Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Q's game of roster 'Q & A'

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Hawk Talk: Q's game of roster 'Q & A'

Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010
6:10 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Rejoining the hockey world didn't seem quite right over the past week. After all, the season just ended, like yesterday...it still felt like summer...and my car was just getting used to not driving itself to the United Center.

But Saturday night, a week after the Blackhawks took the ice for training camp, it started feeling normal again. A little chill was in the air walking into the UC. Once inside, the guys with the winged wheel on their chests prompted the usual chants from Hawks fans, even if their roster was more K-Wings than Red Wings. And there were a preseason franchise-record 20,000-plus in the house, booing even the announcement of a Chris Chelios Heritage Night. Hey, he's a member of Detroit management now.

Two more roster moves came Sunday to chop the camp body count to 35, as defenseman Shawn Lalonde and forward Chris DiDomenico were sent to Rockford. We're essentially halfway through what's a two-week minicamp, because after next Sunday's final warmup, it's time for the defending champs to crank it up. That phrase applies to the roster wanna-bes this week.

These exhibitions are an inexact science, occasionally grading prospects against other prospects, and other times against vets who'll teach 'em a lesson or two. Joel Quenneville has an interesting pool of candidates to choose from ahead of the puck-drop a week from Thursday in Denver. Some eye-openers in early scrimmages have quieted down in exhibitions. Others have stepped up. A year ago, Viktor Stalberg led the NHL in preseason scoring. Has he been doing enough other things to get noticed, even though he hasn't scratched the scoresheet yet? Does the same apply to Igor Makarov despite this being his first NHL camp, and the fact he found himself with a few good looks Saturday night? Is what we're seeing thus far out of perhaps the Next Jeremy Who Wears 27 transferable to a six-month NHL grind, 19 years young or not?

Not only is Jeremy Morin's skill (and production to this point) impressive, but he added an eye-opener for me with about four minutes left Friday night in Detroit. He lined up the Wings' Jonathan Ericsson along the boards, and knocked him on his padded pants to create a turnover. I don't know if the kid's making Quenneville's decision easy or tough if there's more of that Morin the final four games.

The other 19-year-old in camp has also played like he wants to skip the Rockford part, and his teammates are saying Nick Leddy shouldn't be settling for that, based on the speed and poise he's showing.

Time is on their side, but with that in mind, the braintrust has to weigh whether the best menkids win roster spots against specific roles that may need filling. Do you give all the guys who've been working and waiting in Rockford some extra rope, and the benefit of the doubt? How important is - and what options are there - filling the need for physical presence? Did Ryan Potulny show he can provide some of the same things as the guy who used to wear number 16, whether as a wing or a fourth-line center?

Well, at least we're not talking about goalies. That'll certainly come along sometime over the next six months, but Marty Turco's home deut as a Blackhawk was a good one. Sure, Detroit was without its snipers, but he showed a quickness, confidence and good glove. There will be times he'll skip hearts a beat with his aggressive puck-handling, but it inspired a positive buzz, even some applause from the crowd, saving his teammates some skating. Every athlete reaches a stage where public (and sometimes personal) doubt about the quality of their game increases with age. Turco wanted "in" here, proven by the contract he signed. Saturday night, at least, he played - and carried himself - like a goalie looking to take charge and make people look elsewhere for any concerns.

After all, it seems like his head coach has more pressing decisions to make.

A final note: If you're not able to make it to the United Center for the home openerbanner raising against Detroit, we'll have some 90 minutes of pregame programming on Comcast SportsNet October 9th, starting at 6 p.m. with "Stanley's Summer Vacation," a half-hour journey of the Stanley Cup's time with individual players. It includes our trips to Winnipeg and Buffalo for the days Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane spent with the Cup in their hometowns. At 6:30, we'll be on the concourse again for an hour-long edition of "Chevy Blackhawks PreGame Live," which will include the banner ceremony.

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.”