Blackhawks

Marshall ready for second shot at Packers

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Marshall ready for second shot at Packers

Don't think for one minute that Brandon Marshall didn't know what he was saying when he walked to the podium at Halas Hall today. The whole "Peanuts" music and the tree story, the dislike he said he felt for the Packers, he knew exactly what he was doing.

The Bears "Top Dog" was simply deflecting all the talk about losing and having their backs against the wall to himself. He put the pressure on his back and made it clear he wants to carry the load. Marshall challenged every member of the Packers secondary. He called them out like you rarely hear an NFL player do, and I loved every minute of it.

Marshall has played one game in the storied rivalry and was held to just two catches for 24 yards. By far his lowest output of the season. The Packers refused to let Marshall take over the game with coverage underneath and over the top, and even though Marshall said he wants to see one-on-one coverage he knows that isn't happening. Teams don't change schemes when they've had success with a certain scheme or approach.

Marshall also knew Bears fans would love hearing him talk so negative about the Bears biggest rival. He's selling what Lovie Smith has preached to his team, that beating the Packers is their No. 1 goal. Unfortunately, it's rare when that happens, considering Green Bay has won seven of the last eight meetings, including the 2010 NFC Championship game. So for now, it's been very one sided.

Perhaps Marshall's tough talk will resonate with his team and they will rise to the challenge, and play like a team that's in the thick of the playoff race. Otherwise, it could be the beginning of a very tense final two weeks of the season.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks finally score first, snap eight-game skid

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks finally score first, snap eight-game skid

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center on Wednesday to snap an eight-game losing streak:

1. First-period demons exercised?

The Blackhawks have been talking and talking about starting on time for the last several weeks now, and the more they talked about it the more they thought about it too much and it eventually crept into their psyches. But they finally put those to rest. Well, at least for one night.

For the first time since Nov. 18 — a span of 11 games and 24 days — the Blackhawks scored the first goal. And even better, they built upon it by scoring the second one, too, just 2:36 later to go up 2-0 in the first period.

It had been a long time coming and the Blackhawks finally had a chance to play with a lead after doing so for only 41 seconds of their previous 662:32 minutes over the last 11 games.

"It’s been a while since we’ve scored first in a game," said Andreas Martinsen, who was credited with the first goal and registered his first multi-point game of his NHL career. "We’ve been talking a lot about having good starts, and we finally got one. And then we just kept going."

2. Staying with it

When you're on an eight-game losing streak, snapping out of it will never be easy. The Blackhawks found that out the hard way.

After taking a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Penguins responded by scoring three of the next four goals — all of which were by Bryan Rust, who recorded his second career NHL hat trick — to even it up at 3-3 through 40 minutes of play. It tested the Blackhawks' character and mental toughness. 

And it showed, as the Blackhawks answered back by scoring three unanswered in the third period, albeit two of which were empty-netters, to seal the deal for their first win in 18 days.

“It’s a relief," Jonathan Toews said. "It’s definitely just a good feeling for guys. We’ve got something to celebrate. We’ve got something to enjoy. We were reminded with an exciting reason to come to the rink in a few days and come out with the same effort. It’s something we’ve got to be aware of and build off of in the next one.”

3. Contributions across the board

The Blackhawks got contributions up and down the lineup, from their forwards to defensemen to goaltender.

Marcus Kruger, Martinsen, Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook each recorded a goal and an assist. Toews had a goal and two assists to crack the 700-point mark for his NHL career. Patrick Kane extended his point streak to five games with an assist. Duncan Keith added one, too. Alex DeBrincat lit the lamp for the second straight night. And Corey Crawford finished with a season-high 40 saves on 43 shots for a save percentage of .930.

It was a well-rounded effort, one that makes it feel even better for the guys in the locker room when celebrating a true team victory.

"It’s always huge to pot a few," Toews said. "As an individual, it always helps your confidence. To see [Martinsen] and [Kruger] around the net and [DeBrincat] scoring the way he did, even if it’s on kind of a broken play or whatever you want to call that, it’s good for our power play. We’ll take those when we can. It’s good for our team. We’ve got to use that confidence now. We’re putting all that in the rearview mirror and let this snowball in the right direction now.”

4. Carl Dahlstrom's noticeable season debut

The Blackhawks made a series of roster moves prior to Wednesday's game, which was highlighted by the call-up of top forward prospect Dylan Sikura. But it was Dahlstrom who made a strong first impression on the back end.

The 23-year-old defenseman registered a primary assist, four shot attempts (three on goal), a plus-2 rating and one hit in 22:34 of ice time, which ranked third on the Blackhawks. Jeremy Colliton leaned on him heavily and clearly wasn't afraid to do so.

"He was good," Colliton said. "Very under control, he skates so well, such a big body, he can handle a lot of minutes. But I thought he was clean with the puck and he was able to get stops in D zone. Very good effort from him."

White Sox don't see Harper-type free agent on starting-pitcher market

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USA TODAY

White Sox don't see Harper-type free agent on starting-pitcher market

LAS VEGAS — The White Sox seem to have a very specific set of circumstances when it comes to going after big-name free agents this winter.

Rick Hahn has explained over and over again that a player has to fit in with the team's long-term plans, and he's discussed taking advantage of opportunities to add premium talent to his ongoing rebuilding effort.

And the obvious guys that fall into that category are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two biggest names on the free-agent market, two 26-year-old superstars who are expected to receive some of the biggest contracts in baseball history and change whichever franchise they sign up with.

But there are also some more immediate needs, like the one in the starting rotation. The White Sox filled one of two holes on the starting staff with Tuesday's trade for Ivan Nova, but another remains and there still remain multiple avenues Hahn could travel down to fill it. He could add another one-year fill-in, like Nova, and wait for Michael Kopech to recover from Tommy John surgery and for Dylan Cease to finish his development in the minor leagues. Or he could add a bigger name on a multi-year deal.

But here's the question: Is there a player out there who, like Harper and Machado, is a premium-type, long-term fit and is a starting pitcher?

"At this time, probably not," Hahn said Wednesday. "Perhaps via trade. But if you're talking strictly free agency, I would say probably not."

That's an interesting evaluation, if for no other reason than there's a 30-year-old Cy Young winner on the free-agent market.

Dallas Keuchel isn't exactly a no-brainer, but he looks like a pretty good long-term fit, one of the American League's better starting pitchers in recent seasons who has the experience of going through a rebuild and seeing it end in a World Series championship. He won the 2015 AL Cy Young, is a four-time Gold Glover and in the last five seasons has a 3.28 ERA and 784 strikeouts in 145 starts.

Perhaps the questioned criteria, purposely vague as to avoid hitting on specific free agents, didn't include Keuchel in Hahn's assessment. Or perhaps it most certainly did, revealing the White Sox don't consider Keuchel as a premium talent who fits in with their long-term plans.

Hahn's answer, whether it includes Keuchel or not, could also point to how the White Sox plan to plug that final hole in the rotation: in much the same way they plugged the other one in acquiring Nova. The White Sox have obvious faith in and high hopes for both Kopech and Cease, so giving them every chance to win jobs at the top of the rotation makes plenty of sense.

But if you're expecting a huge signing of a starting pitcher to either go along with or come in place of an addition of Harper or Machado, this winter doesn't look like the time.

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