Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Pronger presents big challenge

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Hawk Talk: Pronger presents big challenge

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
7:00 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO - A looming shadow is cast over the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup aspirations, running about 66, 220, with a number of battle scars and a scowl you can see, on a bright, sunny day like Monday, from Philadelphia.

Not to oversimplify the strategy Chicago brings to the ice on Saturday in Game 1 vs. the Flyers, but neutralizing massive defenseman Chris Pronger is central to whatever it is. For sure, the veteran of 16 seasons has captured the Blackhawks attention.

Hes a big guy, Chicago center Dave Bolland said.

Hes as good a player as there is back there, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Pronger with the St. Louis Blues. Pronger enjoyed career-high and league-leading ratings under Coach Q in 1997-98 (plus-47) and 1999-00 (plus-52).

Pronger only registered a plus-22 this season, leading Philadelphia at age 35. He also scored 55 points on 10 goals and 45 assists and didnt miss a single game, one of just five Flyers to accomplish that feat. And the burly giant wasnt making token appearances in games, eitherhis 25:56 of average ice time led the Flyers as well.

Hes a workhorse, Blackhawks alternacap Duncan Keith said. Hes out there most of the game.

Yeah, hes a big guy, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. He plays a lot of minutes, but it doesnt look like hes aged too much. Still we have to try to wear him down as much as possible.

Wear him down? Its tiring merely reading Prongers accolades.

To Bolland at least, Prongers size and superlatives come second to his experience in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Hes one of a few guys they have who have been through the Finals, Bolland said. I remember watching him dominate when the Anaheim Ducks won it.

Despite Prongers multi-tiered value to Philadelphias defense, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette may have little choice than to match his defensive ace on net, up against the Blackhawks own brawny man, Dustin Byfuglien, who has basically gone ham on both the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in prior series.

Neither of those teams had a skater who could measure up against Big Buff, whose confidence is growing by the day and who has tallied a team playoff-high eight goals in just his last eight playoff games.

When it was suggested that Laviolette may choose to move Byfuglien using a skilled but smaller, quicker defender (say the 510, 194 Kimmo Timonen) Kane burst out laughing, dismissing the idea that you can attack Byfuglien at the net with anyone but your biggest player.

Pronger and Buff will be seeing a lot of each other in the series. Buff is just big and strong and he can just stand there at the net all day. No ones had an answer for him yet, and thats the way we want it.

Chicago didnt exactly prove it had solved Pronger, either, at least not in the one game the two clubs played during the 2009-10 season. It was the behemoth of the blue line who slipped behind Brent Seabrook and took a backdoor pass to score with just a few seconds left in the game, turning Philadelphia from likely desperation overtime team to look-ma buzzer-beater winners faster than you can say six-six and gulp.

There arent many obvious obstacles the Blackhawks will have to scale in Philadelphia as they begin to gameplan against the Flyers. But the one presented in Pronger is simply too big to ignore.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."