Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

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Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted 4:51 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Hockey Gods giveth and taketh. In the end - unless a team's completely snake-bitten - the bounces, the calls, and the reviews even out.

All you have to do is look at what's happened with the Blackhawks the past ten days.

March 28: Detroit could've argued why a hooking call was made against Henrik Zetterberg in the closing seconds of regulation, leading to Marian Hossa's game-winning, overtime power play goal.

Tuesday in Montreal, the overtime call against Jonathan Toews seemed (to me) borderline at best, not to mention a couple of seconds after the Bell Centre crowd began screaming its disapproval.

An even bigger issue for me is, if there's an unwritten code for players who've gained the so-called benefit of the doubt on such calls, in those crucial situations, hasn't Toews earned it? Especially against a rookie?

Twenty-four hours later, the Hawks were smiled upon by the inconclusive video review of Hossa's goal, between the skate, the crawl across the goal line, and whether his stick glanced off the puck after contact with the skate. Once the puck completed its trek to the opposite post, it headed inside the net as Ty Conklin tried to cover it up.

By the time Toronto decided it couldn't overturn the on-ice call, the Zamboni could've supplied a completely clean sheet of ice.

Patrick Sharp assisted on that goal after forcing himself to return earlier than he probably should've. Based on his goal total and magazine-cover status, his toughness factor can be overlooked. But he doesn't wear an "A" without reason, and was probably as tired as the rest of us watching the offense limp as he limped around. After just two brief test skates Tuesday and Wednesday morning, he decided the most important game of the year was the time to bite the bullet, suit up, and then led the team with four hits in 19 12 minutes of action.

His return also allowed the rest of the lineup get closer to its comfort zone - where it hasn't been since Sharp joined Dave Bolland on the sideline. That's another thing that showed up on the stat sheet. Patrick Kane, Toews, Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had combined for 10 goals and 28 points after Sharp was helped off the ice in Phoenix, and became the subject of increasing defensive awareness by opponents.

Hard, pressure-packed minutes became even harder as everyone else on the roster in that span had combined for four goals and 13 points. Once the Hossa ruling came, that secondary group finished the night with two goals and six points.

I wrote at the start of the season that by the time we got to this last week, the team's post-season success would depend on health and the newcomers adapting and fitting into roles the departed Cup-winners supplied. They'd started to do it in that eight-game winning streak, prior to the Bolland and Sharp injuries.

I didn't write anything about how difficult it would be to qualify. It's probably fitting that a team that's been one of the biggest thorns in the Hawks' side this season (Dallas) is the last one they're racing to the finish line.

It's a nice confidence boost heading to Detroit, where they should have a good feeling anyway. They've won in their last four trips to Joe Louis Arena, and grabbing three of a possible four points in their final back-to-back versus the Habs and Blues can only help a psyche that almost certainly was being tested.

Through 80 games, there's still work to be done. If the Blackhawks finish that job and get to defend their Stanley Cup, I'm curious to see how the group responds to being able to hit the "reset" button and fill up their tanks again mentally and, hopefully, physically.

And they'd only have to worry about one team they're playing in that round, and not the multiple teams they've been battling for the opportunity to play beyond Sunday.

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.”