Cubs

Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

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Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

GLENDALE, Ariz. For the Chicago Blackhawks, the hits just kept on coming from the Phoenix Coyotes last night. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, all of the Blackhawks top skill guys were in the Coyotes crosshairs.

The Blackhawks including Toews came out of it just fine health-wise. But facing a team thats more scrap than skill, the Blackhawks can probably expect more of the same from the Coyotes the rest of this series.

The Coyotes doled out 48 hits, according to the score sheet, in their 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday night. Yes, that number is high, and one that is a little skewed; the Blackhawks had good puck possession in the first and third periods, which meant the Coyotes were chasing more than dictating. And while the Coyotes would like to have the puck more than they did last night, theyre intent on keeping that physical edge.

Were going to be physical with everyone. We have to be, Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. We cant just let them skate. They have too much skill.

The Blackhawks have a lot of firepower and a lot of speed that the Coyotes will try to curtail. They took their lumps on Thursday night, including Toews, who was back after missing 22 games with a concussion. And although he was sore immediately after the game, Toews is feeling good today and considered that outing a successful test of his recovery.

He figured hed be taking some knocks.

I expected worse, he said about the hits on him. Obviously Im going to be at the net, in front of the goalie. Every chance they get theyre going to take shots. I expected that. Its no big deal; Im just happy with the way I dealt with it. Im going to keep playing and not shy away from that sort of thing.

Thats good, because theyll probably keep coming. While that physical game played a role in Game 1, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett is looking more at the big picture.

Were hoping it plays a role in the series as it progresses, he said. Theyve got some top-end skill that you have to try and make the game hard on. With that being said, you have too many hits when you dont do good things with the puck. But we have a purpose. We want to be physical in this series, that goes without saying.

Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal, who had a team-high eight hits last night, concurred.

Weve got to be physical against these guys because their first two lines they have such good skill, he said. And if you take the puck and time from them, its going to be to our advantage.

The Blackhawks, indeed, often become a target because of their strong puck possession game. And the more hits the other team has, the more they must be dictating things. Still, the Coyotes are good at knocking players off the puck and causing turnovers, something that hurt the Blackhawks last night. So the Blackhawks will weather the black-and-blue storm and keep playing their game.

We have a pretty skilled team. We try to keep the puck in our hands and try to spend as much time in their zone, Marian Hossa said. They like to play physical but we can play smart and get to their net as much as we can.

The Blackhawks being outhit isnt a stunning revelation; its happened quite a bit this season. The Coyotes will keep trying to hit them. The Blackhawks will just keep trying to dodge them and keep the puck with them.

The first few games of the series, we know what its going to be like. We were prepared. We knew they were going to come out crashing and banging, Dave Bolland said. We had the puck a lot and I think were working well pretty down low there, doing things to keep it in their zone. But we can do more to get back in this series.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title