Blackhawks

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

These days, Brian Campbell doesn’t do much on his off nights.

If he’s not playing hockey, he’s spending as much time as possible with family. And whatever spare time he has after that, well, he’s resting.

“I’ll have friends and neighbors say, ‘Hey you want to go for dinner?’ Not a chance,” Campbell said to laughs. “I don’t want to do anything right now. I want to be at home, whether we cook or order in. It has been, at times, exhausting. It’s not much of a life outside of what’s going on.”

The Blackhawks are currently enjoying their bye week after playing 57 games through Feb. 11. Thanks to World Cup and a bye week for each team, the NHL schedule has been condensed this season. That’s offered its challenges, its various effects on players and coaches and differing opinions.

Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he’s had to adjust. The usual way he does things just aren’t going to fly this season. Looking at the Wild’s record, the changes apparently haven’t hurt them.

“There are a lot of tired players and we’ve had fewer practices than any time I’ve ever been a coach in this league,” Boudreau said at the All-Star weekend. “We finished nine games in 15 days [before the break] and we never practiced the other six days because you can’t kill the guys, especially your better players. If you’re asking them to practice for 30 minutes and then asking them to play for 25 minutes, it’s a pretty daunting task.”

As for players on other teams, some love the schedule and some don’t.

“There aren’t too many guys in this league who are big practice guys. We want to play,” said Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn, who added he hasn’t changed his daily routine much. “We want to be out there on the ice. For me, personally, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Fellow Stars defenseman John Klingberg talked of the Stars’ early hectic schedule, in which the team wasn’t playing well and dealt with a lot of injuries. He thought a few on-ice sessions may have been beneficial at that time.

“We didn’t practice almost at all and at that time, when we struggled, we really needed to practice,” Klingberg said. “It was tough because we wanted to keep the energy going for the games. At the same time, you want to get practices in so you have the feeling with hands and feet. That’s something I felt earlier in the year that I needed more of. I was trying to skate as much as I could but there weren’t a lot of scheduled practices.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

With that, let’s look at the Blackhawks.

Considering how coach Joel Quenneville runs a practice schedule, it seems like the Blackhawks have been prepping for a season like this since the 2012-13 lockout. That year, when teams were playing roughly every other day in that 48-game schedule, Quenneville started eliminating a lot of practices. Part of that was the Blackhawks’ success: they got off to a 21-0-3 start, so why practice? But it was also about conserving energy. Even now he keeps his practices to about 35 minutes.

“Through the history of being around this team, it’s proven that rest is important and practices can be overrated,” Quenneville said with a laugh. “Our guys have played a lot of games, our older guys, for sure, and meaningful games. And we find we’re at our best when we’re rested and come ready to play the games and use time away from the rink to get re-energized, freshened up. Sometimes I think playing games is the right time to let it all out there.”

Still, it’s ultimately about the individual. Marian Hossa will take some practices and skates off, saving his energy for games. He’s having a great season, sharing the team’s goal lead with Artem Anisimov (20 for each). This is also coming off World Cup, in which Hossa played plenty of minutes for tournament runner-up Team Europe.

“It’s good to practice here or there but when you have so many games, I think the most important thing toward the end of the year is rest,” Hossa said. “We’re pretty lucky we have that, and I think we also have had good results off that. It seems like it works.”

Patrick Kane doesn’t take many skates or practices off but he has added something new to his repertoire: cryotherapy. In the therapy, be it whole-body or localized, a person is exposed to subzero temperatures for a few minutes.

“I think it has helped me, especially to do that in Chicago every off day, so it’s been good. I feel like fresh on the ice, which is good,” Kane said. “I think you try out different things to help your body or get yourself to recover a little bit faster than other times if you have more days off.”

So has the schedule had an effect on game outcomes, from the lopsided scores to those with double-digit goal totals? Boudreau believes it has.

“I’m sure everyone has theories,” Boudreau continued, “but my thought is, this is why there are so many discrepancies in so many of the games, be it 7-1, 5-1, 6-5 or 8-7.”

It could be debated. Some of the most lopsided scores (Columbus’ 10-0 victory over Montreal, Los Angeles’ 7-0 decision over Toronto and Winnipeg’s 8-2 victory over Dallas) came within the first month of the regular season. Seems that would be too early to blame a schedule. But there have been some outlandish outcomes recently. The Penguins 8-7 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 16 comes to mind. The next night, the Stars beat the New York Rangers 7-6. The Toronto beat the Islanders 7-1 on Tuesday.

“You look at the schedule this year, a tougher schedule. You see a few more blow outs, you wonder if that has anything to do with it,” Kane said. “Who knows?”

As coaches and players love to say, the schedule is what it is. But there’s no doubt it’s been busier this season, and everyone is doing what they can to adjust.

“Sometimes you have long road trips that might catch up to you with the travel or things like that. But even then, you’re not really thinking about it too much. You’re just trying to do what you can to get yourself ready for the next game,” Kane said. “I don’t think anyone thinks about it too much. It’s just we’re hockey players, we like playing games, so it’s a good thing.”

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 2 win over Sharks

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 2 win over Sharks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

After stealing Game 1 in San Jose, the Blackhawks took care of business in Game 2 by beating the Sharks 4-2 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Final. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. Building a cushion

You knew the Sharks were going to come out hungry after losing Game 1 in their own building, and the Blackhawks certainly matched that intensity. 

After Andrew Ladd broke the scoreless tie at the 12:48 mark of the first period, Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews followed suit in the second to put the Blackhawks in front 3-0. It was crucial for the visiting team not to give the Sharks any momentum, and it wasn't until 31:08 into the game before the home team finally got on the board.

2. A make-up game on special teams?

The Blackhawks had zero power plays in Game 1, so they didn't get a chance of testing a Sharks team that had the fifth-ranked penalty kill percentage (85.0) in the regular season. But that changed in Game 2.

The Sharks racked up 22 total penalty minutes and committed six minor penalties, two of which came with 18 seconds left in the game that saw two Blackhawks get sent off as well. The Blackhawks committed only one minor penalty in the previous 59:42.

Both teams converted on the power play once, but the Blackhawks staying out of the box for the majority of the game certainly played a role in preventing the Sharks from getting within striking distance or taking control early.

3. Duncan Keith's strong performance

He didn't garner as much attention as others, but Keith was solid for the Blackhawks in Game 2. He recorded two assists, six shot attempts (three on goal), four blocked shots and led all skaters with 30:21 of ice time. No other skater logged more than 27:56.

Keith was pointless in his first five postseason games, but had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in his next nine.

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NHL 20 sim: Blackhawks close strong late season push with playoff berth

NHL 20 sim: Blackhawks close strong late season push with playoff berth

It all comes down to one game for the Blackhawks. A win at Madison Square Garden earns them a playoff bid as the second Wild Card team and a first round showdown with the St. Louis Blues. A loss, and it’ll be a third consecutive season watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home.

The Rangers come into this game having been eliminated from playoff contention, but with plenty to play for. This could very well be Henrik Lundqvist’s last start in a Ranger uniform and there’s no doubt he and his teammates will be motivated to send the legend out on a high note. In addition, you can bet Artemi Panarin would love nothing more than to play spoiler against his former club. Will the Blueshirts bring the Blackhawks down to earth, or will Chicago punch their return ticket to the postseason?

Blackhawks at Rangers (4/4)

Result: Blackhawks win 4-2

Three Stars:

First Star: Kirby Dach (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG)

Second Star: Alex Nylander (1 G, 1 A)

Third Star: Alex DeBrincat (1 G, 1 A)

The youth movement came into full form in Saturday’s win in Manhattan. While the Hawks young players stepped up vs. the Islanders, they doubled down on Saturday. All three Blackhawks goals were scored by players aged 22 and younger and the game’s first star was the 19-year-old Dach. Secondary scoring and role players are vital come playoff time, so the youth contributions for Chicago down the stretch bodes well for their chances in the playoffs.

Scoring summary

First period

4:48: Jesper Fast (R. Strome, T. DeAngelo) 1-0

9:35 PP: Alex DeBrincat (A. Boqvist, K. Dach) 1-1

Second period

5:30: PP Alex Nylander (D. Kubalik, B. Saad) 2-1

12:34: Phil Di Guiseppe (K. Kakko, F. Chytil) 2-2

9:37 PP: Kirby Dach (A. DeBrincat, D. Keith) 3-2

Third period

19:22 EN: Slater Koekkoek (A. Nylander, P. Kane) 4-2

Box score

Shots on Goal:

Chicago: 27

New York: 25

The Blackhawks picked up two points at MSG using a similar formula from their win in Brooklyn: special teams success and a sound defensive effort. For the second straight game, Chicago limited their opponent to under 30 shots on goal after allowing 35.1 shots on goal per game during the regular season.

Goalies:

Corey Crawford: 23/25 (.920 SV%)

Henrik Lundqvist: 24/27 (.889 SV%)

Corey Crawford stepping up in big situations is something Hawks fans have grown accustomed to over the past decade, and the win over New York was no different. Neither goal was really his fault. He was screened by his own teammate on the first and a defensive breakdown resulted in the second. The Blackhawks will need Crawford at his best to have any chance in the first round against the Blues.

Power play:

Chicago: 3-4

New York: 0-1

After a pair of power play goals against the Islanders, the Hawks were even better against the Rangers, cashing in on three of four chances. The penalty kill stepped up as well, shutting down the Rangers in their lone power play chance. Both special teams units seem to be clicking at the right time for Jeremy Colliton’s crew.

Notable Blackhawks performances:

Adam Boqvist (Assist)

Duncan Keith (Assist)

Brandon Saad (Assist)

The pairing of Keith and Boqvist has led the way for the Blackhawks blue line in their defensive renaissance. Both factored in on the scoring in Saturday’s win, but they’ve been the top pairing for a unit that’s playing their best hockey of the season. Duncan Keith is showing flashes of his Norris Trophy-winning self from years past, and Boqvist is proving doubters of his defensive abilities wrong while also showing off his offensive skill. No doubt the 19-year-old Boqvist is benefitting from playing alongside a legend. 

Noticeable absences from the score sheet the last two games are Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Toews registered just one assist, while Kane got only two secondary assists on empty-net goals. The defense stepping up, power play clicking, and youth movement showing promise are important to a playoff run. That said, you can surely expect Kane and Toews to step up in the playoffs. If not, it will be hard to see the Hawks having much of a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.