Blackhawks

Blackhawks' Marko Dano trying to simplify game, improve defensively

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Blackhawks' Marko Dano trying to simplify game, improve defensively

Marko Dano was reflecting on this last month with the Blackhawks, the adjustments to his new team, the ups and downs -- and those near goals.

“I had a couple of chances again but I still can’t score,” Dano said with a little smile. “I have to stay patient and positive.”

Dano’s been suffering from the same scoring struggles as most of the team right now, but he’s otherwise been learning plenty with the Blackhawks. He’s been working to improve his defensive game, and every now and then brings a little feistiness to the lineup. For the most part, it’s all been good.

[MORE HAWKS: Why Artemi Panarin is the Calder Trophy favorite]

“I was talking to the coaches; I played better on the road trip since I got here,” he said. “So I’m trying to do my best every night and play a simple game. Good things are going to happen.”

Dano’s played most of his time here on the third line, which did include fellow Slovakian Marian Hossa until the Blackhawks’ game in Ottawa on Friday night. As far as shadowing a player to hone that defensive game, Dano said of Hossa, “there’s the best example, so I’m trying to pick up some stuff from his game.” Hossa said his young countryman is coming along.

“I think he’s the type of player, a strong-skating player who can go to the net hard. He’s had a few opportunities; he hit a few posts, I remember, when I played with him,” Hossa said. “Obviously he’d like to create more offense as he told me, but he’s showing lots of good things.”

This last game Dano was back with Tanner Kero, who was also his line mate in Rockford when the two of them were producing. Who knows if that will be the combination by Saturday but the familiarity could provide a spark again.

“He’s been OK. We’re looking for more progression, more consistency offensively with the puck, influencing without it: basically be around it more and with more offensive zone time,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Dano. “The consistency of the one line doing all our production and trying to get some scoring and offensive zone time on the other lines is what we’re looking for. It’s not just him,” Quenneville continued. “That’s a work in progress across the board.”

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There’s no doubt about those last two sentences. Stopped us if you’ve heard this before, but the Blackhawks have gotten a bulk of their offense from second liners Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. Several Blackhawks have had some prime scoring chances. Marko Dano is among them.

Dano’s been frustrated that the chances he’s gotten haven’t resulted in goals. But the chances are nonetheless there, and Dano figures it’s only a matter of time before he starts capitalizing on them.

“Yeah, that’s a good thing; if we didn’t get chances, it wouldn’t be good,” he said. “Those chances are there. It’s just about time when those chances are going to go in.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."