Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Tension rising in playoff hunt

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Hawk Talk: Tension rising in playoff hunt

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted: 5:25 p.m.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Last years Blackhawks were the NHLs best. And they had guys who could irritate with the best of them, either through words, or actions.

Burish. Versteeg. Byfuglien. Eager. Dave Bollands still around, but he wasnt there in the first period on Tuesday night in Boston.

But its that-first period incident against the Bruins that has brought into question whether the Blackhawks are Yap-hawks. Champion Chirpers. Thats Shawn Thorntons claim after he tried to wheel away from an official guiding him and his bloody face towards the Boston bench and get to someone on the Hawks bench, who verbally pushed his button. Thorntons charge comes four weeks after Calgarys Brendan Morrison said the same about players on the Hawks bench as he struggled to get off the ice with a knee injury, from which he has yet to return.

Everybody talks, everybody tries to get under each others skin, said Fernando Pisani, whose skate inadvertently caused the gash as both he and Thornton fell behind the Hawks net. Its that time of the year. Emotions are high, everybody knows whats at stake and guys are just trying to bring an edge to the game. Every team theres always a few guys that do it. Thats part of the game, to try to agitate and get under the skin. To say we have more than any other team? Every team does it.

I think every team does, agreed Bryan Bickell, who works out with Thornton in the off-season and wishes him well. Everyone has their grudges against other teams and different players. They like to joke around with each other. Its all in good fun, but there are times it gets heated. I dont think our teams any different than any other team.

Joel Quenneville seemed pretty surprised by the charge, based on what he sees and hears.

I would say were pretty quiet on the bench," Quenneville said. "I probably yell a lot and Im not yelling at the other players. Thats the voice I hear a lot, getting line combinations going. I dont hear too much other stuff.

Where Quenneville wants to hear a little more noise is from his team scoring goals. In the six games dating to the 5-0 loss in Dallas, his teams managed 10 goals (four versus Florida). His desire for a defensive mindset has paid off, allowing just eight goals since. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook have combined for 21 points, the rest of the roster just nine. So the best players are carrying this team in its victories, but probably need a little help lifting. With Patrick Sharp now remaining off the ice until at least Monday, Bickell became the latest Left Wing Experiment at Thursdays practice, following the brief stints of Viktor Stalberg and Troy Brouwer.

Whether its production, consistencyI dont mind trying things until you think its exactly what youre looking for, explained Quenneville. Hes played there in the past, some big games, important games last year, and gives us some size as well.

You cant sit there and rely on one, two or three guys to provide offense for the whole team. Everyone has to contribute, everybody has to bring something to the table, whether its scoring goals, finishing checks, playing good defense, said Pisani, who is scoreless in a dozen games wrapped around an injury sustained seven weeks ago.

Quenneville knows with two of the top six forwards down at this time of the year, you may not necessarily get all your wishes answered, so hes had to pick a priority for the time being.

We havent scored many goals (the last five games) but weve only given up eight. I like the way were playing defensively. 'Crows' solid in net. Were going to be playing close games, and whether its a timely goal, whether its the power playthere is some production throughout our lineup that were gonna be looking for. Its a tight game and were not gonna have stretches where were scoring five or six every night. Those are good nights, but its tough to get those right about now.

While Columbus played in Washington Thursday night, the Blue Jackets are one of the two division rivals the Hawks face in the last six who wont make the post-season and who will undoubtedly look to make Chicago's road even tougher.

Ya see last night with Detroit and St. Louis (a 10-3 Blues win in Detroit)were fighting for a playoff spot right now and Im sure the Blue Jackets want to pop our bubble, said Bickell. We cant take them lightly. We know theyre out. We just need to stay focused

Corey Crawford will make his 22nd straight start in goal Friday, but is 0-2 with a 3.50 goals-against average this season versus the Jackets, while Marty Turco is 3-0.

I dont think theyre gonna give us anything," Crawford said. "We definitely know he have to go in there with our best game. Its running short here, so we dont have much time.

Last year, they beat us a couple of times this late in the season, Quenneville remembered. They play Thursday night in Washington, so we want to make sure we have a hard pace against them right off the bat. They can score goals and Im sure theyll be excited about playing us. Weve got to be ready and take care of business.

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

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.”