Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: A dirty dozen remain for Chicago

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Hawk Talk: A dirty dozen remain for Chicago

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
4:40 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Only 12 games remain in the Blackhawks' season. Exactly four weeks from now, they'll be preparing for their first-round playoff opponent. That's the way they're looking at it inside the locker room, without any doubt their golf clubs will even be a consideration then.

Fourth-place in the West feels good after an impressive win over San Jose, made more impressive by the fact they were without two key players, were returning home from nine days on the road and playing the second game of a difficult back-to-back. But they're also still just four points removed from 9th place heading into Tuesday night and should they come up empty in Dallas Thursday night, they could be back in a tie for eighth-place depending on the scenarios between now and the end of that night's action.

Despite last week's hiccups (the most costly of which was coming up empty against the Panthers), the defending champs have done an exceptional job of taking care of business over the past month, failing to come up with a point just twice. And when we wrote last week about squeezing at least two, if not three, points out of the weekend versus the Caps and Sharks, they delivered three. Importance was added because they'll be doing a lot of sitting around the next week and a half, with just three games over 11 days. It comes at a good time for a handful of players whose banged-up bodies can use the lighter schedule. It won't ease the nerves of daily standings-watchers, because while their schedule lightens, other teams will pass them.

They also have the most difficult schedule of the nine teams packed between third and 11th in the West. Entering Tuesday's action, here's the average Points Percentage of the contenders' remaining opponents:

Blackhawks .590
San Jose .579
Anaheim .576
Dallas .568
Phoenix .567
Los Angeles .565
Nashville .565
Minnesota .554
Calgary .531

When we brought this up to Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Joel Quenneville Monday night, they wouldn't say whether all the tough opponents necessarily helps them remain in a proper focus and mindset. But they all agreed no opponent is easy, even those out of the playoff picture (Florida, back here next Wednesday, beat the Hawks in the one example of a first period in which the Hawks were not playing as they should). The players also say they've approached the past month as if the playoffs have already begun. For the most part, it's showed. There are still three games left with Detroit, as well as tough trips into Boston and Montreal.

Quick Wristers

With Brian Campbell's injury, it's a good thing Stan Bowman went beyond looking for just a "fifth or sixth" shot-blocking, penalty-killing defenseman at the trade deadline. He got more in Chris Campoli, who's definitely elevated the blue-line depth with his overall, well-rounded game. That's made all the more important as the Hawks await the return of one of the NHL's plus-minus leaders.

The Hawks cashed in on the fact they were just about fully healthy during their recent eight-game win streak, which they needed to do with all hands on-deck. Injuries are inevitable and the team's negotiating its way through the absences of Campbell and Dave Bolland. The center was lost on, as Joel Quenneville has indicated, the exact kind of stupid, irresponsible hit the league says it's trying to eliminate in order to reduce concussions, courtesy of Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina. Now, the team and Bolland deal with the kind of injury that has no timetable for a return to the ice for an important player. He's aleady missed almost three games. Brad Richards recently missed 10. Sidney Crosby's just getting on the ice now for the first time in more than two months.

Most athletes are very particular about their equipment and almost never offer excuses publicly. I don't know whether fans would be interested in hearing every detail before booing or criticizing and just base their evaluations on the bottom line, or whether full disclosure would be helpful. They'll probably never get the latter with athletes who are big enough to face the music, based strictly on results. But there's this from Hossa Monday night: In addition to battling a number of health issues this season, he's also gone a long stretch without sticks he's comfortable with. He has them now, resulting in 10 goals and eight assists his last 15 games.

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

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.