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Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 3:21 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Chicago's stars carrying Hawks during hot streak

CHICAGO – The scary thing is that Patrick Kane is right about the Chicago Blackhawks, who head into a game on Sunday night against the Calgary Flames just one point back of the NHL's top team, the Minnesota Wild.

Kane thinks that despite a recent hot stretch, which has the Hawks sitting 6-0-1 in December and 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, things could actually be going better overall. There are still a few lapses from time to time, so they do have things to work on despite a torrid offensive stretch by star leaders like captain Jonathan Toews and second-line wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

"I think everyone was real excited about our team coming into the year and kind of had that feel like (it was) a couple of years ago … the same kind of buildup," said Kane, who has eight goals and 23 assists with a plus-10 rating. "The best part about it is that we probably feel like we haven't even played our best yet. Things can always get better and we know we can get better, too. There's still a lot of season left."

How much better can it get for the likes of Toews, Sharp and Hossa though?

Sharp, who has 17 goals and 17 assists, has a career long eight-game point streak going (7G, 5A) – which is the NHL's longest active streak and tied for the longest in the League this season. He also notched his 10th multi-point game in Friday's win against the visiting Anaheim Ducks, which ranks tied for first on the team with Hossa's 10 and seventh in the League.

He's also among the League leaders in plus/minus rating (+15) and became the first Blackhawks player to ever score back-to-back game-winning goals in overtime.

Hossa, meanwhile, has a four-game point streak going and has tallied five goals and five assists in his last six games. He has scored 14 goals and added 20 assists in 31 games – including his 400th career goal on Dec. 8 against the New York Islanders – and leads Western Conference forwards in plus/minus rating (+17).

Toews hasn't been as hot lately, but went on a 13-game tear from Nov. 10 to Dec. 5 that saw him score 12 goals and tally 11 assists, while continuing to lead the league in faceoff win percentage. Kane has also been kind of cold over the past four games (one assist), but he's capable of breaking out at any time.

"Those three guys are playing great and it's nice to have that balance for sure," Kane said of Toews, Sharp and Hossa. "Sharpie and Hossa have been playing awesome the past couple games, but Toews was on fire there for a while. Hopefully it's my turn soon."
Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 2:30 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks penalty kill much improved

CHICAGO – They are still ranked a lowly 27th in the League killing penalties, but the Chicago Blackhawks know two things that make that number much more tolerable.

First off, they've killed off 19 straight power plays over a span of the last six games heading into Sunday night's home game against the Calgary Flames – winning five of those contests and losing one in a shootout. Secondly, they wouldn't be ranked so low had it not been for a pair of blowout losses to the Vancouver Canucks at home and Edmonton Oilers on the road.

In those two games combined, the Hawks allowed nine goals in 13 attempts – including five on six chances against the Canucks and four on seven against the Oilers. Otherwise, Chicago's penalty kill has been pretty solid – and downright hot of late. It also helps to be one of the NHL's least penalized teams.

"We're not taking a lot of penalties, first of all, and at key times we're making big kills," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's practice. "We've got the good rotation with the forward groups and the (defensemen) are more aware of those plays around the net. (We're getting) big saves at big times, clears (and) pressuring. There's been more of an emphasis on not letting teams set up and get organized and keeping the heat on."

There has been more cohesion as a group lately, but it's also about a stepped-up effort when down a man or more.

"I think it's a matter of pride more than anything," forward Patrick Sharp said. "The numbers don't reflect the unit as a whole and there's always room for improvement. You see now, every time we try to kill off a penalty, the defensemen and forwards … everybody is working together and we're doing our best to pull it off."
Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 1:35 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Flames looking to avoid eighth loss at the UC

CHICAGO – The Calgary Flames are back in the Windy City for the second of two trips here this season and they're probably happy to get this one out of the way.

Calgary (14-14-4) will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at the United Center night (7 p.m.), which has been a particularly vexing venue for the Flames of late. They haven't beaten the Chicago Blackhawks (20-8-4) here in a regular-season game since March 16, 2008 -- a span of seven straight losses in this building.

The seventh loss in that stretch came on Nov.11 in a 4-1 defeat in which Chicago scored the game's first two goals and last two goals with goalie Ray Emery stopping 24 of 25 Flames shots. Calgary turned it around a week later at home with a convincing 5-2 win against the Hawks, but now the Flames are back in what's become a personal house of horrors. Emery is also in net again for the Hawks – who've won four straight games, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and 6-0-1 in the month of December.

"Obviously we haven't played well enough here," Calgary coach Brent Sutter said after the Flames' morning skate on Sunday. "We've had games where we've had a couple of good periods and (then) you have a bad period. When you're playing a team like Chicago, that has the talent level and skill level they have, you can't afford not to be a 60-minute team. We've got to play hard here."

If they don't, the Flames are most likely looking at an eighth straight loss at the Madhouse on Madison Street.

"Our will and our compete level has to be higher than theirs and just go out there and play the game like it needs to be played and give (us) a chance," Sutter said. "That's the thing here. In the past, we just haven't gotten that full 60 minutes here. Tonight we have to have that."

One of the guys in particular who Sutter wants to see it from is 22-year old Swedish center Mikael Backlund – who has scored just two goals and added one assist in 17 games since missing a month with a broken finger. Sutter sent a message to Backlund by making him a healthy scratch on Friday in a shootout loss on the road against the Florida Panthers, so this will be a chance to see if it got through.

"I'm looking for (Backlund) to have more intensity in his game," Sutter said. "He's a young guy that needs to continue to improve and progress and we need that emotion level in his game. That's what makes him a good player. When he has it, he can be a real good player for us. When that drops off, he's not at the level that we need him to be. I took him out for a reason and now he's going back in for a reason."

Backland, who will likely center the third line between Blake Comeau and Lee Stempniak, said he's looking forward to proving his worth.

"I didn't play very good in Tampa (on Thursday) and from the end of last season to this year I haven't been playing as good as I can," he said. "I've got to get back to that and find a way to do it and compete hard. (Sitting out) is nothing you want to do. I'm really excited to get back now and show them I'm good enough."

Physical forward Daniel Carcillo isn't likely to play for Chicago, as he continues to recover from an undisclosed upper body injury that happened on Wednesday against the Minnesota Wild. That means the Hawks will likely go with a very similar lineup to what they used to beat the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at home.

If so, 6-foot-8, 270-pound defenseman John Scott could make another appearance at left wing on the fourth line with Jamal Mayers at center and Andrew Brunette on the right side. Chicago didn't have a morning skate on Sunday, so it's a bit of a guessing game as to what the Hawks' lines will look like.

However, they did call up highly-rated forward prospect Jeremy Morin from the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday morning and he could draw into the lineup right away -- anywhere from one of the wings on the third line to somewhere on the fourth.

That fourth line came up big against the Ducks in Chicago's last game by creating the game's first goal with some good work in the offensive zone. It was capped by the third marker of the season for Mayers – who is one of the Hawks' free-agent signees brought in last summer to add experience and grit.

That's exactly what he's doing now and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is pleased to see it.

"He's been real good for us," said Quenneville, who also coached Mayers with the St. Louis Blues. "One of the needs we'd talked about was just some abrasiveness (and) some toughness. He gives us that. He's got a good attitude, gives us some experience (and) good leadership skills. He's been a real good fit for us. He's played very well in a lot of ways. (He's) useful at faceoffs, toughness (and) kills penalties. He's been a nice addition."
Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 4:31 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hagman finding success with Boudreau

CHICAGO – Niklas Hagman just wasn’t working out with the Calgary Flames, so they released him earlier this season.

He was claimed by the Anaheim Ducks on re-entry waivers and hoped the change of scenery would serve him well. The Ducks then fired former coach Randy Carlysle and hired Bruce Boudreau, which meant even more change for Hagman – who’s now playing on the top line at left wing with center Ryan Getzlaf and right winger Corey Perry.

“For some reason, things didn’t work out in Calgary that well,” Hagman told on Friday at United Center, before the Ducks face the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. “That’s in the past. I take my fair share of blame for not making things work, but that’s in the past now. Coming to Anaheim was a fresh start. Then I got another fresh start when we changed the coach.”

The change to Boudreau has been good for Hagman so far. Since being moved up to the top line four games ago, he’s scored two goals – both on Wednesday in a win against the Phoenix Coyotes – and added an assist.

“After the second coaching change, I’ve gotten good quality minutes,” Hagman said. “It’s been nice to play offensive hockey again, because I’ve known all the time that I can play and I can score goals. There’s been some tough times, but hopefully now just try to keep on working and earning those minutes and trying to help the team whatever it takes.”

He also sounded relieved to have a different system to play in, which favors more of an offensive style.

“It’s really nice to play hockey like it’s kind of meant to be played … not just chipping it in and forechecking all the time,” Hagman said. “I’m trying to build a little confidence with the puck, too.”

Hagman has also seen time on the top power-play unit recently, which has made him even hungrier to produce and keep his current standing.

“I’ve just got to work even harder to keep my spot and earn those minutes,” he said. “If Coach decides something else, then I go somewhere else. But getting a chance to play with the guys on the top two lines here and getting a chance to play on the power play … I really want to work hard to do my share.”
Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 4:23 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Boudreau sees comic book comparison for Beauchemin

CHICAGO – One of the guys who has stood for recently-named Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who’s eating up ice time in large quantities since the coach’s arrival.

In fact, Boudreau compared Beauchemin to a comic book hero at Friday’s morning skate before the Ducks play the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center (8:30 p.m.).

“Beauchemin has played 30 minutes a game since I’ve been here and he’s been a solid work horse and a warrior,” Boudreau said. “He’s the guy that has stood out more than anybody. He doesn’t tire at all. The more minutes you get … he’s like the Hulk. I mean, the angrier he got the stronger he got. This is a little bit like (Beauchemin) in the more he plays, he seems to get more energy from it.”

Boudreau said he used to keep track of Beauchemin more when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost track of him a little after moving to the West coast. The ex-Capitals coach used the Incredible Hulk comparison with Mike Green during his tenure in Washington a couple of times.

“When I used to watch him in Toronto when he was playing, it seemed like he was all over the place and I didn’t know what we were getting, because you don’t see as many Anaheim games (on the East coast),” said Boudreau, who fired by the Washington Capitals just a couple of days before taking the Ducks job. “Here he’s been really steady and a great leader in the room and doing all the right things.”
Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 4:18 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Selanne eagerly anticipating return to Winnipeg

CHICAGO – He still has a game to play against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night before he can fully think about it, but 41-year old Teemu Selanne knows his return to Winnipeg on Saturday  is fast approaching.

Selanne broke into the League as a rookie in 1992-93 for the old Winnipeg Jets franchise and scored a mind-boggling 76 goals to set the rookie scoring record. He played three-plus seasons for the Jets and still thinks fondly of the people he met – and played in front of – there.

“It’s going to be very special,” Selanne said. “Obviously I have great memories from Winnipeg. I’m so happy for them. Great memories from there. It’s been a long time since I played there last, but I’m very happy I started my career there and the people are unbelievable. Hockey is so big there. If you’re a hockey player, they really make you feel special about what you’re doing. Fun place to play.”

Not quite as fun for opposing players, however.

Former Jet and current Phoenix Coyote Shane Doan found that out the hard way. He made his return to Winnipeg’s MTS Centre earlier this season and got an ovation before the game started – followed by boos every time he touched the puck.

“I heard that,” Selanne said, laughing. “I think that’s pretty funny.”

What’s not funny to Selanne is the 9-16-5 record the Ducks have after 30 games. He didn’t commit to returning to play this season until much deliberation over the summer and it’s needless to say this wasn’t exactly what he envisioned when he opted to come back.

“I really didn’t sign for this, but at the same time I really think this is the challenge for our group … myself and the leaders and everybody … to find a way to turn this around,” Selanne said. “Obviously that’s something new in my career, but there’s no complaining. I’ve still enjoyed coming to the rink every day and that’s why I’m still here. It’s still fun.”

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has noticed that since taking over the team a couple of weeks ago and he’s found Selanne’s approach to be a lift.

“Teemu is everything you’d think he would be,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know him that well yet. What I do know is that he comes to the rink every day and plays hard, and he never has that down look – as if, ‘What am I doing here?’ I’ve never seen a guy at his age love hockey so much. We had the Christmas Party the other day and he was out there with the kids more than anybody and longer than anybody. He’s a refreshing hockey player.”
Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 3:56 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Carcillo out for Chicago with upper-body injury

CHICAGO – After missing practice Thursday, Chicago Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo missed the morning skate Friday at United Center and won’t play Friday night against the visiting Anaheim Ducks.

Carcillo is out with an undisclosed upper-body injury that ocurred at some point during the Hawks’ last game Wednesday against the Minnesota Wild. Carcillo was involved in a fight in that game against the Wild’s Brad Staubitz, but Hawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t say whether the injury occurred in the scrap.

Chicago recalled forward Ben Smith from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Thursday and could insert him into the lineup against the Ducks. Smith was with the fourth line during the morning skate.

As for Carcillo’s injury, Quenneville said it wasn’t considered serious Thursday and stuck with that assessment Friday.

“We said the other day we don’t think it’s serious and we’ll leave it at that,’ ” Quenneville said. “That’s where we’re at with it.”

Quenneville also said that forward prospect Jeremy Morin might have gotten the call-up instead of Smith – who’d been sent down Monday – if Morin weren’t serving an AHL suspension for an elbowing incident.
Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 3:47 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks, Ducks react to Pronger's absence

CHICAGO – If anybody can relate to the plight of Philadelphia Flyers captain Chris Pronger, it is Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland.

Bolland missed about a month at the end of last season with the aftereffects of a severe concussion and wasn’t able to return until the fourth game of a first-round playoff series against the rival Vancouver Canucks.

Pronger harassed the Hawks relentlessly in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final that Chicago won in six games, but the news that he would miss the rest of the season and possibly have his career jeopardized was disappointing for Bolland to hear.

“He’s a great player and a great defenseman,” Bolland said after the Hawks’ Friday morning skate. “He’s one of those faces of the NHL and to see him go down with a concussion is bad to see. He’s one of those guys around the League that guys look up to and he’s been around this League for a while now, so seeing that happen isn’t great.”

He felt likewise about the spate of concussion news that has dominated headlines recently and knocked several of the game’s top stars out for lengthy periods – including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux and Carolina Hurricanes second-year star Jeff Skinner.

“It’s tough to see that,” Bolland said. “You never want to see that around the League, so many guys out. That’s something the NHL and the NHLPA may have to look at … into some of these situations.”

Some of the situations, however, have come as a result of friendly-fire type of incidents – such as Giroux’s when teammate Wayne Simmonds accidentally kneed him in the back of the head while trying to avoid him on the ice.

“The pace of the game is quick, the size of the guys, pucks, bodies, intensity, collisions with your own team are sometimes worse than any type of collisions,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Lots of variables lead into it, but the League is doing what they have to do and they intensified player safety this year. It’s a tough stretch right now for the League and certain teams with the diagnosis. The uncertainty of it all is the tough part. At the end of the day, you hope their quality of life gets back in order quickly and then you make some other decisions.”

Down the hall at United Center, Teemu Selanne also expressed his concern for Pronger – whom played with in Anaheim and won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

“It’s always bad news,” Selanne said. “We’re all so concerned about those concussions, because you never know. Those are really scary. This League needs a guy like Chris Pronger and as a friend, it’s always tough news. There’s too many concussions right now and that’s in the whole League. Every player should be worried about it.”
Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 3:22 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Close call in April has Chicago closing stronger

CHICAGO – A year ago at this time, Joel Quenneville was talking more than he wanted to about his Chicago Blackhawks “leaving meat on the table.”

What he meant was letting opportunities to gain standings points slip away in the third periods of close games, which became a bit of an epidemic for the Hawks – who were coming off the 2010 Stanley Cup title and subsequent salary-cap related roster upheaval that accompanied it.

This season, those points aren’t eluding them late in games. In fact, the Hawks continue to find ways to get one in almost every game they play of late. Five of their past six games have gone to overtime, with two ending in wins during the extra five minutes. Three have gone to a shootout and the Blackhawks have prevailed in two of them.

Chicago (19-8-4) is also on top of the Central Division with 42 points and trails just the Minnesota Wild (44 points) in the Western Conference. So what is the difference between now and a year ago?

“It’s tough to tell, but maybe at the end of games there’s that urgency knowing what we went through last year and that it was tough to get into the playoffs,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said after the morning skate Friday at United Center. “We understand how important the points are. Just because it’s still early in the season doesn’t mean you can wait until the end to get them.”

What happened last year was Chicago needed help from the Wild in the last game of the season  – after the Hawks had already lost to the rival Detroit Red Wings earlier in the day at United Center.

Chicago needed Minnesota to beat the Dallas Stars in regulation and most assumed it wouldn’t happen because the Wild was already out of contention for the postseason and the Stars were battling with the Hawks. It was a feeling of uneasiness the Hawks haven’t forgotten and it has minfested in the way they’re playing late in games this season.

Chicago has a sterling 15-0-3 record in games that are either tied or they lead after two periods. The Hawks have allowed more goals than they’ve scored in the first two periods of games this season, but have outscored the opposition by a 32-21 mark in the third period and 3-1 in overtimes.

“You can tell that there is more urgency,” Hawks center Dave Bolland said. “We knew from last year’s standpoint that we’ve got to get these points earlier on to solidify ourselves a (playoff) spot. We don’t want to be fighting like last year, when it came down to the last game of the season to have to watch someone win or lose to be sure that we’re in the playoffs.”

That urgency, especially late in close games, has also caused some slight changes to the way Chicago plays the game at times. Getting at least one point out of every close game has become a point of emphasis. That could be a big reason the Hawks have already had 11 games go to overtime and seven of those go to the shootout.

“We’ve had so many games in a row where the game’s been on the line from start to finish that we should be excited about being in those positions and knowing that getting the game to overtime or getting points is important,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Sometimes, we’ve been fortunate recently getting two out of the deal. At the same time, in the third period … the last 10 minutes you don’t really want to change too much how you play, but let’s have an emphasis on (getting a point) and then hopefully two.”

Here’s a look at how the lineups for both the Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks might look tonight at the United Center:


Niklas Hagman - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Bobby Ryan - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Rod Pelley - Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Gordon - Maxime Macenauer - George Parros

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Toni Lydman - Lubomir Visnovsky
Luca Sbisa - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Dan Ellis


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

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador - John Scott

Ray Emery
Corey Crawford
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Quote of the Day

Hopefully [Jonathan] has a year that pushes us, that is the organization, to speak to him next summer and looking for [a long-term contract]. Because the thought process is trying to get a goaltender, and hopefully it's Jonathan, to be the stabilizer for this franchise.

— Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello on goaltender Jonathan Bernier