Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Poor starts costing the team late

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Hawk Talk: Poor starts costing the team late

Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
Updated 4:39 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

As I got ready for another rendition of all things bloggy this morning, I was armed with my routine a.m. cup of joe. Appropriate, really. I can't get off to a good start without it.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks just can't get off to a good start.

The Blackhawks keep repeating two bad habits in this early going. One is their inability to stop late regulation goals, the other is their lack-of-panache starts.

They were bitten by both on Wednesday night but let's face it, one leads to the other.

The Blackhawks started woefully slow, got down 2-0 and then needed to extol double the energy just to get back into it. Come to the end, they've got to be tired, right? Enter the mistakes again, in the waning minutes, and bye-bye potential points.

Remember folks, hockey games are like marathons. Your performance needs to be strong, and more importantly, consistent over the duration. Try to sprint in the middle miles to make up for early lost time and you'll have nothing in the tank for the finish.

So there's my theory on the bad endings. But that doesn't explain why the Blackhawks have terrible starts. What reason is there to be lax in the first 10, 15, 20 minutes?

"There's really no excuse for that," said Fernando Pisani. "We need to pride ourselves on being a high-energy team that gets things going. That has to be a template for success."

I asked a few Blackhawks prior to Wednesday's game about being wary of the Devils. They were facing the scenario as with Edmonton last Friday: a struggling, frustrated team was coming into the United Center at the end of a road trip. Play our game, that's the answer I got from a few. And that's fine, if they would've played their game in the first period. Instead they gave up the puck, couldn't clear, etc., and it put them in a hole.

"We've got to take pride in getting better starts," said Viktor Stalberg. "It doesn't matter who's out there. Especially on home ice we have to take advantage of our crowd. We've got to get our fans in the game, and have to get a better start to do that."

It doesn't help that the Blackhawks are fighting through injuries. All teams go through them, but on Wednesday the Blackhawks put defensemen on forward lines to compensate for the injured Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland. Jordan Hendry and John Scott have forward pasts, but not much at the NHL level. They played less than eight minutes combined on Wednesday, and did not play past the midway point of the second period.

The Blackhawks sent true forwards Ben Smith and Ryan Potulny back to Rockford on Tuesday. You have to figure the team's salary cap issues factored in the decision.

But I digress. Back to the beginning, or lack thereof in the Blackhawks' case. Trouble is, folks, I have no reason or excuse for it because there isn't any reason or excuse for it.

The Blackhawks need better performances out of the starting gate, simple as that. If they get that they can avoid deficits, they can avoid playing catch-up and they can avoid pointless -- make that point-less -- endings.
Briefly

Former Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi received his Stanley Cup championship ring from Blackhawks vice president Al MacIsaac Thursday morning in St. Louis.

Niemi was also scheduled to get the start Thursday night against the Blues according to the San Jose Mercury News; it was his first start since he suffered a 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames on Oct. 24.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

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USA TODAY

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

The goals came in bunches for the Blackhawks in their Oct. 5 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blackhawks, it was a nice memory, albeit one that seems far away given they went from scoring at will through their first two games to not being able to buy a goal for a sizeable stretch.

As for the Penguins, well, you figure their memoires of that game means they’ll be more than a little ticked off when the Blackhawks arrive on Saturday night.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few losses like that,” Patrick Sharp said. “You certainly remember them more than other losses.”

This is kind of/sort of about the Penguins, who in the first meeting were clearly tired not only from two Stanley Cup runs but also from their season opener/banner raising the prior night. But it’s more about the Blackhawks who, after a lengthy scoring drought, are starting to get their offense going again (15 goals in their last three games).

And while they’d like to shore up their defense – they blew a 4-1 lead vs. New Jersey and just about did it again vs. the New York Rangers – overall they’re trending in the right direction. And just as they face the team against whom they played their best game of the season.

“I’m sure [the Penguins] will be excited about playing us and making things better. They’re playing well, winning some games. For [us], we’re looking for more consistency in our game with the puck and we’re generating some offense,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think it has some ways to improve. That was one night, whether it was the quality of the plays we made or [what], we seemed like we had the puck a lot and did some good things with it. We haven’t seen much of that lately so I think that maybe we can recapture a little bit of that with the puck as well.”

In the past three games the Blackhawks haven’t just reignited their offense, they’ve regained their confidence. Their lines are finding some chemistry. As frustrating as their scoring drought was, they’re hoping it’s behind them.

“At some point in the season I feel like every team goes through it, either in the beginning, the middle or toward the end. You just don’t want to have it right at the end of the season,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can look at it in in a positive way. Hopefully we got that part over with and now we’re just coming in confident and hopefully we put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks got off to a hot goal-scoring start against the Penguins by doing the right things: shooting, pouncing on rebounds, getting traffic in front of the net and capitalizing. As they head into their 20th game of the season, the Blackhawks are finally getting back to what worked so well in Game 1.

“Things dried up for a bit but I think we have a good rotation going here with the lines; the chemistry’s starting to fill in a little bit. Some guys are stepping up. [Artem] Anisimov had a big night and Brinsky’s [Alex DeBrincat] playing great. It’s good to see those guys step up. It makes you want to be that next guy who’s called up to step up in the next game,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s good to see some goals go into the net. More important, it’s good to see some wins. But we’re playing the right way and hopefully this will trend in the right direction for us.”

Reasons to be optimistic about a Blackhawks turnaround

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USA TODAY

Reasons to be optimistic about a Blackhawks turnaround

It's mid-November, and the Blackhawks are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It's unfamiliar territory for Chicago, which is accustomed to seeing its team as a perrenial Western Conference favorite and Stanley Cup contender.

Since starting the season 3-0-1, the Blackhawks are 6-8-1 in their last 15 games and haven't won more than two in a row yet. It's a little concerning.

But there are reasons to be optimistic about a potential turnaround.

Let's start with the obvious concern: The offense.

If you take away the first two games in which they combined for 15 goals, the Blackhawks would rank 27th in the league in goals per game (2.59). They also went through a stretch where they scored only two goals or fewer in nine of 12 games.

Since then, the Blackhawks have erupted for 15 goals in three games and they're continuing to generate shots at a high rate.

In their last nine contests, the Blackhawks are averaging 38.9 shots per game and rank fifth overall at 34.6. The problem on offense has never been the quantity of shots, it's the quality. They're slowly starting to get both.

And the weird part is? Patrick Kane has four goals in his past 17 games, Duncan Keith has zero goals in 19 games this season, Brandon Saad has one goal in his last 13 and Jonathan Toews has two goals in his last 14, one of which was an empty netter. Those are Chicago's top four horses who are struggling collectively to get on the scoresheet.

Their individual track records suggest they won't stay dry forever.

The Blackhawks' recent offensive hot streak is being spearheaded by role players such as Artem Anisimov (eight goals in his last nine games) and Alex DeBrincat (six goals in seven games this month), the latter of whom has emerged as a darkhorse candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. While it would be unfair to expect him to continue scoring at a goal-per-game pace, DeBrincat's emergence shows he's starting to get comfortable in the NHL and we're seeing exactly what he can bring to the table.

The biggest reason the Blackhawks are staying afloat while the offense figures itself out is the elite goaltending they're getting from Corey Crawford.

Chicago is giving up 33.8 shots per game, which is fourth-most, yet Crawford is making an early case for the Vezina Trophy, sitting at fifth with a 2.26 goals against average and tied for second with a .930 save percentage, including two shutouts.

If there are any doubts about Crawford coming back down to earth, he had a 92.99 save percentage at even-strength last year and 93.32 in 2015-16. Through 16 appearances this season, he's actually a bit below that at 92.47, according to naturalstattrick.com.

Now, in the previous two seasons, the Blackhawks averaged 31.4 and 30.8 shots against, respectively, but the point remains the same that you can consistently count on Crawford playing at a high level.

Did we mention the Blackhawks have the sixth-best penalty kill percentage (82.9) dating back to Oct. 29, 2016? That's a great combination, especially when you have one of the league's best goaltenders to bail you out at times.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks' success hinges on their star players playing like it. Once they get going, the rest will follow. The question is, when will that happen?