Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

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Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011
1:56 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

If the Blackhawks had not had themselves a four-point weekend, it likely would've prompted a little deeper probing into what's going on with the defending champs. And let's face it, those two words (much less the actions) are cause for discomfort. Glad we don't have to, at this point.

But they took advantage of two home dates against struggling teams, and even though Friday's turned out to be a little more adventurous than preferred, got some momentum going heading into an important week and interesting stretch. Even though it wasn't exactly a pressure situation, they temporarily buried that 0-for-5 PK stretch with a successful kill against an Islanders power play that had been clicking. They apparently stayed physically healthy, and their core guys got healthier on the stat sheet. All that while honoring their Cup predecessors of half a century ago, who spoke Saturday from experience of the need to at least keep finding effort and hunger, even if other variables are out of their control.

It's a good vibe as they next face a Colorado team they get their last crack at defeating this season come Wednesday, followed by next weekend's home-and-home versus Nashville. After that, it's just three games the final two weeks of the month through the All-Star break. That's when the rest of the West will catch up in the games-played column, and the Hawks will get a better gauge on how much heavy lifting will be required through April 10th. And oh yeah, the first two of those three games to close January come back-to-back, following five days off, at Detroit, then back home versus Philadelphia.

Joel Quenneville spoke between the victories about how he believes this team has an extended win streak in it, and the sooner they pull that off, the better. I went back and looked at how other teams in the West have put together streaks, but have found for most, those hot stretches have been countered with cool - or cold - snaps. Every team's dealt with its share of injuries, and in some cases have fared surprisingly well without key players. But most of all, it's just life in the ultra-competitive, don't-look-too-far-ahead West. Detroit and Vancouver appear to have potentially put themselves in position for the top two playoff seeds. But here are examples of the roller-coaster rides everyone's been through, as well as some of the key players they've spent some time without. The Blackhawks certainly haven't been alone in their inconsistencies through the first three months:

Anaheim: (Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Andy Sutton, Cam Fowler) Started 1-3-1, 6-game win streak immediately followed by a 6-game losing streak (0-4-2), followed by 7-2-1 stretch, followed by losing 4 of 5.

Colorado: (Chris Stewart, Craig Anderson, Milan Hejduk, Kyle Quincey, T.J. Galiardi) Started 3-1, followed by 1-3-1 stretch, later won 4 straight, immediately followed by 1-3-3, then a 6-game win streak, followed by 1-4-1.

Columbus: (Kristian Huselius, Ethan Moreau) Won 7 of 9, later won 5 in a row, followed by an 0-4-1 stretch, a 1-4-2 stretch, and a 3-game win streak.

Dallas: (Kari Lehtonen, Krystofer Barch, Toby Petersen) Started 5-1, lost 3 straight, won 3 in a row, then lost 3 straight, later had a 6-game win streak, and recently lost 4 of 5.

Detroit: (Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Brad Stuart) Started 17-4-2, had a 3-4-2 stretch in December, and recently won 4 of 5.

Los Angeles: (Drew Doughty, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene) Started 12-3, then immediately lost 7 of 8, followed by a 3-game win streak. Recently had a 4-game win streak followed by a 4-game losing streak.

Minnesota: (Guillaume Latendresse, Anti Miettinen) Started 10-6-2, then went 1-5-2. 4-game win streak snapped by Dallas Sunday.

Nashville: (Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Cal O'Reilly) Started 5-0-3, then lost 5 straight, then won 4 of 5, followed by a 4-game losing streak, followed by an 8-0-1 stretch, then a 5-game loss streak, and have now won 5 straight.

Phoenix: (Shane Doan, Ilya Bryzgalov, Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal) Started 4-5-5, then won 7 straight. They haven't won or lost more than 2 straight since.

San Jose: (Douglas Murray, Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell) Started 6-5-2. Have had one 4- and one 3-game win streak, but have now lost 6 of their last 8, despite improved play from Mr. Niemi.

St. Louis: (T.J. Oshie, Roman Polak, Barrett Jackman, Andy McDonald, David Perron) Started 7-1-2, and own win streaks of 7, 5, and 3, as well as two 5-game losing streaks.

Vancouver: (Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond) They're healthy in more ways than one now with this 17-1-3 streak. But they started 2-3-2 before winning 8 of 9, followed by a 4-game losing streak.

While the Blackhawks, and some fans may be disappointed where they stand, thanks in large part to a failure to close out games, maybe they deserve a little credit, too. They're still right there, living through the same streakiness as everyone else. But none of those other teams have had the roster turnover the Hawks have had. The foundation they've built for this season through the first half may be shaky, but they're still in position with everyone else to accelerate.

One final thought that Steve Konroyd and I have shared a couple of times on Pregame and Postgame Live. He needs more "meat" on his body of work his rookie season, but if Corey Crawford keeps playing at the level he has, it'll be a shame he'll be overlooked for the Calder Trophy by the impact Couture, Skinner, Hall, Eberle, Fowler and Shattenkirk have had on their respective teams. Bryan Bickell's hanging tough, stats-wise, but the way Crawford's performed - and the way the team seems to play better in front of him - shouldn't be overlooked for finalist consideration if he maintains his pace. Position-wise, he'd get challenged from a workload standpoint by Sergei Bobrovsky. But Corey got his first shootout experience Friday, and his second NHL shutout Sunday. He's living up to the rep that many talent evaluators have been saying for a couple of years: he has the best combination of talent and potential of any goalie the organization's had since being picked in the second round of that stacked 2003 NHL draft.

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

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?