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Blackhawks to meet President Obama next week

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Blackhawks to meet President Obama next week

Thursday, March 3, 2011Posted: 11:00 AM Updated: 5:52 p.m.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.coThe President Meets The President

When the NHL schedule was released, the Blackhawks' trip to Washington to play the Capitals was be one of the dates circled for the matchup alone. But it was also believed to be the perfect time in the team's hectic season and off-season, and President Obama's even busier schedule, for the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions to be recognized by the nation's Chief Executive from Chicago.

Now, it's official. The Blackhawks will follow in the recent footsteps of the White Sox and Bulls with a ceremony at the Oval Office next Friday, March 11th, at 2 p.m., Chicago time.

Members of the Cup-winning team, along with Chairman Rocky Wirtz, Team President John McDonough, Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, General Manager Stan Bowman, and Head Coach Joel Quenneville will be honored by President Barack Obama during a formal presentation.

Its a great honor for this franchise, McDonough told Comcast SportsNet Thursday afternoon, as the Blackhawks took a day off from practice. Its been an amazing roller coaster the last year and a half, but its really the culmination of this. Weve invited all of the players, all of the coaches. Obviously, were going to have people no longer with the team that wont be able to make it. Its going to be memorable for every member of this organization.

Kris Versteeg, Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel would be the ex-Hawks with the best chances of attending, as Philadelphia is off that day between games at Toronto, and home to Atlanta. Montreal is off between road games at St. Louis and at Pittsburgh. While San Jose is off next Friday, its the only day between home games for Antti Niemi and Ben Eager. Atlanta (Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien) hosts New Jersey that night. Minnesota (John Madden) is at Dallas (Adam Burish). Edmonton (Colin Fraser) has a date in Detroit. The Blackhawks estimate their traveling party could be up to 120 members of the organization.

We visited the White House a few weeks ago and it was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience, added McDonough. But I think one of the highlights of this trip, if not the highlight, is going to be visiting Walter Reed Veterans Hospital. We had a chance to visit there a few hours before, and our players will be going and participating in that, honoring the veterans whove served our country.

Following the ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will preside over a street hockey workout and clinic for local younsters on a rink set up on the South Lawn of the White House. conducted by members of the Blackhawks and Capitals. It's part of the collaboration beteen Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative, the NHL, and USA Hockey which encourages children to lead active and healthy lifestyles.

Wednesday Night Leftoversand Friday Appetizers

One stat the Blackhawks actually won back in that February 7th loss in Calgary was in the Hits column. Theyd been outhit in all but one game since, but the Hawks were still 7-1-2 in those games. They had a 29-23 edge in hits Wednesday night (Bryan Bickell with a team-high five), but seemed to exhibit just the right balance between the physical edge necessary, without making trips to the penalty box.

Niklas Hjalmarsson may have just one point over his last 20 games, but hes gone from a minus-9 rating over the first 13 games of the season (without a single game with a plus rating), to a plus-11 now, second among the teams blueliners (Brian Campbell, 24).

Just because the next five games are against the East doesnt mean theyll be easy, and the Blackhawks will be challenged by not seeing one of their Western Conference enemies across the ice from them, wrestling for playoff position. Carolina will be playing the second of back-to-back games, trying to protect its last Eastern Conference playoff spot against surging Buffalo Thursday night. Torontos rallied its way back above .500 and within just four points of 8th place, entering Thursday night. Florida will probably look at Tuesdays game as their Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay was in a three-way tie for second in the conference, and only three points ahead for the Southeast lead over next Sundays Hawks opponent following the White House bash, Washington.

Joel Quenneville and his staff have to decide when to give Corey Crawford a breather in the net after nine consecutive starts. As much as his play, and the importance of the games, dicatates it, he cant be sent out there every night. The next six games consist of three back-to-backs.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Dennis Gilbert defends decision to stand up for Blackhawks teammate Alex DeBrincat

Dennis Gilbert defends decision to stand up for Blackhawks teammate Alex DeBrincat

The Blackhawks racked up a season-high 27 penalty minutes in Sunday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes, 17 of which came from Dennis Gilbert alone. And it all came on one sequence.

After watching Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers deliver a hit from behind on Alex DeBrincat that went unpenalized, Gilbert skated half the length of the ice to confront Demers and initiated a fight with the 11-year NHL veteran. The scrap didn't last long, but Gilbert was assessed a two-minute penalty for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.

DeBrincat said after the game he appreciated Gilbert sticking up for him and so did the Blackhawks bench, most of whom gave Gilbert fist bumps and head taps as he was escorted out. But it came at a time when the Blackhawks were leading 3-2 near the midway mark of the second period and, unfortunately for Gilbert and the team, the Coyotes capitalized on the power play to even things up at 3-3 and it turned out to be the last goal scored in regulation.

"I thought it was a dirty hit," Gilbert said. "His numbers were showing and he decided to follow through and make the hit still. So it's tough, having to get an extra penalty for it. It's no fun and watching them score on the power play, they tie the game up and we end up not getting the win, which is unfortunate. But if you let that stuff happen to players on your team, especially your best players, it's going to keep happening.

"I'm not a fighter by any means; it kind of happens that coincidentally it's two games in a row. But I'm going to stand up for myself and for my teammates. ... I'm not going to sit back and let somebody get taken advantage of, whether it's on the ice or walking down the streets in Chicago."

A lot has been made about whether it was the wrong place and wrong time for Gilbert to stand up for his teammate. But the Blackhawks — both players and coaches — acknowledged it's a penalty they don't mind trying to kill off because the intention sent a powerful message throughout the locker room.

The Blackhawks were eight seconds away from killing off the penalty and this wouldn't be a discussion if they did. Still, Gilbert said he would do it again if he had to because he believes it's the right thing to do.

"I think it's kind of an instincutal thing," Gilbert said. "As a defenseman on a defenseman, it can be hard to orchestrate that. I don't like staged fights. It was an in-the-moment thing. I saw what I thought was a dirty hit and it wasn't penalized, so you've got to address it. Like I said, it's tough being shorthanded, but I think that it's important, especially on your better players, to make sure that guys know if you're going to hit them or take a shot at them, you're going to have to pay a price."

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Penalty kill improving, but Blackhawks struggling to stay out of the box

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USA Today

Penalty kill improving, but Blackhawks struggling to stay out of the box

The Blackhawks' struggles on the penalty kill last season have been well-documented. They ranked dead last with a 72.7 percent kill rate, which was the worst percentage of any NHL team in the past 30 years.

And what made the number more alarming is the fact the Blackhawks committed the third-fewest minor penalties last season, so it's not like they were shooting themselves in the foot in that regard. They simply couldn't rely on their penalty kill in any situation.

"It felt like it didn't matter what we tried to do to turn things around," Jonathan Toews said. "It just kept snowballing in the wrong direction for us." 

That's changed this season, but the Blackhawks haven't been doing themselves any favors as of late.

Since Nov. 29, the Blackhawks have committed the most minor penalties (23) of any team for an average of 3.83 per game over the last six contests. They've also given up the most power-play goals (six) in that span. 

Before that, the Blackhawks had committed just 78 minor penalties across 24 games, which ranked ninth-fewest. They've killed off 79.6 percent of their penalties this season, good for 17th, but the Blackhawks have put their special teams in a difficult position in the last half dozen games and it’s costing them points.

"We have to keep it out of our net and obviously stay out of the box too," Alex DeBrincat said following a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. "Two of their goals came on power plays, so if we stayed out of the box I think we win that in regulation."

The Blackhawks committed a season-high six minor penalties on Sunday and played 10:07 of the game shorthanded, which was by far their most of the season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Two games prior in Boston, they spent 8:00 of the game on the penalty kill, which tied their third-highest total of the season.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton is pleased with the progression of the penalty kill and how the Blackhawks are pressuring at the appropriate time, denying entries and making big saves. They got away from that a bit on Sunday, but you won’t win many hockey games if you commit six penalties.

Staying out of the box is something that’s the bigger issue.

"I think our PK has been very good," Colliton said. "If we just talk about the last game, we got to focus on getting the puck all the way down and getting our structure back. When we're trying to attack, it's fine. It's great to score, but when we're trying to attack and it doesn't go well, we lack numbers back. They scored off the rush. They entered clean on the second goal and created zone time. We need our numbers to defend the entries."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.