Where Quenneville, Blackhawks stand on eliminating morning skates


Where Quenneville, Blackhawks stand on eliminating morning skates

Marian Hossa is all for it.

The veteran forward was talking about morning skates, and how at least two NHL teams, Colorado and the New York Rangers, have stopped having them for the most part. To Hossa, it sounds like a pretty good idea.

“I’d love it. I wish they’d put it in the CBA,” Hossa said with a laugh.

All kidding and future CBA considerations aside, you wonder if full-team morning skates could become a thing of the past. Avalanche coach Patrick Roy decided this season to not have them, as long as the team practices the day before the game. The New York Rangers started eliminating them in the second half of last season and have continued that this early season.

The Blackhawks are already one of the lighter practicing teams. Coach Joel Quenneville either has short and energetic practices or none at all. So they may not be getting rid of them as quickly as teams that may practice longer and more often.

“You see the way Joel is: He gives us so many days off as far as practice days. It seems like, by the end of the year, we’re a little more fresh than other teams,” Patrick Kane said. “I don’t know. Some guys have their routines where they like to go out there, shoot some pucks, move their feet a little bit. But I think all of us probably wouldn’t be opposed to having that [morning skate] off.”

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Considering the few practices the Blackhawks already have, it’s unlikely they’ll get rid of morning skates – at least right now.

“I think if we didn’t have morning skates we’d never practice,” Quenneville said with a grin. “If there’s one thing our team will never be accused of is being worked too hard as far as practice times and days go along. Sometimes we feel if we get the day off before the day of the game, there’s nothing wrong nothing wrong with going out in the morning and getting loosened up, and a goalie needs to see and feel pucks.”

Still, there are always individual exceptions. Quenneville said Joe Sakic, who played for the Colorado Avalanche when Quenneville was an assistant coach and later head coach, usually didn’t participate in morning skates. Some Blackhawks veterans, Hossa and Duncan Keith among them, have taken off skates in the past.

“Some guys, we leave it up to them,” Quenneville said. “But the majority of the time, they don’t mind being up there.”

Jonathan Toews said it depends on the situation whether or not the team should have morning skates.

“If you’ve had a lot of games throughout the week and it’s a back to back, I agree, you don’t have to be on the ice. But sometimes on that game day it’s good to get into that mindset, come to the rink, go through those motions, make sure the body and mind are ready,” Toews said. “We get that treatment where sometimes we don’t get practices the day before, but game days we’re expected to be ready. So it’s either/or. Our coaching staff does a good job of judging that.”

Marcus Kruger understands why some teams are taking that route.

“Every team’s trying to find ways to get advantages and having fresh legs every night,” he said. “It’s such a long season. Teams will try to figure out ways to get that better.”

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So would he be OK if the Blackhawks nixed them?

“If we would do it, I’d be OK with that,” Kruger said with a smile.

Who knows if no morning skates catches on league wide. Every team is always looking for an edge. The Blackhawks don’t sound like they’re going that route right now. The Rangers and Avalanche have chosen to do away with morning skates. Ultimately, be it with those two teams or with other teams, it probably comes down to what the majority of players prefer.

“Everybody’s different. Some guys are used to doing that. But everyone would get used to it if the whole league didn’t have them,” Hossa said. “Me, personally, I wouldn’t miss that. If you practice today, tomorrow we would just come for the game at night. I don’t think it would be a huge deal.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


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


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."