Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Coach Q, staff facing difficult choices

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Hawk Talk: Coach Q, staff facing difficult choices

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011
Posted: 5:48 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com Blackhawks InsiderFollow @TraMyersCSN
VIDEO: Pirri scores a pair of goals, again
VIDEO: Emery upset over his performance
READ: Sharp hopes to play in opener

Decisions, decisions.

We've just about reached that time of the preseason, folks. The Chicago Blackhawks will play their final preseason game Sunday afternoon when they take on the Washington Capitals. After that, it's time to make some choices: who stays and who goes?

Remember when we thought the only big choice the Blackhawks would have at the start of preseason would be at No. 2 goaltender? Yeah, it still is. But throw in some injuries, some impressive youngsters, and the Blackhawks brass have a few more decisions to make.

Coach Joel Quenneville always says making decisions is a good problem to have. So let's take a look at some players and wonder: What Will Q Do?

Ray Emery vs. Alex Salak

The Blackhawks brought in Emery as a viable veteran candidate for the No. 2 goaltending spot. It's a feel-good story, for sure: goalie seems finished, goalie has successful hip surgery, goalie resurrects career. But will it happen that way?

Emery said his body feels good, that his game feels right, but the results have not been there in preseason games. Sure, some of those goals were flukey and he didn't always get help in front of him. But the bottom line is, he hasn't made the stops.

Then there's Salak. Yes, he's young. No, he hasn't played a ton of games on this side of the pond. But is that transition from European to the smaller North American ice really that hard for a goaltender? Salak had his full game last Sunday in Detroit. He didn't get a lot of help either, but he still stopped 30 of 33 shots.

The Blackhawks will probably still go with Emery, allowing Salak to hone his skills in Rockford. They like Emery's veteran status and NHL experience. And the game results could still come. But remember, Blackhawks: the last two guys who started the season as backups, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, didn't have so much NHL experience. They didn't turn out so bad, either.

Marcus Kruger

Quenneville hasn't been overwhelming in assessing Kruger this preseason, and the young Swede hasn't exactly separated himself from the pack. Here's where going from European ice to ours requires adjustment time. Kruger admitted as much last Sunday before the Blackhawks game in Detroit -- "it's a lot different. The surface and the game here is a lot quicker."

Still, injury issues may keep the center up here early. But with other options at center -- Patrick Kane's been doing just fine there on the No. 2 line -- sending Kruger to Rockford for some work may be a good idea once the roster is fully healthy again.

Patrick Kane

OK, not a roster decision as much as a position decision. The Kane-to-center announcement had us all and surprised last Sunday -- I have the five seconds of dead air on our recorders to prove it. And while it's just been two games, the experiment has been pretty good. That includes Friday night, when Kane's group was up against star Pens such as Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Quenneville still likes what he sees. So it's worth seeing more.
Brandon Saad and Brandon Pirri

They're young, they're talented and they're making some of the lower-line Blackhawks look over their shoulders. And since the Blackhawks' forward corps are bumped and bruised, they've earned at least a few looks at the start of this season. Let's see what they can do, shall we?

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

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks fly out of the gates

The Blackhawks couldn't have started any better against the Wild, who were on the second of a back-to-back. It was important for the Blackhawks to take advantage of that and they did.

Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks on the board 1-0 at 8:26 of the first period after burying a pass from Patrick Kane on the power play and Brandon Saad made it 2-0 with 2:31 left after scoring on a breakaway.

"It’s nice to get a lead and I think we’ve found good ways to give up one- or two-goal leads in second periods this season, and that usually feels like a kick to the midsection," Toews said. "We did a good job of limiting the bleeding in that second period and making sure we came back hard in the third and not giving up too much."

2. Special teams battle

This will be a work in progress all season long, but the Blackhawks are slowly making strides in the special teams department. Often times it could be the deciding factor of a game, whether it's a power play goal or a penalty kill at a key time.

The Blackhawks got two power-play opportunities in the first period and capitalized on the first one. They were able to create chances and have sustained offensive zone time, registering a combined five shots on goal.

"We want to dictate when we're going to try and make our plays," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought we were aggressive at the right time, we were patient at other times. We had some interchange, put them in some mismatch situations and then it's up to us to execute and I thought the guys did a great job in all three. ... We're getting better, we just got to be patient with it. It's not going to be perfect, but I see progression."

But the Wild also had their fair share of opportunities and got on the board when Zach Parise buried a Mikko Koivu pass on the power play to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 at 7:56 of the second period, which looked similar to the Blackhawks' goal.

Most importantly, the Blackhawks killed off Brent Seabrook's penalty with 5:09 remaining in regulation.

"It was tough," Colliton said. "I thought we played quite a solid third and then all of a sudden you've got to go down five minutes to go and they also scored once against us. We did a good job, got us a couple saves, got a couple clears at the right time, so it was big. We needed the two points, obviously, and they got zero."

3. Corey Crawford heating up

The Blackhawks are starting to see the results of their progression, going 2-0-2 in their last four games. And arguably their most important player is, too.

Crawford made a season-high 39 saves in the victory and has stopped 98 of 100 shots in his last three starts for a save percentage of .980. His save percentage was .902 in his first nine starts. Even though there was never a concern about his numbers being down, the Blackhawks are encouraged to see him getting rewarded.

"It's no secret that he's great," Colliton said. "He makes those saves that can keep you in a game or if things are going against you, he holds the fort. We got some old guys, but we got some young guys too, and they need that. They need that security blanket. It's great to see. Obviously he had a great reputation coming in. He's been everything I expected."

4. Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift"

On "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night, it was only fitting that the Blackhawks honored one of their own. Before calling the game in the booth, Olczyk hosted a Purple Carpet event in the atrium, honoring fans who are currently battling cancer, have lost a loved one to cancer and those who are in remission and then took the ice for "One More Shift" with the Blackhawks and lined up for the ceremonial puck drop.

Olczyk overcame stage three colon cancer last season and has been an inspiration to many, both on and off the ice.

“I do believe and we do believe as a family that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s OK.

“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”

Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift" with Blackhawks on Sunday

Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift" with Blackhawks on Sunday

Pregame at the United Center was extra special on Sunday night.

Ahead of their game against the Wild, the Blackhawks honored former Blackhawk and current television color analyst Eddie Olczyk with "One More Shift." Olczyk suited up in his Blackhawks uniform, skating around the United Center ice ahead of puck drop.

In addition to honoring Olczyk, the Blackhawks also hosted their "Hockey Fights Cancer" night, wearing special lavender-colored jerseys during warmups. Olczyk recently beat colon cancer, so the night surely was special for him as a whole.

The Blackhawks selected Olczyk, 52, third overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He scored 77 goals across five seasons with the team (1984-87, 1998-00).

In the past, the Blackhawks have also honored Bryan Bickell, Ed Belfour, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Troy Murray, among others, with "One More Shift."