Bears

Hawks - Coyotes first-round expectations

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Hawks - Coyotes first-round expectations

The Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes first-round matchup doesnt elicit the storylines of some of the Hawks recent postseason series. Its missing the animosity that comes with the Vancouver draw. Theres no goalie then-and-now comparison that you get with San Jose. And theres no deep history, as there would be if the Hawks wouldve played Detroit.

But hey, the playoffs are all about creating those stories, those subplots Blackhawks-Canucks was a big bag of who cares four seasons ago. So while we wait to see what this series brings, lets look at what each team brings:
Follow the leader

The Coyotes have been looking up to their reliable captain since 2003. The Blackhawks, in the wake of their captains injury, have looked to another for leadership.

Shane Doan is the prototype captain, a dependable player who has been with the WinnipegPhoenix franchise his entire professional career. Doan has long put up the points he has 318 goals and 470 points for a career 788 points. And this season, Doan finally got his first career hat trick.

Patrick Kane doesnt have the 'C' on his sweater, but in Jonathan Toews absence Kane has taken part of that role. Kane has been impressive as the Blackhawks No. 1 center, and his play and leadership down the stretch is a big reason the Blackhawks have surged again this spring

Thorn in opponents side

Which of the Blackhawks has been the Coyotes biggest headache? And vice-versa? The answers to each are wily veterans who are a combined 77 years old: left wings Andrew Brunette and Ray Whitney. Brunette has 42 career points against the Coyotes (14 goals and 28 assists). The 38-year-old was hampered by a foot injury as the regular season ended. But coach Joel Quenneville said Brunette, who was part of a successful top line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, should be ready for the playoffs.

For Phoenix, the 39-year-old Whitney has been stellar against Chicago, with 39 career points (12 goals, 27 assists). Whitney played all 82 games this season and put up some of his best career numbers during it. His 24 goals, 53 assists (77 points) are exactly the same as his 2008-09 numbers with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Goaltenders

Corey Crawford has gone through his ups and downs this season, and once again there was talk of a goaltending controversy. Would the backup become the No. 1 guy for the third consecutive season? But as the Blackhawks got closer to the playoffs, Crawford got closer to the form he had last spring. Since coming in relief and pulling out a shootout victory against the St. Louis Blues on March 13, Crawford has gone 8-1-2.

Mike Smith has gone through a renaissance with the Coyotes. Seemingly finished when he languished in the Tampa Bay minor-league system last season, Smith is now among the leagues best goaltenders and should be a Vezina Trophy candidate. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Smith has turned it on entering the postseason, allowing just two goals in his last five games (190 saves on 192 shots).
Knowing coaches

Joel Quenneville and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett are both familiar with each other. The two are longtime friends, and in their playing days were teammates in both Hartford and Washington. Theyve also carved their successful coaching niches. Quenneville has the most victories among NHL coaches (624) and two Stanley Cups, including one as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche.

Tippett, who has 406 victories, has led the Coyotes to three consecutive playoff appearances and, on Saturday night, their first division title in franchise history. He also won the Jack Adams award in 2010.

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was drafted with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”