Blackhawks

Blackhawks, Pens have different reasons for urgency

Blackhawks, Pens have different reasons for urgency

Friday Feb. 18, 2011
1:56 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins head into Sundays matchup with a few things in common. Theyre the two most recent Stanley Cup winners. Theyre both loaded with young talent. Theyve both dealt with significant injuries this season.

Yet while the Penguins are sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference standings while the Blackhawks are 11th in the West and struggling to make up ground.

Who's under the most pressure? The Hawks or Penguins?

So what gives? Well, just take a look at each teams schedule. Specifically, look at what the Penguins did during November and December. With Sidney Crosby on his monster 25-game point run the Penguins followed suit, going 19-6-2 over those two months.

That run proved vital, considering where theyre at now. They could be without Crosby (concussion) a while longer, if not the whole season. Theyre definitely minus Evgeni Malkin (knee) the rest of the season. Theyre treading water in February, sporting a 5-4-0 record this month. And with that type of firepower missing, theyre relying on their other assets.

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Their strengths, obviously, are in goal and on defense, said Blackhawks analyst and former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk. You can look at their top four defensemen, (Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang), which is a heck of a D as a starting point. When you don't have offense youre defending a lot. Right now, that's where they're going to have success.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have been missing that productive run all year long. Theyve had their own injury issues -- Brian Campbell (knee) missed the first month of the season, Patrick Kane (knee) missed three weeks and Marian Hossas (various) been in and out. Then theres the summer turnover, which left the Blackhawks figuring out new teammates for most of the first month or two. It all led to inconsistency.

You can't redo your roster by 50 percent and not expect to have issues, said NBC analyst Mike Milbury recently. There are bound to be bumps. You throw in goaltending issues and its a recipe for an uneven season. But they can still lean on some pretty good guys.

True, but one of the Blackhawks biggest Achilles heel has nothing to do with the remaining talent or roster turnover. Its the Blackhawks lack of finish. Coach Joel Quenneville has kept count of how many times the Blackhawks have led or been tied in the third period, only to come away with no points. By our last count, its around 12 games, and the squandered points have loomed large here late.

The mind, heart and soul is there, Olczyk said. Its about execution. Its whether or not you can find a way to win a game or do you find a way to lose games. I do see the urgency, I do see the want. Sometimes it's the execution and that's all it comes down to.

The Penguins and Blackhawks will have their reasons for urgency on Sunday. The Penguins want to hold on to the top-four spot that gives then home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks just need to get in to the playoffs and cant afford to squander any points, especially at home. With the potential for missing the playoffs, missing a chance to defend that Cup, theres not much more need for motivation.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

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

calvin_de_haan_blackhawks.jpg
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.