With All-Star break behind them, Toews-less Blackhawks reconvene in Colorado


With All-Star break behind them, Toews-less Blackhawks reconvene in Colorado

DENVER – The Blackhawks gathered together at the University of Denver, practicing for about 45 minutes, a lengthy amount of time for them.

It won’t be fully evident until tomorrow night, when the Blackhawks face the Colorado Avalanche, if they’re re-energized off the All-Star break. But for most, it looked like the break served them well.

Even Patrick Kane, who was at the NHL All-Star festivities this weekend in Nashville said he feels refreshed. It was a bit of a surprise to see Kane practicing on Monday; those playing in the All-Star game usually sit the first practice out.

“I feel really good, surprisingly good,” Kane said. “It was good for me to get out there, practice with the team, get the body moving. Even though you’re in the All-Star game and skills competition, there’s still a lot of sitting around, standing around, waiting for things to happen. It felt good out there in practice. Hopefully it translates over tomorrow.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Andrew Shaw, who spent the break skiing in Colorado, said he should feel a little more energetic going into these final 29 regular-season games.

“Yeah this is honestly my favorite part of the year,” said Shaw. “You start seeing games remaining and getting closer and closer to playoff time. It’s always fun to try to see the team make the late pushes, and it should be entertaining second half of the season.”

The Blackhawks will start this portion of the season without Jonathan Toews; the captain missed the All-Star weekend due to illness, but is suspended one game nonetheless per NHL rules. Coach Joel Quenneville said Toews is “progressing” from his illness. Toews didn’t make the trip to Colorado; he’ll meet the team in Arizona.

[MORE HAWKS: Corey Crawford named No. 2 star of January]

Michal Rozsival, who did not practice (lower body), is also questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Avalanche. Duncan Keith also did not practice but he will play against the Avalanche. Corey Crawford is expected to start.

The Blackhawks got through the first 53 games well, despite losing three of their last four going into the break. Schedule-wise, this latter portion of the schedule won’t be nearly as grueling. It will nevertheless be a wild ride to the end of the regular season, and the Blackhawks are hoping they’re re-energized for it.

“We got through that grind. We did well in the last two months, as well,” Shaw said. “We’ve got to use that and stay fully energized and let the body heal up and get prepared for playoffs.”

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 9: Memorable Canucks series

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 9: Memorable Canucks series

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

After eliminating the Calgary Flames in six games and securing their first playoff series win since 1995-96, the Blackhawks were on to the Western Conference semi-finals, where they would meet the Vancouver Canucks. And what a memorable series this would shape out to be, the start of a terrific rivalry that would develop over the next several years.

The Blackhawks didn't have home-ice advantage this time, but it turns out they didn't need it.

After falling into a 2-1 hole, the Blackhawks evened up the series in Game 4 at the United Center when Andrew Ladd re-directed a Dave Bolland shot in overtime to put the pressure back on the Canucks heading back to Vancouver. It was a pivotal moment in the series, but the turning point may have started late in Game 3.

Although he didn't score until Game 5, Dustin Byfuglien was an absolute wrecking ball and unquestionably got into Roberto Luongo's head with his net-front presence and physicality. 

The Blackhawks locked up Game 5 in Vancouver and returned to Chicago, where they would beat the Canucks 7-5 in Game 6 thanks to a hat-trick by 20-year-old Patrick Kane. It was that night when Kane was coined with the nickname: "Hat-trick Kane."

And of course, who could forget Luongo's postgame press conference when he was moved to tears after accepting blame for the series loss?

Relive the series in the video above.

Joel Quenneville: Corey Crawford's short on-ice session part of schedule after six straight days of skating

Joel Quenneville: Corey Crawford's short on-ice session part of schedule after six straight days of skating

For the sixth straight day, Corey Crawford skated one hour before Blackhawks practice on Wednesday. But this one was the shortest on-ice workout of training camp.

After several discussions in between drills with head athletic trainer Mike Gapski and goaltending coach Jimmy Waite, Crawford's workout ended at 20 minutes. His sessions have usually lasted around 30.

Asked after practice about it, coach Joel Quenneville said not to read anything into it as it was all part of the schedule and that Crawford worked out in the gym afterwards as well. He is scheduled to have an off day on Thursday.

"We still like the progress and the way he's going along here," Quenneville said. "We're still encouraged that his progress is headed in the right direction."

Crawford said on Day 1 of camp that he's still dealing with concussion-like symptoms from last season, but that he's "really close" to returning. Conditioning is one of his biggest hurdles as well, because he hasn't been able to up the intensity on training the way he normally does over the summer.

"Every single day is movement, conditioning, he's feeling good, I think that's half the battle," Quenneville said. "You're getting conditioning out of it and all of a sudden you get in different positions and movements and then there's progress along the way with the velocity of shots, when there's traffic, there's bodies, so we're trying to add a little bit of something and a different look every single day.

"It's the routine in the schedule. Today was six in a row, let's let this slow down a little today and tomorrow he's off."

Injury updates

In other injury news, Blackhawks team physician Michael Terry released a medical update on Connor Murphy, who could now miss up to 12 weeks with a back injury.

“Connor will have a period of six weeks during which he will be off the ice," Terry said in a statement. "He will undergo further testing at that time to determine if it is appropriate for him to begin more physical activity or require an additional four weeks of rest. This puts Murphy’s overall timeline at approximately eight to twelve weeks before returning to the lineup.”

Jan Rutta is also listed as day to day with a groin injury. Quenneville said it's not believed to be serious.

First wave of cuts

In addition, the Blackhawks made their first wave of cuts by re-assigning goaltender Alexis Gravel (Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL), forward Philipp Kurashev (Quebec Remparts) and defenseman Jake Ryczek (Halifax Mooseheads) to their respective junior teams and released forward Shaw Boomhower from his amateur tryout.

"Kurashev, I didn't mind him," Quenneville said. "I think they all did alright. I think that the two kids going to Halifax, they got good coaching there. [Halifax head coach] Eric Veilleux was a guy we had him a little bit around in the Quebec days and I think they're going to be excited about that. They're hosting a Memorial Cup so those two guys will be having an exciting year for them. Phil is going to Quebec, going to play for Patrick [Roy]. Going to get great coaching as well, good opportunity for these guys. I thought he had a good camp. Jimmy was talking the goalie [Gravel] that he was impressed with him as well. For a young kid coming in here he learned a lot and I think that will be a good year for him as well."

The roster currently sits at 53 players: 28 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goaltenders.

Top guns set to make preseason debut

The Blackhawks brought a bunch of young guys to Columbus for the first preseason game, but Thursday should be different. Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Chris Kunitz and Jonathan Toews (and likely Nick Schmaltz and Brandon Saad) are among the most notable players that will be traveling to Detroit to face the Red Wings. Anton Forsberg and Kevin Lankinen will be the two goaltenders and are expected to split time in net.