Blackhawks

Myers: Hawks have been able to weather the storm

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Myers: Hawks have been able to weather the storm

Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010
10:50 a.m.
By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

First I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. I hope its a good one for all of you.

Now with that in mind, I would be remiss if I didnt bring some good news: the Chicago Blackhawks are 6-3-1 since Nov. 30, the day after they lost Marian Hossa to his lower body injury and six days before they would lose Patrick Kane to a left ankle injury. Not so bad for a group missing the teams sorry, make that two of the NHLs premiere players. As of Christmas Day, the Blackhawks are seventh in the Western Conference with 41 points. No, theyre not right in the midst of the top 8; but considering No. 1 Detroit has 46 points, theyre right in the thick of it.

Welcome to the Western Conference, where the standings seem to change on a minute-by-minute basis. Its always tight in the West but this year its been unbelievably suffocating.
But I digress

So how have the Blackhawks been able to weather the storm sans Hossa and Kane? After months of talking about getting away from too pretty, too stylish hockey, they actually have. Their play lately has no bells, no whistles and no worrying about dazzling the home crowd. Call it nuts-and-bolts hockey, hard-hat hockey, blue-collar hockey, it all comes down to the same important point: the Blackhawks have won more a heck of a lot more than theyve lost without two of their top players.

Certainly the Blackhawks have had their eye-rolling moments through this stretch please see both games against the Colorado Avalanche, especially the one in Denver. But lately the Blackhawks have gotten back to playing complete games with everyone on board.

Corey Crawford has been great in net, stopping everything from the mundane to the mammoth. By the way, is it too early to say he should be among the NHLs three stars for December? Somewhere after that Crosby guy, of course. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are back to their old selves, and Brian Campbell has been stellar. Goals have come from everyone, from top liners to checking liners to fourth liners (shameless plug: please see my Hawk Talk from Thursday). And the Blackhawks havent played with fire: theyve played clean hockey, avoiding penalties and killing them off.

More comfort and joy is on the way, folks. If the injured parties arent back for the Blackhawks Dec. 26 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they should return soon after that. December could have been a big bag of ugly for the Blackhawks without Hossa and Kane. Instead, theres been more reasons to celebrate than not. And with two of the Blackhawks top stars soon returning, the New Year could be pretty happy, too.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.