Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Two weeks notice for Chicago

415685.jpg

Hawk Talk: Two weeks notice for Chicago

Sunday, March 27, 2011Posted 3:06 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Saturdays loss to Anaheim marked the 24th time this season the Blackhawks led or were tied in the third period, and failed to come up with two points. Theyve come up with single points in just six of those games.

The defending champs have improved on that early-season flaw lately, but the timing--and the opponent--made number 24 hurt a little more. It dropped them to eighth in the West with eight games to go, three wins behind the Ducks in the tie-breaker, four points behind Los Angeles and Nashville and five in back of Phoenix. While Chicago has more games-in-hand compared to those four, the Monday and Tuesday back-to-backs in Detroit and Boston force them to live, learn and move on mentally to get on with the challenge of the final two weeks of the regular season. Theyll have consecutive days off just once in that span.

Weve done blown leads in the third period too many times this season. Weve been playing well defensively, havent allowed too many goals, yet we lost the game, said Troy Brouwer after the entire team was put through a half-hour workout Sunday morning (save for Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland). Just had a couple little letdowns that led to their goals. Were taking the positives we can. We didnt get a lot of help in the standings and have to get ready to go into Detroit.

Its a Wings team the Hawks see three times these final two weeks and Patrick Kane knows what their arch-rivals probably thinking.

Its a huge game for us tomorrow, obviously," he said. "Im sure Detroit wants to send a message to us that they dont want us to be in the playoffs and get a little redemption on us. But if we go out and play the way we should, we should be okay.

The way the Hawks should play especially since Sharp joined Bolland on the sidelines is defense-first. Going by the numbers, theyve allowed three goals (and scored seven) in the last three games. They got burned on the only two they allowed Saturday by the best line in hockey right now, while their own offensive stars had trouble generating enough pressure.

The result increased the pressure on them this week to hunt for points against two teams that are among the leagues best, but have hardly been dominant at home. The Wings are 20-12-5 at The Joe. The Bruins are 18-13-5 at The Garden. The Wings wont have Pavel Datsyuk or goalie Jimmy Howard Monday against the Hawks, but Johan Franzens expected to return after missing four games with a groin injury.

So how about an updated estimate from head coach Joel Quenneville on the ever-rising bar on the points it will take to get into the playoffs?

Ninety-six, seven, eight," he said. "Thats a realistic number youre going to need. Theres a couple numbers up there youd like to get that put you in a much better spot, and that includes home-ice advantage.
Sharp a Bit Sharper

One week has passed since Patrick Sharps knee-to-knee collision in Phoenix that resulted in a two- to three-week timetable for his return. Joel Quenneville wasnt yet ready to change that when asked about Sharps progress Sunday, but expressed hope.

Im not going to say when hes hitting the ice, but hes making some rapid progress here," he said. "Im really pleased and encouraged that hes been able to ratchet-up his off-ice training and conditioning. Well get a better assessment, but I dont have a number of days before hes back on the ice, but weve been happy with his progress.

He also said he doesnt envision being at the point where they rule Dave Bolland out for the year after taking an elbow to the head two-and-a-half weeks ago. He again called the centers situation status quo, with a little bit of progress.

Once he feels well enough, Bolland would begin off-ice exercises and must feel no ill-effects before graduating to on-ice activity. Once that hurdles cleared without symptoms, hed have to pass baseline testing before getting a green light to return to practice.

The Line Dance

For those whove watched Joel Quenneville for three years, it shouldnt be a real surprise that he mixed the lines up at Sunday mornings practice. Troy Brouwer reunited on the left side with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, while Viktor Stalberg skated with Ryan Johnson and Fernando Pisani. Michael Frolik (0-for-4 in the faceoff circle Saturday night) was back at wing with Tomas Kopecky flanking Jake Dowell. Then there were Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell centered byMarcus Kruger (6-for-12 on the dot versus the Ducks).

I think there is some upside offensively with him, Quenneville said of Kruger after practice. Hes got some quickness to him, and I think his overall thought process is exactly what you look for in a centerman. Im getting a little more comfortable in where you can use him and how often you use him.

As for Brouwer:

Whether its him or Bick, we can use some more physicality up front. I think we get more zone time, more threats off the rush, and need more of a net-front presence, fighting through that space and fighting through getting boxed-out. Its a tough area but we need those guys to be even more involved.

Im excited for it, said Brouwer. Ive played on-and-off with these guys for the last two years and feel comfortable playing with them. Hopefully we can go out and help the team.

No changes in net Monday night, where Corey Crawford (.958 save percentage the last three games) will make his 20th consecutive start in goal.

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

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

stan_bowman_blackhawks.jpg
AP

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

37223567_10105857984279570_4623576162939961344_n.jpg
AP

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.