Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: 'I Don't Really Like Country Music'

Hawk Talk: 'I Don't Really Like Country Music'

Sunday, April 11, 2010
11:37 P.M.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Blackhawks entered the final day of the regular season with the potential to face the Avalanche, Kings, or Predators.

Turns out, they drew the opponent I was least comfortable with them facing. And that equation had nothing to do with travel destinations. That actually plays into the Hawks hands same time zone, fairly short trip.

Nashvilles top two scorers (breakout boy Patric Hornqvist and now-healthy ex-Hawk Steve Sullivan) have all of 51 points. The Blackhawks have two players with that many assists.

Their team stats pale by comparison: 18th in Goals Per Game. 14th in Goals-Against Average. 24th on the Power Play. 28th on the Penalty Kill. Theyve also been knocked out in the first round of all four of their previous playoff appearances (which came consecutively before missing out last spring) twice by Detroit, twice by San Jose. They lost four of six in the season series to the Hawks.

And yet, this was one of three Central Division teams to hit the century mark in points, and the fact theyre quite familiar with the Hawks personnel doesnt hurt, even though they havent played since December 27th. Behind the braintrust of G.M. David Poile and the only Head Coach theyve ever had Barry Trotz a systems been put in place thats kept the small-market Preds competitive year in and year out. They build from within, make quiet, effective roster moves, and dont dish out free agent money, especially to those outside their existing family. Sure, the Kings have more firepower. The Avs have a no one expected us to be here youth movement and a Park Ridge native in net the Hawks cast off a few years ago, whos played out of his mind this season. No matter whom the high-profile Hawks faced, that opponent would take the old Were David, youre Goliath mindset once the post-season puck dropped. It may not be any more prevalent that this matchup. While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have deservedly received plenty of attention for their growth into young, All-Star-caliber defensemen who were also both Olympians, the Preds pair of gold medalist Shea Weber and silver medalist Ryan Suter havent received quite the hype. Matter of fact, when I sat down with Keith and Seabrook earlier in the season and asked if they could think of a comparable shutdown tandem, the first they thought of were the 24-year-old Weber and 25-year-old Suter, moreso than Detroits upper 30s-something Olympic tag team of Lidstrom and Rafalski.

Then theres the matchup in net. Only one of these Finns teams wont be fini after playing in their first-ever post-season series. 26-year-old Antti Niemi going out and winning the crease down the stretch cannot be underestimated, but thats exactly what 27-year-old Pekka Rinne did in his battle with Dan Ellis. Rinne (65) has gone 12-4-1 with a Goals-Against of about 2 since the Olympics. He has the same number of shutouts as Niemi (7), but four have come in his last 14 starts. The Hawks went 2-1 when they opposed Rinne this season (just as they did against Ellis), scoring seven goals in those two wins, while he shut them out in the defeat. While Cristobal Huet was as good against the Preds as he was against any opponent this season back in the 2009 portion of the schedule, Niemis lone appearance wound up being in the unlikeliest of matchups in the season series. The Hawks trailed 2-1 after two periods, scored three goals in a seven-minute span for a 4-2 lead, only to have Nashville score twice in less than a minute to tie. Patrick Kane then rescued the two points, and a 4-2 season series triumph, with 44 seconds left. The nine combined goals in that finale represent one-third of the offense compiled between the clubs in their head-to-heads.

Lets salute the Hawks for setting single-season franchise records for points, wins, and road wins. Theyve answered every challenge, most recently coming out of a 2-5-&-2 funk to win six of their final seven. But it says here falling one win shy of matching the franchise single-season record of 30 home victories may have made their first-round road a little tougher. The Blackhawks should win this series. But the past 6-12 months is now just part of the record books, and memories. Now its about creating the ultimate memory for the first time since 61. Weve been waiting. Its finally here.
Be sure to join Steve Konroyd and me for our 30-minute Blackhawks playoff special Tuesday night at 10:30, following SportsNite. Well take an in-depth look at this matchup and hear plenty from both the Hawks and Predators.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

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.”