Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks have kudos for Q

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks have kudos for Q

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
10:15 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Its undeniable that Joel Quenneville has led a storied career in the NHL. The ex-defenseman is just one of just three men to have played in at least 800 NHL games and been a head coach for at least another 800. He ranks 11th all-time with 535 regular-season wins and, aside from the legendary Scotty Bowman, is the only member of the top 14 winningest NHL coaches with a career points percentage of better than .600.

But one accolade had so far eluded Quenneville, even with 11 of his 13 teams making the playoffs: Coaching in the Stanley Cup Finals. With Sundays win clinching the Western Conference finals over the San Jose Sharks, the Chicago Blackhawks mentor can shake that monkey off his back and focus on taking home the Cup. And those close to him on the Blackhawks couldnt be happier.

With nine Stanley Cup wins and an NHL all-time best 1,244 regular-season victories, Bowman, now a Blackhawks senior advisor, has been around the rink a few times. So without deifying a man who felt such kinship with the Cup he named his son (now Blackhawks GM) Stan, there can be no higher praise of a coach than whatever spills from Bowmans lips. And the Hall-of-Famer was quick to praise the job Quenneville has done with the Hawks.
Its so great for Joel, Bowman said. Youve got to have players, of course, but Joel has paid his dues. Its about time.

Bowman was quick to note that Quenneville had indeed coached in the Stanley Cup Finals, as an assistant under Marc Crawford for the 1997 Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. But he also knows that the head mans first shot at clinching a Cup is sweet.

No one knows a team better than a head coach, Bowman said. This team has stayed focused despite being young and not quite through all the playoff battles a Stanley Cup team usually has.

Bowman also praised Quennevilles work guiding a team that is so marked by youth overall and guided by such young stars as Jonathan Toews (who turned 22 during the playoffs) and Patrick Kane (21). He recalled only his first Cup winner, the 1973 Montreal Canadiens (ironically, cough, a team that upended the favored Blackhawks in the Finals), as having such a young element on it. But the sum playoff points total of players 22 and younger for Bowmans 1973 Habs was just 19 (led by Guy Lafleurs eight) while Toews (26 points) and Kane (20) lead Chicago in playoff scoring (and Toews leads all NHL playoff scorers), and 22-year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson has chipped in five points as well.

This most recent sweep was perhaps as the coup de grace of a brilliant coaching run for Quenneville this spring. Count Bowman as one of many veteran observers who were downright amazed at how well Coach Q focused his team specifically for the Western Conference finals.

These two teams Chicago and San Jose were neck-and-neck all season, the veteran mentor said. By that measure, you couldnt find two more evenly-matched teams. And yet the Blackhawks are advancing with a sweep. I just dont know how you couldnt have done a better coaching job than Joel did.

Blackhawks center John Madden brings all 37 of his years to the rink as a veteran competitor while skating like those legs are still 27. But for all his knowledge of the game, the Chicago alternacap was unaware that Quenneville was stepping into the Stanley Cup spotlight for the first time. In fact, no sooner than Madden had dismissed needing any extra incentives to win a Cup than this writer supplied him one.

Wow, I didnt realize that, Madden said. Is that true?

When informed that, indeed, Quenneville was leading his first team into the Finals, Madden recounted the joy he felt in helping deliver veteran coach Pat Burns his first Cup, with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. Burns had mentored three previous teams and labored 13 seasons in the NHL as a head coach before drinking from the chalice.

(Cue the opening notes of The Twilight Zone: Quenneville is in his 13th year as a head coach. Burns was 51 when his Devils won the Cup. Quennevilles age? Fifty-one.)

We were so happy to get Burns the Cup in 03, Madden remembered. Hed had some tough breaks that kept him from getting too close over most of his career. It would be great to get Joel a Cup, too. Id be ecstatic.

Quenneville, for his part, has been cool and calm to the core in the early days of his first taste of Stanley Cup coaching. Tuesday he was cracking jokes, like how he had a feeling that the number of ticket requests he was preparing to receive could be a concern. But the mentor also showed surprising perspective for a man whos coaching his first Stanley Cup club.

You never know how many opportunities youll get here, Quenneville said. The process is what youll remember: Where were you, what happened that day. The camaraderie around the room is what you cherish.

Such sentiment is music to the ears of Bowman, who recognizes that Cups are won and lost depending on the perspective a team places on the process itself.

It can break both ways, he said. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either. You get excited to be here, but keep it under control.

Cool Hand Q getting out of control? Well have to see it to believe it.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

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.”

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.