Blackhawks

Smith taking calmer approach to this opportunity

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Smith taking calmer approach to this opportunity

Ben Smith was feeling the heat on his last stint with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The forward who was a surprise scoring force in the playoffs last season struggled when he was called up here in late Novemberearly December. Smith said he didnt have the right mindset coming into that opportunity.

Maybe I was feeling too much of the pressure and not taking it day by day as I have in the past, said Smith. So when he was recalled on Monday, Smith said he came up with a calmer approach.

Smith skated on the Blackhawks second line with Michael Frolik and Marian Hossa on Tuesday, and will start there tonight when the Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets. The top-six opportunity is a big one for Smith, whos proven he can produce when necessary. He came through on the big stage last spring, scoring three goals in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks.

And Smith said he hopes taking the same outlook as he did then helps pay off for him again now.

Its about not feeling so much of the pressure and just enjoying being here, he said. You never know whats going to happen in this business. All you can do is focus on today.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Smiths readiness was evident Tuesday morning.

I watched him practice; he was flying out there today so hes excited to be back here, Quenneville said. You have to love his character; hes a driven kid who wants to play up here. The last time up here, it looked like was catching up to where we envision him to be this year.

Smith will play left wing with Frolik and Hossa but he could also play center if necessary. Its a good chance for him to stick around for a while, as the Blackhawks work through injuries with Patrick Sharp (wrist), Marcus Kruger (concussion) and Daniel Carcillo (knee).

The Blackhawks need contributions from across the board and Smith has the chance to be one of those guys. If he takes the opportunity for what it is and doesnt put that pressure on himself, he could show that game he had last spring again.

Thats the hope, Smith said of staying here. But Ive found when I have success its when Im taking things one day at a time. Thats my mental approach coming up here this time.

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.”