Blackhawks

Versteeg's return to Chicago hits home

577784.png

Versteeg's return to Chicago hits home

Kris Versteeg is hearing it from his ex-Blackhawks teammates. Theyre giving the Florida Panthers forward flack on everything from his rap skills or lack thereof, according to Patrick Kane to his long hair, which Jonathan Toews tried to coax him into cutting.

Yeah, its always been a thing of Toewsers, trying to get into your head, said Versteeg, who returns to the United Center for the first time since Game 5 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Last night he let me know about it, but its not going to go anywhere anytime soon. Hell have to cut it off in my sleep.

All kidding aside, today is an emotional day for Versteeg, who took a minute to look at that Cup banner hanging in the United Center rafters before the Panthers morning skate. He helped put it there, and it was special to finally see it.

It was really weird, said Versteeg, who leads the Panthers in goals (17) and points (39) this season. I didnt get to see the banner raised, so (today is) the first time I got to see that. It was a pretty neat experience what you got to accomplish with the team. But Im excited about (tonights) game, excited to get this thing going.

Its the first return for several Panthersformer Blackhawks today, including Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille. But the longest absence has been for Versteeg, who played with Toronto and later Philadelphia last season, but after the Flyers visited here in January of 2011.

Everything the Blackhawks accomplished that Cup year came back to Versteeg.

Its obviously very emotional. It hits home, Versteeg said. You spend so much time and effort as an individual to get to the NHL and then win the cup. Its emotional looking at that, in more ways than one, but it was pretty special to finally see it.

As for his rap career, Versteeg said hes working on a few things. Kane will probably have some fun with that.

You call those (rap) skills? That was pretty embarrassing, Kane said. Hopefully we dont have to see any of that for a while.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

sharpkanetoews.jpg
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

patricksharp.png
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.”