Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

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Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
4:48 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Go up and down the Blackhawks' lineup, Friday and Sunday. Every player played better than they had over the previous week. The proof is now out there, on tape, for how good this team is capable of being, and that's without Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Viktor Stalberg. Now, it's all about doing that for every game, and not just talking about doing it. If they do, this team will be just fine.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook came into the weekend against the Wings and Kings a combined minus-14. They were a combined plus-6 in the two victories. Jonathan Toews had three more points to give him 13 over his last nine games. Bryan Bickell has been answering the call with eight points over his last seven. Troy Brouwer - who had one goal in his first 21 games came into WingsKings with eight over his previous dozen. He may not have collected a point, but was a plus-3, dished out 11 hits and was a disrupting influence in front of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick. Matter of fact, the Hawks as a whole played with a chip on their shoulder - 34 hits Friday and another 35 Sunday. They sacrificed - 24 blocked shots Friday, and 22 Sunday. They were smart - facing one short-handed situation all weekend. When you're penalty-kill is struggling, that helps. That PK should get an assist with the return of Fernando Pisani, the arrival of Ryan Johnson, and the level-raising play of Dave Bolland lately, offensively too.

Encouraging signs, but Joel Quenneville wasn't ready to declare anything after the win over L.A. He's seen signs before, only to see lapses follow. It's about high-level consistency, which has eluded just about every team around the league heading into the holidays. The competition and balance is stiff, as any day-by-day glance at the conference standings will show you. A couple of flat efforts has teams scrambling to recover, and no matter how they play from this point on - some earlier missed opportunities will already force the Hawks to scramble once the games-played numbers even out. We asked the head coach before Sunday's game whether Friday was the team's best 60-minute effort of the season, and said it probably came down to that one and the 7-1 victory in Vancouver. He's been preaching during his three years it's all about defensive effort, responsibility and execution. That's what we saw this weekend, along with some wonderful goaltending from Corey Crawford.

Maybe the Hawks started this thing a little earlier, and just can't beat Colorado. They played a good road game in the overtime loss in San Jose before the loose, off-to-the-races defeat in Denver and the third period double minor in the rematch last Wednesday. Prior to those three, they'd won five of six.

Between the roster turnover, the short summer, wearing the "target," and the health challenges, we knew this wasn't going to be easy. But now, even without a couple of marquee names, they've shown what they're capable of doing. That level now needs to be sustained, especially before Baby New Year crawls in. They're 4-4-1 against the Central, with Nashville, Columbus and St. Louis up next. They're 0-1-1 against Antti Niemi and the Sharks, then reach the season's halfway point at Anaheim and Los Angeles right after the New Year.

As Quenneville said at the team's annual holiday family skate Monday morning at the United Center, Santa was very good and came through with his request a year ago. Is it greedy to ask for the same, expensive gift this year? At this rate, he'll probably accept efforts and execution like he saw this weekend on a game-by-game basis. That, and a healthy New Year, is probably enough for him to take his chances on whether it's a gift they're given again.

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

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.