Blackhawks

For starters, big difference for Blackhawks

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For starters, big difference for Blackhawks

Defenseman Brent Seabrook summed it up as well as anyone on Friday night.

A big two points (Thursday night), travel, came out and got one (Friday) night; three out of four points on a road trip isnt bad, he said.

A simple breakdown of the back-to-back, but its accurate nonetheless. Even better, considering the team was missing No. 1 defenseman Duncan Keith in both games. And Seabrooks assessment is also somewhat of a microcosm of the first month of the Blackhawks season: not bad at all.

The Blackhawks are reversing two trends that hurt them early last season. Theyre getting points out of those close games and, in turn, theyre off to a better start. Make that a much better start; first place in the Western Conference better.

Lets take a quick comparison, shall we? At this point last season the Blackhawks had played 15 games and were 7-7-1, for 15 points. This season the Blackhawks have played 13 games in the same time span and are 8-2-3, good for 19 points.

Four more points, despite playing two fewer games. Not a bad tradeoff.

We feel good about our game, Viktor Stalberg said. We get one out of it (Friday) and good to get that one point at least. Last year we lost those points a few times.

Yes, those squandered late points were a particular point of frustration for the Blackhawks and coach Joel Quenneville last year. In the always tight Western Conference all of those missed late opportunities added up, and the Blackhawks were still fighting for a playoff spot in the final game of the season.

The phrase we left a lot of meat on that bone became a steady part of Quennevilles vernacular. Well this season, the Blackhawks are just about picking the bones clean.

Yes, kids, I know: theyre going to overtime and shootouts quite a bit already. Last year they werent in the early going; they were just losing those games in regulation. Points are points, and the Blackhawks are finding every way they can to grab them.

And they probably havent even hit their true potential yet. That power play has been skittish. The top line has had its moments, but hasnt broken out yet. Captain Jonathan Toews recognizes the Blackhawks are getting there.

This was a good little road trip but there are a lot of little things we could do better. But were getting closer to being the team we want to be, he said.

Not quite there on the ice, but still there at the top of the conference standings.

Not bad at all.

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.”