Blackhawks look to 'answer the call' vs. the Wild

Blackhawks look to 'answer the call' vs. the Wild

The Minnesota Wild have proven a foil to the Blackhawks lately. Whether it’s been indoors or outdoors, the blowout victory of the come-from-behind variety, the Wild have stymied the Blackhawks in all of their regular-season outings the past season and a half.

Now, they meet again on Wednesday night. Is this a measurement-stick game? Maybe. A critical game? Certainly. The Blackhawks’ biggest test is on this road trip right in front of them. And if the Blackhawks want to get back atop the Western Conference standings, they have to beat them.

“It’s not, you have to catch them or it’s a failure,” Brian Campbell said. “But our goal is to make the playoffs and have the highest seed possible, so to get that we’re going to have to catch Minnesota.”

The Blackhawks trail the Wild, who beat the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night, by six points entering Wednesday night's game. The Wild haven't had many hiccups lately, winning seven of their last 10. The Blackhawks know the Wild have set the new standard and they have to play their best hockey to measure up to it.

“If we look back to the week where we played these guys and Washington a few nights before that, everyone was talking about those being some pretty big tests and we didn’t really answer the call at that time,” Jonathan Toews said. “It wasn’t our best, the way we were playing. The way we’re playing on the road right now going into [Wednesday’s] game, we can really get excited for this game and try to redeem ourselves with a solid road effort.”

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You could compare the Wild’s current roll with the one they had in the second half of the 2014-15 season, but this Minnesota team seems different. As coach Joel Quenneville said, these Wild are deeper and, “have more balance up front. Four lines that are looking like they could score and make plays and are trying to score more.”

“They have balance, a back end and are strong in the net. We’re having trouble beating them in the regular season,” Quenneville said. “It’s a huge game for us, probably at this stage, for sure, our most important game. You want to finish first, you want to win as often as possible, you want to push the team ahead of you if you’re not there. but certainly there’s a gap there we’re looking to close.”

The Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Wild on Jan. 15, a game they led 2-0 before Minnesota came back, apparently has stuck in the craw of some players.

“I think a lot of the guys still feel bad about that last game, so we’ll be pumped to play them,” Dennis Rasmussen said. “It’s a big game for us. We want to be first in the division and we want to get [one] back for the last time.”

Despite the Blackhawks’ recent up and downs and the Wild’s consistent play, the gap between the two isn’t so big. It’s certainly not insurmountable. The Wild have set the regular-season benchmark. The Blackhawks want to match it.

“You look across the league, [teams like] Columbus, Washington and Minnesota that get on those hot streaks and eventually they set the new standard where they have a ton of confidence and, even when they’re not playing so well, they’re finding ways to win,” Toews said. “Obviously they’re a tough team to beat right now, so that’s something we’ll be ready for.”

Blackhawks using first training camp under Jeremy Colliton to nail down defensive zone coverage

Blackhawks using first training camp under Jeremy Colliton to nail down defensive zone coverage

Jeremy Colliton has been the Blackhawks' head coach for more than 10 months now, but this is his first training camp with the team and he's able to instill some concepts that he wasn't able to do on the fly last season. The biggest thing, however, is that he was afforded a full summer to prep and can help get everyone on the same page during training camp and in the seven preseason games before the games actually matter.

"It's important," Duncan Keith said. "Systems nowadays, with the way teams are, it's important that everyone's on the same page. Having a training camp with the coaches and being able to implement the system and try to get on the same page early on, the quicker we can iron out everything the better off we're going to be."

The one area the Blackhawks have focused on heavily over the first two days is the defensive zone coverage. They gave up the most scoring chances and high-danger chances at 5-on-5 last season, and the team got better at it in the final month or so but it's still a work in progress.

"It's going to be huge," Patrick Kane said. "Even [Friday], first day we're running through some defensive coverage trying to get everything done tactically. I'm sure we'll do a little bit more of that each day and some different things as well. It'll be real beneficial for us just to all get on the same page, set the standard around here and feel confident about our team, the way we play going into the season."

The onus isn't just on the defensemen, either. It's a five-man unit and training camp is just as much about building trust with your teammates and being in the right spot as it is nailing down the scheme and letting it become muscle memory.

"We've all got to be on the same page," Brent Seabrook said. "If my D partner's doing it perfectly and I'm not, then we're not going to be any good at it. We've all got to be on the same page, we've all got to be doing our job and doing the right thing and the faster we get to that point, then I think it's just going to help us out in the long run. We're just going to keep getting better at it and we'll go from there."

The Blackhawks are going to continue working on their defensive zone coverage as camp goes along because that’s priority No. 1. Scoring goals won’t be an issue. And after Sunday’s training camp festival at the United Center, the Blackhawks have three consecutive preseason contests to apply what they've learned in a game-type setting.

"I just think getting guys on the same page as quickly as we can, that's really important,” Colliton said. “You saw there was a lot of D-zone work today [Friday]. That'll continue and we'll just sort of roll out how we're going to play day-by-day so that we're ready. We got that festival game, that will kind of be a dress rehearsal and then right into it."

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Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: Adam Boqvist is 'ready to be a pro'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: Adam Boqvist is 'ready to be a pro'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman hinted at the possibility of this earlier in the summer but he made it official on Friday: Adam Boqvist is turning pro.

Boqvist spent the 2018-19 season with the London Knights in the OHL, where he compiled 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) in 54 games and led all defensemen with 10 goals in 11 postseason contests. He made significant strides in his development as he got accustomed to the North American style of hockey and the Blackhawks are ready to bring him over to the organization.

“I think Adam's made enough progress," Bowman said. "The biggest thing with him was always just the physicality and the strength and I thought he put in a lot of work. I got to give him credit, especially this summer, even last year during the season. But he still has to continue to mature and develop physically but he's ready to be a pro.”

If Boqvist doesn’t make the Blackhawks out of training camp, he will start the season with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL. Not only will the team be able to have more of a hands-on role in his development, but they’ll now be able to call him up at any moment.

"I think the drawback to going back to junior is you don't have the access to him then for the whole season,” Bowman said. “So he's a player we're going to want to have access to whether he's in Chicago or nearby in Rockford."

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