Blackhawks

Blackhawks trying to get past 'bumpy' start

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Blackhawks trying to get past 'bumpy' start

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Coach Joel Quenneville was talking about the Blackhawks early season, looking for the right word to describe how the “ride,” so to speak, has been.

“Bumpy,” he said prior to Saturday’s game, a 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. “Certainly had some good stretches. This trip, it looked like we had two real good games coming into the start, picking up three of four points could be flattering. But we’re going to have to play better; [need a] little more balance in our team.”

The Blackhawks played better to a degree on Saturday but the Canucks – well, mainly the Sedins – handed them a loss.

[MORE: Stan Bowman: Patrick Kane 'absolutely' in Blackhawks' long-term plans]

The first three games of this Circus Trip have been a microcosm of the Blackhawks’ first portion of the season: some good games, some bad games, some opportunities capitalized upon and some squandered.

“Ups and downs,” Patrick Kane summarized following Saturday’s game. “I think we’ve had good games, beat some good teams and we’ve had some tough games as well. Up and down right now. We’re still trying to find our groove. But it seems like some other players are starting to get into it a little bit and get themselves going. That’ll be a good thing moving forward.”

Kane’s been part of a second line, with Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, that’s accounted for a bulk of the scoring. The trio has combined for 68 points so far this season; the rest of the Blackhawks have combined for 85 points. As Kane said, others have started getting on the score sheet lately, but the Blackhawks need more. They need more consistency, be it on offense, defense or goaltending.

General manager Stan Bowman would’ve liked a stronger start but he’s not worried that the Blackhawks didn’t get it.

“If you were to line up the 30 GMs or coaches and ask them, other than maybe two or three teams – maybe Montreal, Washington and New York – everyone would probably say it’s been a bit bumpy,” he said on Saturday. “It’s just a really tight league. You’re a three-game winning streak (away) from being in the top five in the league, and you’re a three-game losing streak from being in the bottom third. It’s all really compacted.

"I think we didn’t have the start we did a couple years ago when we went 24 games without a loss, but that’s not going to happen anymore. That was a pretty spectacular year.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks didn’t get out to a spectacular start this season. It’s not a complete surprise given the changes. If there is a surprise it’s the fact that one line has been doing so well for so long and the other three have struggled to find anything resembling consistency. But the Blackhawks will work through it and try to figure things out. It’s early, but they don’t want to wait too long to get things going, get more consistency throughout the lineup and get more needed points.

“We can be better. For sure, we can be better. We’ve had some good elements in the start, but I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey consistently. I think we’ve had spurts of it and I think that’s part of some changes and you have some new faces and they have to sort of learn their roles and learn where they fit,” Bowman said. “But I think we’re probably like 25 other teams in the league in the same way. There are a couple teams that have been really good from the beginning. And there’s still three-quarter of the year to go, so we’ve got to find that consistency.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

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.”