It was also about players who could gut out long games and take on extra minutes when others were lost to injury.

The Penguins’ Cup possibilities were supposed to be dashed when they lost Kris Letang in February. So much for that. The Blackhawks’ top four defensemen were supposed to wear out from overuse after Michal Rozsival’s ugly fractured ankle at the end of the 2015 second round. Again, skeptics be damned.

This past offseason the Penguins felt what the Blackhawks have dealt with for several years now: cap issues that forced them to get rid of/not re-sign some key members of their Cup teams. That’s not stopping some from predicting a three-peat for Pittsburgh. Even after losses you can regroup, reload and re-emerge. Just ask the Blackhawks in 2015.

When the Blackhawks see the Penguins on Thursday they’ll see themselves from a few short years ago. They want to get back there. We’ll soon find out if they have the right combination of talent and (especially) depth to do it.

“The game’s so fast, you need all four lines to contribute," Patrick Sharp. "If you’re not chipping in offensively you have to be real solid in all areas, provide some energy and be effective that way. You play 82 games at that high pace, there’s going to be bumps and bruises and there are going to be peaks and valleys. You need a lot of guys to step up at different times. It’s a good thing we’ve got some depth here.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Could Blackhawks become sellers at trade deadline?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Could Blackhawks become sellers at trade deadline?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the Blackhawks’ poor effort vs. Detroit, Corey Crawford’s health and what kind of run they will need to go on to make the Staney Cup playoffs.

Konroyd also weighs in on his roster concerns and whether or not the Blackhawks will be buyers or sellers at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

Joel Quenneville sends message to Blackhawks going into bye week


Joel Quenneville sends message to Blackhawks going into bye week

The Blackhawks are in a position they've never been in under Joel Quenneville. It's mid-January and they find themselves below the playoff line.

To make things even more difficult, they'll be sitting at home or on vacation for the next five days while they watch other Western Conference teams accumulate points during their league-mandated bye week. That means when they return to action on Saturday they'll have lots of ground to make up and minimal margin for error.

So while the Blackhawks should certainly use their down time to recharge both mentally and physically, Quenneville's message to his team is very clear.

"Mentally, get away," he said following a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. "Relax, I guess. Have a little fun. But hockey still has to be in the back of your mind. It’s still going to be on when you’re out there. Certainly knowing it’s going to take a lot more than what we showed in the first half of the season. We’re going to need everyone going all out every single night to have a chance."

And it's alarmingly true.

Here's what the wild card picture looks like going into Monday:

While just three points separate the Blackhawks from the Wild, the Blackhawks are in the worst position among the six teams in the picture. The Stars, who are already ahead by a point, have one game in hand on the Blackhawks, the Sharks have four and the streaking Avalanche have three. Heck, even the Ducks have a game in hand, which means an extra win would put them above the Blackhawks.

Every point is critical for the Blackhawks, not only because it obviously keeps them in the hunt, but because on game's they fail to collect points, they're scoreboard watching five other teams hoping they're coming away with nothing as well.

The Blackhawks will come out of the bye week with three straight home games, and if they don't play with their backs against the wall from here on out, their nine-year playoff streak could be in serious jeopardy.