Blackhawks

The "D"-termining factor for the Blackhawks

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The "D"-termining factor for the Blackhawks

"If you look at our goals-against, we gotta tighten up. I think we have the team for it and that's too high right now. Hopefully, on the road trip, we can focus on keeping the goals-against down and have a great last 30 games."

Niklas Hjalmarsson sees it like the rest of us.

Dave Bolland knows it, too.

"Our defensive game -- that's what I think everybody's breaking down, taking care of our own zone. That's one thing we need to focus on," Bolland said.

Giving up just two goals (before the empty-netter) in the rematch against Nashville was an improvement from Saturday night. But even those were off costly turnovers in their own zone that the Predators, well...preyed on, and cashed in.

"Generous" is how Joel Quenneville called it. And it's those mistakes against one of the league's hottest teams and hottest goaltenders that basically hands over two points to a division rival, especially when you're playing without two of your top three offensive players.

Can the Blackhawks clean things up in these last 30 games with the personnel that's in place? It will be the biggest determining factor in where they finish in the Central and West, and how long they last in the playoffs.

The Hawks are the only NHL team without a shutout. The goaltending needs to be better, but more importantly, the entire group in front of them must improve a 2.82 GAA that puts them tied for 20th in the NHL. Last season, the Hawks had the league's 12th-best defense. When they won the Stanley Cup, they ranked sixth.

Right now, just two teams in the West (Anaheim and Columbus) own a worst goals-against average. Of the three division rivals they'll meet 10 times over the final 26 games that will be the biggest determining factor where they'll finish, St. Louis leads the league in that category, Detroit is fifth and Nashville ninth.

The top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will get five days off the ice before returning to practice Monday in Vancouver. From a team standpoint, it's good they're not involved in All-Star weekend, as their ice times have been climbing once again -- Keith back to averaging more than 26 minutes, second in the league. They'll need to be great the rest of the way, but all of their teammates have to be much better.

"We're one of the top teams that has a lot of goals-against," Keith said Tuesday morning. "It's something we need to continue to get better at. It has to be a full team effort -- it's not one player or one group, it's the team."

Quenneville didn't hesitate a short time later when asked about what'll hold this team's fate after this weekend.

"Tighter defensively as a team. We all have some responsibilities in how we play without the puck," Quenneville said. "It's the quality of chances we're giving up and the type of goals. We've got to get better in that area going on the road. It doesn't have to be pretty. I think we'll be playing uglier games."

There's no doubt the coachng staff's message is out, but the execution's been missing and has kept the Hawks from cashing in even more than they did in playing 19 of the last 26 at home following the Circus Trip. As they enter the nine-game stretch that keeps them out of the United Center for nearly four weeks, a "whatever it takes" attitude will be what it takes. Two points will be more important than style points.

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

The Blackhawks’ power-play struggles this season have been well-documented. 

One week ago, they hit rock bottom by slipping to dead last with a 13.8% success rate after going 0-for-17 during their five-game road swing in Western Canada. It played a major role in the Blackhawks picking up only two out of a possible 10 points on that trip. 

After trying just about every possible power-play combination to that point, head coach Jeremy Colliton experimented by positioning Dominik Kubalik in the right faceoff circle and moving Patrick Kane to the left on the first unit. And it's paid off.

In the past four games, the Blackhawks are 6-for-19 on the power play for a percentage of 31.6, which ranks No. 6 over that span. Kubalik has two of those goals while Kane has one and a couple of primary assists as well. 

After Thursday's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in which the Blackhawks scored a season-high three power-play goals, Colliton was asked whether he regretted not putting Kubalik in that spot on the first unit sooner. In an honest admission, he didn't sugarcoat his answer.

"Yeah, and I wish we would've put Kaner on the other side earlier," Colliton told reporters. "We've tried it off and on throughout since I've been here, and we just haven't been able to get it to click with enough success for everyone to embrace it. But we've been able to here, and it's been a nice weapon for us."

No doubt the Blackhawks coaching staff discussed this possibility earlier in the season but were probably reluctant to make the switch because moving Kane out of his usual spot would have meant moving Alex DeBrincat out of his normal spot and then your two best power play weapons are playing out of their comfort zone.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Blackhawks have finally found a formula that's given the power play some life.

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Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

 

Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup champ Brian Campbell — currently a player development coach with Chicago — took on an active role with rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist's development. On the latest installment of "Chevy Drives", Campbell tells NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle, that he likes what he sees of the 19-year-old defenseman. 

"There's definitely been a lot of strides that he's taken," Campbell said of the Blackhawks' No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. Boqvist played with the Hawks' American Hockey League affiliate the Rockford IceHogs earlier this season before joining Chicago.

"The American League is a tough league to play in and I thought Adam was doing really well and kind of finding his way. A lot of times people say the American League is harder to play in than the NHL, especially for a skilled guy like Adam. Then he gets up here and you can see how well he's doing with Duncan Keith and some of the plays he's made, some of the goals he's had."

Campbell made several trips to Ontario to visit Boqvist when he was playing for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League after he was drafted. 

"I've been impressed," Campbell said. "I didn't think he'd be at this point already. Even seeing him, he came back down to Rockford during their break, and [I] was just kind of praising him and telling him I'm proud of him. I feel like he's kind of like a little, younger brother to me. I'm proud to see where he is now and really looking forward to seeing where he's going to go."

Boqvist impressed the rest of the organization to land in Chicgao for the majority of this season and take on big minutes and big responsibilities like quarterbacking the power play on the Hawks' top unit.

"He's a really mature kid for . . . even in London, it was like, 'Okay, how are you getting around here?' There's only so much you can do [in] hockey if you're not with that person day-to-day and allowed to go in and really kind of coach them," Campbell said. "For me, I think it was more or less, 'Okay, when are you getting your workouts in,' because as you know the NHL schedule is very busy, you got to find time to get workouts in to keep your strength in your legs or else the second half of your year, you're going to start to fall through, you won't be as strong.

"So just those little insights and talks and sometimes, you can even see it in Rockford, he'd get frustrated when he wasn't getting the puck in areas, and should he get the puck in those areas? Yeah, but I'm like, 'Don't worry, once you get playing in the NHL you're going to get pucks in those areas and you have to be ready and prepared to be effective that way.'

"There's lots of little things that you can go through, the daily routine and the daily grind. Mentally, we talked a little bit about that, being prepared. He's a kid that wants to learn and he listens and asks questions. He even asked questions about my career and that only makes you a better person when you're trying to learn more and prepare yourself to be the best you can."

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