Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Posted: 1:46 p.m.
By Chris Boden
We knew a week ago, coming off a successful Circus Trip, that the Blackhawks were entering their most important stretch of the season. December would be spent at home, except for three games, and they'd be facing other Western Conference playoff contenders.
A week later, they've already been playing without Marian Hossa. Now the degree of difficulty increases for a team whose resources aren't as deep as a year ago as they prepare for this stretch without Patrick Kane, too. When Joel Quenneville says afterwards he'll be out "a bit," or "a while," I'm thinking more in terms of weeks, not days.
Someone once told me how quickly things can change in the NHL.
Hossa's practice injury was originally estimated to need a 2-to-3-week recovery time. No matter when he returns, Joel Quenneville said after Sunday's game that, regardless of his team's star power, the most important thing will be stick with their offensive principles. This team is always better when they're the Blue Collar Blackhawks, and if they can commit themselves to do that on their home ice most of this month, they just might be able to get through their health problems.
They've had two months now to adjust to, and get to know, each other. They'll have to win games not necessarily by being more conservative, but more disciplined and smart, and improving their penalty kill. They managed to get through the penalty parade without 1 killers Hossa and Fernando Pisani Sunday night after an 0-for-2 first period. Now's the time they need the Bollands, Bickells, Brouwers, Skilles, and Stalbergs to make a greater impact. And as long as they're winning with Corey Crawford in the net, don't expect Quenneville to mess with a good thing while it lasts, especially at this crucial juncture.
The Head Coach was asked, hypothetically, before Sunday's game (and before Kane's injury) if he had a number in mind about the number of points that'll be necessary to make the playoffs in the West. After a short pause, he threw out 95. With all the games they've played, they're slightly behind the curve, requiring 63 points over the final 53 games, no matter who's in uniform.
For the very immediate future that won't include Jeremy Morin, either. The 19-year-old winger had his best game against St. Louis last Tuesday, but leveled off a bit his last two games and was sent back to Rockford of the AHL Monday. General Manager Stan Bowman said recently the salary cap is not a concern right now in who he calls up from the minors. He's also indicated in the past they wouldn't be shy about giving other hungry Icehogs opportunities, which we could see come Wednesday, if necessary, to round out his lineup. Or, if Hossa andor Pisani could be ready by the weekend, try to get through Wednesday with what they have, including Jordan Hendry.
Wednesday marks Adam Burish's first game against the Hawks, leaving only Kris Versteeg as the only Cup-winning ex-teammate they haven't faced. Burish is part of a Dallas team that's been hot and presently has the West's second-highest point total. After that, it's a roadie to visit two teams the Hawks will try to stay in front of with the games they have in-hand, San Jose and Colorado, before re-matching with the Avalanche here next week. With this latest health challenge, it'll be about finding ways to pile up the standings points they need, without worrying about style points.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.