Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: D-flating Weekend for Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: D-flating Weekend for Blackhawks

Sunday, Mar. 14, 2010
9:41 P.M.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Niklas Hjalmarsson is one of the least-experienced Blackhawks at the NHL level. But he spoke wise beyond his years in assessing the team's play of late after a second come-from-ahead loss in 24 hours. In essence, he said they'll only last a "few games" in the playoffs if they continue playing as they have lately.

That's the bigger story coming out of Sunday's 4-3 home defeat than the severity of Alex Ovechkin's penalty for his hit on Brian Campbell. And the absence of Ovechkin only made the pain of the defeat hurt a little more. Tack on the fact that the much-criticized goalkeeping was actually solid for both games, and the concerns might be considered even greater. After all, that's what the players have been telling us during this goaltending debate.

The Hawks have a month to fix it so their young defenseman's prediction doesn't come true. The defensive coverage - or lack of - created those opportunities against the Flyers and the Caps, who are still pretty potent without their two-time MVP. Those are the kinds of games that'll be sitting there when the post-season bell rings - late 2-1 leads on the road....3-0 third period leads at home. And unfortunately for the guys in the middle of the roster "scratch" game, two of them ended up taking costly high-sticking penalties in that last period - Jordan Hendry and Colin Fraser. That's asking for nothing but trouble against the NHL's top power play. Not to mention one third period shot on goal for a team that racks up the most per game in th entire league.

Stan Bowman's main moves prior to the trade deadline were for defensive depth, acquiring the likes of Nick Boynton, Danny Richmond, and Jassen Cullimore - guys with NHL experience to be on-call at Rockford. Judging by the first impression of the way Campbell landed, he may have to tap into those resources for at least one, and perhaps two if Kim Johnsson needs some time. Dustin Byfuglien could move there in a pinch, as well. But another issue will be continuing to search for ways to decrease the reliance upon Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook while trying to correct the defensive issues down the stretch. Keith had almost 59 minutes of ice time in those 24 hours, Seabrook 53.

The Hawks are off to some warm weather this week. That alone won't solve things, because it's three games in four nights, and the Ducks, Kings and Coyotes will try to exploit them in similar ways until they show they can deliver again for 60 minutes. Vancouver's also back home after their 8-5-1, 14-game road trip, and might start nipping at their heels for the 2 seed if the Hawks aren't careful. If it comes to that, the Hawks might avoid the much talked-about "18" or "27" matchup, but it certainly wouldn't help erase Hjalmarsson's concern.

Like all slumps that each of us eventually encounters in our various walks of life, part of it is probably mental now. Once the first signs of "uh-oh" pops up, the thing snowballs. That is, until they figure out a formula to stop it. Even though they're a respectable 13-8-5 since that infamous third period, maybe they need that trip to Minnesota to close out this month. Perhaps they'll find some of that mojo that hasn't quite seemed the same since that 5-1 lead after two disapperared in a flash during their last trip there in early January.

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.”