Blackhawks

From December to remember to....

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From December to remember to....

At the risk of being a grinch, this next month will tell us a whole lot more about the Blackhawks than this last one since they returned from the Circus Trip. Give them a well-deserved pat on the back for their impressive 8-1-1 record so far in December. But while we got two doses of the Islanders, and single servings of the Ducks, Flames and Canadiens, if you haven't noticed what lies ahead, you'll see what I mean. You, me Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman and probably every player in that locker room will have a better grasp of exactly who they are when the calendar flips to February. That happens right after the opener of nine straight road games against their old buddies from Vancouver, which has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10. It might not be a bad idea to punch the clock again Monday by regaining momentum against worst-in-the-NHL Columbus, not looking ahead like we'll do right now:
> Wednesday: LOS ANGELES
1-0-1 under Darryl Sutter and facing desperation to get back in the playoff hunt or prepare for an unexpected, embarrassing miss.

> Friday: DETROIT
The Wings lurk just five points back, and get back to work with back-to-backs against Nashville & St. Louis

> Sunday: EDMONTON
Remember 9-2? A huge chance for revenge here with these Young Guns tasting some serious Humble Pie of late (3-8-1 in their last 12)

> Jan. 5th: @ Philadelphia
It's the FlyGuys first game since the Winter Classic HBO's cameras go away

> Jan. 6th: COLORADO
Like the Oilers, they're back down to earth after beating the Hawks in a shootout at the UC that improved their record to 6-2. But make sure those legs are ready. Their speed is dangerous.
> Jan. 8th: DETROIT
After not seeing them the first 37 games, I can hearf the chants now for a second time in 10 days? Will the Hawks still be 5 ahead? More? Less?

> Jan. 10th: @ Columbus
A "break"? A "breather"? As long as they don't think that way....
> Jan. 12th: MINNESOTA
Where will the Wild Things be at this point? They're still just three points behind the Hawks despite their current 0-4-2 slump. Will their ship be righted?
> Jan. 14th: @ Detroit
Oh. Them again?
> Jan. 15th: SAN JOSE
Nice back-to-back

> Jan. 18th: BUFFALO
One of the disappointments of the East desperately needs Ryan Miller to be Ryan Miller again

> Jan. 20th: FLORIDA
Maybe the best line in hockey (in Kris Versteeg's & Brian Campbell's first game back) & maybe the biggest surprise in hockey, leading the Southeast. Big.

> Jan. 21st: @ Nashville
Which way will the Preds be streaking at this point?

> Jan. 24th: NASHVILLE
Never fun facing Trotzy's Troop twice in a row
> Jan. 31st: @ Vancouver
They have six days of rest to rev up for the start of the massive roadie. Where will the last two Western Conference champions stand at this point?

Was Dennis Gilbert's Sunday scrap the right move for Blackhawks?

Was Dennis Gilbert's Sunday scrap the right move for Blackhawks?

When Blackhawks defenseman Dennis Gilbert skated after Jason Demers, hitting him into the boards, challenging him to fight and beating the doors off him in the second period with Chicago leading 3-2, he was sticking up for a teammate and trying to give the Hawks some life, but it cost them a puck in their own net.

So was it the right move?

"It is if we kill it," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said of the Hawks being forced to kill Gilbert's instigator penalty. "And I think it sends a good message to the rest of the players that we're in this together and we're going to take care of each other. 

"But I would have liked us to react better the rest of the game after that and that's what we should do to protect each other. I thought that the penalty kill, we were looking for goals at times and when we had the chance to get the puck 200 feet down the ice, we didn't always do that. And I'm not against scoring goals, but let's be smart about it. It cost us."

Gilbert was responding to Demers' hit on Alex DeBrincat in front of the Coyotes' bench near center ice that caused DeBrincat to fall hard into the wall.

"Well, I think it was [a] pretty blatant [penalty] that was missed," Hawks defenseman Calvin de Haan said. "Alex's head went right off the boards. I don't know how they didn't call that one. But good on Dennis to step up and sometimes it takes a big set of cajones to do that. 

"He tried to get a spark for us and I think trying to stick up for your teammates is still part of the game, especially on a hit like that. Kudos to him and I think it was a key time in the game for us and he tried to turn the tables for us."

Gilbert received the instigator for going after Demers, which resulted in a Coyotes' power-play goal from Carl Soderberg. It was Gilbert's second fight in two games. 

"I think it fires us up," DeBrincat said. "I think he’s protecting me. I think he obviously thought it was a dirty hit and takes control of the play. 

"I think it makes a good play for me. I like that he does that. Obviously, at the same time we get a penalty out of it which is not always the best. 

"I think our bench can roll with that and try to kill that off. Unfortunately, we didn’t. Any other penalty we can probably kill off from that one."

Sticking up for a teammate in that fashion goes a long way. The Hawks have been missing a player that makes the opposition answer for their sins the way Gilbert does. You'd like to avoid taking an instigator, but the Blackhawks had an issue with a dangerous hit not being penalized.

It's up to the penalty kill to make that a good penalty. Unfortunately for Gilbert and company, they didn't get the job done. 

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Blackhawks are who we think they are: 'We're inconsistent'

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AP

Blackhawks are who we think they are: 'We're inconsistent'

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton has always preached focusing on the performance and letting the results take care of itself. Over time, water eventually finds its level.

The Blackhawks are a hard team to figure out.

When they're clicking, the Blackhawks look like a group that can compete with anyone because they can outscore any opponent and win the goaltending battle with either Corey Crawford or Robin Lehner between the pipes. When they're not, they look like a team that's closer to the basement of the NHL than the playoff bubble.

Take the past four games as an example.

The Blackhawks outshot the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues 38-30 but lost 4-0 in a game that didn't feel very close. Then they went to Boston, where they knocked off the NHL's best team 4-3 in overtime despite squandering a three-goal lead in the third period.

Next up was New Jersey, where the Blackhawks and lowly Devils looked to be on the same playing field before the visiting team won 2-1 in a shootout. And on Sunday, the Blackhawks led 30-24 in even-strength scoring chances but racked up 27 penalty minutes and it proved to be the difference in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes, who are now tied for the Pacific Division lead.

It's challenging to evaluate who the Blackhawks are as a team because it changes on a nightly basis. So who are they?

"Well for now that is what we are," Colliton said. "We're inconsistent. And it's up to us to commit to doing the things shift-to-shift that will allow us to turn into something more. Simple as that." 

The good news for the Blackhawks is only six points separate themselves from the second wildcard spot and last place in the Western Conference. The bad news is the numbers show they're exactly where they should be.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have a PDO — a metric that combines on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage — of 100.7 during 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick. The league average is 100, which suggests this is who the Blackhawks are through 30 games.

"We've just got to keep building on it," Robin Lehner said. "We got a point today, this time we've just got to respond. Next game is the most important game of our season because we've got to keep getting points here now."

Sunday marked the start of another tough stretch where the Blackhawks play seven of the next eight games against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot, all of whom are in the Western Conference, which only heightens the importance of these games.

The Blackhawks will take it one game at a time, but which team shows up for each of them is anybody's guess.

"They're all big," Colliton said of the next game. "It is important how we respond. Because we've had this up and down with our game and we can't expect to get where we want to go if that continues. ... You can have off nights, but then it's how you respond. So we got to respond."

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.