Blackhawks

Loud Hawks already passing chemistry test

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Loud Hawks already passing chemistry test

DENVER -- Patrick Sharp has noticed the increased "noise" level with these Chicago Blackhawks.

"We were just flying over from Phoenix (and later) sitting on the bus there's a lot of hooting and hollering. A lot of guys are having fun with each other and it's just two weeks into the season," Sharp said. "That's a good sign. The chemistry's there."

And apparently, so is the fun again.

The Blackhawks are halfway through their first road trip, a two-game stint that wraps up Thursday night when they play the Colorado Avalanche. The road is a good time for longtime team members and new acquisitions to gel, to get to know each other. But with this year's group of Blackhawks, that camaraderie was evident on and off the ice before they even hit the road.

"It feels comfortable. There's no separation between new players and players that have been here for a while," Jonathan Toews said recently. "We haven't spent a lot of time on the road but everyone's getting to know each other pretty well whether hanging around or outside the rink. There's a togetherness and we're feeling that on the ice, too."

That feeling was missing for most of last season. The Blackhawks didn't have a bad locker room in 2010-11, they just had a quiet one. A too-quiet one. The massive turnover was one reason, the youth on the roster was another. Guys were young and unsure where they even fit into the lineup and probably not confident in piping up.

The latest "new guys" aren't new to the NHL. Their games and personalities were established well before they joined the Blackhawks. So now, as much as the Blackhawks have balance on the ice they have personality off it. And everyone is appreciating the more energetic and talkative room.

"You go back a couple years ago, guys enjoyed being around each other. This group is a lot more vocal," coach Joel Quenneville said. "There's a lot more noise on the buses and planes we didn't see last year and that's a good thing. It'll probably get more entertaining and amusing as we go along."

There's no doubt this is a different room this season. You see it and hear it when you walk in; these guys talk, they joke, they make themselves heard. And if they're doing that during the practice days, they're probably doing it more during game intermissions, too.

The newest Blackhawks have felt welcome from the start. Sean O'Donnell enjoyed a good-natured ribbing from his new teammates when he turned 40 last week. Daniel Carcillo has certainly added to the room's buzz. Jamal Mayers said it's easy for the veterans to mesh with these Blackhawks.

"The leadership group here was already established. We just want to be pieces of the puzzle," he said. "The honest truth is you just want to be authentic and yourself and do the things you have your whole career. You just come into the room and be yourself."

The Blackhawks have found their voices again. The "noise" is back, and it's a welcome sound.

Briefly

Corey Crawford will start against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.

Marian Hossa came out of Wednesday night's game fine after missing Saturday with an upper-body injury. He was practicing again on Thursday.

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

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USA TODAY

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

For Jordan Oesterle, the wait really wasn’t a terrible thing.

Sure, he was used to playing more consistently in the past. But he knew with the Blackhawks carrying eight defensemen that several players, including him, would need to practice patience and understanding.

“It hasn’t been too long. It’s only been a week and a half so it’s not terrible,” said Oesterle on Thursday morning, a few hours before he made his Blackhawks debut against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks are going with eight defensemen to start the season. In one way, it’s good: if anything goes awry, be it someone’s game or someone’s health, the depth is readily there.

But so are the challenges. It’s a juggling act, a delicate balance between making the right decisions and making sure a player understands that a scratch may be more about the rotation and not his individual game.

Communication, above all, is key.

“It’s not easy being the guys who are in or out, right on that bubble situation where you come in not knowing if you’re going to play. But as a staff we want to keep everyone involved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know the depth of your defense is going to get challenged at some point during the year. We feel the eight guys who are here can play but that’s how we’ve always done it: We’ve always let guys know whether you’re in or out. Sometimes you have to be more patient than you’d like but handling it the right way, whether you’re a good pro or teammate, that can be healthy around the environment of your team.”

Based on all outward appearances, everyone has handled it well. Connor Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice – “I mean I just want to see the team win really...if we're winning and guys are playing well that's all that matter,” Murphy said after his first scratch.

Oesterle was a healthy scratch the first seven games. Michal Kempny, who Oesterle replaced, has been scratched the last two games. Cody Franson has also sat seven games. Franson, whose patience has been in place while awaiting contracts in his career, is practicing it again. But he’s appreciated the Blackhawks’ communication on it.

“This situation gets tough when they don’t say anything to you; you don’t know if it’s because of the way you’re playing, you don’t know if it’s something you did or what the situation is. The coaching staff has done a great job of being in our ear, letting us leave our work at the rink and not take it home with us,” Franson said. “That goes a long way in being able to stay positive and in the right mindset through it.”

After starting with eight defensemen last season the Blackhawks eventually went back to seven. Will they do that again this season? Maybe, but whoever gets sent down would most likely have to go through waivers. The Blackhawks reassigned Gustav Forsling last season to get back to seven defensemen and get Forsling more playing time. But this season Forsling and Jan Rutta have been dependable and have pretty much become the Blackhawks’ second pairing.

So for now, eight defensemen it shall be. Being part of the rotation isn’t always easy but so far players seem to get that it’s for the greater good.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got eight quality guys. I think no matter who’s sitting on any given night, it might not necessary be due to how they’re playing or how they’re doing individually,” Franson said. “I think Q’s done a great job of managing that situation. That’s one of those things where it’s a great problem to have but it’s not an easy one to handle. So we’re all aware of what’s taking place right now and you just try to be as professional about it as you can.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night:
 
1. Surviving a crazy first period.

The Blackhawks committed four penalties in the opening frame within a 2:18 span, and escaped unscathed from it despite a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities for the Coyotes.

Of course, the only goal allowed in the period came from a fluke deflection off Jordan Oesterle's stick and slipped underneath Corey Crawford's five-hole.

Joel Quenneville likes to say the team that takes advantage of their 5-on-3 opportunities has a pretty good chance to win the game. It applied in this case, with the Blackhawks coming out victorious after surviving that stretch.

2. Power play comes alive early.

The Blackhawks got off on the right foot in an area that has been an issue for them this season, capitalizing on their first power play of the game 24 seconds into it when Richard Panik redirected a Jonathan Toews shot that tricked past Louis Domingue.

Good thing too, because it was the only man advantage they'd get. Well, excluding the power play they received with 17 seconds left in regulation when the game was already decided. 
 
3. Another controversial review in Arizona.

What's with it with controversial reviews in Arizona and the Blackhawks being on the wrong end of the call?

The Blackhawks appeared to have taken a 3-1 lead when Tommy Wingels converted on a penalty shot, but it was overturned after officials reviewed it and determined the Coyotes netminder got a stick on Wingels' initial shot. Replays didn't exactly show conclusive evidence, but the NHL released a statement proving otherwise:

Video review determined that Wingels shot the puck into the net after Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue made contact with the puck. According to Rule 24.2, "No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind."

Shortly after, the Coyotes scored in the final minutes of the period to even up the score at 2-2 in a big turn of events at the time.
 
4. ... But puck don't lie.

The overturned penalty shot didn't matter in the end though, because the Blackhawks came away with the victory and Wingels ended up getting his first goal after all on an empty netter that iced the game.

It was Wingels' first goal as a member of his hometown team, and it was well deserved for a guy who was part of the fourth line that turned in arguably their best performance of the season.
 
5. Lance Bouma rewarded with game-winning goal.

Speaking of which, it was fitting that Bouma scored the game winner with 4:24 left in the third period because that trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden was around the net for the majority of the night.

They combined for two goals and two assists, had eight attempts shot attempts (five on goal), eight of the team's 16 hits and four blocked shots.