Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Important back-to-back looming

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Hawk Talk: Important back-to-back looming

Thursday, March 10, 2011
9:08 a.m.

by Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

There were impressive displays of urgency (if not always 60 minutes of playoff-like intensity) during the Blackhawks eight-game winning streak. They'll need even greater degrees of that on Sunday and Monday, when they visit Washington and return home to host San Jose.

The availability of Brian Campbell and Dave Bolland will be in question. Campbell's lower body injury made him unavailable Wednesday in Tampa Bay after perhaps his best stretch of the season -- five points in as many games to lift him to an NHL-leading plus-28 on the season. Bolland had not only generated 22 points in his previous 24 games but had helped get Marian Hossa back on his game, before being on the receiving end of Pavel Kubina's cheap-shot elbow to the head early in Wednesday's game. It's ironic that Campbell could be unavailable against Alex Ovechkin, who ended his regular season a month early a year ago with his hit on Campbell from behind and into the boards. The Hawks also have yet to prove this season they can beat San Jose in general, and former teammate Antti Niemi in particular. It would be nice to have the proof they can, should a playoff date loom down the road.

READ: Three strikes by Hawks' top line not enough

That was an important point earned Wednesday, and very well could've been two if the NHL had followed its own shootout guidelines when it came to Martin St. Louis' shot. Then again, the Hawks have shutout in the shootout on the road this season. Yes, getting four points against the Caps and Sharks would be ideal, especially considering the possible health issues. But grabbing two to three points out of that back-to-back is of utmost importance when you survey the schedule beyond that. After Monday's game, the defending champs play just three games over the following 11 days, potentially getting passed in the standings by several teams in that stretch. Consider what most of the other Western contenders will be doing over that week-and-a-half:

Detroit and San Jose (already ahead of the Hawks) will play five times, as will Calgary, Los Angeles and Anaheim. While the Hawks still have three meetings left with the Wings, just one meeting with the Ducks remains from among those other four after Monday. Nashville and Phoenix will play six times over those 11 days, including a Coyotes-Hawks matchup in Glendale. The Hawks are done with the Preds, who'll play five times at home over the six they'll play. Dallas and Minnesota each play four games in that span, including the Stars' final matchup with the Hawks in Big D in a week.

Sure, the schedule will eventually even out when all's said and done exactly one month from today. But as we've been preaching before and during the hot streak that's positioned what's been a healthy Hawks squad in a good spot for the time being, continuing to move forward (unlike the puck on St. Louis' shootout attempt) makes the job later easier. But nothing really seems very easy, since no one in the West seems willing to stand still.

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

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.”