Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: The 'kids' are alright

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Hawk Talk: The 'kids' are alright

Friday, Dec. 24, 2010
11:14 AM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The "Kids" are Alright...

...and by that mean we mean, the less experienced, rather than the youngest.

Consider that Bryan Bickell (24), Jake Dowell (25) and Jack Skille (23) are all older than 22-year-olds Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Corey Crawford turns 26 in one week. Dave Bolland (24) and Troy Brouwer (25) are on the same experience level as Toews and Kane, but like the other four have stepped things up and been as key as anyone in getting this team's arrow pointing upward again during the absence of Kane and Marian Hossa.

The older we get, the more Christmastime is about enjoying the excitement and anticipation of the youth around us. In this case, it's about that group providing Hawks fans with enjoyment and excitement about what they've been doing lately, right when this team's needed it most. This team was showing signs of coming together during the Circus Trip, right before Hossa and Kane would each be sidelined for a few weeks each. Those could've been crippling injuries to this team with the Western Conference so tight and competitive. The kids were needed, and they've answered the bell and been at their best so far, meshing with their more experienced 'mates to actually give them momentum, instead of a bigger hole to climb out of. At the beginning of the season, we wrote about how the growth of some of these players would be crucial in how serious a threat they'd be in the daunting task of repeating as Stanley Cup champs.

In the seven games that both Kane and Hossa have been sidelined this month, here's a look at how that six-pack's produced:

G-APts.-Bryan Bickell
5-386Dave Bolland
1-453Troy Brouwer
4-152Jake Dowell
0-444Jack Skille
3-140

Corey Crawford: 4-2-1 record, 15 goals-against (3 power play), .919 save percentage.

The five forwards provided 13 of the offense's 25 goals over the seven games, and on top of that, have also picked up on their other responsibilities they must maintain to remain on the ice in Joel Quenneville's system. They, and this team as a whole, has found the right degree of urgency, discipline, and physicality to control the action, particularly the last three games. Crawford's come up with big saves, has faced just three short-handed situations in the three-game win streak, and over these seven games, hasn't seen more than 31 shots. Only in the two games versus Colorado has he been faced with an inordinate amount of prime scoring chances.

With Hossa and Kane on the cusp of returning, there always seems to be an adjustment period in the lineup, even when great players get thrown back into the mix. That's not a bad thing when considering the caliber of players they are. But if the Blackhawks continue maintaining this level of play from this point forward, a little maturity from this group at the right time just might go a long way in being as strong an option as any in the West when the playoffs open.

That's still a long way away, and much can happen. But this group has provided a nice little present on Christmas week, and optimism about their capabilities of filling the void left by those departed Cup champions.

I hope all you Blackhawks fans, visitors of this page, and CSN viewers are having a wonderful holiday season, and best wishes for health, happiness, and fun watching the Blackhawks in 2011.

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.”