Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Meaty, middle portions of Circus Trip

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Hawk Talk: Meaty, middle portions of Circus Trip

Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010
4:00 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

After what happened 24 hours earlier in Calgary, Blackhawks fans needed a chuckle, and the team probably needed some affirmation. Leave it to the Canucks to provide just that. While we in Chicago might still wonder just what we have in these Blackhawks, the loyalists in the beautiful town in B.C. are probably wondering the same thing, just when they thought they made moves that would end in an ultimate celebration in that franchise's 40th anniversary.

6-0-1 at home. Seventeen points for the Sedins the previous four games. Newly acquired depth and skill on defense and some sandpaper and grit to stack behind two talented top lines. Result? Blackhawks 7, Canucks 1.

First Alain Vigneault had to pull Roberto Luongo (again) before the second period was out. He had to watch Sharp, Toews, and Kane score, and Hossa set up three of the four that chased his goaltender. Then he had to watch the Hawks' depth guys he thought they could neutralize this season light it up, too. It got to the point of frustration afterward that he mistakenly tried to call out Joel Quenneville for trying to run up the score further on a 5-on-3 while his Nuck-leheads were marching to the penalty box. Sorry, Alain, but double-check who actually was on the ice, and what the real top two Hawks power play units look like. You have our respect as a coach for just reaching 300 wins, but still, none of them have come against the Hawks in your two meetings this season. The season you didn't have to worry about Dustin Byfuglien four (or more) times and Ladd and Versteeg joining Dave Bolland to torment your top line.

Now, the Hawks move on on this trip to face the other Western contender who's been under their thumb the last couple of seasons. San Jose so far is, well, still San Jose. 9-6-4. Just when a convincing third straight win at home over Los Angeles last weekend gets people thinking they might be ready to get it together, they blow a 3-1 lead at Colorado to lose in overtime, then a 4-2 lead with three minutes left in Dallas to lose in overtime. They returned home Saturday night and got blanked 3-0 by a Columbus team that's believing more and more in itself, courtesy of Rick Nash's three goals and Mathieu Garon's third shutout.

Coach Todd McLellan never got a veteran, skilled replacement for Rob Blake following his retirement, though GM Doug Wilson made a bid for Niklas Hjlamarsson. Now these front offices, teams, Hjalmarsson, and, potentially, Antti Niemi cross paths for the first time since the Hawks swept the Sharks last May to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. McLellan has an interesting decision to make in goal. Antero Niittymaki was in net Saturday night, Niemi for the late collapse in Dallas. Niittymaki's been much better, and the team has played better in front of him, than Niemi. But does he hope to get Niemi on track by starting him versus his ex-teammates? It would certainly fire the Hawks up. But if they happen to light up Niemi like they did Luongo and the Canucks, the opposite could happen and Niemi might never get on track this season.

On the other hand, will Quenneville decide a second straight start could be in order for Corey Crawford, who's been getting better with each spot start and seems unfazed by what's generally been once-a-week playing time? If Niemi starts, it provides an appetizing storyline either way. He'd be facing the man who was signed to replace him in Marty Turco, or the goalie he barely edged out in backup competition to Cristobal Huet in training camp a year ago.

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

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.