Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

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Hawk Talk: Let's go for a run

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011
1:56 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

If the Blackhawks had not had themselves a four-point weekend, it likely would've prompted a little deeper probing into what's going on with the defending champs. And let's face it, those two words (much less the actions) are cause for discomfort. Glad we don't have to, at this point.

But they took advantage of two home dates against struggling teams, and even though Friday's turned out to be a little more adventurous than preferred, got some momentum going heading into an important week and interesting stretch. Even though it wasn't exactly a pressure situation, they temporarily buried that 0-for-5 PK stretch with a successful kill against an Islanders power play that had been clicking. They apparently stayed physically healthy, and their core guys got healthier on the stat sheet. All that while honoring their Cup predecessors of half a century ago, who spoke Saturday from experience of the need to at least keep finding effort and hunger, even if other variables are out of their control.

It's a good vibe as they next face a Colorado team they get their last crack at defeating this season come Wednesday, followed by next weekend's home-and-home versus Nashville. After that, it's just three games the final two weeks of the month through the All-Star break. That's when the rest of the West will catch up in the games-played column, and the Hawks will get a better gauge on how much heavy lifting will be required through April 10th. And oh yeah, the first two of those three games to close January come back-to-back, following five days off, at Detroit, then back home versus Philadelphia.

Joel Quenneville spoke between the victories about how he believes this team has an extended win streak in it, and the sooner they pull that off, the better. I went back and looked at how other teams in the West have put together streaks, but have found for most, those hot stretches have been countered with cool - or cold - snaps. Every team's dealt with its share of injuries, and in some cases have fared surprisingly well without key players. But most of all, it's just life in the ultra-competitive, don't-look-too-far-ahead West. Detroit and Vancouver appear to have potentially put themselves in position for the top two playoff seeds. But here are examples of the roller-coaster rides everyone's been through, as well as some of the key players they've spent some time without. The Blackhawks certainly haven't been alone in their inconsistencies through the first three months:

Anaheim: (Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Andy Sutton, Cam Fowler) Started 1-3-1, 6-game win streak immediately followed by a 6-game losing streak (0-4-2), followed by 7-2-1 stretch, followed by losing 4 of 5.

Colorado: (Chris Stewart, Craig Anderson, Milan Hejduk, Kyle Quincey, T.J. Galiardi) Started 3-1, followed by 1-3-1 stretch, later won 4 straight, immediately followed by 1-3-3, then a 6-game win streak, followed by 1-4-1.

Columbus: (Kristian Huselius, Ethan Moreau) Won 7 of 9, later won 5 in a row, followed by an 0-4-1 stretch, a 1-4-2 stretch, and a 3-game win streak.

Dallas: (Kari Lehtonen, Krystofer Barch, Toby Petersen) Started 5-1, lost 3 straight, won 3 in a row, then lost 3 straight, later had a 6-game win streak, and recently lost 4 of 5.

Detroit: (Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Brad Stuart) Started 17-4-2, had a 3-4-2 stretch in December, and recently won 4 of 5.

Los Angeles: (Drew Doughty, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene) Started 12-3, then immediately lost 7 of 8, followed by a 3-game win streak. Recently had a 4-game win streak followed by a 4-game losing streak.

Minnesota: (Guillaume Latendresse, Anti Miettinen) Started 10-6-2, then went 1-5-2. 4-game win streak snapped by Dallas Sunday.

Nashville: (Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Cal O'Reilly) Started 5-0-3, then lost 5 straight, then won 4 of 5, followed by a 4-game losing streak, followed by an 8-0-1 stretch, then a 5-game loss streak, and have now won 5 straight.

Phoenix: (Shane Doan, Ilya Bryzgalov, Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal) Started 4-5-5, then won 7 straight. They haven't won or lost more than 2 straight since.

San Jose: (Douglas Murray, Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell) Started 6-5-2. Have had one 4- and one 3-game win streak, but have now lost 6 of their last 8, despite improved play from Mr. Niemi.

St. Louis: (T.J. Oshie, Roman Polak, Barrett Jackman, Andy McDonald, David Perron) Started 7-1-2, and own win streaks of 7, 5, and 3, as well as two 5-game losing streaks.

Vancouver: (Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond) They're healthy in more ways than one now with this 17-1-3 streak. But they started 2-3-2 before winning 8 of 9, followed by a 4-game losing streak.

While the Blackhawks, and some fans may be disappointed where they stand, thanks in large part to a failure to close out games, maybe they deserve a little credit, too. They're still right there, living through the same streakiness as everyone else. But none of those other teams have had the roster turnover the Hawks have had. The foundation they've built for this season through the first half may be shaky, but they're still in position with everyone else to accelerate.

One final thought that Steve Konroyd and I have shared a couple of times on Pregame and Postgame Live. He needs more "meat" on his body of work his rookie season, but if Corey Crawford keeps playing at the level he has, it'll be a shame he'll be overlooked for the Calder Trophy by the impact Couture, Skinner, Hall, Eberle, Fowler and Shattenkirk have had on their respective teams. Bryan Bickell's hanging tough, stats-wise, but the way Crawford's performed - and the way the team seems to play better in front of him - shouldn't be overlooked for finalist consideration if he maintains his pace. Position-wise, he'd get challenged from a workload standpoint by Sergei Bobrovsky. But Corey got his first shootout experience Friday, and his second NHL shutout Sunday. He's living up to the rep that many talent evaluators have been saying for a couple of years: he has the best combination of talent and potential of any goalie the organization's had since being picked in the second round of that stacked 2003 NHL draft.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

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USA TODAY

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

It's a new year, new team for Cam Ward, who spent his first 13 NHL seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before signing in Chicago on a one-year deal this summer. That means a newly-designed goalie mask is required to match up with his new team's colors, uniform and Blackhawks logo.

The designer of Ward's goalie masks Steve Nash, whose clients include 2017-18 Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck, two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick and three-time 30-win netminder Martin Jones, shared a teaser on Twitter of Ward's new Blackhawks-themed mask for the upcoming season and it's sweet.

Check it out:

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

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USA TODAY

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."