Blackhawks

Boden: The hot line shouldn't be interrupted

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Boden: The hot line shouldn't be interrupted

Friday, March 4, 2011
12:30 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

One glance out at the United Center ice at this morning's game-day skate brought a sense of...Hmmm. If not, "Uh-oh."

The league's hottest player right now, Jonathan Toews, and the left wing on the league's hottest line, Patrick Sharp, were nowhere to be found. Patrick Kane skated with whomever would take him along.

Not to worry, however. Head Coach Joel Quenneville indicated afterward that both, along with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, were just nursing some aches and pains and are expected to face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight.

"Both of them are just taking a rest from practice, nursing some things," Kane said. "I expect 'em both to be back and be in there."

Corey Crawford will make his NHL career-high 10th consecutive start, though Quenneville admits with three back-to-backs over the next seven games, his workload will be something that's addressed game-by-game.

It's also the beginning of a five-game stretch against the East after playing the last five weeks exclusively against the West, except for one game. The Hurricanes come to town following an emotional home overtime win against Buffalo, which inched them up to 7th in that conference. Tomorrow night, the Hawks open a four-game trip versus a Toronto team that's surged back into contention by going 10-2-4 since the All-Star break. Since the Hawks haven't faced the Canes since last January, when goalie Cam Ward stood on his head against them, newcomer Chris Campoli faced them three times this season with Ottawa.

"It's a young team, high-paced, aggressive. They come at you in waves and you definitely can't take them lightly. This game's just as big for them as it is for us. They've got some guys to key on. If we give them low-percentage chances we'll have success."

"Look at the standings," Campoli's defensive partner, Brian Campbell, said. "We've won six in a row and two points up in the playoffs and we know how quickly it can be taken away. Obviously Carolina's fighting for the playoffs too, so it's a big contest for us.."

"It's a different style out there in the East," Kane added. "A little bit different than what we're used to here in the West. Carolina needs to win, we need to win. It comes down to getting two points."

That's the message Quenneville hopes everyone in his locker room understands.

"You look at where they're at - the same boat. It's a fast team with guys who make plays and score goals. The approach has to be the same as the last four games - the same intensity and attitude. These other teams have a lot at stake as well."

Eighteen-year-old Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring with 48 points, including 22 goals. The 7th overall draft pick last June is tied for the league lead in rookie power play points with 16.

One Week from Today

The Blackhawks will be hanging with President Obama next Friday after the official announcement came down yesterday.

"It's pretty cool," Campbell said. "We're all excited about it and getting to shake hands with the President will be something special. I've got a picture with President Clinton and I want to add to the collection, so I'm looking forward to it."

Kane will be reunited with an old friend.

"For some reason he wanted to talk to me after the (Stanley Cup-clinching) game, and I remember we were doing our team photo with the Cup (at the United Center two days later), and we had to interrupt it for about two minutes. It's pretty exciting. I'll probably bring my FlipCam and take it all in. We should have some good memories."

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to Oilers: Connor McDavid adds to highlight reel

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to Oilers: Connor McDavid adds to highlight reel

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night:
 
1. Shake-up on power play doesn't work.

Joel Quenneville spruced up his power play units before Wednesday's game in an effort to snap a dry spell, but the Blackhawks had no luck in that department in the second of a back-to-back.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the man advantage against an Oilers team that was ranked dead last in penalty kill percentage going into the contest, and failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 opportunity for 56 seconds in the opening minutes of the season period.

They're getting off a fair amount of shots, but the quality of them isn't there.

2. Ryan Hartman fine after brief exit due to illegal hit.

It was a physical game between the Blackhawks-Oilers, but a line was crossed at the 4:59 mark into the second period when Zack Kassian delivered a huge hit on Hartman, who went face-first into the boards.

Kassian was given a two-minute minor penalty for boarding, a call that didn't sit well with the sold-out United Center crowd of 21,444. Hartman went to the locker room to be checked out after the hit despite getting up quickly and showing no visible signs of distress, but he fortunately returned a few shifts later.

It was a dangerous hit by Kassian, and an avoidable one too. 

Quenneville admitted Hartman getting up quickly perhaps may have "helped" keep it a minor penalty and not a five-minute major, but the Blackhawks coach wasn't focused on that after seeing the result unfold.

"I saw how hard it looked," Quenneville said. "But Hartzy getting up right away, that helped. You don't even measure it anymore after that. That's the one thing you're hopeful for right off the bat."
 
3. Connor McDavid adds another play to highlight reel.

We're only two weeks into the season, but the 20-year-old reigning Hart Trophy winner submitted an early entry for Assist of the Year.

Late in the first period, McDavid flew from his own end into the offensive zone, made a spin-o-rama move on two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and backhanded a perfect pass to Patrick Maroon, who tapped in a goal at the doorstep.

It looks impossible to defend from anyone watching, and Keith pretty much felt the same way.

"When he gets the speed in the other end there and he's able to skate all the way down, it's tough to stop a guy especially when he's that fast," Keith said. "He's just flying through the middle. I'm just a sitting duck there at the other end of the ice waiting for him to come full speed. It's a hard play to defend against."
 
4. Anton Forsberg sharp again.

It's a small sample size, but the Blackhawks' backup goaltender has looked really sharp in practically every start he's had in a Chicago uniform, including preseason.

He deserved a better fate in his regular season debut last week in Toronto when he stopped 39 of 43 shots in an overtime loss, and the same applied here.

Forsberg tied a career-high with 40 saves, and seemingly got better as the game went on.

"I for sure felt more comfortable, felt like I was more used to the speed," Forsberg said. "It's tough again to lose in overtime, obviously I wanted a win and that's kind of frustrating."

"Excellent games, both games," Quenneville said of his goaltender. "Would've been nice to get him a win tonight."
 
5. Jordan Oesterle keeps it simple in debut.

The Blackhawks' crowded blue line has made it difficult for Quenneville to give all eight defensemen a fair amount of playing time, but Oesterle took advantage of his season debut.

He logged 15:01 of ice time, registered three shot attempts (two on goal), and blocked two shots.

"I liked him," Quenneville said. "Moves the puck."

Said Keith: "I thought he was good. Tough situation for him, he hasn't played all year in a game but I thought he played good. He's got good poise, he's smart back there."

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

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USA TODAY

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

Mark Letestu raised his arms in celebration, his 4-on-3 power-play goal giving the Edmonton Oilers an overtime victory over the Blackhawks. The home team could only look on in frustration, knowing that if it could have just converted one power play on Thursday it may have been a different result.

Five more power plays, five more opportunities that yielded nothing for the Blackhawks, who are now 6-for-39 (15.4 percent) in that department on the season. The 5-on-4 chances were tough enough but coach Joel Quenneville and several Blackhawks pointed specifically to the 5-on-3 the Blackhawks had for 56 seconds.

“The 5-on-3, we had some great looks around the net,” Quenneville said. “A lot of loose pucks that we just didn’t find the handle [on], we’re not anticipating or sniffing them out around the net. Some close looks but no finish.”

It’s been a recurring theme for the Blackhawks on the power play, and not just this year. Again, in the past the Blackhawks didn’t sweat any power-play issues much; their 5-on-5 scoring was usually strong. This early season, however, things have quieted on that front. On Thursday the Blackhawks cleaned up a lot of the mistakes they made against the St. Louis Blues the previous night. Anton Forsberg was terrific. The Blackhawks’ second line of Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane was looking like it did prior to Schmaltz’s injury. But the power play remained the same.

“Yeah, we had a lot of chances, we made plays to the net. We just didn’t capitalize on the power play which would’ve been the difference,” Ryan Hartman said. “We have a chance on the 5-on-3, which would’ve been nice. Just some chances all around, like [Jonathan] Toews’ shot that just squeaked by. Just some missed opportunities.”

The Blackhawks have looked at ways to get their power play going. They’ve tinkered with personnel – the latest was keeping the top two lines together for their respective power-play shifts. Usually it’s come down to the problems that have hampered them before: not enough movement, not enough shots, not enough hunger around the net for loose pucks. The final issue was especially prevalent on Thursday.

The chances were there on the power play. The home team had the bulk of the opportunities. The visiting one had the finish.

“The 5-on-3 we had some decent looks but that was a chance to get a huge goal for us,” Quenneville said. “The power play late in the second was decent, the third was ordinary, but we’ve been moving personnel around. We have the ingredients to make it work but a lot of loose pucks we didn’t get in our 5-on-5 game comparable around the net on the power play as well. We didn’t smell anything out around there.”