Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Pronger presents big challenge

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Hawk Talk: Pronger presents big challenge

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
7:00 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO - A looming shadow is cast over the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup aspirations, running about 66, 220, with a number of battle scars and a scowl you can see, on a bright, sunny day like Monday, from Philadelphia.

Not to oversimplify the strategy Chicago brings to the ice on Saturday in Game 1 vs. the Flyers, but neutralizing massive defenseman Chris Pronger is central to whatever it is. For sure, the veteran of 16 seasons has captured the Blackhawks attention.

Hes a big guy, Chicago center Dave Bolland said.

Hes as good a player as there is back there, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Pronger with the St. Louis Blues. Pronger enjoyed career-high and league-leading ratings under Coach Q in 1997-98 (plus-47) and 1999-00 (plus-52).

Pronger only registered a plus-22 this season, leading Philadelphia at age 35. He also scored 55 points on 10 goals and 45 assists and didnt miss a single game, one of just five Flyers to accomplish that feat. And the burly giant wasnt making token appearances in games, eitherhis 25:56 of average ice time led the Flyers as well.

Hes a workhorse, Blackhawks alternacap Duncan Keith said. Hes out there most of the game.

Yeah, hes a big guy, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. He plays a lot of minutes, but it doesnt look like hes aged too much. Still we have to try to wear him down as much as possible.

Wear him down? Its tiring merely reading Prongers accolades.

To Bolland at least, Prongers size and superlatives come second to his experience in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Hes one of a few guys they have who have been through the Finals, Bolland said. I remember watching him dominate when the Anaheim Ducks won it.

Despite Prongers multi-tiered value to Philadelphias defense, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette may have little choice than to match his defensive ace on net, up against the Blackhawks own brawny man, Dustin Byfuglien, who has basically gone ham on both the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in prior series.

Neither of those teams had a skater who could measure up against Big Buff, whose confidence is growing by the day and who has tallied a team playoff-high eight goals in just his last eight playoff games.

When it was suggested that Laviolette may choose to move Byfuglien using a skilled but smaller, quicker defender (say the 510, 194 Kimmo Timonen) Kane burst out laughing, dismissing the idea that you can attack Byfuglien at the net with anyone but your biggest player.

Pronger and Buff will be seeing a lot of each other in the series. Buff is just big and strong and he can just stand there at the net all day. No ones had an answer for him yet, and thats the way we want it.

Chicago didnt exactly prove it had solved Pronger, either, at least not in the one game the two clubs played during the 2009-10 season. It was the behemoth of the blue line who slipped behind Brent Seabrook and took a backdoor pass to score with just a few seconds left in the game, turning Philadelphia from likely desperation overtime team to look-ma buzzer-beater winners faster than you can say six-six and gulp.

There arent many obvious obstacles the Blackhawks will have to scale in Philadelphia as they begin to gameplan against the Flyers. But the one presented in Pronger is simply too big to ignore.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.