Five questions as the Blackhawks near the All-Star break


Five questions as the Blackhawks near the All-Star break

MIAMI – The Blackhawks would probably like to forget about their latest trip, an 0-for-2 outing against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, respectively. Their game went from so-so to worse over those back-to-back nights.

But in what’s proven to be a very successful midseason stretch for the Blackhawks, consider it a blip on the radar. It’s been a busy run for the Blackhawks but they’ll right the ship. Hey, nothing like a game against the St. Louis Blues to shake those mid-season blahs, right?

So with the Blackhawks facing two more games before a much-needed All-Star break, let’s look at Five Questions for now and the immediate future.

1. Should Corey Crawford start being included in Vezina Trophy talk? Crawford had a hiccup in November but he’s otherwise been stellar this season. He’s been great especially of late, accumulating a career-high nine-game winning streak that the Lightning snapped on Thursday night. Crawford still leads the NHL with six shutouts this season. He’s also second in victories (27) and fourth in save percentage (.931). There have been a few Blackhawks games this season that could be called “goalie wins” thanks to Crawford. Washington’s Braden Holtby and Florida’s Roberto Luongo have been part of the Vezina discussion quite a bit this season, and deservedly so. Crawford should be added to it.

2. Is it so bad a bunch of Blackhawks aren’t going to the All-Star game? Crawford figures prominently in this topic, too, considering his numbers. As Duncan Keith said earlier this season, it’s always nice when players are recognized for their accomplishments. At the same time the Blackhawks are starting to look gassed. They’ve been playing a lot of hockey – when the break begins the Blackhawks will have played 53 games – from Crawford on out. Last year’s game was a snooze-fest and even with the game’s alterations this year, these guys will still be going through the motions. So instead of five Blackhawks going to the All-Star game a majority of the team gets a well-earned rest. They need that more than a "yay-us" weekend.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Where does Jiri Sekac fit into the Blackhawks’ lineup? Yesterday the newest of the Blackhawks played on the team’s fourth line. Maybe he stays there a bit to get ingrained into the system but is there a potential for more? Sekac is in his early 20s and is on a one-year deal, two reasons why the Blackhawks acquired him from the Ducks in exchange for Ryan Garbutt. But Sekac is also a guy looking to latch on with a team after jumping around a few times since 2014. Could he work his way up? If the top line falters with Andrew Shaw at some point, does Sekac become the latest to get an opportunity there? We’ll see how it shakes out.

4. Can the Blackhawks ward off the Central Division competition? They’re back on top in the division, so they’ll be targeted even more than usual. But does it matter if the Blackhawks win the division title? Hardly. We’ve all seen this movie before, folks: the Blackhawks don’t need to be atop the division; they just need to get in. They need to be playing their best hockey as the playoffs approach. If they take the title, fine, but they have bigger prizes in mind. Keep as good a pace as possible and save the best for the end.

5. Will the Blackhawks have the appropriate amount of gas in the tank on Sunday? It’s St. Louis. They hate the Blues, the Blues hate them and these two never disappoint when they square off. The Blackhawks will also be home again – albeit for a short time – where they’ve excelled this season. They’ll find the energy for this one.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?


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.”