Blackhawks

Two games in, Blackhawks getting a 2010 feeling about 2013

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Two games in, Blackhawks getting a 2010 feeling about 2013

PHOENIX The Blackhawks lines rolled out at their respective times, each doing its part against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, then the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday. Some scored. Some defended. But all played good, effective minutes.

It was enough to get Marian Hossa reminiscing.

Right now, it feels like 2010.

The Blackhawks have been yearning to get four lines going again since that Stanley Cup-winning season. And in their first two games, theyve been getting them. Everyone is playing, everyone is contributing in some fashion. And that four-line effort gave the Blackhawks two victories on that opening road trip out West.

We have the four lines going. Its only two games, but I feel good about us rolling four lines, Hossa said. Everyones more energized instead of playing two or three lines and getting tired.

Sure, every team wants four lines going. But in this frenetic 48-game season, the more that can occur the better off a team will be. On training camps opening day, coach Joel Quenneville stated it was a must in the abbreviated season. And whether its his new combinations, the familiarity players have with each other or the fact everyones so happy to be playing again, hes getting it.

Just like he did three seasons ago. That Cup-winning squad had been building and getting familiar with each others style for a few seasons. It all came together that year when their talent and familiarity allowed for four lines rolling consistently. This seasons team didnt change much from last year, so players are once again getting comfortable with each other. And its showing in the lines.

The 2010 team had four lines we were rotating; everybody was going. Thats what were talking about this season, Quenneville said. I like how all our players are capable of playing together and playing against anyone. Especially on the road, we trust everybody out there. I like the depth; well probably get challenged with it, but itll help us.

The time-on-ice numbers say it all for the Blackhawks. Fourth-liner Brandon Bollig had the lowest TOI tally of 5 minutes, 40 seconds, but probably wouldve had more if not for his fight with Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette. The rest of the Blackhawks forwards had 10 minutes or more each. Brandon Saad, in his season debut, had 13:31 with top liners Jonathan Toews and Hossa.

The numbers dont lie; the four lines were rolling on a weekend when the Blackhawks needed to conserve energy, needed everybody to be involved. In turn, theyve been fresher, and have capitalized on plenty of scoring chances. The Blackhawks have 11 goals in their first two games; 15 of the 20 skaters who played in the first two games have at least one point.

The cores been here for a while; we know each other and how its going to be, center Dave Bolland said. And with other guys who have come in, weve bonded pretty quick to adapt to what we have to do.

Quenneville said, Guys want the puck. We have good speed in our team game right now. Weve had some odd-man breaks, had some fortunate luck around the net. You look at how hard it was to score against (the Coyotes) in the playoffs and tonight they went in.

The Blackhawks got off to the start they wanted. Theyre getting more consistent contributions across the board. And theyre getting a sense that this 2013 group, right now, has that 2010 feel to it.

We need all four lines rolling. And we have the team that can do that, whether were down or up (on the scoreboard), Bolland said. We have a great team, with great depth.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to Oilers: Connor McDavid adds to highlight reel

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to Oilers: Connor McDavid adds to highlight reel

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night:
 
1. Shake-up on power play doesn't work.

Joel Quenneville spruced up his power play units before Wednesday's game in an effort to snap a dry spell, but the Blackhawks had no luck in that department in the second of a back-to-back.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the man advantage against an Oilers team that was ranked dead last in penalty kill percentage going into the contest, and failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 opportunity for 56 seconds in the opening minutes of the season period.

They're getting off a fair amount of shots, but the quality of them isn't there.

2. Ryan Hartman fine after brief exit due to illegal hit.

It was a physical game between the Blackhawks-Oilers, but a line was crossed at the 4:59 mark into the second period when Zack Kassian delivered a huge hit on Hartman, who went face-first into the boards.

Kassian was given a two-minute minor penalty for boarding, a call that didn't sit well with the sold-out United Center crowd of 21,444. Hartman went to the locker room to be checked out after the hit despite getting up quickly and showing no visible signs of distress, but he fortunately returned a few shifts later.

It was a dangerous hit by Kassian, and an avoidable one too. 

Quenneville admitted Hartman getting up quickly perhaps may have "helped" keep it a minor penalty and not a five-minute major, but the Blackhawks coach wasn't focused on that after seeing the result unfold.

"I saw how hard it looked," Quenneville said. "But Hartzy getting up right away, that helped. You don't even measure it anymore after that. That's the one thing you're hopeful for right off the bat."
 
3. Connor McDavid adds another play to highlight reel.

We're only two weeks into the season, but the 20-year-old reigning Hart Trophy winner submitted an early entry for Assist of the Year.

Late in the first period, McDavid flew from his own end into the offensive zone, made a spin-o-rama move on two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and backhanded a perfect pass to Patrick Maroon, who tapped in a goal at the doorstep.

It looks impossible to defend from anyone watching, and Keith pretty much felt the same way.

"When he gets the speed in the other end there and he's able to skate all the way down, it's tough to stop a guy especially when he's that fast," Keith said. "He's just flying through the middle. I'm just a sitting duck there at the other end of the ice waiting for him to come full speed. It's a hard play to defend against."
 
4. Anton Forsberg sharp again.

It's a small sample size, but the Blackhawks' backup goaltender has looked really sharp in practically every start he's had in a Chicago uniform, including preseason.

He deserved a better fate in his regular season debut last week in Toronto when he stopped 39 of 43 shots in an overtime loss, and the same applied here.

Forsberg tied a career-high with 40 saves, and seemingly got better as the game went on.

"I for sure felt more comfortable, felt like I was more used to the speed," Forsberg said. "It's tough again to lose in overtime, obviously I wanted a win and that's kind of frustrating."

"Excellent games, both games," Quenneville said of his goaltender. "Would've been nice to get him a win tonight."
 
5. Jordan Oesterle keeps it simple in debut.

The Blackhawks' crowded blue line has made it difficult for Quenneville to give all eight defensemen a fair amount of playing time, but Oesterle took advantage of his season debut.

He logged 15:01 of ice time, registered three shot attempts (two on goal), and blocked two shots.

"I liked him," Quenneville said. "Moves the puck."

Said Keith: "I thought he was good. Tough situation for him, he hasn't played all year in a game but I thought he played good. He's got good poise, he's smart back there."

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

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USA TODAY

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

Mark Letestu raised his arms in celebration, his 4-on-3 power-play goal giving the Edmonton Oilers an overtime victory over the Blackhawks. The home team could only look on in frustration, knowing that if it could have just converted one power play on Thursday it may have been a different result.

Five more power plays, five more opportunities that yielded nothing for the Blackhawks, who are now 6-for-39 (15.4 percent) in that department on the season. The 5-on-4 chances were tough enough but coach Joel Quenneville and several Blackhawks pointed specifically to the 5-on-3 the Blackhawks had for 56 seconds.

“The 5-on-3, we had some great looks around the net,” Quenneville said. “A lot of loose pucks that we just didn’t find the handle [on], we’re not anticipating or sniffing them out around the net. Some close looks but no finish.”

It’s been a recurring theme for the Blackhawks on the power play, and not just this year. Again, in the past the Blackhawks didn’t sweat any power-play issues much; their 5-on-5 scoring was usually strong. This early season, however, things have quieted on that front. On Thursday the Blackhawks cleaned up a lot of the mistakes they made against the St. Louis Blues the previous night. Anton Forsberg was terrific. The Blackhawks’ second line of Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane was looking like it did prior to Schmaltz’s injury. But the power play remained the same.

“Yeah, we had a lot of chances, we made plays to the net. We just didn’t capitalize on the power play which would’ve been the difference,” Ryan Hartman said. “We have a chance on the 5-on-3, which would’ve been nice. Just some chances all around, like [Jonathan] Toews’ shot that just squeaked by. Just some missed opportunities.”

The Blackhawks have looked at ways to get their power play going. They’ve tinkered with personnel – the latest was keeping the top two lines together for their respective power-play shifts. Usually it’s come down to the problems that have hampered them before: not enough movement, not enough shots, not enough hunger around the net for loose pucks. The final issue was especially prevalent on Thursday.

The chances were there on the power play. The home team had the bulk of the opportunities. The visiting one had the finish.

“The 5-on-3 we had some decent looks but that was a chance to get a huge goal for us,” Quenneville said. “The power play late in the second was decent, the third was ordinary, but we’ve been moving personnel around. We have the ingredients to make it work but a lot of loose pucks we didn’t get in our 5-on-5 game comparable around the net on the power play as well. We didn’t smell anything out around there.”