Blackhawks

With the NHL still locked out, players truck on

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With the NHL still locked out, players truck on

The NHL remains mired in a lockout, Day 60 coming on Wednesday. But for the AHL, the hockey world keeps on spinning. And for those Rockford players who wouldve been with the Blackhawks at some point this season, hockey and their lives are going on just fine.

Talks have gone quiet once again in the big league. And after things looked so promising early last week, when the league and NHLPA were talking nonstop, the outlook for NHL hockey is looking grim again. But for the IceHogs, as with the rest of the minor-league hockey organizations, games continue. Practices continue. Regular-season routine continues.

Hockey continues. And for them, its not so much about listening to lockout rhetoric and speculation as much as it is focusing on their jobs.

It has to be (the focus), IceHogs forward Brandon Bollig said. You cant take anything away from this league. Its very talented, especially right now. And if you dont have your mind on the game youll be behind the 8-ball. Its unfortunate (about the lockout). But theres no room to focus on whats going on there. Im lucky, along with a few other guys, to be playing right now instead of sitting around and doing nothing.

Guys like Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith and Brandon Saad lost the chance to compete for a Blackhawks roster spot this season at least for now. But in the hockey world, theres always a competition for something.

In this lifestyle, youre always fighting, always competing for something. Even here in Rockford youre competing for power play, penalty kill and ice time, Smith said. Being a hockey player, no matter where you are you have to bring your best. If not, someones trying to pass you. We want to be (in the NHL), thats the goal. But have to bring compete and passion every day here.

Not only are guys enjoying their usual hockey routine, but theyre getting that welcome distraction from lockout talk which theyre starting to avoid.

Well have a group chat going, and me and a few guys will read about it and stay informed. But thats mainly it for me, said defenseman Nick Leddy. Its good to focus on a season down here and develop.

And, when the NHL season does resume, some of the potential Blackhawks can hit the training-camp ground running.

Thats the good thing. We can stay sharp and fine tune some things that got you to the NHL, Bollig said. Were fortunate to be so close. If it starts up, and were lucky enough to be called up, were there and ready.

So while the NHL stays quiet, the AHL keeps playing. For these guys, the welcome routine of practices and games continues.

Were hoping something gets done and its something fair, Smith said of a potential collective bargaining agreement. At the same time were working on our games and hoping when the time comes, were all playing good hockey.

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

It's no surprise that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had offensive explosions after getting put on the same line together on Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. But at the same time it was.

The duo played 273:28 minutes at even strength together last season, according to naturalstattrick.com, but had a minus-6 goal differential during that time. It was bizarre because they controlled 56.9 percent of the shot attempts and 60.5 percent of the high-danger chances.

Perhaps the hockey gods are repaying them for what they deserved a year ago. Or those are the results you're eventually going to get when you put two future Hall of Famers on the ice at the same time.

“For an offensive guy that wants the puck, he’s pretty much the perfect center to play with," Kane said. "He wins a lot of battles, he wins faceoffs, he’s obviously able to make plays and he can get to the hard areas, too, so he opens up a lot of space. We haven’t played with each other a lot over the past handful of years, but we played a lot together early on, so I think sometimes we just kind of revert back to what we did back then. It makes the game simple. It’s not like you have to think too much or even talk too much about what we want to do. We just want to work hard, win battles and play well defensively. If we do that, we should get a lot of chances.”

Toews turned the clock back before he and Kane were even in the NHL.

"I remember since we were like 12 or 13 playing against each other in Triple-A hockey, he was one of the smallest guys out there and he just seemed to be able to handle the puck so well even at that age," Toews said of Kane. "He could back defenders off and create time and space. He was tough to check because he was slippery and he was just deceptive. I think that's what sets him above everybody else in the league and most star players that maybe can take advantage of skating, size and speed where he doesn't really need any of those things. He's so smart when he gets the puck."

Whether or not they stay together for the long term remains to be seen, but the when Nos. 19 and 88 are clicking, usually the Blackhawks are too.

Brent Seabrook's contract

It's no secret in Chicago that Seabrook's contract sticks out as one that won't exactly age well for the Blackhawks under a salary cap system. At age 33, he's in Year 3 of an eight-year deal that carries a $6.875 million cap hit. 

While his best years on the ice may be behind him, his teammates believe Seabrook is still as important as ever inside the locker room and the team unity. Kane came to his defense on Monday after practice in response to a question about the core veterans trying to sustain a winning culture in a trying season.

"People want to get on Seabs about his contract," Kane said. "But to us, he’s underpaid [for] what he brings in this locker room and the way he’s such a great leader, such a big part of this locker room, takes in every guy just like he’s known him his whole life. He’s an unbelievable teammate. Even that game when we missed him when he was sick, you lose your heart and soul of the team a little bit because he’s such a big piece."

Corey Crawford update

Jeremy Colliton's playing career was cut short because of his concussion history. He knows exactly what Crawford is going through, which means he knows how to handle his situation from a coach's perspective.

Crawford skated with the team for the first time over the weekend, but Colliton cautioned not to read anything into it. He didn't provide much more information than that.

On Monday, Colliton offered a longer-form response on why he's been mum about Crawford's status:

"Him going on the ice, I said it two days ago, not to read too much into it. It’s going to be a process here. The day-to-day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s over time. Is he feeling better? Is he progressing? I’m not in his ear, 'How are you feeling?', asking [head athletic trainer Mike Gapski], 'How’s Crow feeling?' It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help him and minute-to-minute, it doesn’t matter. It’s over time, how does he feel, is he getting better? Did I talk to him today? Yeah I talked to him today. But I didn’t ask him how he was feeling. Because day to day, it’s a non-issue. I just want him to be happy and over time, feel better. And then we’ll see if he can play at the end of that."

Barry Smith's role

When Blackhawks practiced wrapped up on Monday, Smith addressed the team in a huddle, got a stick tap ovation and received a handshake from every player. This was his last practice as the assistant coach, and Tuesday vs. the New York Islanders will be his last game behind the bench before Sheldon Brookbank officially takes full control of those responsibilities along with Don Granato.

After Tuesday, Smith will transition back into his role with the Blackhawks as Director of Player Evaluation.

"Certainly his experience and just his presence," Colliton said on what Smith brought to the table. "Great guy, very, very fun to be around. I knew him from last year, he’d been around Rockford. We were a little bit shorthanded and he left his wife and his previous life, lived in a hotel for two and a half months and was a great resource for me and the staff, and really appreciate that. He’s been through the wars already, so for him to come back into it was very selfless of him, I thought."

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Blackhawks' Patrick Kane named NHL's third star after another monster week

Blackhawks' Patrick Kane named NHL's third star after another monster week

For the third time in a month, Patrick Kane has been named an NHL star of the week. 

The 30-year-old Blackhawks winger received third star honors after recording 10 points (four goals, six assists) in three games.
Kane kicked off the week with a four-point outing in New Jersey, where he scored two goals and had a pair of primary assists while logging a career-high 28:50 of ice time in an 8-5 loss to the Devils on Monday. He followed that up by registering an assist in a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.

Kane wrapped up the week with a five-point game on Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, scoring two goals and adding three assists in an 8-5 win during NBC's Game of the Week.

Kane's point streak is up to a season-long eight games. He has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) over that span, and has moved up to fifth in the NHL with 70 points.

Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner was named the first star, respectively, after going 3-0-0 and stopping 65 on 67 shots for a .970 save percentage and 0.67 goals against average in three games while Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad was named the second star after having seven points (five goals, two assists) and scoring the game-winning goal in all three games.

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