Blackhawks

New Blackhawks impress in preseason opener

New Blackhawks impress in preseason opener

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011
Posted: 10:27 p.m. Updated: 11:52 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com Blackhawks InsiderFollow @TraMyersCSN
Box score
VIDEO: Crawford ready for pressure

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN -- Two of the newest Chicago Blackhawks Rostislav Olesz and Jamal Mayers scored. But Jordan Eberle got the go-ahead goal late in the third as the Edmonton Oilers went on to a 4-2 victory in Tuesday night's preseason opener.

"I thought some guys played well for us," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The pace was pretty good. It's 2-2 late in the game, you'd like to get something out of it."

Ryan Smyth scored as an Oilers power play was about to expire in the second period. Josh Green also scored for Edmonton.

The Blackhawks went 0 for 4 on the power play. Ray Emery started for the Blackhawks, allowing two goals. Alex Salak played the second half, allowing one.

Quenneville was also happy with Mark McNeill's night. McNeill assisted on Mayers' goal.

"Thought he had his best game tonight," he said. "He seemed to have good pace, have the puck more."

Boden's Breakdown

Two of the players the Blackhawks picked up in the offseason made an impact on the scoresheet. But the preseason-opening 4-2 loss to Edmonton in Saskatoon didn't leave us with a much clearer idea whether Ray Emery or Alex Salak is better-suited to backup Corey Crawford.

The first goal Emery gave up he couldn't quite pounce on before Ryan Smyth did. On the other, he was beaten stick-side on a blast from the right wing. He did make a couple of decent stops in the first period.

As for Salak, he was barely tested much as the Hawks controlled the puck for much of the third period. But a Jordan Eberle shot just after the Oilers remained perfect on the penalty kill was too quick for Salak and the Oilers added an empty-netter.

While David Toews took the first shift with brother Jonathan, he was then mostly relegated to the fourth line with Phillip Danault and Jimmy Hayes. Toews, meanwhile, teamed up with Viktor Stalberg and Rostislav Olesz as the most dominant line of the night.

Olesz has looked good so far in camp, and the player with some question marks that Stan Bowman got back in the Brian Campbell trade continued showing something, scoring the Hawks' first goal as they came back from a 2-0 deficit. He was active throughout. The Hawks will need some players to go into corners and get pucks for their goal scorers. Olesz, if healthy, has the body to do that, and being a 7th overall draft pick, has some skill, too. Stalberg had a handful of chances as well, but could probably use one or two to go in so he doesn't think some of his luck from last year is carrying over.

Jamal Mayers scored the tying goal off a nice feed down low from Kyle Beach, who'll need a lot more of that to overcome the veteran grit and depth the team committed to in the off-season, and his minus-24 rating last year in Rockford. Those two were centered by this year's top pick, Mark McNeill. The other line of Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith and Brandon Saad had its share of chances as well, but couldn't bury any. Kruger was at the doorstep late when the score was still 3-2 and an Edmonton player saved the puck in the crease.

The result wasn't what the Hawks wanted, but that's less important than seeing who can do what. Joel Quenneville and his staff started to get some ideas, even though the No. 2 goalie job remains unclear. Because of his tryout status, they have five more games (by Oct. 1) to decide on Emery, and he may not necessarily play in all of them. His next test comes Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

--Chris Boden

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

Blackhawks are one of NHL's hottest teams, but have they turned a corner?

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USA Today

Blackhawks are one of NHL's hottest teams, but have they turned a corner?

For the first two and a half months of the season, the Blackhawks were battling through major inconsistency issues. They had won more than two games in a row just once and lost at least three straight five times.

And yet somehow, the Blackhawks still found themselves afloat in the Western Conference playoff race. 

But the tide has finally started to turn.

Since Dec. 15, the Blackhawks are 12-5-0 and have the fourth-most standings points in the NHL over that span with 24. They’ve also won a season-long five consecutive games and have a plus-13 goal differential during their winning streak.

Now, there are certainly some statistical trends that are unsustainable over the long term that could result in a market correction. Their on-ice shooting percentage (13.0) and save percentage (94.7) at 5-on-5 play during their winning streak is a combined 107.7, which is the second-highest in the league over that stretch.

But the Blackhawks are playing a brand of hockey that will win them games more often than not going forward: The top guys are producing, the depth scoring is there, the defensive structure has tightened up and the goaltending remains strong.

"No question,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he feels this type of performance will continue to lead to positive results. “We are being rewarded. There's no reason to get away from it. It's paying off and the more it gets into our mentality and our identity that this is who we are, and we'll do this no matter what, it's a habit and you don't think twice about it. We still need to work at preparing to approach the game that way, but when we do it's easier for you and you'll set up your teammates as well."

Perhaps the most notable part of the winning streak is the fact the Blackhawks look like a team that's on the same page after making an in-season schematic adjustment in November, on top of dealing with an array of key injuries. The Blackhawks stayed the course and aren't wavering from their game which we saw them do earlier in the season, whether they're playing with a lead or a deficit. 

Take Sunday's 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets as an example. The Blackhawks jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, gave up a late goal in the second period that cut their lead to 2-1, but punched back in the third period by scoring twice to pull ahead 4-1, which iced the game.

One month ago, the Blackhawks would probably find a way to squander that two-goal lead. That hasn't been the case over the last month and the Blackhawks are hoping this becomes part of their DNA.

"We're finally starting to full buy-in to the system," Blackhawks goaltender Robin Lehner said. "Full effort level, doing the right things at the right times. ... Everyone's just doing their job, and we're starting to feel [that] doing those things gets you rewarded and everyone keeps doing it. We're doing well, but we've just got to keep doing it because every point is crucial."

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Jonathan Toews named NHL's Third Star of the week

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USA Today

Jonathan Toews named NHL's Third Star of the week

The Blackhawks (24-20-6, 54 points) are on fire, having won five straight games to vault them back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Jonathan Toews has been key to that stretch, and on Monday, he was recognized for his recent stellar play by being named the NHL's Third Star of the week. Alex Ovechkin and Elvis Merzlikins nabbed the top two spots:

In four games between Jan. 14 and Jan. 19 (all Blackhawks wins, of course), Toews led the NHL in points with nine (three goals, six assists). And none of them were empty. Among myriad highlights was this game-winning slingshot to beat the Senators 3-2 in overtime to kick off the week (the 15th overtime game-winner of his career):

His two-goal, two-assist outing against the Maple Leaf days later was pretty fun, too:

Toews rides a six-game point streak into Tuesday night's bout with the Florida Panthers. If he extends it, he'll become the sixth player in Blackhawks history to reach 800 career points. 

The milestones and accolades are piling up for The Captain and, crucially, they're translating in the win column for the Blackhawks.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.