Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Something to solve... or re-solve

352550.jpg

Hawk Talk: Something to solve... or re-solve

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
9:09 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

October 7th at ColoradoOctober 9th versus DetroitOctober 13th versus NashvilleOctober 22nd at St. LouisOctober 23rd versus ColumbusNovember 1st at New YorkNovember 3rd versus New JerseyNovember 7th versus EdmontonNovember 13th at NashvilleDecember 11th at San JoseDecember 13th at ColoradoDecember 15th versus ColoradoDecember 28th at St. LouisDecember 30th versus San Jose

Fourteen of 39 games so far this season where, as Joel Quenneville has aptly described it, his Blackhawks have left meat on the table.

Meat that their opponents have gobbled up for two points each time, while the Hawks have all of three points to show overtime or shootout losses Oct. 7, Nov.13, and Dec. 11.

These are games in which the Blackhawks have been tied, or held a one-goal lead, either entering or during the third period. And lost.

All but two were against the Western Conference teams theyll be battling it out with down to the wire for playoff spots, and positioning. Half occurred at home. Just when an impressive, four-game win streak provided hope those late fades were a thing of the past, it reared its ugly head the last two games, versus teams where victories wouldve provided points to immediately offset the games those opponents had in-hand.

In fairness, there have been twelve games this season where the Hawks have been in similar situations and gone on to win. Overall, its fair to say theyve weathered the storm of injuries, fatigue, and the target on their backs very well.

Theyre in the thick of things as their opponents games-played gradually catch up to theirs. But its those ones that got away that they have to hope wont bite them come April. Make no mistake, it will be an absolute dogfight to make the playoffs. And when they head down the home stretch, making it in would almost seem like the actual playoff games have less pressure - if thats possible - for a defending champ.

Brian Campbell said it after Thursdays loss: the effort was probably there, the smarts might not have been, in terms of taking penalties against one of the most highly-skilled teams in the NHL.

They had the effort and smarts in that win streak to overcome the personnel absences. Theyll need it even more without their captain Sunday and Monday against two teams they are 5-0 against this season - Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Ducks and Kings probably figure its time for some payback.

The To-Do List is ever-evolving. But its safe to say that improving the bottom-five penalty-kill is near the top. And as the calendar year provides a fresh start, a better way of finishing from here on out will be of utmost importance, as the second half of the Blackhawks season begins Wednesday against Dallas.

Im thankful that in 2010, the Blackhawks, and Comcast SportsNet provided me with one of those top career memories of an up-close view of the run to the Stanley Cup, and the ensuing celebrations.

Ill just start 2011 with wishes for health and happiness for all our readers, viewers, and fans. That health part includes the Blackhawks, too.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

1020_hawks_yotes.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

1020_anton_forsberg.jpg
USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.