Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: The Turc arrives, Antti gone

Hawk Talk: The Turc arrives, Antti gone

Monday, Aug. 2, 2010
5:01 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The last big question hanging over the Blackhawks' roster this off-season has been answered. If that answer was Antti Niemi returning, we'd know who be in the nets for their Cup defense. Stan Bowman said after signing Marty Turco that the 35-year-old, three-time All-Star is that answer now, with Corey Crawford designated for backup duty.

What we do know about Turco is this: He's a wonderful guy, great in the locker room and the community, and he wants to help the city of Chicago and the Hawks defend the Cup, and the jewel to top what's been a solid career. It says a lot that he'd pass up more money and more security playing for a pretty decent team in Philadelphia to accept a one-year deal at a pay cut of about 4 million.

We talked with Darren Pang at Denis Savard's Celebrity Golf Outing for his Foundation Monday about Turco, and he called him among the top three puck-handling goalies in history, alongside Marty Brodeur and Ron Hextall. That'll work well with the Hawks' skating, stick-handling, active defensive corps, and maybe that's just what Turco needs at this stage after playing the last couple of seasons with a Dallas team that ranked 25th defensively in '08-'09, and 23rd last season. How much did the lack of stars on that Stars blueline have to do with Turco's career-high goals-against averages of 2.81 and 2.72? His save percentage was a Niemi-like .913 this past season, which was his best since four stellar pre-lockout years, when his highest goals-against was 2.09.

All signs point to Turco's career already having peaked, but for a guy who took such a hit in the wallet, he sure sounded rejuvenated when talking with the media from a golf vacation at St. Andrews, Scotland. Hawks fans (and most hockey fans, for that matter) are all too familiar with The Goalie Debate - their post-lockout importance now in the world of the Cap, not to mention the inexperience we saw in the Cup Finals, while the Brodeurs, Millers and Bryzgalovs went home quickly. As recently as coming out of the Olympic break, there were still arguments over whether Niemi or Huet should be the guy for the playoffs.

Niemi won that battle, then went out and helped them win a Cup, and that's something doubters of this decision have a tough time grasping in seeing him go. In the end, no matter the impression we got from his shy, reserved demeanor as he'd occasionally struggle with understanding or responding to our questions, Niemi's gone through the unique journey of being a Cup-winning goalie. And there weren't many who expected that from a guy with 42 games of NHL experience heading into the playoffs, which also raised his value.

The debate now becomes not only if TurcoCrawford will be better than Niemi, but how much more upside there is to the Finn. And how much is that worth with the team the Hawks have, considering he'd be a seemingly more expensive unrestricted free agent a year from now? Stan and Scotty Bowman and the rest of the Hawks' decision-makers believe this alternative gives them a better shot right now, providing more flexibility and balance for the rest of the roster. It'll be interesting to watch where Niemi goes, and how much he'll receive. Stan certainly did his due diligence checking out interest for Niemi in case he accepted the arbitration award while seeking to trade him for at least some draft picks. Whomever might've been interested wasn't about to do him any favors if they could get Niemi without sacrificing anything.

We're now a month into free agency, and there are still plenty of solid veterans still out there without a job, having to accept a lower salary than they may have originally envisioned. Maybe the Hawks go out and get one or two of them, especially another veteran for the blueline in front of Turco. Guys like John Madden are still out there, looking (though represented by Bill Zito, who also happens to be Niemi's agent).

The dust appears to have now settled, and there were plenty of pieces to that Cup-winning team scattered about. You look around the West, and see Vancouver made two nice moves to bolster their defense. You see a talented new goalie in St. Louis, Lombardi in Nashville, Ponikarovsky in L.A., San Jose exchanging Nabokov for Niittymaki and still seeking a replacement for Rob Blake. Calgary went back to its recent, unproductive past with its roster. No noteworthy improvements in Phoenix or Colorado, either. A healthy Detroit still seems like the biggest obstacle. There's been a lot of standing pat, or hoping for improvement from within, as the Blackhawks now will with the replacements they'll rely upon. I get the sense after all the heavy lifting Hawks management had to do the past five or six weeks, they look around and see the same. There is no question the quest to repeat will be loads more difficult. The recent history of Cup winners doesn't bode well. But if they remain healthy and hungry enough with their fresh young faces, after all this, they'll be a strong force in the West again.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

patrick_sharp.jpg
USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”