Boyling Point: 5 things on my mind entering Blackhawks training camp

Boyling Point: 5 things on my mind entering Blackhawks training camp

Here are the top 5 things on my mind entering training camp.

1. Corey Crawford’s health: I know, it’s your biggest concern, too. The Blackhawks were in the playoff mix last season when Crawford was injured in late December. The Hawks attempts at finding a reliable back-up to Crawford never worked out. Emergency goalie and CPA, Scott Foster, turned in the most memorable performance in the Hawks crease and that inconsistent net play was a major reason why the team finished in last place. With Crawford’s status uncertain, the Hawks signed Cam Ward to a one-year deal in hopes of avoiding another revolving door in the crease.

I saw Crawford earlier this week and he looked great. I was told Crow was on the ice last week for the first time since last February and that it went well. After seeing and talking to Crawford at the Blackhawks convention in July, I wasn’t optimistic that he would be ready for the start of training camp.

Hopefully we will get a clearer picture of where Corey’s head injury is at and a timeline for a possible return to game action on Friday. If I had to guess right now, I would expect the Hawks to be very cautious with Crawford and I would not be surprised if he was unable to start the regular season.

2. Is Hank ready for the NHL?: Next to goaltending, the Blackhawks blue line also played a major role in the teams struggles last season. Stan Bowman did not add a top four defenseman this offseason. He did add Brandon Manning and brought Brandon Davidson in on a PTO. The Brandons join an already crowded battle for 5th, 6th and 7th defensemen. Which brings us to Henri Jokiharju, the Hawks' 2017 first round pick is only 19, but he will be given a legit chance to make this team. If he is not quite ready and the Hawks see him spending more time watching games from the press box, it would make more sense to send him to Rockford where the 19-year-old is expected to be eligible to play.

3. Who is Kane’s wingman?: It’s time to make Patrick Kane’s left wing line-mate a top priority. It seems at times the Hawks feel they can put anyone with Kaner and that he will make them better. Which is probably true, but will that forward help Patrick return to his MVP form? I have been lobbying for Alex DeBrincat to be that guy since late last season. Joel Quenneville avoided putting DeBrincat with Kane and Schmaltz last year when he was experimenting and the season was lost. He probably has an issue with the lack of size on that line. I think DeBrincat can complement Kane’s east/west style of play and deliver or one-time cross ice passes, which are such a big part of 88’s game.

4. Make Special Teams “Special”: It’s so hard to score in this league 5-on-5 and with the way the game is being officiated, it’s absolutely paramount to have a productive power play. Last year the Hawks power play ranked 28th in the league. Meanwhile the final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were all ranked in the top 11 (TB-3rd, WPG-5, WSH-7, VGK-11). Maybe load up on one of the units with DeBrincat, Toews, Kane, Schmaltz and Gustafsson? Follow the Capitals blue print, setting Kane and DeBrincat at opposite circles, have Toews and Schmaltz work the slot and blue paint and have Gustafsson quarterback at the top of the umbrella. Allow these units time to build chemistry and don’t hit the blender the first time they go 0-for-4.

5. Who’s hungry?: Looking up and down the Blackhawks roster, it’s hard to find a player who is NOT looking to have a bounce back season. If you are not in the bounce back category, chances are you’re a young player like DeBrincat or Schmaltz looking to take the next step in your budding NHL career. Then there is a group of players like Dylan Sikura, Victor Ejdsell and Henri Jokiharju who are looking to prove they belong in the NHL and can be counted on to contribute with consistency. Jonathan Toews said the team was humbled by missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade and that what they’ve accomplished is in the past. “It’s time to start over,” Toews said. The Blackhawks final four players that have been a part of all three cup runs (Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook) are extremely prideful players and don’t take losing lightly. Look for their leadership to unify a mostly unproven group and allow younger players like DeBrincat and John Hayden to assert themselves as new leaders in the room.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks can't solve rookie Cal Petersen in shootout loss

Four takeaways: Blackhawks can't solve rookie Cal Petersen in shootout loss

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center on Friday:

1. Blackhawks can't solve Cal Petersen

With Jonathan Quick (knee), Jack Campbell (knee) and Peter Budaj (sick) out, the Kings trotted out former Notre Dame standout Petersen to make his first career NHL start between the pipes. And he didn't disappoint.

The 24-year-old stopped 34 of 35 shots (.971 save percentage) in 65 minutes of play and denied Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the shootout to earn his first victory in the big leagues.

"He was good, yeah," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The third period was more like it. If we’d had 60 minutes [like that] maybe we break him down eventually. He did well, he did a good job. I thought we had a little more traffic, got some more pucks to the net. That was better. But you can’t help but think if we’d have had that push earlier, then we’d get paid off for it."

2. Line changes serve as third-period spark

After failing to generate many scoring chances in the first two periods, Jeremy Colliton spruced up his top-six by putting Brandon Saad with Kane and Toews and Nick Schmaltz with Alex DeBrincat and Artem Anisimov. They saw the benefits almost immediately.

Saad scored 2:39 into the final frame after burying a feed at the doorstep by Toews for his third goal in six games, tying the game at 1-1.

'We showed some resiliency battling in the third," Saad said. "It was definitely a slow start. We've got to play a full 60 minutes to win hockey games, but I think it shows some character how we can battle back in the third. And then overtime we had some chances and some puck possession, and when it comes down to a shootout it can be anyone's game. But the message for us is to play a full 60, because when we play well you can see that we have opportunities and a better chance to win the hockey game."

3. Power play comes up empty

Special teams was the deciding factor in the Blackhawks' last two games. They gave up two power-play goals in 66 seconds against Carolina on Monday and then beat St. Louis 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to a power-play goal of their own.

The Blackhawks had three power-play opportunities against the Kings, and all three of them came in the second period. They recorded a combined six shots on goal during them, but reverted back to some old habits by waiting for the open shot and lacking net-front presence.

"You get three in the second, it would be nice to get one," Kane said. "Even if you're not getting anything on it, it's nice to get momentum off of it. I thought we did a decent job of getting momentum, getting some chances and some looks. Sometimes you've just got to converge on the net and hopefully get those rebounds and try to find a way to get one a little bit dirtier."

The Blackhawks also allowed a breakaway chance towards the end of the third power play, but Corey Crawford saved the day. Tyler Toffoli scored 19 seconds after the Blackhawks' first power play to make it 1-0 Kings.

4. Meet your newest Blackhawk

The Blackhawks had a visitor at morning skate in Carter Holmes, an 11-year-old from Wisconsin, who is battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma. As part of the Make-A-Wish Experience, Holmes became a Blackhawk for a day and practiced with the team, including his favorite player Patrick Kane.

"I might have to change my number," Kane joked about Holmes, who wears No. 88 because of Kane. "I think he was a little bit better than me out there today."

It was the first time Holmes skated since being diagnosed on June 30, four days after his team took first place at a tournament. Holmes feared that he would never be able to play hockey again, but that won't be the close. He's expected to re-join his teammates soon, even if it may take a while to get back into game shape.

"It's pretty special," Kane said of Holmes, who will drop the ceremonial first puck on Sunday for "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night at the United Center. "Sometimes you're just playing hockey and worried about the business aspect of it, but days like today you can take a step back and realize there's more important things out there."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Updates on the start Jeremy Colliton era


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Updates on the start Jeremy Colliton era

SportsTalk Live is on location at the United Center for Blackhawks Authentic Fan Night. Charlie Roumeliotis, Jay Cohen and Jimmy Greenfield join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

0:00- Pat Boyle stops by to talk about the start of the Jeremy Colliton era and to preview the huge Sunday Night showdown between the Bears and Vikings.

19:00- Adam Burish joins the panel to preview the Blackhawks and Kings and to talk about how the Hawks players are reacting to a 33-year old head coach.

Listen to the full epiosde here or via the embedded player below: 

Sports Talk Live Podcast