Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Signs of life at the deadline

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Hawk Talk: Signs of life at the deadline

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011Posted: 6:20 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
Two road wins against teams just as desperate. Stars stepping up. Compete levels being raised and physical sacrifices being made.

The last five games havent been perfect for the Blackhawks, but thats not even necessary. Or realistic. Hopefully, its not what Hawks fans are hoping or expecting. But its as consistently well as theyve played all season, showing signs of what theyre capable of. You can make an argument that the four-game stretch prior to Christmas was just as good. But its what everyones been looking for, from management to coaches to fans to the players themselves. Next up: Building upon it and carrying it into the playoffs.

They have to. Right now, all hands are on deck from a health standpoint, while many other contenders are continuing their post-season fight battling key injuries (Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim and Dallas). Thursday night, it was an awfully quiet night for the Preds best players. You didnt hear Pat and Eddie call the names of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher or Sergei Kostitsyn very often in a threatening way. You also saw the Hawks block 21 shots (13 by defensemen). Over the last three games, 21s been the team average.

Marian Hossas burst through the middle of the ice in the third period, breaking away, and beating one of the leagues elite goalies in Pekka Rinne with the game in the balance Thursday was another sight to see. As was his overpowering of the Blues David Backes Monday before setting up a Dave Bolland goal. It was just the second time since Hossas blazing start to the season (prior to his first injury) that hes scored a goal that wasnt on a power play, empty net, or penalty shot. I would imagine hes aware of it, and been feeling it as much as the aches, pains and illnesses hes gone through following three straight long runs to the Stanley Cup Finals.

And if you didnt catch it right after the game on Comcast SportsNet, interesting stuff from Duncan Keith while talking with Foley and Olczyk:

I always find I play my best keeping the game simple, not trying to do too much, and just let the game come. Early on, you come back after a long season and I had a lot of hunger to try to do whatever I could to have a successful season, and thinking in my head, trying to repeat everything that happened last season. I shouldve just been letting it happen. I feel a lot more comfortable the last month. I just want to keep going to help the team get in the playoffs.

Its a fine line the coaching staff has to negotiate when it comes to leaning on your best players. There have been so many tight games, and their heavy workload following the Stanley Cup run cannot be dismissed. The top four defensemen have been burning up minutes, though the recent changes in combinations has helped offset the heavy, high-pressure special teams time. Thats why Stan Bowmans come out and said he wants to acquire a proven blue-line guy before Mondays trade deadline who can take some of the penalty-kill burden off of those guys. It would appear hes closer to doing that after placing Nick Boynton (and the 500,000 salary space it would open up) on waivers Friday. Throw that into what cap space they have left open, in part due to the Nick LeddyRockford shuttle, and a new D-man should be on the way in short order.

As we wait on any potential deals thatll put the finishing touches on the rosters of the playoff-chasers, a reminder that the first tie-breaker in the standings is now wins that do NOT include shootout wins. Here are the regulationovertime victory totals of the teams that entered the weekend 3 through 13 in the West (with the number of wins that include shootouts in parentheses):

San Jose 32 (35)Phoenix 30 (33)Los Angeles 27 (34)Minnesota 30 (32)Blackhawks 28 (32)Dallas 27 (32)Nashville 25 (31)Calgary 24 (31)Anaheim 28 (32)Columbus 26 (30)St. Louis 25 (27)

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

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

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USA TODAY

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

For Jordan Oesterle, the wait really wasn’t a terrible thing.

Sure, he was used to playing more consistently in the past. But he knew with the Blackhawks carrying eight defensemen that several players, including him, would need to practice patience and understanding.

“It hasn’t been too long. It’s only been a week and a half so it’s not terrible,” said Oesterle on Thursday morning, a few hours before he made his Blackhawks debut against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks are going with eight defensemen to start the season. In one way, it’s good: if anything goes awry, be it someone’s game or someone’s health, the depth is readily there.

But so are the challenges. It’s a juggling act, a delicate balance between making the right decisions and making sure a player understands that a scratch may be more about the rotation and not his individual game.

Communication, above all, is key.

“It’s not easy being the guys who are in or out, right on that bubble situation where you come in not knowing if you’re going to play. But as a staff we want to keep everyone involved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know the depth of your defense is going to get challenged at some point during the year. We feel the eight guys who are here can play but that’s how we’ve always done it: We’ve always let guys know whether you’re in or out. Sometimes you have to be more patient than you’d like but handling it the right way, whether you’re a good pro or teammate, that can be healthy around the environment of your team.”

Based on all outward appearances, everyone has handled it well. Connor Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice – “I mean I just want to see the team win really...if we're winning and guys are playing well that's all that matter,” Murphy said after his first scratch.

Oesterle was a healthy scratch the first seven games. Michal Kempny, who Oesterle replaced, has been scratched the last two games. Cody Franson has also sat seven games. Franson, whose patience has been in place while awaiting contracts in his career, is practicing it again. But he’s appreciated the Blackhawks’ communication on it.

“This situation gets tough when they don’t say anything to you; you don’t know if it’s because of the way you’re playing, you don’t know if it’s something you did or what the situation is. The coaching staff has done a great job of being in our ear, letting us leave our work at the rink and not take it home with us,” Franson said. “That goes a long way in being able to stay positive and in the right mindset through it.”

After starting with eight defensemen last season the Blackhawks eventually went back to seven. Will they do that again this season? Maybe, but whoever gets sent down would most likely have to go through waivers. The Blackhawks reassigned Gustav Forsling last season to get back to seven defensemen and get Forsling more playing time. But this season Forsling and Jan Rutta have been dependable and have pretty much become the Blackhawks’ second pairing.

So for now, eight defensemen it shall be. Being part of the rotation isn’t always easy but so far players seem to get that it’s for the greater good.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got eight quality guys. I think no matter who’s sitting on any given night, it might not necessary be due to how they’re playing or how they’re doing individually,” Franson said. “I think Q’s done a great job of managing that situation. That’s one of those things where it’s a great problem to have but it’s not an easy one to handle. So we’re all aware of what’s taking place right now and you just try to be as professional about it as you can.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night:
 
1. Surviving a crazy first period.

The Blackhawks committed four penalties in the opening frame within a 2:18 span, and escaped unscathed from it despite a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities for the Coyotes.

Of course, the only goal allowed in the period came from a fluke deflection off Jordan Oesterle's stick and slipped underneath Corey Crawford's five-hole.

Joel Quenneville likes to say the team that takes advantage of their 5-on-3 opportunities has a pretty good chance to win the game. It applied in this case, with the Blackhawks coming out victorious after surviving that stretch.

2. Power play comes alive early.

The Blackhawks got off on the right foot in an area that has been an issue for them this season, capitalizing on their first power play of the game 24 seconds into it when Richard Panik redirected a Jonathan Toews shot that tricked past Louis Domingue.

Good thing too, because it was the only man advantage they'd get. Well, excluding the power play they received with 17 seconds left in regulation when the game was already decided. 
 
3. Another controversial review in Arizona.

What's with it with controversial reviews in Arizona and the Blackhawks being on the wrong end of the call?

The Blackhawks appeared to have taken a 3-1 lead when Tommy Wingels converted on a penalty shot, but it was overturned after officials reviewed it and determined the Coyotes netminder got a stick on Wingels' initial shot. Replays didn't exactly show conclusive evidence, but the NHL released a statement proving otherwise:

Video review determined that Wingels shot the puck into the net after Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue made contact with the puck. According to Rule 24.2, "No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind."

Shortly after, the Coyotes scored in the final minutes of the period to even up the score at 2-2 in a big turn of events at the time.
 
4. ... But puck don't lie.

The overturned penalty shot didn't matter in the end though, because the Blackhawks came away with the victory and Wingels ended up getting his first goal after all on an empty netter that iced the game.

It was Wingels' first goal as a member of his hometown team, and it was well deserved for a guy who was part of the fourth line that turned in arguably their best performance of the season.
 
5. Lance Bouma rewarded with game-winning goal.

Speaking of which, it was fitting that Bouma scored the game winner with 4:24 left in the third period because that trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden was around the net for the majority of the night.

They combined for two goals and two assists, had eight attempts shot attempts (five on goal), eight of the team's 16 hits and four blocked shots.