Blackhawks

Its not time to fly out of Crows nest

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Its not time to fly out of Crows nest

Breathe, Blackhawks fans. Breathe.

Im not going to argue last nights game in Nashville was a pretty vision. It wasnt. But judging by the knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) reactions on the ol TweetDeck as I kept one eye on that, the other on the game, and the other on writing my share of the SportsNet Central highlights, youd think the team had morphed from a seven-game points streak into the Columbus Blue Jackets (the same Jackets the Red Wings needed to get past in a shootout at home Saturday night, by the way).

Simply put, there were too many passengers. Thats never a good idea against Nashville. Its worse when they try to pull that off on the road. Its even worse when the Preds had been playing their tails off lately and still found themselves six points behind the Hawks with only a game in-hand. Marian Hossa was great, Patrick Sharp wasnt there, Jonathan Toews wasnt there for almost half the game. Patrick Kane was unable to bring with him the night he had 24 hours before. The supporting cast that had sparked that unbeaten run couldnt provide any production, either. They drew just one power play, and for the second straight game, managed only 22 shots on goal. And Corey Crawford let in a bad goal whether it was a bounce, or a poor read that further solidified the tempo and momentum the Preds had already established.

Crawford was actually good in the first period to get out of it 1-1. But everyone forgets that, and the results he got prior to that, courtesy of that one bad period. Calling on the coaching staff to immediately hand the job over to Ray Emery (probably the same people who questioned Emery making the team in the first place) would be a panic-button move. Despite the dogfight for points in the West, its still not time to panic.

It means they wouldnt trust what Crawford did for them last year, the investment they made in him in the off-season, and the way he bounced back strong after watching Emery play ahead of him last month. Has Crawford been as top-end consistent as he was as a rookie? Probably not. Has Emery been good? You bet. But translating three goals in an 11-minute span into losing your job, at this point, tears down the long-term goalie everyone around here believes was discovered a year ago.

Lucky for us, the Hawks dont get to see us have bad days at work, but thats part of their deal.

Crawfords season has reflected what Detroits Jimmy Howard went through last season following an outstanding rookie year. Theyve both been brought along slowly. Mike Babcock stuck with Howard through the bumps. And you see what hes doing right now. Unfortunately, there arent many goalies out there who dont have a few bad games each season.

This is by no means a final answer on the goalie situation. If there are more games and goals that can be pinned squarely on him, Joel Quenneville will start turning more towards Emery. Id imagine well start to get clearer answers in the three weeks of road games that follow next Sundays All-Star Game. If given the opportunity for redemption in Tuesdays rematch with Nashville, lets see how he responds. Sitting at this same point of the season over the last four years (and not knowing what lies ahead) which goalie tandem have you felt most comfortable with? Khabibulin-Huet? Niemi-Huet? Crawford-Turco? Or Crawford-Emery?

Right now, worry more about health, across-the-board effort (especially on the road), and finding the right pieces to add at the trade deadline. It shouldnt be goalie. Not yet.

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.”