Blackhawks

Boden: What are you thinking behind that poker face?

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Boden: What are you thinking behind that poker face?

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010
1:38 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
With the Blackhawks spending part of this three-day recess in the middle of their six-game trip in Las Vegas, it got me wondering whether it's time yet to reveal our hand on where this team's headed, long-term this season. Should we still be holding our chips in judging this team? All in? Folding?

Is this truly going to be a Jekyll-&-Hyde team all season long, forever finding a way to get in sync? Are they just toying with us -- playing the dangerous game of "flipping the switch" -- and playing hard and well when they need and want to? In an early-season "Hawk Talk," we praised the group for its ability to find ways to win games. Since then, they've gone through stretches of finding ways to lose. Disciplined, hard-working, all-around games tease us, only to be followed by a flat effort.

Their resume shows they've found ways to beat some of the top teams the first month and a half (Los Angeles, St. Louis, Vancouver, and ending Anaheim's six-game winning streak). They've also found ways to lose twice at home to Edmonton, and help scuffling teams like Columbus and Phoenix get on track when they came into the United Center. We'll see if Friday's Flame-out turns Calgary's fortunes, but they got temporarily put back in the loss column in Detroit on Sunday. Until the Hawks prove they can consistently string wins together, we'll have to get used to the concept that they've made their road much tougher. The points that've fallen by the wayside can't be retrieved. Making the playoffs, and seeding for it, is going to be a dogfight. The important thing is getting in. And with the way things have gone thus far, home versus road, home-ice advantage for this team might not be that important.

On the glass-half-full side you can say the last two weeks, as a whole, have been steps in the right direction towards getting this team where it needs to be, despite varying results, and that Friday was the aberration, and the blunt reminder.

There have been encouraging signs of late from some of the newcomers. Jack Skille has five points and is a plus-7 in his last seven games. Bryan Bickell's collected five points and is plus-4 over his last six after being benched. Viktor Stalberg, though scoreless in his last three games, showed signs of being able to hold down the left side lining up with Toews and Kane. Jake Dowell's been steady with his opportunities and has the willingness to try to make something happen physically when the rest of the team's sluggish.

In the end, the old adage goes, the Blackhawks' best players must be their best players. The plus-minus rating has its pros and cons, and I'm not even sure yet how big a fan I am of the statistic. Nevertheless, here are those numbers from members of the returning "core," along with their point production, in the team's wins and losses. Some may be telling, others perhaps not so much:

Wins
Losses
Duncan Keith
5, 7 pts.
-11, 6 pts.
Niklas Hjalmarsson
3, 1 pt.
-9, 0 pts.
(suspended for one win, one loss)
Brent Seabrook
6, 8 pts.
-4, 4 pts.
Patrick Sharp
11, 11 pts.
-11, 11 pts.
(missed one loss)
Jonathan Toews
12, 9 pts.
-6, 9 pts.
Troy Brouwer
2, 5 pts.
-2, 6 pts.
Dave Bolland
1, 3 pts.
1, 1 pt.
(missed 2 wins, 4 losses)
Brian Campbell
7, 2 pts.
1, 3 pts.
(missed 7 wins, 6 losses)
Marian Hossa
3, 13 pts.
-1, 4 pts.
(missed 2 wins, 3 losses)
Tomas Kopecky
4, 5 pts.
-15, 5 pts.
(missed one loss)
Patrick Kane
6, 17 pts.
-11, 5 pts.
(missed one win)

Every player's individual numbers are affected by the team's wins and losses. This is the group that Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff rely upon the most. In most cases, the numbers reflect the team's inconsistent start. Most of these guys have taken turns acknowledging how they need to be better. Check out Brian Campbell's consistency since he returned from his knee injury, leading the team at plus-8. Kopecky was reunited with Hossa and Sharp Saturday, and saying those two bring out the best in him is an understatement. He had an assist and was a plus-1. In the 11 games before Hossa's injury, Kopecky had a goal, seven assists, and was a plus-3.

The makeup, character, production, and accomplishment of last year's team has spoiled us all. Everyone's expectations vary in the wake of the offseason changes -- and what's realistic over if, when, and how well this roster clicks. As they tried to re-charge and bond in Vegas, The Hangover is one factor that should be kept in mind through all this. Yes, it's a tired phrase. But ask any previous Cup winner (especially in the salary cap era) about the after-effects everyone above is experiencing, and each player reacts differently to the physically-, mentally- and emotionally-draining run. Then the celebration. Then the short offseason. Toss in the busiest start of any team, and if you think about it, it's an imposing task. They're going through something they've never experienced before, unchartered individual territory. And while we all expect that when we ask these guys to play harder and dig deeper, who knows how deep that physical, mental, and emotional reservoir runs in each, compared to a year ago? The hope is the best is yet to come, if not just around the corner.

So are you holdin'? Foldin'? Or all in?

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

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.