Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 4:53 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blues game example of Hawks' toughness

CHICAGO -- It was one of those games that likely promoted the Chicago Blackhawks to do what they did in free agency last summer.

The Hawks, who signed a handful of veteran free agents last summer to add some bite to a highly-skilled lineup, stood toe-to-toe with the Central Division rival St. Louis Blues on Saturday in a road game that felt a little bit like a playoff game.

Chicago earned a 5-2 win and got exactly what the Hawks were looking for out of forward Daniel Carcillo -- who was bumped to the top line early in that game with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to provide some protection and grit.

It turned out to be a wise move. In the second period, Carcillo found himself jumping in to defend Toews and Kane in the same post-whistle skirmish -- first coming to the aid of Kane behind the net and then flying over to a nearby scrap between Toews and David Backes.

"I think that's probably why they made the line change early in the game," Kane said. "They knew how St. Louis was going to play and they probably wanted a physical guy to come in and help us out. It worked out real well. He played a real good game and he stepped up for us."

It was a big hit among the rest of his teammates, too.

"We love it," Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "It fires a lot of the guys up on the bench when you see Danny Carcillo fly across the ice and tackle Backes when he's trying to get after (Toews). That kind of stuff brings us together and makes us play that much harder. That's what I'm happy with about our team. We can play more than one way and win a game and we showed that against St. Louis."

The game got even testier as it played out and looked a bit like some of the old Blues-Hawks games, which often were filled with penalty minutes and flying fists. A big difference, however, was one of the key players wearing a Blackhawks uniform.

Jamal Mayers, who played for Quenneville when he coached the Blues and got into plenty of scraps then, now is a Blackhawk after signing a one-year deal last summer. The Hawks certainly approve.

"Normally we go into St. Louis and we've got Jamal snorting on the other side trying to get after all of us," Sharp said. "It's nice to have him on our side now."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 4:33 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks aiming to get better on the kill

CHICAGO -- Thanks to a couple of really tough games that saw a number of power-play goals go in against them, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves 29th in the League in killing penalties heading into tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes (8 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2).

The good news for the Hawks is they kept the St. Louis Blues scoreless on the man-advantage in all four opportunities in Saturday's 5-2 win on the road. Now, they're looking to build on that success back home at the United Center.

"We've just got to work harder on our PK," defenseman Brent Seabrook said after today's morning skate. "We've got to be better. We've got to pay more attention to detail. The players who are on the power play are so skilled and they can make so many great plays that it's just
one of those things where you've got to outwork them."

It also takes a willingness to sacrifice the body to block shots, clear the offensive zone and clean up loose pucks in front of the net -- all of which the Hawks did Saturday against the Blues.

"When you have a chance to get in front of a shot or ice it and get it all the way down the ice, we've got to do that," said Seabrook, who recently returned from a lower-body injury. "That's something that we've got to be better at, and also clearing rebounds in front of our goaltender. They're doing a pretty good job of making the first save, so we've got to clear the rebounds and other stuff in front of them."

It also helped to get shorthanded goals over the weekend from Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, to give five shorthanded goals this season, tying them for the League lead.

"It seems like when you score shorthanded it really is a big lift for your team," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's really not good for the opposition. I'd say both goals turned out to be huge. I thought we killed penalties extremely well in the (St. Louis) game. We prevented entries, we pressured them when it was necessary and had good clears. It was a good job."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hawks understand leads important vs. Coyotes

CHICAGO -- It might not be an all-out race to score first, but if you're playing the Phoenix Coyotes it's probably a good idea to get a lead before they do.

When the Coyotes play from in front, as the Chicago Blackhawks found out in a 4-1 loss last week at the United Center, their tight-checking defensive style can suffocate opposing attacks. Conversely, the 'Yotes are a much different team when they're forced to play from behind, like the Philadelphia Flyers forced them to do in a 4-2 loss this past weekend.

In that game, the Flyers scored all four of their goals in the first period and made Phoenix fight from an early 4-0 hole. The Hawks will try to put them in a similar predicament on Monday night at the United Center (7 p.m., Versus ) -- the 'Yotes second trip to the Windy city in the last week.

"I saw they were down 4-0 early in their last game, and when you see what that does to a team it's tough to come back from that," Hawks forward Patrick Kane said after Monday's morning skate. "I'm sure they're going to come out with a better start than their last game. We've just got to make sure we're ready for that and try to get that first goal. We know what they like to do when they get a lead."

Since dropping last week's meeting with Phoenix 4-1, Chicago has won back-to-back games while the Coyotes dropped a pair -- including that loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, in which goalie Mike Smith allowed four goals on 17 shots and was pulled in the first period.

Smith, who beat Chicago last week, will again get the start on Monday night at the "Madhouse on Madison," but it's not their goaltending the Coyotes are worried about most. It's the way they start the game in the midst of a challenging portion of the schedule in terms of travel.

Phoenix will head to Nashville and then Detroit next, meaning the Coyotes had one home game sandwiched in between five road games since coming to Chicago to start the segment last week,

"We had a quick stop back in the sun for a day or two and then back on the road," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said on Monday. "We knew there was about a two or three week stretch of our schedule here that's a challenge with some of the travel. Every team goes through it. This just happens to be our tough stretch. We've just got to keep finding a way to weather through it."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Blackhawks

Here is how the lineups may look on Monday night for the Coyotes (13-9-3) and Blackhawks (16-8-3):

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Kyle Turris - Patrick O'Sullivan

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith will get the start in net for Phoenix, while Jason LaBarbera will be on the bench.

The Coyotes did not skate forward lines during their morning skate on Monday, so coach Dave Tippett might opt to use forward Kyle Chipchura somewhere on the fourth line after scratching him the past two games in favor of Turris.

Daniel Carcillo - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Ben Smith - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Viktor Stalberg - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Nick Leddy
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford will start in net, while Ray Emery will be on the bench.
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Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 4:16 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kruger gets opportunity centering Hawks' second line

CHICAGO -- Marcus Kruger got cut on the last day of training camp for the Chicago Blackhawks and started the year in Rockford of the American Hockey League.

Now, the 21-year old Swedish rookie is being asked to play the middle on the Hawks' second line Friday night against the visiting New York Islanders -- between star forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

That's how quickly the 6-foot, 181-pound Kruger has shot up the organizational depth chart after making his debut late last season because of injuries to Sharp and center Dave Bolland.

"That was hard to get sent down, but I just tried to work hard and I got a chance to get back here," Kruger said after Friday's morning skate. "I wanted to prove that I could play here, so that's where my mindset was -- to work hard and get back right away."

The fact he did it so quickly is a testament to his mental fortitude, but also to adapting his style of play to the NHL rinks, which are smaller than in the Swedish Elite League, where Kruger played last season prior to his arrival in Chicago.

"I try to be in front of the net," he said. "More stuff happens around the net (in the NHL), so if you're there on every shift you're probably going to score more goals."

Kruger has scored just 2 goals to go with 5 assists in 24 games, but he's creating more scoring chances with his speed and skill -- which is probably a big reason he's getting this look on the second line that had previously been centered by star forward Patrick Kane.

On Thursday, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville moved Kane back to his more familiar role of right wing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg, which meant a golden opportunity for somebody else. Kruger was the guy, and he's understandably excited to play with Sharp and Hossa.

"Those are two great players, but I just need to play my game," he said. "Every game you get a chance, no matter what -- whether you're playing fourth line for five minutes or you're playing on the second line. I can't change what I'm doing just because I know those are good guys I have around me. I just need to play my game."

And if that doesn't work, Sharp said to make sure he finds No. 10 with the puck.

"That goes without question," Sharp said, laughing. "If he has a choice between Hossa and Sharp, he'd better go to the backhand and find Sharp."
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Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 4:16 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Quenneville says 'D' is Hawks' biggest issue

CHICAGO -- After dropping four of their last six games, the trade speculation surrounding the Blackhawks has ramped up.

Coach Joel Quenneville was asked on Friday if he thinks the Hawks, as currently comprised, could make a serious run in the playoffs next spring. He sort of talked around it, but sounded like it could if things improved from a defensive perspective.

Chicago has scored 80 goals, which is the fourth-highest in the League before Friday's games, but the Hawks have also allowed 78 goals -- which is fifth-highest.

"I like our team," Quenneville said. "I like our team in a lot of ways. There's a lot of depth. There's a lot of options as far as guys can (who) play different positions with different guys. The offense is there. The area we can shore up is our attention to detail defensively. It's not just our defense. It's our mentality starting in the offensive zone. Finding that consistency now is something we'll be looking for."
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Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 2:51 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Montoya ready for homecoming game

CHICAGO -- If anyone knows what it's like during the National Anthem inside the United Center, it's New York Islanders goalie Al Montoya.

Montoya is from nearby Glenview, Ill., and grew up a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks -- whom he will face Friday at the "Madhouse on Madison," where he used to come watch games as a fan. This will be his first time playing in the NHL in his hometown, so Montoya understandably is pumped.

"This is awesome," he said Friday morning. "This is something I've been waiting for since I was a kid. I remember hearing about the Hawks, watching them play on TV, and the city's come a long way with hockey. It's definitely something special to be a part of tonight."

It's also a little pricey. At about $150 a pop, Montoya forked out a pretty penny for 25 friends and family members to attend the game -- plus he knows others who are coming on their own dime.

"This is unbelievable," Montoya said. "I grew up 20 minutes outside the city here in Glenview. This is something I always dreamed about."

He'll get the start for more than just a nice homecoming story, though. Montoya also has played well this season.

"I'm sure he'll be pumped up, but he's been solid for us and poised in the net," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Montoya, who is 4-3-1 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in nine games. "Hopefully he'll have a good game. He might be a little light in the wallet, too."

Montoya was like a lot of young goalies in the Chicago area. He was a big fan of former Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour.

"Oh yeah, Eddie the Eagle … I tried to mimic the way he worked out there, the way he played so hard," said Montoya. "They didn't always have the greatest teams here, but when he was here he was definitely an icon and somebody that I looked up to."

Being so familiar with how crazy things can get at the United Center, especially when the highly-skilled Hawks are flying around, Montoya knows just how good of a measuring stick his game could be.

"This will be our biggest test, no doubt," he said. "Coming into a building like this and they've lost a couple games (lately), they're going to be desperate. I feel strong. I'm confident. I know what I can do. It's just about going out there and playing my game and playing strong. The team's been playing well and buying into the system. We're growing and we've got to grow fast."

His own growth as a player has taken longer than some anticipated, but Montoya, taken by the New York Rangers with the sixth pick of the 2004 Entry Draft, said the experience in college, the minors and briefly with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009 made him better. He was traded to the Islanders last February and now feels like he's coming into his own in the League.

"I was one of those goalies who was active and did whatever you could do to stop the puck, even though maybe you weren't in the right position," the 26-year old Montoya said of his younger years. "I really honed my game over the first four years (in the minors), putting it all together. Everything happens for a reason and I'm a true believer of that. My goal was to make it to the NHL, no matter how I got here. That was my goal. Of course there's pressure, but I enjoy it. That's why you play goalie."
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Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 2:18 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kane return to RW might not be only lineup change

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane's moving back to right wing on the top line is the biggest change for either team heading into tonight's game here at the United Center between the Blackhawks and New York Islanders, but both teams may have some other changes coming.

The Islanders might be without defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who appears to have been injured blocking a shot Tuesday in Buffalo with just six seconds left in New York’s 2-1 victory.

"That's the desperation that we're talking about and it was 5 on 5," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said at Friday's optional skate. "(Travis Hamonic), (Steve Staios) and MacDonald all blocked shots  in that game and obviously it hit Andrew in a tough spot, so right now, as of this
morning, he'll be a game-time decision tonight."

That means rookie defenseman Dylan Reese, called up Thursday from the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers on an emergency basis, might get in the lineup if MacDonald can't go. Reese was paired with Hamonic at Thursday’s practice, but according to Capuano the pairings could change if MacDonald is held out.

For the Blackhawks, it looks like rookie forward Ben Smith will get back into the lineup for the first time since Nov. 19. Smith centered the third line at the morning skate, playing between Bryan Bickell on the left and Michael Frolik on the right – but it's unclear who will come out of the lineup to make room for Smith.

The third line's usual center, Dave Bolland, missed Thursday's practice and Friday’s skate with an undisclosed injury, but is expected to play against the Islanders. Smith could replace Bickell, who has been slumping and didn't record a point in November.

"These guys are so good and just to be here and experience that and play with them, I'm definitely learning and improving every day," said Smith, who has played just two games since being recalled Nov. 17 from Rockford of the American Hockey League. "I'm just kind of being
patient and waiting for my chance to get in there and when I do get a chance, I need to take advantage of it and run with it."

Here’s how the lineups might look like for the Blackhawks and Islanders tonight:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Josh Bailey - Brian Rolston
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter

Mart Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald/Dylan Reese - Travis Hamonic
Milan Jurcina - Mike Mottau

Al Montoya, who's from nearby Glenview, Ill., will start in goal with Rick DiPietro the backup.

Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Ben Smith - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Daniel Carcillo - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador - Sean O'Donnell

Corey Crawford will start in goal, with Ray Emery the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 4:57 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Babcock likes Howard as an iron man

DETROIT -- Jimmy Howard will start in net for the 16th straight game and 20th time in 23 games when the Red Wings face the Lightning tonight (7:30 p.m., Versus, TSN2).

Backup Ty Conklin hasn’t started since Oct. 25, when the Wings lost on the road to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the second loss of what turned out to be a six-game winless skid. Babcock doesn't seem all that concerned about Howard getting burned out with so much action so soon in the season, though.

In fact, when asked about it after Wednesday's skate at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings coach sounded just a little sarcastic about his decision.

"What I did is, I kind of went through the League's stats and I saw all these goalies playing around 19 games (total) and I noticed Howie had played 19, so I thought he was playing good so … keep playing him," Babcock said. "Eventually, Conks is going to get an opportunity to play. Howie's going good. We like what he's doing. We think he's a young guy and he can play a lot."

Aside from letting in four goals in 39 minutes in a loss to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 17, Howard has been solid-to-great through his streak of starts.

"He's earned the right over time to be a good goaltender in the League," Babcock said. "He spent a lot of time in the minors, he's worked on his fitness, the mental side of his game seems to have really come and he just seems to be a good goaltender in the League. We get excellent goaltending right now -- as good as we've had since I've been here, for sure."
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 4:52 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Brunnstrom ready to make an impact

DETROIT -- Fabian Brunnstrom is getting pretty familiar with the two-hour drive that separates Detroit and Grand Rapids, Mich.

That’s because the 26-year old Detroit Red Wings forward already has shuttled back and forth between the NHL and AHL Griffins three times in November while trying to find a regular spot with the Wings.

Tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m., Versus, TSN2), Brunnstrom will get another crack at playing in Detroit when he fills in at left wing on the third line, with center Darren Helm and Danny Cleary at right wing.

"It's going to be fun to play and I'm looking forward to the game," said Brunnstrom, who has 1 assist and a minus-2 rating in four NHL games this season. "I knew I probably picked the hardest forward lineup to break into (as a free agent), so I knew it was going to be hard. At the same time, I'm right where I want to be on this team. Now it's just taking the next step to get into the lineup (more often)."

Someone who will be watching eagerly is Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who would like to see Brunnstrom tap into the skill set that made him a highly sought after free agent from Sweden in 2008.

After becoming just the third player in NHL history to record a hat trick in his NHL debut, Brunnstrom went on to have a solid first season in Dallas before seeing his production slide to the point where he played most of last season in the minors.

 Now Brunnstrom has another opportunity to show what he can do in the NHL.

"If you make good on that opportunity, you keep getting it and if you don't … eventually it slips away on you," Babcock said. "He's been in the League before. Actually he was a YouTube sensation or something like that. We were all recruiting him. Now he's back and he's earned his way to play on a team -- and now he's got to find a way to play every day on the team."

It also sounds like Brunnstrom might be at a crossroads moment in his career, according to Babcock.

"He's at the stage of his life where he's got to grab hold and find a way to not just have the puck, but get it to the net and get it to the scoring areas, to be hard out there," he said of Brunnstrom. "If he does that, then he has a chance to be a real good player. The ball's in his court. I'm looking forward to watching."

Making the situation even more interesting is that Brunnstrom's wife is pregnant and could go into labor at any moment.

"I would think that it doesn't affect me, but maybe it does some anyway,” Brunnstrom said after Detroit’s morning skate on Wednesday, prior to playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday night. “It’s a big thing in life, so I don’t know. I’m just trying to focus on the game when I’m here and when I go home I’ll focus on that.”

As for shuttling back and forth between Grand Rapids and Detroit so often – he’s been sent down and recalled three times each in just the month of November – Brunnstrom said he understands that it’s all just part of what he signed on for with the talent-laden Red Wings.

“It’s a tough lineup to get into (in Detroit), but it’s good to play some games (in Grand Rapids),” Brunnstrom said. “It’s a lot of miles on the car, though, driving back and forth.”
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Quote of the Day

The last time I did it was 1994 and surprise, 20 years later it’s still working. I don’t do it very much, though. I don’t think I had it. I’m kind of surprised. It was probably because I went to church before the game.

Panthers veteran forward Jaromir Jagr on the move that produced his second goal in a 4-2 victory against the Senators on Sunday
AMP No Bull Moment of the Week